I set out to review all the new Christmas movies on streaming services this year, but I ran into some snags. First, Hulu opted for a holiday reality show instead of a movie. Then, I refuse to acknowledge the reboot of Home Alone streaming on Disney+, because the original is too perfect to reboot. Just stop. Finally, over at Amazon Prime, a whole slate of Christmas movies are coming starting in mid-December and were not released as of this writing. So, I bring to you the best and worst Christmas movies available on Netflix and HBO Max this season.
First, I streamed Love Hard, which stars Nina Dobrev as Natalie, who makes her living writing about her terrible dating experiences. Unexpectedly, she matches with her dream guy, Josh (Jimmy O. Yang), and travels from LA to upstate New York to spend Christmas with him, only to find that he used the photo of his childhood friend Tag (Darren Barnet) on his online dating profile. Thoroughly catfished, Natalie stays through the holidays, pretending to be Josh’s girlfriend, only because he promises to set her up with the real Tag.
Love Hard is adorable and fun. There are some weak points, such as the unnecessary jokes about Natalie’s friend having a drinking problem. Mostly, however, the chemistry and banter between Jimmy Yang and Nina Dobrev carry the quippy comedy. The high point is a caroling scene that smartly rewrites “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Harry Shum Jr. gives a hilariously over-the-top performance as Josh’s attention-seeking older brother while James Saito, Rebecca Staab, and Althea Kaye are loveable as Josh’s parents and grandmother. By taking swings at both Die Hard and Love Actually, Love Hard aims to become a Christmas movie classic in its own right. Only time will tell if it succeeds, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
My other favorite this year is 8-Bit Christmas, a new HBO Original that has flavors of A Christmas Story and Home Alone. Set mostly in 1980s Chicagoland, Jake (Winslow Fegley/Neil Patrick Harris) tells his daughter about the Christmas he was on a quest to get a Nintendo. With funny lessons about family, friendship, and the virtue of not always getting what you want, 8-Bit Christmas manages to feel like a John Hughes movie without looking like a rip-off. It is appropriate for older children, but also offers excellent, nostalgic fun for grownups. The ensemble cast doesn’t have any weak links, as the gang of kids tries various, increasingly implausible schemes to get their hands on a Nintendo. Ultimately, the movie brings it home with a tear-jerking, but not too sweet ending. I would willingly re-watch this movie for Christmases to come.
Although 8-Bit Christmas is family-friendly, Netflix’s A Boy Called Christmas is more obviously for children. I enjoyed it much, much less. With vibes similar to the early Harry Potter movies, this picture tells the story of a young boy named Nikolas (Henry Lawfull) on a mission to find his father, Joel (Michiel Huisman), who is on his own mission to find “hope” (evidence of elves) and bring it back to the King of Finland. Maggie Smith narrates as she tells the story to her niece and nephews who, like Nikolas, recently lost their mother. A Boy Called Christmas is beautifully made and features a story of adventure, with a talking mouse, that a lot of children will probably like. To my taste, however, it is too earnest. The lessons about Christmas are heavy-handed and I rolled my eyes so much, but especially when the mouse started talking.
In the terrible Christmas movie category falls Netflix’s, A Castle for Christmas, a Boomer twist on A Christmas Prince. Brooke Shields plays Sophie, a popular romance author who accidentally tanks her career and takes a trip to Scotland, where she buys the castle where her father grew up as the groundskeeper’s son. The castle is owned by a very grumpy duke, Myles (Cary Elwes). You can guess what happens. Brooke Shields does give a loveable performance, which sells this movie enough to make it a good candidate for streaming while you wrap presents, but it is silly, predictable, and in no way a good movie.
Finally, Single All The Way, also on Netflix, is nearly unwatchable. I think it’s important that if we’re going to be inclusive in entertainment, that movies about LGBTQ couples can be just as terrible as romcoms about straight couples. As triumphant as last year’s Happiest Season on Hulu was, this movie is bad. In it, Peter (Michael Urie) convinces his best friend Nick (Philemon Chambers) to go home with him for the holidays and pretend to be his boyfriend so that his family will not give him a hard time about always being single. Nick almost immediately lets the cat out of the bag, and the rest of the movie largely centers on his family trying to get them together or emphasizing that gay men can be platonic friends just like men and women can by. Right, Harry and Sally? This movie is so poorly written that not even the comedic performances of icons Jennifer Coolidge and Kathy Najimy could save it for me.