Who would have thought that the beginning of my holiday season would start with a viewing of A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas? The 3rd film in the now 7-year-old franchise (Jesus, I’m old) had me laughing, squirming, and uncomfortable, as Harold and Kumar movies are ought to do. Sometime the uncomfortableness was because the thin line between inappropriately funny and plainly inappropriate was crossed. Despite those moments, I can’t help but admit I left this movie in a jolly mood befitting Santa season. It was a good-natured romp about how some friendships, though changed, are still important in our lives. It was also a film about how a joint can lead to nearly getting killed by Ukrainian mobsters, chorus dancing in a Neil Patrick Harris musical special, and babies getting stoned. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the toddler in the film did more drugs than the titular stoners did, which is beyond ridiculous. I guess it does get harder for our bodies when we get older…
What I liked:
- I love that the main characters are men of color who are not desexualized or stereotyped. Sure, the characters respond to stereotypes about them, but that’s what makes these movies “secret smart.” I admit that Harold is a bit over-achieving, as Asians are portrayed to be, but in the films it seems that Harold’s uptightness is just a part of who is. Just as Kumar’s insane ability to wreak havoc on even the simplest tasks (dropping off a package, getting a Christmas tree, not getting babies stoned) is a part of who he is. And what makes their odd couple friendship work so well. Well, that, and pot. Obviously.
- I enjoyed that the tension between cultural ethnic stereotypes and the actual characters extended beyond the main characters, into Harold’s father-in-law (played by Danny Trejo), with his sentimental Christmas sweaters and emotional description of how Koreans ruined Christmas for him years ago. The Ukrainian mobsters also had some fun subversive moments.
- I loved the meta-metaness of Neil Patrick Harris (henceforth NPH) as “himself.” In the first film (I admittedly haven’t seen the second), NPH wasn’t yet out as a gay actor. Yet his extreme misogyny, drug use, and general lack of morals worked because of the audience’s perception of him as sweet-natured Doogie Howser. In A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas, NPH’s sexual orientation and society’s stereotypical views about the gay personality and lifestyle only serve to amplify the meta-NPH. I could not stop laughing during the scene between NPH and his real-life husband, David Burtka. Brilliant.
- The “in jokes” about the now successful actors’ careers since the first Harold and Kumar. The Kal Penn White House joke might fly over the heads of some of the viewers, but as a former DC nerd, I thought it was genius.
- This is the first 3D movie I have really enjoyed. It was made for the juvenile awesomeness of 3D–pot smoke coming towards the screen, egg splatter, cocaine powder shooting at the audience’s face. It’s part of what made the movie such a fun experience.
- Even though the women characters are a bit 2D, the film isn’t really about Harold and Kumar’s relationships with women. It’s about their relationship with each other and for a “stoner” movie, their friendship is moving and sweet. I enjoyed how the film explored what happens with friendships as we get older. It was astute and appropriate; since as the characters have aged, so has their original audience.
- HOLIDAY SONGS!!! CLAYMATION!!! BABIES ON DRUGS!!! NPH SINGING!!! WAFFLE-BOTS!!!!
What I didn’t like:
- The “inside joke” stereotypes sometimes crossed over into just stereotyping. In particular, the scene with the recent convert to Christianity, Seth Goldstein, and the still proudly Jewish, Andy Rosenberg. For some reason, the amount and speed at which the “This is how Jews are” jokes came at us rankled me a bit.
- I was really uncomfortable by how far they took the idea that NPH is a super straight asshole. I wasn’t aware that there was a scene that should have had a “trigger warning” and I feel that the effect the filmmakers get by taking NPH from ‘sweet gay person who does no wrong’ to ‘rapist’ isn’t worth the inclusion of the scene. The reveal that he pays his real-life husband had enough “oomph” that the ‘he’s so horrible, he’ll sexually assault women’ joke comes off as sensationalizing that behavior. Consensual straight sex would have gotten the same effect: seducing a woman reveals his secret straightness to the Harold and Kumar characters, as well as to the audience, the same as an assault scene does. Except without the gross.
- Even though the disembodied breasts only show up when NPH is around, as befits his misogynist view of women, it was a lot of disembodied boob. I see what the filmmakers were doing, showing us how NPH views the world… But at a certain point, it just seemed like an excuse to show breasts in a movie. Which is just plain ole’ misogyny, not ‘subversive character misogyny’ meant to confuse and challenges audience perceptions.
- The continued use of “gay” as an insult. Even though it’s Kumar who mostly uses it and he’s still a “bro” and that’s how “bros” talk, some people have a hard time separating between a character’s belief and what is cool for them to go do. Gay is an insult that needs to stop and movies like this including its use by a protagonist don’t help. Besides, it’s the kinda thing Brett Ratner would say. And Kumar is way cooler a person than Brett Ratner, fo’ sho’.
In the end, despite some jokes and plot devices that really bothered me, I have to admit I laughed almost the entire film and walked out of the theater feeling really happy. Do I feel conflicted about enjoying something that also riles up the feminist in me? Sure. I kinda feel like a hypocritical jerkface about it. But, let’s face it, there are lots of things in this life I feel conflicted about, and not all of them have the positives that A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas did. Or are nearly this much fun! In the end, I guess the laughs won.
Have you seen the film too? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!