Sadly, many people won’t give this movie a shot because of its leading man. You either love or hate Vince Vaughn and even if you love him, at some point you recognize that many of his roles are the same. Truth be told, for me, even recognizing this issue doesn’t ruin my enjoyment of him as I always enjoy his sarcastic ranting style of humor. And when you take his character-type and put him in the fairly unique Christmas film that is Fred Claus, you have a thoroughly enjoyable holiday movie.
Of the two Claus brothers, Fred (Vince Vaughn) is the troublemaker and polar opposite of his saintly sibling, Nicholas (Paul Giamatti). When Fred’s criminal ways finally land him in big trouble, Nicholas bails him out and brings him to the North Pole to work off the debt by making toys. The headaches mount for St. Nick, who not only must deal with his troublemaking brother, but also an efficiency expert who has come to evaluate Santa’s operation.
The plot to this movie is what truly draws me in every year in part because I always like movies that show you a bit more of the life of Santa Claus, there is always too much mystery and I love seeing unique takes on it (like in the movie Snow for instance). In this film we dive into the question of not what it would be like to be Santa, but what it would be like to be his older brother. If you have ever had a sibling that acts perfect– I certainly bet you can understand what Fred is going through in the film. He loves his brother but Nicholas is too perfect– a saint basically the day he was born. And when you add into the mix a mother that keeps comparing you to him– knowing that you will never measure up– I think anyone would start to act out. Which is what happens, the final straw being when Fred was visiting a tree that housed his only friends, a blue bird, and as he is visiting his brother Nicholas chops it down because he knows that Fred loves the tree and wanted to bring it into the house. Unfortunately, the bird flew away never to return– since then he has always resented his brother and he became the sort of black sheep of the family.
The film, as a whole, is not spectacular. It takes a while for things to get started and it feels a bit draggy during the first and half of the second act. Most of it is set up for Fred’s character or the characters around him. You see Fred be increasingly more of a douche and Nicholas get stressed out when an efficiency expert named Clyde Northcut (the names a bit on the nose)is sent to shut him and Christmas down for good. As such, not much really happens outside of Vaughn screwing up constantly and getting his brother into trouble… but if you can make it through this first half of movie–about mid-way into the second act and the third act are truly this films bread and butter.
It is here where Fred’s emotions and dislike of his brother come out as well as where the cracks in the North Pole start to show. Paul Giamatti is a perfect Santa Claus and great supporting actor for Vaughn and it is especially evident during the scenes where the quarrel. Because when the finally do fight– it is an epic over the top sibling fight that, even though it is in an odd setting like the North Pole, still feels as real as when I was a kid. And the whole amazingly ridiculous fight culminates into one of the best parts of the movie. In the aftermath of their battle Fred and Nick are on the ground recovering when Nick says, “Ya know… I’ve never realized it before… but you hate me…” to which Fred replies, “I don’t hate you Nick, I just wish you were never born…” and you can almost feel Nick’s heart finally break. Maybe it was just me but– as subtle as it was– It was a very powerful and emotional scene.
Even if you’re not the biggest Vaughn fan I do recommend giving this movie a shot if only for the holidays. What it lacks in heart it makes up for by letting you feel the true nature of sibling rivalries. It’s a good movie for families to watch together, I think, because we all go through bad times together, sometimes we hate each other, but if you truly love your family you will always do right by them in the end… or some such mushyness. I’ve enjoyed this movie since its release in 2007 and I watch it every year and I always feel like I take something different away from it with each viewing.
The wardrobe department consulted Levi’s and had special 501’s created to accommodate Vince Vaughn‘s sizes exactly.
Project was originally titled “Fred Claus”, but was changed due to a potential rights issue. It was then retitled “Joe Claus.” After the rights were cleared, the title returned to “Fred Claus.”
Release prints were shipped to some theaters under the fake title “Brotherly Love”.