I’ve always been pretty traditional in my tastes for the best Christmas movie of all time. I’ve always been partial to “It’s A Wonderful Life,” since I watched it a lot growing up, there’s a great financial/historical element to it, and well, just generally, it’s hard to dislike.
But this post by film blogger Ian Phillips, which I saw on Reddit, argues that the the Eddie Murphy film Trading Places ought to be considered one of the best Christmas movies, and as soon as I saw the post I realised it was obviously correct.
This year happens to be the 30th anniversary of the movie, which is why my colleague Rob Wile published an oral history of the film this Summer.
If you haven’t seen it, the gist is simple: Two fabulously wealthy brothers who own a commodities brokerage in Philadelphia debate whether genetics or upbringing is more important in a person’s life. So they do an experiment. They fire their top broker (Dan Aykroyd) and frame him for a crime, forcing him to essentially live on the streets with no money. Then at the same time, they take a nearly-broke guy from the street (Eddie Murphy), and see if they can train him to be a commodities broker.
Spoiler alert: Hijinks ensue, Dan Aykroyd turns to crime, Eddie Murphy becomes an awesome broker, showing that genes don’t matter, and that it’s all about upbringing. Eventually Aykroyd and Murphy realise how they’ve been toyed with and together they get revenge.
The whole movie takes place around several days starting before Christmas and going through New Years. In one memorable scene, Aykroyd crashes his old firm’s Christmas party dressed as Santa Claus, which ends with him getting really drunk, stuffing meat from the buffet table into the pockets of his red coat, and then trying to eat it through his synthetic bear on the bus. It’s a gagworthy moment.
In addition to the timing of the movie, there are Christmas (and Christian) themes throughout. For one thing, it’s about how everyone can thrive, even those who are poor beggars, if given the right chance by someone.
Dan Aykroyd’s character gets back on his feet through the help of a prostitute he meets (Ophelia, played by Jamie Lee Curtis).
During his down period, Aykroyd goes through a “no room at the inn” experience, when trying to visit his friends at his old tennis club (who are shunning him).
If you’ve never seen the movie, that’s a crime, but also something you should really fix over the next week.
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