Never Seen It!, Holiday Edition: The Ref



Date released: 1994

The gist: A couple (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) clearly on the verge of divorce has to cope an unexpected addition at their awkward family Christmas dinner: a cat burglar named Gus (Denis Leary). Gus quickly becomes a makeshift mediator for the festive fights to come.

Why I Grinch-ed out and avoided it: It always interested me, but it just wasn’t one of the holiday classics my family watched over the holidays (my parents like the more PG stuff — Christmas Vacation, Elf, the non-sexy scenes of Love, Actually). Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t understand why.  It’s a bit of Grinch itself, lending to conversations about the dysfunction of marriage and family.

Merry mistakes: The tone changes a little too quickly or my liking, going from pleasantly cynical to weirdly optomistic within just 90 or so minutes. But that’s the point of the movie — sometimes all it takes is an outsider to shine a light on what’s happening inside your own house and/or relationships, and turn things around completely.

And although Davis is good as nagging wife Caroline, I wish that this had been the first time Spacey had been movie-married to Annette Benning. I kept picturing her, very much like she was in with Spacey in American Beauty, in the role.

Magical moments:

  • The frank, dark humour that pervades the climax of the movie. My favourite example? When Spacey’s Lloyd tells his niece to “gag [her] grandma” without missing a beat.
  • The horribly forced dinner sequence, which has the family and Gus getting in heated arguments about everything from the food to Caroline’s adultery to the simple fact that they are all wearing lit candles on their heads.
  • “I have never heard of such a Christmas! Sex… and drugs… an-an-and women being set on fire!”

Happy holiday or ho-ho-horrible? Although you certainly can’t call most of the characters happy, The Ref definitely me feel as such while watching it. But that is probably because it’s the exact type of holiday flick I’ve grown to like — one that is spiked with just the right amount of brutal honesty to make it both naughty and nice.


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