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Mistletoe Mixup

Promo image for movie. Austin, wearing a red plaid shirt with his arms crossed, stands beside Tom, wearing a black jacket and checked button down. The two men are looking at each other. Holly is standing in front of them looking directly at the camera. Behind all of them is a ski scene with a chair lift, a snowman, a Christmas tree. Poinsettias are poking out of either upper corner. In large white font at the bottom it says MISTLETOE MIXUP.
Is that Jesus riding the chair lift on the right? Not even he can save this movie.

Oy vey. OY VEY, my friends. This movie started off okayish enough. Holly (Danielle C. Ryan) is a super duper driven, independent woman—who is also blonde and conventionally pretty, obviously. Her best friend and boss Vicky (Adrienne Thomas)—who is a Black woman who never seems to do anything other than support and guide Holly, obviously—thinks she needs to relax and “get back out there.” Holly makes a Christmas wish on some mistletoe to “meet Mr. Right” (as in the man of her dreams), but she says the wish twice, and that, my fine fellow YuleTubers, is going to lead to troubles and the aforementioned mistletoe mix-up. It also leads to the woman (Sklyer M. Day) who gave her the wishing mistletoe to creepily show up in random places until she suddenly disappears forever. (Sometimes the line between cheesy Christmas rom-com and horror movie feels razor-thin.) 

Holly plans to spend Christmas alone this year, as she has every year since her father died just before Christmas, which of course he did. She’s not even planning on getting a tree (the absolute and abject sadness and horror!) until Vicky gives Holly her credit card and insists that she go buy one. What?!? Doesn’t she pay Holly in actual money for her job? I guess it’s a nice gesture, but also kind of weird that she hands her the credit card like she’s her mother or something. Anyway, after talking herself through every tree on the lot (it’s so cringey to watch), Holly finally finds her perfect tree. But while trying to read the price tag on the tippy-top (why would it be there?) she falls over with the tree landing on top of her. Please note that she’s tree shopping in stiletto heeled, open-toed boots, because ladies are independent up until the moment they’re made helpless by fashion. Who should come along but a nice (overbearing) handsome (if you like very tight sweaters with nothing underneath) man named Tom Wright (Joey Lawrence). Get it? He’s Mr. Wright!! If you’re thinking I haven’t gotten to the really bad part of the movie yet, then you are absolutely correct. After trying to talk her into a different kind of tree (ew, mansplainy much?) Tom explains that he’s in finance, also likes to work a lot, pontificates about knots, helps Holly tie the tree to her car, and asks her on a date. Holly says sure (oh, the romance and sparks) and heads home to set up her tree. When she’s nearly home the knot comes undone (this is why you don’t mansplain, men) and the tree flies off the roof, landing on another man. It’s practically raining men at this point. He is also an attractive single man, but his name is Austin (Matthew Lawrence) and he’s an artist who is laid back and dresses in loose, worn clothing. Holly and Austin set up her tree, go shopping for decorations (with Vicky’s credit card, which is now super weird), and spend hours talking. When he leaves he gives her his number and very specifically tells her to CALL HIM. But Holly, being an adult, texts him, AND GETS NO RESPONSE!!! She thinks she’s been ghosted, but has she? So. Much. Dramatic. Tension.

Meanwhile Tom calls and asks to set up that date. She again says sure, but sidesteps his offer to pick her up. (Are these men secretly seventy-five? Why all the phone calls?) I do like the way Holly is very careful to get places with her own car. Christmas magic or not, she’s taking no chances of getting stuck with some handsy guy and no way home. (Am I secretly in my nineties and that’s why I’m saying handsy?) The date is perfectly okay and fine, which, naturally, inspires Tom to invite Holly to Christmas with his entire family at their “cabin” in the mountains. Holly agrees to go, but stays at Vicky’s cabin. (Which, of course, Vicky has decorated for her by the neighbors like an after-Christmas sale vomited directly into every crack and crevice.) Now, you’ll never guess what happens when Holly gets to Tom’s family’s cabin (which is actually a giant ass house)! IT TURNS OUT THAT AUSTIN IS TOM’S BROTHER!!! I’m so shocked that I died and am writing this in a reincarnated form. They are both Mr. Wright. Get it? Because she made the wish twice, so there are… No, you get get it.

Holly learns that Austin didn’t text her back because he doesn’t have a cell phone and she was texting his landline. (Why then did all the messages say delivered?) Does Austin think she’s a mind reader? Wouldn’t you explicitly say that it was a landline and not a cell phone?

And this is where the movie goes from meh to aaaaaarggghh. Over lunch with their brother Seth (Andrew Lawrence) and his wife (Wendy Dang), their mother (Cherie Julander), and their grandmother (Donna Lawrence), Tom and Austin jostle and vie for Holly’s attention. She’s not into it one bit, but she also keeps giving in to their pleas for one more chance and one more date. The grandmother is supposed to be both wise and humorous (because it’s always funny when older women talk about S-E-X, right?), but her costume and makeup are so distracting that it’s hard to hear anything she says. The rest of the movie is mostly about Tom and Austin fighting, sometimes literally rolling around on the floor, over Holly. It’s gross and it’s boring as hell. It seems that one of them really likes her and the other just wants to win. There is also another woman (Samantha Cope), who looks like Holly with slightly different features (because there is only one kind of attractive woman in the world, amirite?!?) who catches the eye of one man, but he’s too caught up in the competition to realize his feelings at first. What a story they’ll have to tell at their wedding someday!! Vicky informs Holly, who is rightly just incredibly over the situation, that “two men battling for you is the dream.” Mmmmm. But it’s not. At all. We don’t have to believe that toxic masculinity is the dream. Does anyone look at bucks in rut, for example, and think, Yes, please. Sign me up? Two men respecting that you are a person with complete agency is hot. Two men acknowledging the awkwardness of a fluke situation where you all barely know each other is hot. Two men communicating openly about their emerging emotions is extremely hot. Two men trying to outdo each other in skiing or karaoke to impress a woman and prove their masculinity to each other is very much not the dream and not hot. (I’m sorry. Did I forget to mention there is singing? Of course Joey Lawrence is going to sing.) Also, if either of these men refer to Holly as a nice “girl” one more fucking time I will personally sit them down and explain how it’s incredibly icky when men refer to the women they’re dating as if they’re children. Our society already does quite enough to blur the line between girls and women, thank you very much.

The good news? The movie ends. The better news? I watched it so you don’t have to.

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the holiday calendar (2018)

Against a green background that changes to gold at the very bottom. It says Netflix in the upper left corner and then THE HOLIDAY CALENDAR in white letters below that. on the right side Abby leans on the roof the house advent calendar and looks up to the right. Josh is standing behind her smiling directly at the camera.

This is a sweet Christmas rom-com that also proves my point that the distance between magical charm and creepy horror in some holiday movies is often just a few bars of music and a couple of lines of dialogue.

Abby Sutton (Kat Graham) is stuck in a dead-end job, taking a bajillion holiday studio portraits that she could crank out in her sleep. What she really wants to do is open her own photography studio where she can show her more artistic work and that of other aspiring artists, but she’s too broke to make that happen, and maybe too scared to take the leap. Her parents (Laura de Carteret and Kevin Hanchard) think she should consider joining them and her sister Sarah (Genelle Williams) at the family law firm, where she won’t be happy, but where she will have financial security. Abby might finally be willing to entertain the idea, but then her best friend Josh (Quincy Brown), who is also a photographer, blows back into town after months of world traveling, and reminds her of her passion and dreams. Does Josh have dreams of his own about exploring some of Abby’s, erm, other passions? You bet he does! (But this is also a G-rated movie, so we’re not going to see anything remotely suggestive.) Is she absolutely clueless about that? She is! Does everyone else in her family see that they belong together? Of course! 

For the record, Josh and Abby are adorable together. This is A-plus casting. The acting is not always the best, but this style of Christmas movie always has awkward acting and direction.

Abby’s grandfather (Ron Cepahas Jones), who is a delightful character, gives her a big house-shaped antique wooden advent calendar, which once belonged to her dearly departed grandmother. At midnight on each day of December, the calendar (which has no wires or batteries) lights up and one of the numbered doors or windows swings open to reveal a carved wooden toy inside. The toys seem to predict or push Abby toward her romantic destiny. But what exactly are they telling her? It’s all very not mysterious, but if we wanted a mystery we’d be streaming Miss Marple or some shit. Still, with the eerie glow at midnight and a door chunking open you could easily rewrite this as a creepy movie with a few changes to the music and the plot. 

Meanwhile, Abby has to work as a photography elf for Santa at the Christmas market, which, as you can imagine, is absolute chaos. She ropes Josh and their friend Fernando (Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll) into helping, which they do happily because they are characters designed to help Abby, so they have no life. This gives Abby the chance to see how kind, steadfast, easy-going, loyal, and fun a person Josh is, which all sails right over her head because she’s all wrapped up in another guy. And thank goodness for that because where would we be without a little love triangle?  

She meets Ty (Ethan Peck), a hot doctor and single father, when his Christmas tree falls off the roof of his car and she runs over it with hers—something she’s pretty sure the calendar predicted. Now, Ty is handsome, but this whole tree scenario raises some real red flags. First of all, the tree appears to be attached to his car roof solely with pine pitch and Christmas wishes. That part isn’t on Ty, but the set designers. At least show some pieces of loose twine hanging around! But Ty does explicitly say that the Christmas tree guy told him to use bungee cords. Why wouldn’t Ty listen to an expert on transporting Christmas trees when trying to transport a Christmas tree? Think about it, Abby! It’s a bad sign. In the same way, Ty takes Abby on elaborate dates that aren’t necessarily unpleasant, but also aren’t really what she wants to be doing. Ty’s character is the other central element that could go from “nice guy” to “he always seemed like such a nice, quiet guy” with just a few small changes. 

There will be some misunderstandings, arguments, mix-ups, reconciliations, and realizations before we get to the end of the story. (And quite a few other Netflix Christmas movies will get referenced along the way. Speaking of which, this is the first Netflix Christmas rom-com I’ve watched where the leads do such obvious code switching when they talk to each other versus other people, and I really liked it.) In the end, love and dreams will ultimately prevail, and we’ll learn that perhaps the greatest magic of all lies in shifting our own perspective. Or maybe it’s in a calendar that will always find its way back to you. No matter what. Most of all, I love that they went with the word “holiday” in the title of a movie that is literally about a possessed Christmas advent calendar. 

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Snowbound for Christmas (2019)

Text across top says based on a Harlequin novel. List of actors: Zarrin Darnel-Martin, Henderson Wade, Scott Thompson. Title: Snowbound for Christmas. Tagline: Love is the perfect Christmas Gift. Rachel, wearing an anorak with a fur trimmed hood and a white hat is riding piggy back on Adrian, who is also wearing an anorak with a fur trimmed hood and a brown hat. Behind them is a snow covered forest scene. One fir tree has colored Christmas lights on it.

Absolutely no one is going to bowl you over with their acting skills in Snowbound for Christmas, which is fine because the background music is often so loud that it nearly drowns out the dialogue anyway. 

Rachel (Zarrin Darnell-Martin) has recently landed a job as Director of Marketing at a company that refurbishes old buildings. Other than her overly loud best friend Natalie (Julia Baldwin), no one at the company is quite sure she’s up to the job. Which is weird, right?  But no one is less sure than Diane (Josephine Buettner), a snooty architect who used to have a thing with the boss. Then Rachel blows them all away with a super duper cool presentation for a Big Deal Tuscan Client they’re trying to land. So their boss Adrian (Henderson Wade) decides that both Diane and Rachel should come with him on the overnight trip for the Big Presentation. DRAMA! But not the kind you want, because it pits two women against each other, with one being underhanded and conniving and the other being good-hearted and pure, and both wanting to land the account and the boss. Ew. Ew. Ew. Aren’t we done with this kind of plotline? Anyway, things begin to heat up between Rachel and Adrian when he feels unwell and Rachel treats him with basic human kindness and respect, which is apparently novel and earth-shattering to him. Poor Adrian. He needs new people in his life.

Then, moments before the Super Important Clients are due to arrive, a blizzard hits. It just so happens that Diane is off scouting some cabins for renovation with a handsome guide, which leaves Rachel and Adrian as the ONLY TWO GUESTS AT THE 300 ROOM RESORT!! Trés romantic! Or really romantic-ish because this is a made-for-TV-movie, so we really only get romantic-times adjacent. (I do want to give credit to the movie for likely saving a bundle by having most of the action take place with a skeleton cast and very few extras.) 

After the blizzard passes, there are team efforts that save the day, miscommunications, outright lies, broken hearts, happy reunions, and perfect Christmas gifts. Oh my mistletoe! I wrote that last part and then realized it’s actually the tagline for the movie. I’m not changing it. (I do need to say that technically no one is actually snowbound on Christmas in Snowbound for Christmas.)

If you make a habit of YuleTubing, this will likely not be the worst Christmas movie you’ve seen, but only because there are some real stinkers out there. However, it’s got that whole two women fighting over a man thing, which is really hard to ignore. Plus it’s not like it has enough plot to really fill the already short one hour and twenty-three minute run-time. (I could have sworn I was watching for much longer.) For example, I don’t know that I needed to see Rachel and Adrian take advantage of each and every amenity at the resort, but maybe watching the equivalent of a promotional video for a fictional resort is your jam!

Also, I have so many questions about Adrian’s family living in “rural Vermont,” which he claims is the most Christmas-y place on earth. Eh, really? Why, Adrian? Because of the trees? And may I just say how much I love that characters in movies always live in “Vermont.” Just, THE ENTIRE STATE?!? 

This is a movie that really makes me ask the question: What if everyone just communicated instead of making assumptions? What a gift that would be!

But wait! I totally forgot about an absolutely gratuitous and out of context close-up of Adrian’s abs. It was so absurd that I snorted and barked with laughter. I don’t know folks, that one moment may just spark enough joy to ignore everything I’ve said and watch the heck out of Snowbound for Christmas.

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No Sleep ’til christmas (2018)

In text like a digital alarm clock it says NO SLEEP 'TIL CHRISTMAS across the top. below that Billy and Lizzie are laying on grey bed pillow and a velvet headboard is visible behind them. Billy is smiling with his mouth closed and Lizzie has her eyes rolled upwards. She is wearing a grey sleep mask across her forehead.

This movie is better than it sounds on paper. 

Lizzie Hinnel (Odette Annable), an event planner, is just thrilled to be marrying her perfect fiancé Josh (Charles Michael Davis) on New Year’s Eve. There’s just one teensy weensy problem. She can’t sleep. Like at all. And yes, she’s tried everything, so please don’t offer whatever helped your cousin’s friend’s sister. Obviously, because we’re watching a rom-com, we know this is because she’s not meant to be with Josh even if he is a selfless, blessed in a DNA-kinda-way doctor. But Lizzie doesn’t know she’s in a rom-com, so she’s convinced it’s just some fluke or temporary wedding stress. I mean, it also could be because when we meet Lizzie it’s Thanksgiving and she apparently hasn’t done anything for a HUGE wedding that’s happening in SIX weeks. She’s supposed to be a woman who plans everything and hates surprises, but she hasn’t even bought a dress. Or chosen basic things for the reception. I’m sorry, what?!? Did I mention she lives in Chicago? Are fairies providing everything via magical wishes? No wonder she can’t sleep. Did people do zero research for this movie? Like, not even a cursory internet search on how long it takes to plan a fancy-ass wedding in Chicago?

Anyway, in an attempt to get tired, she goes out for a middle-of-the-night drive while wearing sunglasses (I get the drive, but the sunglasses is a bridge too far) and hits Billy (Dave Annable) who is out for a middle-of-the-night run (sans sunglasses). Why is Billy out running in the wee hours? Because, you guessed it, he also can’t sleep, though for non-wedding related reasons. Billy is not a planner. No, he’s a scruffy bartender whose girlfriend just dumped him because he doesn’t follow through on anything. He’s talked for years about opening his own bar, but he always has a reason not to do it, and instead keeps working at the same awful place. So, after smashing Billy with her car (which she claims was his fault and he claims was hers), Lizzie insists on taking him to the hospital to get checked out. Of course, Billy won’t go into the hospital, so they just sit in the car together bickering until they FALL ASLEEP! The next day Lizzie is so productive and on top of things that she’s determined to get more of that sweet, sweet REM sleep. She cooks up a plan where she’ll pay Billy to sleep next to her for the next six weeks so she can make it through the holiday season of event planning and to the altar, after which she’s sure everything will be juuuust fine. She draws up a contract and chooses, of course, to not tell her fiancé. This is a ridiculous premise, but it works because the movie acknowledges that it’s ridiculous. Billy, urged on by his best friends (Alphonso McAuley and Jess Salgueiro) who see a chance for him to finally open his fucking bar, agrees to the plan. 

Dave and Odette Annable are married in real life, and they have a lovely sparring kind of chemistry that works well for their opposites-attract flirtation. Their relationship and their unwitting slide into love is really the focus of the entire movie, and they absolutely have enough charm and skill to pull it off. The whole thing is fun enough to watch and just pretty endearing.  Dare I say you shouldn’t sleep on this one? Ugh. No. I’m sorry. Talk about a bridge too far!

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A California Christmas: City Lights (2021)

Text: At the top it says a Netflix film at the bottom it says A California Christmas City Lights. There are grape leaves bracket "A California"and the "i" in Lights is a skyscraper. The photo is of Joseph and Callie holding each other and looking at each other while smiling. A single strand of colored Christmas lights dangles behind separating a distant view of the city behind Joseph and a vineyard behind Callie.

You really have to admire the lengths that writer, producer, and actress Lauren Sickward will go to in order to showcase her husband’s toned upper body on Netflix. Yes folks, that’s right! This means the much anticipated (by me, anyway) sequel to the underwhelming and barely Christmas-related rom-com  (but still watchable) A California Christmas has finally arrived, and it is…definitely a movie. 

A year has passed since business mogul and playboy Joseph Van Fancy Pants (Josh Sickward) subterfuged and sweated his way into dairy farmer and all around Good Woman Callie’s (Lauren Sickward) heart. Obviously, during the journey he Changed His Ways and learned several Valuable Lessons while also working shirtless on many occasions. Now, along with Callie’s younger sister Hannah (Natalia Mann) and Property Manager Manny (David Del Rio), the two of them run a successful winery and dairy farm in Petaluma, California. We rejoin them just in time for more shots of Joseph working shirtless! Then Joseph, with help from Hannah and Manny, proposes to Callie in front of a bunch of winery customers (because that’s super romantic) with a big old honking diamond, which reminds us that while he hangs out in flannel on the farm, he still has pants with deep pockets. Anyway, Callie says yes, all is merry and things get very chaotic and confusing, but you should get used to that if you’re going to stick with this movie. There is a scene with rose petals and candles that is suggestive of sex, where once again Joseph takes off his shirt and Callie stays entirely clothed, because Lauren Sickward does not pass up an opportunity to be like, LOOK AT MY HUSBAND’S BODY, PEOPLE. (For the record, I’m not arguing with her, but I am extremely amused.)

Everything is going smoothly (but oddly) until Leo (Ali Afshar), Joseph’s manservant/company guy, shows up with dire news that Joseph’s family company is flailing. His mother (Julia Lancaster), taking a page from Joseph’s and Callie’s book, has let love lead, which has led her to a yoga instructor and a tropical island, from which she has no plans of returning. She’s left Victoria (Laura James), her former right hand woman, in charge of the entire company, and things are going less than well. Leo insists that Joseph just has to go back to San Francisco to make things right before the Big Company Christmas Gala! (There is no kind of remote work option in this universe, I guess.) But how can Joseph just up and leave Callie? Oh, friends, he absolutely cannot. But it just so happens that Callie’s very best friend Brandy (Raquel Dominguez), who is studying to become a vet (and has never been mentioned before now), shows up right as this is happening! How convenient! Problem solved and B-side romance between Brandy and Manny inserted.

Callie and Joseph head off to the city, by helicopter of course, because only peasants drive for an hour on roads, while Brandy and Manny stay in Petaluma to take care of the farm, the vineyard, and Callie. But what will happen in the city? Will Joseph turn back into Broseph? Callie admits to Brandy that she has been keeping Joseph very busy on the farm in part to keep him away from the city because she was afraid of just such a scenario. I mean, a hostage-lite situation is one way to keep the romance alive, but it’s not one that I personally would endorse. Callie is somewhat overwhelmed by the people from Broseph’s former life, by his city clothes (some of which I would have coveted in the 90s), and by (gasp!) MORE SECRETS!!

Meanwhile, in Petaluma, Hannah is feeling extremely abandoned by Callie when she can’t reach her for days on end. Uh, yeah. That would be super concerning. Callie apologizes and explains how busy they were, but, really? To be fair, time is extremely elastic in this movie. Joseph and Callie spend somewhere between three weeks and five months in San Francisco. None of it is really clear. Sometimes I thought a day had passed when it later turned out that maybe a week had gone by? Hannah gets stitches in her chin and then they’re gone two scenes later, which means that maybe there’s time travel? I don’t know, but maybe that explains why SO MANY scenes suddenly switch to slo-mo midway through. Time is slowing down and then speeding up again? Either way, it felt like watching a PowerPoint presentation where someone has just discovered slide transitions. (Gah! I just realized I could have changed playback speed to escape the slo-mo purgatory!) I’m pretty sure Hannah ended up with stitches because Brandy and Manny were too busy courting over a shared love of video games and making out to take care of her needs. Manny’s silly antics are also dialed way up this time around, but without the benefit of Leo playing straight-man to help balance them out. Some of the bits were still funny, but sometimes it was just too much. The same is true of how the movie cuts back and forth so quickly between scenes in Petaluma and scenes in San Francisco. Kind of like I’m about to do here.

In the city there will be a lot of plot centered around pitting one woman against another (ugh!), some fish-out-of-water stories, many misunderstandings, several “secrets” uncovered, and simple misunderstandings blown out of proportion. Callie will likely manage to save a large corporation just by being a good person with homespun charm. (The parts about Van Aston Enterprises are far and away the most nonsensical of the entire movie. I think they have not watched enough Succession to fake the business babble.)  The last few lines of a nativity play will be said at least three times. It may have been more. I stopped listening. Poverty will be used as a prop, but actual people living in poverty will never be given a voice. There will be a whole bit about forgiveness being superhuman. And, my personal favorite part, Joseph’s mother will explain to him that the money was never the important part of the business when they started out. I’m sorry, what? Then why did they start a business? For kicks? And then they just, oopsie toots, stumbled into owning several luxury hotels? I’m sorry, but fuck the whole idea that people accidentally manage to accrue massive amounts of wealth. At any point they could have restructured their business to give themselves less of the profits, but they didn’t do that. The movie seems to imply that Joseph and Callie (but especially Callie) are somehow better than everyone else because they get that they need to give back, but they’re also not giving up the helicopter lifestyle. They’re just choosing to be slightly more balanced ultra-wealthy people. 

Anyway, none of that mini-rant is the point of the movie. The point of the movie is that Joseph takes off his shirt, that opposites attract, that people make big mistakes, that forgiveness is a balm, that love is all you need, that hard work equals salvation, that people give very questionable advice, and that Joseph takes off his shirt.

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Christmas is canceled (2021)

Text: Hayley Orrantia, Janel Parrish, and Dermot Mulroney. CHRISTMAS IS CANCELED. Just say noel. Against a green background. A Chrsitmas tree with three stockings. One reads Tramp, one Dad, and one Emma. Standing in front of the tree are Brandy, dressed in a red dress that is short and tight. She also has on thigh-high black boots. Dermot Mulroney is in the center in a blue suit with his arms crossed and a perturbed expression on his face. Emma is on the right, wearing a green, spaghetti strap dress with a full, knee-length skirt. She is wearing a Santa hat and looks disgusted.

You know sometimes how a trailer is cut together in a way that makes a movie look much worse than it actually is? Yeah. That’s definitely NOT the case with Christmas is Canceled. The movie is as bad or worse than it looks in the trailer, but it’s also about 5,365 minutes long. (The official run-time is an hour and thirty-four minutes, but that’s clearly a lie.)

Emma Lockhart (Hayley Orrantia) is very much looking forward to spending Christmas with her dad (Dermot Mulroney) and carrying on all the family traditions they used to do with her mother, who died a couple of years ago. Her father, however, has failed to mention that he’s in a romantic relationship with Brandy (Janel Parrish), Emma’s high school classmate and nemesis, and that she will be joining them for the holidays. Frankly, this is a fuck up on his part in many ways, which is never really acknowledged in the movie, because why do that when you can just lay all the blame on a woman or two? When she finds out about the relationship, Emma makes it her mission to break the two up, and that, my YuleTubers, is pretty much the entire plot of the movie. Emma will, of course, have her own love/hate romance with Brandy’s high school boyfriend Josh (Michael Naizu) on whom Emma also once had a crush, which is, somehow, the most grounded part of this entire fiasco. Actually, no, that’s not true. Charlyne (Emilie Modaff), Emma’s best friend—who suggests she get therapy and take the high road—is the most grounded part. (And, yes, if you guessed the root of Emma’s hatred toward Brandy is all about a boy then—ding, ding, ding—you are correct and you win absolutely nothing.)

This movie is, in my humble opinion, absolute trash. The language they use to make “jokes” is garbage. Emma, for example, calls Brandy a widow-raper, because rape jokes never go out of style. The premise is rubbish. Plotting to break up your father’s relationship so you can remain his one and only family member? Creepy as fuck. Dating your daughter’s high school classmate, neighbor, and former friend? I mean, boundaries are a thing that exist for a reason. Yes, other movies get away with plots similar to this, but that’s because the characters are at least a bit likeable. These characters are not. Their attempts at witty exchanges burned my earholes like battery acid. 

And then there are the parts about gender roles. In one part Charlyne tells us that “it’s in a dude’s DNA to try to bang the hottest, youngest chick he can.” Ew. No. Stop perpetuating this idea. Also, the youngest? With, like, no caveats at all? Dermot Mulroney explains that in his circles he’s considered a hero and “guys high five [him] on the street.” [Insert primal scream here.]  Women are referred to as girls (see above in Mistletoe Mixup), chicks, and so many other slurs that I checked several times to make sure this wasn’t a movie from the early aughts. There’s more, but I’m too tired to rehash it. In the end, Brandy is a nemesis with a heart of gold, so the patriarchy wins. Again. And seemingly always.

You know how much I disliked this movie? So much so that I think it will be a long time before I want to look at Dermot Mulroney’s face again. The absolute and abject horror of that sentence. 

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While you were sleeping (1995)

Text: Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman. WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING. A story about love at second sight. Image: Sandra Bullock and Pullman on a train platform. Bill Pullman is wearing jeans, boots, a blue denim button down shirt. He is lifting Sandra Bullock in his arms. She has her legs bent and is smiling. She is wearing a long brown skirt and boots and an off white short sleeved shirt. A train is coming into the station.

Admittedly, I had forgotten While You Were Sleeping was a Christmas movie! Fortunately, I have a crack team of international rom-com experts ready to catch my omission (and probably to snort with laughter that I let such a key element slip my mind). This movie is quintessential young Sandra Bullock rom-com, which really should be all I need to say, but we both know it’s not all I’m going to say.

Lucy (Sandra Bullock) is a lonely Chicago Transit Authority token collector who has developed quite the romance with a man (Peter Gallagher) who commutes through her station every day. He is an incredibly handsome, polished, wealthy businessman who always lets older women get in ahead of him on the train. He’s perfect. He’s her prince. She knows, without a doubt that, just like her parents, who are now both dead but were very much in love, that they will someday get married. There is just the very eensie weensie, minor detail that first he will have to notice that she exists. 

This does actually turn out to be a super minor detail because when Lucy is working on Christmas Day (of course she’s working on Christmas Day because she’s lonely and good-hearted) two things happen: 1) The man finally says both hello and Merry Christmas to her; to which Lucy can only stutter in reply. 2) While waiting for his train the man gets mugged, pushed onto the tracks, and knocked out cold, which is a LOT. Lucy runs from her booth, jumps onto the tracks, and pulls him out of the way of an oncoming train. DRA-MA! Then, at the hospital, where the man—whose name is Peter—is still very much unconscious, there is a big old mix up, everyone gets the wrong end of the stick, and Peter’s boisterous, close-knit family think that Lucy is his fiancée. (In the scene where this happens, the word fiancée is pronounced with the accent in three different places by three different people. Was this on purpose? It’s amusing.) The moment when she could have corrected them passes and she also doesn’t exactly want to correct them because all of sudden lonely Lucy is surrounded by warmth and love and family. And also a LOT of stress because she’s pretending to be the fiancée of a man she doesn’t know at ALL who is in a coma and could wake up at any moment. She talks through a lot of this with her boss (Jason Bernard), who shows up so randomly and unexpectedly to sort of offer advice that I had to remind myself that he wasn’t supposed to be an angel or a ghost. (This is a Christmas movie, after all. Those suckers have a habit of popping up everywhere.) 

Peter’s mother (Micole Mercurio), father (Peter Boyle), sister (Monica Keena), grandmother (Glynis Johns), and godfather (Jack Warden), who all come bustling into the hospital room, shouting over each other and questioning the doctor’s credentials, seem to be somewhat estranged from him. Or at least he’s too busy being businessy and important to hang out with them, which is why they believe that he could have a fiancée they know nothing about. They insist that Lucy join them for a redo of Christmas Day at their house where they even have a present for her. You can see why a woman with no family might not want to give that up. (If you swapped out the music and re-wrote a couple of scenes could it easily be a very creepy movie instead of a rom-com? Oh, absolutely!) Taken as a whole, Peter’s family is a hugely important character itself, but my favorites are his grandmother and his godfather who, yes, are the oldest and saltiest of the bunch. How did you guess? 

As if all this isn’t enough (and you know it’s not enough because we lack a love triangle), Peter’s brother Jack (Bill Pullman) shows up. He is, of course, the polar opposite of Peter in every way. Jack is rough around the edges, drives a truck, and works with his father selling estate furniture. Even though Jack is suspicious that Lucy isn’t really Peter’s fiancée (in part because she’s nice and Peter is a schmuck), from the moment Jack and Lucy first lock eyes it’s abundantly clear to you, me, and even someone’s very dead Tamagotchi exactly where this story is going. However, they have no idea, which, of course, is what makes watching so fun. They talk easily, they have things in common, they laugh, they come far too close to kissing, they argue, and (oopsie doodles) they fall in love.  

You never know what you’re getting when you crack open the vault to watch an older rom-com (a lot of very problematic stuff is what you’re often getting), but While You Were Sleeping holds up really well. Better than a lot of movies that came out this year, in fact.

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