The idea for the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar (there’s probably a much simpler title out there) is simple; a film each day in the build up to Christmas that isn’t your standard Christmas film. Not like The Muppet Christmas Carol, Elf or Die Hard (that’s an argument for another day, or year), but one that might be set at Christmas but the holiday isn’t a major factor in the story of the film, or it’s simply mentioned a couple of times and made reference to throughout.
Day two of the alternative Christmas film advent calendar (that’s right this really wasn’t a joke) reveals another festive comedy – although a much lighter one than yesterdays. Today’s film is, of course, Trading Places.
1983’s Trading Places saw Dan Aykroyd, as a rich, spoilt and sophisticated managing director of commodities brokers Duke & Duke, and Eddie Murphy, in his second film role, and still very much a rapidly rising star, as a poor, homeless street hustler trying anything to get money. In an early scene he’s seen pretending to be blind and without legs, hilariously wheeling himself around on a small cart. The Duke Brothers decide to hold a wager based on swapping the lives of the two figures, from polar opposite ends of the social ladder, to see what the results are, whether they would survive and cope with lifestyles that neither has ever come close to encountering before.
While examining ideas of the relationships between different classes – when kicked out of his high-class life Aykroyd’s Louis Winthorpe III finds himself feeling as if his whole life is over, fearing for it even more when he finds himself in a run-down area of Philadelphia after befriending and beginning to live with Jamie Lee Curtis’ prostitute Ophelia, Curtis was initially protested against being cast by the studio who only thought that she could do horror, after films such as The Fog and three Halloween films – there’s much of Trading Places that also examines race relations. Initially, when being made as a project for Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, the film was titled Black And White. Many claim that such themes and representations still have much relevance today, understandably so. In fact the contrasts against the background of the build-up to Christmas very much add to the points that the film makes in regards to such themes. The greed of the Duke brothers, obsessed with making millions more dollars while there are many other struggling on the streets.
To an extent some of the points and ideas that the film makes are based around certain stereotypes which helps to emphasise such points, developing the plot and the overall tone of the film. Maybe without such stereotypes the film might not be as funny as it is, or have the same effect, maybe it would have turned out as a serious drama. What would this film have turned out to be like if Murphy’s Billy Ray Valentine constantly restraining himself from dropping the F-bomb, using his money for his own gain, to show off and bring people closer to him, or trying to keep his view of upper-class behaviour and lifestyle in check. Or without Aykroyd’s constant worrying about having no money, frequently relying on it and having a low point of view of anyone that isn’t from his background. Trading Places is a film about stereotypes viewing everyone else as stronger, much more different stereotypes. Another point that could be made in the case of the relevance that the film has is the fact that in 2010 a genuine rule was made in regards to the actions of the Duke brothers, through congress for the financial market. After coming into effect the regulation was labelled as “The Eddie Murphy Rule”.
The film takes place in the build-up to Christmas, and New Year. A number of key scenes, and themes, help to heighten the sense of festivity throughout, alongside certain points that the film raises, all while never forgetting to bring about the laughs. One moment in particular as a dishevelled Aykroyd, dressed in a dirty Santa costume at a Christmas party, tucks large portions of food into his large costume. Many have compared the basis of the film to that of The Prince And The Pauper, sometimes a feature of panto season during the festive period, at least in the UK (even if Trading Places is an American film). Nonetheless, the general themes seem to resonate with a certain feeling at Christmas, and various other Christmas films and narratives, many of them somehow finding a link, even if a relatively loose one, back to Scrooge. Either way, there’s something about the comedy amongst what could easily be something serious and dramatic, and the tinge of the time of year that makes Trading Places an entertaining, funny and overall enjoyable alternative Christmas film.