Last year I wasn’t sure I would review any Christmas movies. (I was going to write Holiday movies there, but there is no point pretending these movies are anything but full-on YuleTubing.) Oh, how the times have changed. This year I have watched and written about so many Christmas movies and shows that I’m concerned it is approaching overkill. But there’s no turning back now, so hold onto to your jingle bells my beauties! We’ve got a whole lot of simulated snow to plow through!
And stay tuned later this week for a bonus review!
There is not a single drop of subtlety in this entire movie, but it doesn’t matter because Godmothered is a freakin’ delight to YuleTube. Eleanor (Jillian Bell) is the youngest and most earnest of all the fairy godmothers in the Motherland. Unlike the rest, she is excited to attend Moria’s (Jane Curtain) lessons about how to apply the centuries old fairy godmother formula of conjuring a gown, finding true love, and living happily ever after. Sadly, godmother work has all but dried up, the Motherland is in disrepair, and soon all the godmothers will be transferred over to work as tooth fairies. Determined not to let this happen, Eleanor, who is decades from completing her training, finds a solitary letter from a young girl named Mackenzie and sets off to find the portal to earth and save the Motherland. But oopsie doodles, it turns out that Mackenzie (Isla Fisher) is all grown up, a single mother of two girls and miserable, and she definitely no longer believes in fairy godmothers. She also, you guessed it, no longer likes Christmas. Gasp!
Jillian Bell is the highlight of this movie (though Jane Curtain is, of course, fantastic, as is June Squibb as the narrator/fairy godmother DJ). Eleanor is largely untrained and her spells rarely work out as intended—she has a bad habit of exploding pumpkins rather than turning them into carriages. Plus, she’s entirely naive when it comes to all things earthly. She takes a bite out of money, is disgusted by a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, thinks every woman needs a prince, and can’t understand why Mackenzie lives in a “hovel” instead of a castle. When Mackenzie, thinking Eleanor is a few sparkles shy of a prom gown, suggests she’s going to put her on a greyhound bus, Eleanor exclaims, “They’re turning greyhounds into buses?!?” Maybe you had to be there, but it totally cracked me up. And the kind of baffled, excited, daffy energy that Bell brings to the role totally made the movie for me.
By now you’re probably thinking that you know more or less what’s going to happen in the movie, except maybe you don’t because this movie is not about finding romantic love, but instead about women coming together to solve problems and save themselves. And, of course, it’s about the myriad different ways that love can be expressed and felt. It’s not going to win awards or rave reviews from critics, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a bright and charming way to spend an hour and forty minutes. (DisneyPlus)
Operation Christmas Drop
Let me start by saying that “Operation Christmas Drop” is a real thing. According to the film, it’s the Department of Defense’s longest running humanitarian mission, which currently drops 50,000 pounds of supplies to Micronesia every year. The movie was filmed in Guam on the Air Force base. So you should know that you’re going to get a very healthy dose of propaganda along with your Christmas rom-com. And look, I’m not arguing about whether “Operation Christmas Drop” is a worthy enterprise or not; it’s clearly providing much needed medical supplies, food, and clothing to people in remote and isolated places. But, I think it’s also important to keep in mind that these islands were first invaded by Spanish colonizers in the 15th and 16th century, and most have been living under some sort of colonial rule since then. So it is in some sense trying to solve a problem that it helped to create, possibly without providing people the tools and resources they need to create their own more permanent solutions.
That aside, this is not a terrible Christmas movie! (Is this the same as saying, “Otherwise Mrs. Lincoln thought the play was just fine?” Maybe.) Erica (Kat Graham, who was also in the Netflix movie Christmas Calendar, which was entirely watchable) is a very serious Congressional Aide who wears her hair in a bun. She’s gunning for a promotion and is afraid that she’ll be overlooked. Erica is also a Black woman, which is still unusual for this kind of movie. What am I saying? It’s still unusual for most kinds of movies. Her boss, Congresswoman Bradford (Virginia Madsen), who is in charge of Base Realignment and Closure, is gunning to close an air force base in Guam that she believes is riddled with inefficiencies due to their yearly focus on “Operation Christmas Drop.” She insists that Erica spend Christmas on the base in order to gather damning information. Erica is kinda okay with this because she prefers to avoid Christmas since her mother died a few years ago. Is it possible that Erica will find her Lost Christmas Spirit on the island of Guam? Who knows!?! (No, but seriously, of course she’s going to rediscover the meaning of Christmas. This isn’t a horror movie after all.) On the island she’s met by Andrew (Alexander Ludwig), a very tall and very blonde airman who dedicates much of his life to the Christmas Drop and to helping others by bartering for things like generators to help power local schools. And look, while yes, some of the scenes about his efforts feel extremely paternalistic toward the islanders, it is clearly coming from a place of caring for the people, which obviously can still be problematic and colonizing. Andrew has been assigned to show Erica around the base and hopefully get her to give them a good report. As required in this type of movie, they immediately hate each other. She thinks he’s irresponsible because she finds him at the beach surfing. (Please note, this is also the obligatory shirtless man scene for this otherwise very modest movie. Not that I think bare chests are immodest. You know what I mean.) He thinks she’s uptight because she shows up in a suit and heels and is all business. Whatever will happen between these seemingly poorly matched attractive heterosexual people?!? Only time (and the outcome of every other movie in this genre) will tell!
I personally greatly enjoyed watching Erica’s evolution via her hair, which starts off very straight and slicked down and ends up loose and wavy. And obviously, this is not a movie that prides itself on its subtle symbolism. Everything is going to be laid right out there, which, of course, is exactly what you want from a movie like this. There will be lines like when Andrew explains to Erica that “We’re the most strategically important location in the South Pacific.” I mean, I’m pretty sure Erica would already know that or else she’s really, really bad at her job. I also liked when Erica’s coworker looks at a photo of Andrew and asks, “Who’s Major Eye Candy?” It delights me to no end when movies feel like they need to carefully point out to the viewers that someone is meant to be attractive. Like we are incapable of making that call on our own. I was, however, irked by the huge focus on trying to bring northern cold weather traditions to Guam. Like they don’t have their own traditions? Which brings us back to Colonization, I suppose. (I was singing that sentence to the tune of “Do-Re-Mi” in my head.) Anyway, the thing that was the very least believable, even less believable than the very clearly CGI gecko that keeps showing up, is the scene where Erica’s coworker calls from the office in Washington, DC to say that they have three inches of snow and it’s still coming down. I’m sorry, what?!? No. All you have to do is softly whisper the word snow in the vicinity of the Capitol building for the entire city to hole up at home with loaves of bread and gallons of milk. I bet even the gecko was shaking with animated laughter at that one.
When all is said and done, Erica and Andrew really don’t have much chemistry, and watching them attempt to flirt is less like watching fireworks and more like watching someone try to light a damp sparkler. But it doesn’t matter so much since the true romance is Erica falling in love with Operation Christmas Drop, and remembering why she got into public service in the first place. Instead of sweeping shots of people kissing, there are romantic shots of boxes of supplies gracefully parachuting into the sea while Erica wears a flight suit (that just so happens to be much more fitted than everyone else’s). Which is fine because the backdrop is gorgeous, and even with the problematic elements, the message of caring for other people is always a good one. (Netflix)
Friends, I simply could not. I tried to watch this movie about an undercover cop who falls for a diamond thief twice. Both times I was defeated by the acting that would make cardboard look dynamic and the music that plays constantly at a volume just loud enough to be utterly distracting. Perhaps the volume was intentional in order to distract from the less than average writing? It’s a strategy. Look, you know by now I am dedicated to watching everything from the mediocre to the truly revelatory, but Christmas Catch forced me to confront my limitations. (Netflix)
Midnight at the Magnolia
And again I came face to face with my limitations.
Maggie and Jack are best friends and also host a radio call-in show in Chicago. (Full disclosure: I dislike real life call-in radio shows, but a call-in radio show does serve as an excellent device for the characters to explain everything to us, rather than showing us.) Their fathers own a restaurant together where both families always get together the day after Christmas. Both Maggie and Jack are in relationships, but don’t feel they’re ready to bring their significant others to meet the families. For some unknown reason they announce this on the air and think no one will hear or get upset? There is also something about being picked up for the national market and saving the family restaurant, which has been losing business. This all leads them to pretend they are dating, but I don’t really know how because I could not stand more than 20-minutes of Jack and I stopped watching. Maybe he gets better, but the schmuck was such a man-child that Maggie made sure to pack him lunch because she knew he wouldn’t wake up in time to do it himself. I’m sorry? Does he not know about the countless delivery services available in the greater Chicago-area? Maggie also says something about a man treating a woman like “the princess she is” and I nearly choked on the patriarchy. As always, I was amused by a movie that claims to be 100% set in the United States, but almost all of the actors have very, very Canadian accents and the featured coffeeshop only exists in Canada. (Netflix)
Mistletoe & Menorahs
After so enjoying the way that Dash & Lily brought in Hanukkah, I was curious to see what other movies at least attempted to acknowledge that Christmas isn’t the only game in town. And yes, I know Hanukkah and Christmas are the only two holidays. And no, I do not think that Hanukkah needs to be thought of as the Jewish Christmas. (Just this week I injured myself snorting when I saw that Williams Sonoma are hawking Hanukkah gingerbread houses. I side with the reviewer who wrote, “No one needs this.”) But it is a holiday I very much enjoy celebrating with my kids—and torturing them every year by asking them if they’d like me to tell them the story of Hanukkah again. And I’m always troubled that Christmas movies (and really mainstream society at large) create a world in which it is presumed that EVERYONE celebrates Christmas, which obviously is not the case. Look, I guess I just wanted something that showed it’s possible to not care about Christmas and still be a happy and fulfilled person. You know? Anyway, Mistletoe & Menorahs didn’t exactly fit the bill.
Christy (Kelley Jakle) is a toy designer in Chicago who is super duper hyped about Christmas, but in an okay way for this kind of movie. (Is her name supposed to be a play on the word Christmas?!? I feel woozy.) She makes a Big Presentation to a Very Important Client who is very excited about her ideas. They start talking about how much they both love the holidays, and he invites her to his holiday party on Christmas Eve. She’s happy to accept because, as she excitedly tells him, she’s a “holiday expert.” But after he leaves her friend points out that he’s Jewish and his party is on the eighth night of Hanukkah. But Christy doesn’t know anything about Hanukkah!! And the solitary Jewish person she kind of knows is away or something. Fortunately, her friend hooks her up with Jonathan (Jake Epstein), her son’s middle school teacher, who just so happens to need to learn about Christmas before he hosts his girlfriend’s family.
This is possibly the shakiest premise for a movie ever. First, I’m kind of scandalized that between Christy and her friend they can come up with a sum total of two Jewish people. Second, there is the internet. Googling Hanukkah brings up 75.9 million results (and that’s one variation on the spelling). She could start there. Third, she could just admit to the Very Important Client that she was talking about Christmas when he was talking about Hanukkah, but she’s still very excited to attend his party and learn about his traditions. As for Jonathan, why on earth does he have to host Christmas? Why can’t his girlfriend host it and have him over? Why can’t her parents come and learn about Hanukkah? Is she a monster? (She kind of is, actually.) Also, Christmas is every-fucking-where in the United States, so having a personal tutor probably isn’t strictly necessary. Googling Christmas brings up 3.4 billion results.
I was also more than a little horrified that it appears that someone involved in this movie made the choice to color code people based on what holiday they celebrate. The Very Important Client and Jonathan wear blue, while Christy and her friend are dressed in bright red and green. I mean, it’s not like there is any time in living memory when color coding people based on their beliefs was a bad thing, right?!?
As the movie goes on and Christy and Jonathan learn more about each other’s cultures, they both end up wearing the other color at some point. I guess to demonstrate their melding or acceptance. But still. Maybe don’t make it a thing at all. They also cram so many Christmas decorations into almost every scene that I think people at the Christmas Tree Shops would be like, “Woah there, friend, maybe take it down a notch or two?” (Full disclosure: I have never been inside a Christmas Tree Shop, so this is based entirely on my imagination.) I felt a little like it was overcompensating for the Hanukkah parts.
Obviously, both Jonathan and Christy have absolutely terrible significant others. When Jonathan is telling Christy the story of Hanukkah, his girlfriend keeps saying, “Isn’t it random?” Which is just a really strange way to react to any story about rising up to confront religious persecution. (I did enjoy that after Jonathan tells her that about the Jews finding their holiest temple had been desecrated, Christy responds by saying, “That’s intense.” It made me snort and it’s going to be how I respond to all religious stories from now on.) Christy’s boyfriend only comes over to watch sports at her house and doesn’t want to participate in any of her Christmas traditions. He also says that the potato latkes she makes “look like guinea pig,” thus managing to be offensive to multiple cultures in one go. You know they are both going to get the old heave ho.
Honestly, while the message of the movie—that there’s more that unites us than divides us—is sweet, and I’m all for showing interfaith relationships, it was a bit of a slog to watch Christy and Jonathan laboriously educate each other about their traditions. And it’s not like Christy and Jonathan aren’t fairly appealing people. They’re both absolutely fine. I just didn’t feel like I needed to spend that much time listening to people talk about the wonders of well-made fruitcake. Or that many scenes watching Christy psych herself up to light the menorah. It’s just not that hard, Christy!! Jonathan even gave you notes to follow! Oh my Twizzlers!! That reminds me that I forgot to tell you that Christy has exactly eight days to learn everything about Hanukkah. Ah, the subtle symbolism, which Jonathan points out and Christy doesn’t get because she doesn’t even know that there are eight nights of Hanukkah. Am I just being naive? Is that really something that a woman living in Chicago in the 21st century wouldn’t know? This makes even less sense when Jonathan meets her parents who have travelled all over the world, including Israel. I guess the assumption is the viewers know absolutely nothing about Hanukkah? I don’t know. I’m all kinds of confused. Anyway, I don’t mean to spoil anything, but if you make it to the end, which I’m not necessarily recommending you do, you’ll get to see Christy and Jonathan come to the earth shattering realization that Passover and Easter are also around the same time. Do I smell a sequel? Probably not. Honestly, if you want some fun Hanukkah videos in your life, you might be better off watching “Candlelight” by the Maccabeats or “A Puppy for Hanukkah” by Daveed Diggs. (Amazon Prime)