Soundtrack Saturday: “The Ref”

Written by Film, Soundtrack Saturday

‘Tis the season for bickering and burglary. Kelly Stitzel brings you the soundtrack to one of the funniest holiday movies of the past 20 years, Ted Demme’s The Ref.

Well, hello there loyal Soundtrack Saturday readers! I hope you’ve been doing well these past few weeks. I wish I could say I have been, but that wouldn’t be the truth — I’m housebound and recovering from knee surgery and 100% tired of my own company. But, you don’t want to hear about such things. You’re here to read about a movie soundtrack.

Last year, I decided to write about holidaythemed films during the month of December and you all seemed to really enjoy that. So, I figured I’d do that again this year. However, the two films I’ve chosen to write about (I skipped the first Saturday of December because, well, I was on pain killers and I wouldn’t have written anything that made sense) aren’t necessarily what you might think of as traditional holiday films. But I consider them to be holiday films and that’s really all that matters.

Directed by the late Ted Demme , who is also responsible for one of my favorite films of all time, Beautiful Girls (1996), The Ref (1994) stars comedian Denis Leary — best known at the time for the cynical, cigarrette-smoking persona he’d cultivated in MTV spots that were also directed by Demme — as cat burglar Gus, who is out to score one last major haul before retiring. The only trouble? He picked a house with a burglar alarm that could’ve been designed by the Goonies. Gus doesn’t succeed in robbing the house and is forced to go on the run on Christmas Eve.

When he takes Caroline (Judy Davis) and Lloyd Chasseur (Kevin Spacey) hostage and forces them to take him to their home so he can hide out and figure out a plan of escape, he has no idea what he’s gotten himself into  and soon realizes that getting caught by the police might’ve been the better option.

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Even though The Ref takes place on Christmas Eve, the holiday isn’t the focus of the film, but rather provides the perfect backdrop for the Chasseur family to air their grievances. Because, lets face it: part of the spirit of Christmas is arguing with your family. Not a single Chausseur is happy, mostly because of the vice grip Lloyd’s mother, Rose (Glynis Johns), has on them. So, they delight in fighting with each other to the point of not even noticing Gus’s presence or the fact that he’s an armed fugitive. In the end, Lloyd and Caroline, along with their son, Jesse (Robert J. Steinmiller, Jr.), would rather help Gus escape than put up Rose, proving that they can pull together and act like a family.

One thing I found interesting when researching this movie is that its original ending featured Gus turning himself in to the police in order to show Jesse, who is a bit of a juvenile delinquent, that a life of crime doesn’t pay off. However, when a test audience reacted negatively to the film’s ending, Demme altered it and a new ending was shot. I’ve read that Demme regretted that decision and wished he’d left the film alone. As much as I love the film in its current incarnation, I think I would’ve liked the original ending better and I also wish Demme hadn’t changed it.

Though it got a lot of critical acclaim, particularly for its snappy dialogue, co-written by Richard LaGravenese and Marie Weiss, and the fantastic performances by Judy Davis, Kevin Spacey and Leary, the film didn’t do so well at the box office, grossing a paltry $11.4 million on an $11 million budget. According to Leary, the reason The Ref didn’t perform at the box office was Touchstone’s marketing of the film, in which he claims they focused more on him and his MTV persona and less on what the film was really about. While I’m sure that was part of it, I can’t help but think that it might have done a little better had it been released closer to Christmas rather than in March. I mean, even though it may not be a true Christmas film, I think it might have helped to have marketed it as an alternative to sappy Christmas movies for the cynical, sarcastic, young MTV demographic that appreciated Leary’s humor. But, what do I know?

Now, let’s discuss the music. An official soundtrack album was released, though it is now long out of print, and features a score by David A. Stewart of Eurythmics fame, songs by Ke Grivois and Shara Nelson and is peppered with dialogue from the film. Not present on the official release are any of the Christmas songs featured in the movie. Of course, I’ve provided them to fill in the gaps. Download and enjoy as you don your Swedish candle headpiece and argue with your family this Christmas Eve.

Ke Grivois – Broken Circles
Shara Nelson – Welcome to the Suburbs
Burl Ives – Holly Jolly Christmas
Lou Ann Barton – Please Come Home for Christmas
Nat ‘King’ Cole – The Christmas Song
Nat ‘King’ Cole – O Little Town of Bethlehem
Nat ‘King Cole – Adeste Fideles

Score by David A. Stewart

Opening Theme
Friends Alone
Family Ties
Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down
Murray On Ice
Happy Families
Suite Judy Davis
Stuck in the Suburbs