Stuff I Watch in December: The Ref (1994)

Happy Holidays and welcome! We are counting down the days until December 25th and, in that time, I will be reviewing each and every Christmas/holiday film I watch during the month. They’re mostly a selection of films in my own library or films and shows that have been recommended to me.

Please enjoy and leave a comment!

And if you missed any of our past reflections, take a look:

Holiday Inn (1942)
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
White Christmas (1954)
Santa Claus (1959)
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)
Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
I Believe in Santa Claus (1984)
Lethal Weapon (1986)
Die Hard (1988)
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
Scrooged (1988)
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Home Alone (1990)
Die Hard 2 (1990)
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown (1992)
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

Our next film is…

WATCHING: The Ref (1994)

the ref

DIRECTOR: The late Ted Demme who also helmed the severely underrated Blow starring Johnny Depp. He died at age 38 of a heart attack possibly brought on by cocaine use. Tragic.

WHAT IS IT?: One of the most outrageously funny Christmas comedies there ever was. And this was prior to Bad Santa.

THE PLOT: A cat burglar named Gus (Denis Leary) tries to wait out the large police force hunting him in a small town on the East Coast by hiding out with Caroline and Lloyd Chasseur (Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey), a married couple who he’s taken hostage in their own home. The problem? They’re an extremely unhappy married couple who can’t stop fighting.

And it gets worse: before long, Gus finds himself posing as the couple’s marriage councilor after Lloyd’s unwitting family arrives for an insanely uncomfortable Christmas Eve dinner.

WHAT DID CRITICS THINK?: The Ref received mostly positive reviews despite a poor showing at the box office. Ebert gave it three stars while the two reviewers at Entertainment Weekly were split. Several critics called the script and acting “extremely sharp” while some critics bashed Leary for being one-note in his performance.

WHAT DID I THINK?: Have you ever been to a Christmas dinner with your significant other’s family? And when you get there, a simple conversation erupts and becomes a gigantic argument where nobody can shut up and everyone tries to get the last word?

Then you’ll identify with The Ref.

Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis not only have great chemistry with Leary, but also with one another. You believe they’re an actual unhappy married couple. Every argument, every potshot, every single moment between them doesn’t feel at all rehearsed. This all might sound unpleasant if only the dialogue wasn’t so sharp. The insults Lloyd and Caroline toss at one another cut like a knife but are incredibly funny.

An example of such:

CAROLINE: I had this dream…I’m in this restaurant, and the waiter brings me my entree. It was a salad. It was Lloyd’s head on a plate of spinach with his penis sticking out of his ear. And I said, “I didn’t order this.” And the waiter said, “Oh you must try it, it’s a delicacy. But don’t eat the penis, it’s just garnish.”
DR. WONG: Lloyd, what do you think about the dream?
LLOYD: I think she should stop telling it at dinner parties to all our friends.

Yeah, you could put The Ref on the list of “movies that take place during Christmas”, but that would be a gross miscalculation. Christmas isn’t always snowfall, music and gifts. Family strife plays a big part in the lives of people outside of your holiday bubble. This movie is the embodiment of that notion.


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