Turns Out It’s Pretty Good: The Grinch

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Universal Pictures

Why are we so skeptical of the things right in front of us? “Turns Out It’s Pretty Good” is a series that examines the path from resisting the well-known to wholeheartedly endorsing it.

At the best of times, my capacity for rewatching something has pretty strict limits. More than once a year, for a movie, feels like too much for me (except for the ill-fated period between 1999 and 2001 when I had to watch Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility at least once a month because I WAS Marianne). Imagine what it has been like this past year in lockdown, living with a 3-year-old who discovered repetition — compulsion, if you will — and The Grinch movie at around the same time?

In many ways, this ouroboros is my own doing. As a kid, Christmas represented a lot of heady, romantic things to me. My parents, immigrants and lapsed Muslims, periodically delved into Christmas as a concept — sometimes we had a tree, sometimes we got presents, sometimes Christmas was declared haram, and my sisters and I would have to rework the lyrics of “Silent Night” to say “Christ the baby is born” so my mom wouldn’t get upset. Still, it was always more of a random act of consumption than a hallowed tradition.

But as a second-generation brown child reared on syrupy family sitcoms and made-for-TV specials, Christmas started to represent everything I wanted to be — the missing “x-factor” in my assimilation, a way for me to be “regular.” I wanted boughs of holly and Burl Ives singing the classics. I desperately craved bustling, cacophonous family meals around a giant glistening turkey and stockings brimming with a bunch of wrapped garbage that I’d never look at after Christmas morning. I wanted tradition and stability instead of otherness and divorce and all the stuff that would never make it onto the Full House holiday special.

So when I had a kid of my own, I used my white husband’s cultural link to the holiday to become a full-on Christmas convert — and I started by mandating that my son and I watch The Grinch. He didn’t quite take to the original 1966 film, and the 2000 Jim Carrey version is a nightmarish abomination, but we eventually found magic this past Christmas with the 2018 version helmed by Benedict Cumberbatch.

The first time we watched it, my kid paid just enough attention to sort of comprehend what was going on. So, of course, I insisted we watch it again — because what is the month of December if not an excuse to watch sappy, schlocky movies that make you feel like singing can cure the world of its ills? On the second viewing, he laughed at the jokes and I cried at the scene of the little baby Grinch recalling his orphaned, lonely Christmases past, seeing myself in this tiny, angry green monster (lol). And then the 25th came and went, and I mentally prepared for life without The Grinch for another year.

Only it was a long, cold winter. We were on lockdown, and there was nowhere to go and not much to do, and suddenly my son was surprising me by demanding to watch The Grinch the day after Christmas … and the next day, and the day after that, and the week after that. By mid-January we were watching it twice a day. Sometimes it just played all morning on a loop in the background. Three months post-Christmas, he would even instruct me to fast-forward to specific scenes over and over again, watching me with eager anticipation to make sure I laughed as much as he did each time.

Did his insistence on watching this movie and only this movie over and over and over again initially fill me with a crippling dread I can only describe in panicked emoji because words would never do it justice? Yes. Did the words, “Let’s watch The Grinch” start to elicit a kind of Pavlovian response that can best be summed up as sweaty depersonalisation? Absolutely. Should I have pulled mom rank and said no? Maybe. But I didn’t.

What was I searching for in my own adolescent obsession with Christmas but stability and security and the sense that no matter what was going on around me, brightly lit trees and fuzzy red hats could sub in as temporary joy?

The Grinch has become a weighted blanket for my son (with a really good soundtrack) that signals joy and wonder and excitement. The scenes he wants to replay are not the big Christmas heist or the wacky build-up but the moments where Cindy Lou hatches plans with her best friends, the parts where this little ragtag gang of kids hang out unimpeded by grownups or pandemics.

The other day my son asked one of our neighbors’ kids if he wanted to come and play in our backyard. The world weary 6-year-old clearly wanted to but soberly shook his head no. My son, confused, ran to the yard, looked around and eagerly returned, declaring that there were no ghosts back there so it was safe. The neighbor’s kid sighed and said, “It’s not that, it’s COVID-19.”

My 3-year-old doesn’t really know what that means; he just knows he hasn’t played with the kids on our street or hugged a pal or had anyone up to his room to show off his toys in over a year. He anxiously announces the appearance of strangers on the street like they’re looming threats and nervously looks at me for approval when encountering anyone his own age. So if he wants to watch an oddly empathetic green dude steal Christmas every day, or even multiple times a day, I’m absolutely into it. And I’ll fake laugh every single time the Grinch cries into his spaghetti or curses Bricklebaum.

Childhood doesn’t have to be magical, but if a melancholy cartoon character can make it that much more enjoyable and special at a time when both feelings are at a premium, The Grinch is not only a good movie. It’s a perfect one.

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Turns Out It’s Pretty Good: The Grinch