A Week of Christmas Movies: Jack Frost

Film: Jack Frost

Plot: Jack Frost (Michael Keaton) is the lead singer/guitarist/harmonica player (harmonicist?) of a band on the cusp of hitting it big with a new sound people are going crazy for even though it sort of sounds like the Babysitter Blues from ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING. He is also a father of Charlie (Joseph Cross) and wife of Gabby (Kelly Preston), but being a musician keeps on the road and in the studio an awful lot. Presented with a chance to break into the big time by playing a concert on Christmas Day, Jack delays a family vacation and heads off on Christmas Eve. He comes to his senses though and he and the band decide to reschedule. However, on the way home, Jack runs into a snowstorm, which, combined with some lousy wipers, leads to him driving off a mountainside.

A year later, he is “resurrected” in snowman form and sets about teaching his son the lessons he should’ve when he was alive in human form. Or something.

Fun Fact: At no point does this human in snowman form murder anyone. I’m guessing it is thus some sort of prequel to JACK FROST, the 1996 horror film. Perhaps Frost is driven mad by his inability to enjoy the afterlife and/or the slumber of eternal rest?

 Say farewell to the flesh...this Christmas season. (image from moviecricket.com)

Say farewell to the flesh...this Christmas season. (image from moviecricket.com)

My Take: JACK FROST has long been one of those go-to jokes of high concepts going seriously awry. But my guilty admission is that I have never in fact actually watched it. So I was being the worst kind of critic, the kind that decides a movie is lousy without seeing it. Which is not to say my prejudgment was wrong, it’s just to acknowledge I did that thing.

So what kind of movie is JACK FROST? JACK FROST is the kind of movie the does not trust a father and husband’s death is tragic enough. Said father must also be the edge of achieving his professional and artistic dreams AND have realized he should readjust his priorities to be closer to his family. It’s that kind of movie.

Oh, it is also the kind of “family” movie in which Jack and Gabby make pretty clear erection jokes to one another. For instance: Gabby mentions that a bank manager hit on her, but she straightened him out and Jack responds with, paraphrasing, “And just how do you mean that?” Wink, wink, elbow in the ribs, eyebrow wiggle.

FROST also fails to set up its central conflict in a way that would be convincing to anyone over, say, the age of 13. The idea is that Jack is too dedicated to his career and not enough to his family, but the movie never really “proves” that to us. He is incredibly present when he gets home from being on tour, he has a nice, easy rapport with his wife and child, and there’s no evidence he is negligent, abusive, or anything of the sort. He does promise to attend a hockey game that he then fails to attend but he a.) mentions he has to go to the studio earlier in the day and b.) “promises” in the weakest terms, more or less saying, “sure,” *shrug*.

That’s not to say the son is “wrong” to be annoyed with his dad or his dad’s job which, reasonably, keeps him away from the home a fair amount. That is a normal, understandable thing. However, to convey that Jack needs a real jolt to his reality to realize what’s important you need to set up that Jack is, in essence, lost and he is just not. He discusses the big concert for the record guy with his wife and she convinces him it is doable. He records in the studio and comes home. He does not stay out drinking or drugging or sleeping with people not his wife. His sin is his a musician who’s able to earn a living, albeit a non-luxurious one. He is not even delusional and throwing too much effort into a fool’s errand; he is literally about to get the big record contract. He is the most responsible and emotionally present “too busy” dads in history.

So when he shows up in snowman form ready to make good, it does not feel like he is a man changed, it feels like he is a guy who got a bit more time to do what he would have anyway if he had not died. Thus, when Charlie gets all sulky and says, “At least he had time for someone,” at one point, you do not think, “Poor kid, must have been hard to have a non-present dad,” but rather, “Didn’t anyone tell him his dad was rushing home to him, skipping that concert, when he died?”

I know proclaiming that the dad was not unlikeable enough is a weird position but there it is. If you do not make a character in of redemption, a redemption arc, particularly one centered on said character’s death and return as a golem of snow, seems a cruel waste of time.

The weird thing is the performances are not actually bad. Keaton mines his own weird energy to be a loose but caring parent and spouse, one who believably loses himself in the music now and again, but clearly cares about his loved ones and is doing his best to balance his dream career and the emotional and financial needs of his family. Preston is a performer I have a hard time separating from her first line in JERRY MAGUIRE a lot of the time does not necessarily convey the emotional complexity of being a widow well, but she is good in her scenes with Keaton and, actually, does a nice job as a mom trying to distract and comfort her obviously still grieving son. Even Cross, forced to do the most emotional lifting with the thinnest of characterization, does well with the rapid fluctuations of teendom. But every performance is in service of a weak script that is stuffed too full of the extraneous—a bully, a hockey team, multiple snowball fight setpieces, that whole tragedy upon tragedy set up—details to let the emotions breathe. And, oh yeah, the snowman thing takes your best actor off the table and forces him to give voice to an early CGI nightmare creature that we are supposed to find comforting.

Verdict: I was right to make jokes about it, but credit where credit is due: the actors do not let you see them acknowledge they are slumming it a bit.