While the first half of the feel is a rather tight nit group of actors sparring back and forth - who would've thought that Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey would spark such verbal fires together? - once the extended family comes along The Ref descends into full on anarchy. I love that look of Davis' face every time she hears the whingeing cry Christine Baranski's high-pitched voice, or the way the children look at each other in admiration of their uncle and aunt as they try to out-insult one another with stinging one-liners and embarrassing anecdotes. That it was nominated for a best casting award by the Casting Society of America is testament to this, I suppose.
The Ref was a box office flop, which is hardly surprising but surely disappointing. The Ref is not exactly as tantalising a film name as the simple, yet effective, Bad Santa, but where the former succeeds over the latter is in the degree of difficulty. Bad Santa would have been easy to make a success, what with the very image of a foul-mouthed Santa being chucklesome right off the bat. What The Ref has is an idea that needed work and some heavy lifting on behalf of the cast, which they are all game for. It never ceases to impress me how well they pulled it all together and at a time when this sort of film wasn't the norm. There will surely be plenty other anti-Christmas movies of this type, but The Ref will forever remain my favourite. Pop this on the DVD player and "celebrate the birth of Christ" with good ol' fashioned family bickering. It's the only way.