A California Christmas
My friend called this A Cowboy Christmas, which is so much better than A California Christmas that I’m submitting a petition immediately to have the name changed.
I have a theory that, depending on their release date, some rom-coms get branded as Christmasy even when they’re not. I’m pretty sure A California Christmas falls into that category. Sure, it’s set around Christmas, but cut out maybe three scenes and five lines and you’d have yourself a general rom-com about a womanizer finding redemption in the arms of a good woman.
Joseph (Josh Swickard) is just your run-of-the-mill ultra-wealthy ladies’ man who humps them and dumps them. (Sorry, that was a little lewd, but I liked the rhyme. Would shags them and bags them be better? No, that sounds like he’s a serial killer.) He has a…I don’t know exactly. Man servant? Butler? Chauffeur? Valet? He has Leo (Ali Afshar) who is extremely snooty, brings his own wine to dive bars, goes everywhere with Joseph, and takes care of any problems that may arise. All is going just fine for Joseph (you know, if you’re into propping up the patriarchy) and his penis until his mother, who is the head of their Large Corporation, gives him an ultimatum that he must personally convince the owners of a small dairy farm to sell their land to the Large Corporation. She points out that seducing women is his only skill, and if he fails this mission he will LOSE EVERYTHING. Dun dun dun. (Not really everything, mostly his fancy apartment and the gobs of money he gets for doing very little work.) Why exactly do they need this land so badly? It’s unclear and it matters not. What matters is that Joseph’s mom is certain that he can sweet talk the woman who owns the place into signing The Papers by Christmas Day. (Of course it’s Christmas Day.) Is it creepy that his mother is basically asking him to have sex with a woman in order to dupe her selling into her farm? Yeah, it is. Also, she appears to have given a lot of thought to and have a lot of faith in his sexual prowess, which is also pretty creepy.
Moving on, Joseph and Leo head out to the farm where there are—brace yourselves—animals and dirt. Joseph is appalled, but he musters all his courage, puts on some non-designer clothes, helps deliver a calf (yes, really, and no it does not look realistic), and steals the identity of Manny (David del Rio), a farm hand who was supposed to start the next day. He has Leo pay off Manny to keep his mouth shut and also to be on call to answer any and all of Joseph’s farm hand-related questions. Manny parlays this into renting a house with Leo where the two of them play a lot of video games and drink a lot of Leo’s wine. Leo is the real hero here because he’s the only one who has actual ranch hand knowledge and is able to calmly explain even really complicated things to Joseph via a ten second phone call. Joseph also makes some joke about not being able to pronounce Manny’s full name, because jokes like that are evergreen and never totally offensive and lame.
Callie (Lauren Swickard who, yes, is married to the guy playing Joseph and wrote the movie) has been running the farm on her own since her father is gone and her mother is very sick. The debts are high, she has to work nights as a bartender to still not make ends meet, and, along with her mother and younger sister, she sells baked goods to local shops to also not make ends meet. Obviously, she’s never going to sell the farm because this land has been in her family forever and it’s the principal of the thing. I’m totally fine with the idea that small farmers should be able to earn a living from their work, and never sell to corporations who want to build warehouses or some shit. And this movie could be a whole commentary on the plight of small farmers right now, but the movie stops several miles short of making that case.
Anyway, Callie is attractive and Emotionally Unavailable because of a recentish heartbreak. We know she’s a strong, independent woman because she has a shotgun, doesn’t wear high heels, and sometimes wears an oversized sweatshirt. But she’s still vulnerable and feminine enough to be sad and wear fitted tank tops —because heaven forfend she not be feminine enough, which would be so icky. Of course, she definitely doesn’t like Joseph one bit when she meets him, which is fair because he’s a jackass. Joseph is also Emotionally Unavailable, but only because he’s an obnoxious twit who refers to Callie, a grown ass woman, as a “girl.” This makes my blood boil.
Of course, Joseph cannot stay a twit for too long. No, friends, through the power of honest labor, calloused hands, and influence of a Good Woman, he finds out that his True Purpose is to love Callie and help her save the farm. (It seems relevant to point out that he does a lot of this shirtless in the California sun. I’m not mad about that.)
Callie, of course, falls for him because he’s nice to her younger sister, slaps a couple of boards on a holey chicken coop, and tells her she doesn’t deserve some other guy’s unwanted sexual advances. Newsflash, Broseph, NO ONE “DESERVES” unwanted advances. Also, probably see above about him working shirtless so much. I bet that made her have many feelings.
Look, this plot is held together with schmaltz and well-worn tropes. Please don’t think about any of it too hard or the whole thing will fall apart. It’s best to think of it like one of those magic eye pictures we were all obsessed with years ago. If you think about it too much or look at it too directly, you won’t get anything out of it. Just let your eyes glaze over and go with it. Broseph and Callie have good chemistry. (How awkward would it be if—seeing that they’re married and all—they didn’t though?!? Super duper awkward.) The countryside is pretty enough. The acting is totally fine. And Leo and Manny have an amusing sort of opposites-attract bromance going. I mean, not so amusing that I wanted them to have a spin-off, but fine enough for this. But the best part about this movie? By next Christmas you will likely have forgotten every single thing about it, so you can let it all wash over you again as if it’s the first time.
Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:
Home for Christmas Season 2
If you’re looking for a review of Season One, you’ll find it here.
[Before we start, let me just answer your most burning question. Yes, those squishy babies from the first season show up again. Yes, they are still adorable. And yes, we do get to see them manipulate spoonfuls of mashed food into their mouths. Thank goodness!!]
So! We have been waiting to find out who was behind the motherfracking door for an entire year now and the reveal was…
…kind of anti-climactic?
If you recall, Johanne (Ida Elise Broch) having Christmas dinner with her family and a bunch of other stragglers who kept ringing the doorbell and then cramming in around the table. The doorbell rings one final time and we see Johanne open it and then smile, but before we see who is on the other side the screen goes black. So who was there?!?
Are you ready?!?
A flower delivery guy with the absolute largest bouquet of red roses I have ever seen. Like, think of something Kanye West would give to Kim Kardashian and she would post about on Instagram. You could do someone bodily harm with many roses. It’s like a mace of roses. Anyway, prepare yourselves because there is NO SIGNATURE ON THE CARD. What the fuck show creators? This is maddening. Yes, I know that’s the point.
That same night, while Johanne is presumably still very high on rose fumes, Henrik (Oddgeir Thune)—the doctor who casually mentioned he was in love with her in the first season—shows up at her house to tell her that a patient has died. She kind of assumes he sent the roses and the combination of grief, rose fumes, and romance leads them to make out in her entryway, and then start dating. We’re whipped forward in their relationship from the period when she wants to spend all her time with him through the time when the way he loads the dishwasher makes her think murderous thoughts. Henrik also doesn’t like her tattoos and thinks she still hung up on her very ex-boyfriend. (He’s not wrong about the ex. He can suck eggs about the tattoos because it’s definitely not his body.) By episode two these two lovebirds are dunzo, and I don’t think anyone is sad to see Henrik get the heave ho.
Meanwhile, her parents’ marriage is imploding. When Johanne’s father lets her know that her mother won’t be there for Christmas, he suggests they just cancel the annual dinner. Johanne finds this idea absolutely scandalizing, so she insists that she will host Christmas at her house. Everyone else finds this scandalizing because Johanne can’t cook.
A lot of this season felt more frantic and disjointed. Maybe it was filming during COVID? Or maybe had too many ideas to fit? Or too few? Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it. The characters are still well cast, fun to watch, and appealing. But it just lacked some of the depth and warmth of the first season. Johanne is still surrounded by people who love and care about her—my favorite still being her amazing roommate Jørgunn (Gabrielle Leithaug)—and who are rooting for her to let go of her past and find love. I’m sorry, I thought I was done talking about Jørgunn, but I’m not. There’s a scene when she repeatedly yells the words fuckboi and orgasm to a room full of Johanne’s family and it was quite possibly the most delightful part of the entire series. Maybe not counting the scenes when Johanne and Jørgunn sit on the couch in their matching onesies eating ice cream and talking about life.
There is far less of Johanne’s work life included in this season, and I dearly missed seeing her interactions with various patients. I also missed that contrast of Johanne being such a capable nurse at work and such a mess in the rest of her life. While Johanne is still figuring things out, she feels like her friends’ and family’s lives are moving forward and changing in ways that make her feel unmoored and lonely. Or, as Jørgunn would tell her, she hasn’t found her prairie vole yet. (They mate for life.)
And, um, it’s not a huge deal or anything, but there were no live reindeer wandering the pedestrian shopping area in this season and I was deeply, deeply disappointed. There was a scene with a reindeer pelt as a lap blanket and now I’m wondering if that was the reindeer from last year. That would be very dark.
There are new faces this season, like Nick (Edward Schultheiss), a socially awkward single-father and his teenage daughter who move in next door. He and Johanne lean on each other for companionship and support. It should be noted that he has the most amazing Christmas-patterned suit I have ever seen. It may be the only Christmas-patterned suit I have ever seen, but I cannot imagine a better one.
He helps Johanne with crafts and cooking and she accompanies him on a night of speed dating. And yes, that does bring me to another point, which is that some of the plot feels a bit recycled. Nick’s round of speed dating, Johanne going out with friends and getting too drunk, Johanne meeting and dating a guy who seems great, but maybe isn’t, we saw it all in the first season, which maybe is the point. That she’s reliving things, but with a different perspective, and that allows her to end up in a different place? Perhaps, but it doesn’t necessarily feel that way. (But, um, can I just say that the guy she dates gave me some low-key Norman Bates vibes, but his story is kind of left hanging, so we may never know if I was right, but I’m probably definitely right.)
In the end of this season we really do find out who was behind the weapon-of-mass-destruction sized bouquet of roses, and it was the person I hoped it would be, though I still question if it was entirely in character for them to send a satellite-sized floral arrangement. But, like the first season, this season really is about finding those people who love you as you are, who make you feel like you belong, who make you feel safe, who make you feel like you’re home, and holding onto them for as long as you can. And honestly, even if this season didn’t have quite the same finesse and depth as the first one, that’s always some subject matter I’m willing to binge any day of the week.