I watch five movies every holiday season: The Holiday, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, The Shop Around the Corner, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Die Hard. Die Hard is a Christmas movie—it is, after all, about the reunification of a family for the holiday. I spend the rest of December screening the best and worst of the new Christmas movies. In brief, here’s my take on this year’s options.
On Amazon, Something from Tiffany’s technically counts as a Christmas movie because it takes place around the holidays, but its classic rom-com story could be enjoyed year-round. Zoey Deutch and Kendrick Sampson star as Rachel and Ethan, a restauranteur and a writer who meet when Rachel’s boyfriend, Gary, gets hit by a cab outside of Tiffany’s, where Ethan just bought a giant engagement ring. As always, Deutch gives a quirky, charming performance and the writing almost manages to turn an incredibly awkward situation into a sweet love story with good sidekicks and a cozy atmosphere. The chemistry between the leads does not quite work, but I enjoyed the journey anyway.
Otherwise, it seems like HBO is the only streaming service that paid their writing staff this holiday season. A Hollywood Christmas follows a movie director, Jessica (Jessika Van), as she makes a Christmas movie under the watchful eye of a corporate executive (Josh Swickard) who intends to close the holiday division. Her assistant, Reena (Anissa Borrego), quickly deduces that Jessica is living the plot of the very Christmas movies she built her career making. There are already at least two movies made around the same joke, but with weaker results. A Hollywood Christmas is just funny enough to overcome the weakness of its plot and the lack of chemistry between its leads. Anissa Borrego provides the heart of the movie and her funny performance is the best part.
HBO had a gem in A Christmas Story Christmas, the belated sequel to the holiday classic, featuring now-adult Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) as he tries to grieve his father and launch a writing career while also making it a Christmas to remember for his kids. For a movie obviously made for nostalgia’s sake, A Christmas Story Christmas manages not to lean too hard on gags tied to the original. Those jokes are there, some more subtle than others, but the sequel also provides a story that many can relate to, drawing on common experiences of adulthood, as the original did with childhood. Peter Billingsley’s performance is sometimes dorkier than necessary, but I cheered him on to the story’s unlikely-yet-predictable conclusion.
Holiday Harmony means to be romantic, but the pairing is ridiculously lopsided. Instead of rooting for down-on-her-luck musician Gail (Annelise Cepero) to end up with cranky mechanic Jeremy (Jeremy Sumpter), I chose to focus on her struggle to break into the music business by writing an original Christmas song. Cepero has so much talent and charisma that I honestly could not believe I was supposed to want her to end up with flat and charmless Sumpter. Otherwise, I enjoyed this movie and its heartwarming ending more than I expected.
Hulu really tried to infringe on Hallmark’s turf by following their classic formula to perfection. Christmas at the Drive-In relies too heavily on the nostalgic casting of The Wonder Years’ Danica McKeller, but I enjoyed how Catering Christmas featured two creative, career-driven people and did not make anyone sacrifice their ambitions to find love.
Netflix seems to have put all their effort into casting Lindsay Lohan and Freddie Prinze, Jr. Christmas With You is essentially last year’s Marry Me crossed with Music & Lyrics. It stars Aimee Garcia as Angelina, a fading pop star struggling to write a Christmas song, and Prinze Jr. as Miguel, a teacher who helps her find a more grounded experience of the holidays and musical inspiration. If you liked either of the aforementioned movies, you likely will enjoy this one, but set your expectations low.
The Noel Diary features Justin Hartley playing his This Is Us character, just swapping writing for acting. Only, it’s a lot sadder and less satisfying. The cinematography also uses tones, meaning to be cozy, but instead adding to an overall depressing take on a Christmas romance. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Christmas on Mistletoe Farm has colors mixed so high that grass looks neon green. The whole movie is just children running around with farm animals yelling. I think kids would enjoy it, but after my child was asleep, it was the last thing I wanted to watch. Still, I preferred it to The Noel Diary.
Meanwhile, Disney+ released a new edition of The Santa Clause franchise, The Santa Clauses, a limited series about Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) retiring from being Santa—or at least trying to. Despite bad jokes, annoying elves, and a bad performance from Kal Penn, the story is still compelling. I think the series should have been edited into a movie instead of six episodes, but I still watched the whole thing.
Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year Waynedale. Here’s to better movies in 2023!
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