Trading Places. It may be the last Christmas movie released post-1980 that’s always on all of those ‘Best Christmas Movies Of All Time’ lists that I haven’t seen. Out of the ones that are free to view in the UK of course. I mean, it’s not like I’m going to pay for a Christmas movie, is it? But you know the ones I mean. Those lists that always include Home Alone, The Miracle on 34th Street, The Santa Clause, Gremlins… and Trading Places. They’re the same every time and I don’t know why I Google them every single year, yet here we are.
Anyway, Trading Places is just about the only one I can think of that I’ve never seen, but I always think ‘I really should watch that’ when it pops up. So this year, I finally got round to it!
Starring a relatively young Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd when he was in the midst of a few failed films, the movie is your classic rags-to-riches tale… but with a twist. Murphy plays Billy Ray Valentine, a homeless man who regularly resorts to conning and stealing to get by. Aykroyd plays high flying stock market investor Louis Winthorpe. When two entitled millionaire brothers make a bet, the two polar opposite men become subject to a switcheroo – they strip away Winthorpe’s job, money, girlfriend and home and give it all to Valentine in order to see what will happen.
How do I summarise my feelings about this movie? Wholly unrealistic yet wholly entertaining. Shame about the racist and homophobic slurs. That’s the 80s for you, I guess. But more about that in a bit.
On a more positive note, the plot itself is really quite original and it’s fun to see it all unfold. Sure, there are elements that will have been borrowed from films that came before it, but did those movies have the charm of early Eddie Murphy and a Christmas back drop? Nope. Not to mention, they fit so much into this – and very cohesively too – without it becoming overly long.
There’s just one thing I can’t get on board with. And yes, I’m going back to talk about those slurs again. I understand that Trading Places is almost 40 years old at this point (yes, that is correct) and cultural attitudes were not the same back then, but wow there’s absolutely no political correctness here whatsoever. Some of the humour is quite clearly satire, but will every member of the audience realise that? I doubt it, and that is potentially dangerous. There’s a rape joke, blatant black face used for “comedy”, and the N word is thrown around like there’s no tomorrow. It’s just a lot. In other words, Trading Places has aged extremely poorly.
Despite the aforementioned, none of it means that the rest of the film isn’t highly enjoyable. For the most part, that’s down to the brilliant cast. Most people no doubt remember Trading Places for Murphy and Aykroyd, but Denholm Elliott as loyal butler Coleman was my absolute fave. What a gem. On top of that, Jamie Lee Curtis proves herself outside of horror here too. Overall, this is a triumph for everyone involved when you take out some of the dodgy humour.
I won’t say it’s a bad film because of some of its outdated jokes, but again, it has aged extremely poorly in parts. However, there’s still enough charm and interest to satisfy most, so I kind of get why it’s on all those lists I was rambling on about at the top. (It’s still not better than Home Alone though.)
Trading Places is available to stream on Sky Cinema and Now TV in the UK.
TQR Category Ratings:
Costume & Set Design:
Overall Enjoyability Rating: ½