‘Tis the season for corny, cliched holiday movies, and I could not be more ready for it. This year, both Netflix and Hulu are offering plenty of options, some more delightful than others.
Over on Hulu, Happiest Season tells the story of Harper (Mackenze Davis) and Abby (Kristen Stewart), who are on the verge of getting engaged until Harper invites Abby home for Christmas, forgetting that she has not come out to her parents (Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen), who are in the midst of a local election and are ultra-focused on the family’s appearance. As the couple pretends to be just roommates over the course of the visit, their relationship becomes strained, especially when Harper’s ex-boyfriend and ex-girlfriend (Aubrey Plaza), and her mean older sister (Alison Brie) are added to the mix.
Happiest Season is outstanding. I expected something a little harsher, kind of like The Family Stone, but instead it has so much heart and human interest. Additionally, the supporting characters, especially Abby’s friend John, played by Dan Levy, and Harper’s black sheep sister, Jane (Mary Holland), add a great deal of humor and texture to the story. It is funny, charming, and moving, providing both a worthwhile love story and a thoughtful look at the inner workings of a high-achieving but dysfunctional family. The costumes and sets are gorgeous and the performances are quirky but believable. Happiest Season may be my favorite new holiday movie this year.
Meanwhile, Netflix, which has become a veritable factory of Christmas movies, started the season with Holidate, a somewhat jaded tale of two strangers who agree to be each other’s date for future holidays after they both experienced terrible Christmases as single people. Starring Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey, Holidate is in a similar vein to movies like No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits, except without the friendship grounding the story. Instead the romance begins from two people being miserable—and, frankly, miserable to be around—and continuing to have fun until they make each other miserable by falling in love. Holidate has some gross, funny parts and Roberts and Bracey do have romantic chemistry, but this film is not especially creative, funny, or charming.
As snarky as Holidate is, Christmas on the Square delivers twice as much sweetness. This movie musical stars American Treasure Dolly Parton as an angelic homeless woman who schools a scrooge-like business woman (Christine Baranski) who sells the mainstreet of the town she inherited to a shopping mall developer, evicting the town business people who used to be her friends, including hairdresser Margeline (Jennifer Lewis). Christmas on the Square is full of big musical numbers, flashy costumes, and a lot of sass. This film is campy, corny, and fun, exactly what you would expect from a Dolly Parton Christmas movie. It makes a great film to watch and then play again in the background while making cookies or wrapping presents. You won’t find any award-worthy acting or especially poignant writing, but it is swinging for the fences when it comes to spirit.
Another Netflix movie that focuses on wealthy people having to learn the true meaning of the season is Holiday Rush, which features Romany Malco as a famous DJ, Rush Williams, who has utterly spoiled his four children while trying to be both father and mother to them. His children are demanding things like mini horses and cars for Christmas while he and his business partner, Roxy (Sonequa Martin-Green) try to negotiate part-ownership of the station where Rush hosts the morning drive. Just after Thanksgiving, however, the station is bought by a big conglomerate and Rush is yanked off the air. As Rush and Roxy try to reignite their dreams, Rush and his kids have to learn how to do life—and Christmas—a little simpler.
I will admit that my experience with radio stems from a much smaller market than New York City, but I was thrown off by how unrealistic this DJ’s life was. I mean, he got up at 5:00 am to go work the morning show!? That suspension of disbelief aside, Holiday Rush is a quippy, suitably fast-paced family movie that checked the family feel-good box and also slightly reminded me of an old school screwball comedy, especially in Rush and Roxy’s back-and-forth dialogue. It certainly does not rise above corny Christmas movie quality, but it’s a good movie for when the kids get the “gimmes” this time of year.
Finally, Netflix’s Operation Christmas Drop is a romantic holiday movie focused on a congressional assistant sent to an island Air Force base to generate a report that could lead to closing the base. The target of her investigation on the financial efficiency of the base is Operation Christmas Drop, a (real life) volunteer project through which servicemembers deliver Christmas gifts and supplies to some of the most remote islands in the world. Operation Christmas Drop is weirdly colonial and predictably saccharine. Erica (Kat Graham) is the typical career woman without time for the sweeter parts of life and, as you would expect, she quickly melts when exposed to just a few days of Captain Andrew Jantz’s (Alexander Ludwig) charm and goodness. And everything works out, despite budget and typhoons, just in time for Christmas. This movie does have some moments that I am sure are relatable for servicemembers and their families, and those are the best parts of the movie. Otherwise, it is hardly worth watching.
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