YOUR CHRISTMAS OR MINE? (2022)
This is a movie with a good premise, great actors, and a sweet ending, but I feel like it leans too much on misunderstandings and misery for its humor.
Hayley (Cora Kirk) and James (Asa Butterfield) have spent two blissful months in London together, and they’re quite besotted. Now they’re rushing through the train station, wishing they didn’t have to part ways to go home to their families for Christmas. But then! Just as they are settling into their separate trains, which are conveniently located just across the platform, they both decide to surprise the other, thus creating a sort of “Gift of the Magi” situation. Hayley gathers her things and runs onto James’s train while at the same moment James scuttles across the platform and unwittingly plops down in the seat that Hayley moments ago vacated. When Hayley arrives at James’s station in the countryside, she accidentally leaves her phone on the train, which means that James can’t reach her when he alights at her station. She heads off into the darkness to trudge all the way to what turns out to be a very grand home. While he uses his phone to poorly navigate his way to her family’s rowhouse, but not before getting conned out of ten pounds by her little brothers. And so they both show up at each other’s houses alone, unannounced, and without the inhabitants having a fucking clue who they are. Let the good times roll. Because of her timing, and definitely not because anyone is just a little bit racist, James’s father (Alex Jennings) and housekeeper (Harriet Walter) thinks she’s there for a cleaning job. And because of Hayley’s brothers, her family think he’s a bit of a creep named Gilet, but they let him stay anyway because NO ONE in these movies has any boundaries or common sense. They also flog the Gilet joke until it is unrecognizable as any kind of funny.
Now, here’s the thing. Or, better said, the things. For various reasons, neither of them has told their family about the other, nor have they clued each other in on the lies they’ve been telling their families. And, on top of that, they haven’t been entirely truthful with each other about everything. James, for example, did not tell Hayley that he’s stinking rich, lives in a giant house, and that his father, the Earl of Gloucester, thinks he’s in a military training program. Wee, minor details. Hayley has also left out some key facts about her life as well, which will be revealed later in the movie and do involve Lucien Laviscount‘s Genetically Blessed Face making an appearance.
I mean, you can imagine a world in which two people who have only been together for a couple of months don’t come clean with all the things about themselves because they’re not ready to or because they just want to start with a clean slate or because they’re lying liar faces. There are a lot of possible scenarios, but in this movie it all gets heightened because they clearly thought it would be funnier that way and because there’s a snowstorm and Hayley and James get trapped at each other’s houses. She with his taciturn and somewhat terrifying father (who, yes, does indeed have a dead wife, thank you so much for asking) and he with her boisterous and close-knit family. Gee, I wonder if people are going to come away with some life-lessons and changed perspectives from all of this?
There are a lot of actors who are generally great fun to watch in this movie, though none of them are giving it their all in this work of cinema. I would watch Harriet Walter read a phone book or, say, the entire Sweet Valley High Series. And Alex Jennings may be often typecast, but I enjoy every inch of his derision on screen and I hope he never stops. I feel like every time I see Daniel Mays in something I think, Wait. What have I seen him in before? And then I look him up and it’s some character so unrelated to the current one that I can’t keep the information in my brain. And of course, Asa Butterfield is adorable. Not as adorable here as he is in Sex Education, but I’ll give it a pass. This is the first time I’ve watched Cora Kirk, but I hope to see more of her.
Let me say, though, that desperate older women trying to grope is one of my least favorite tropes. Hayley’s Aunt Kaye (Natalie Gumede) is all over James from the moment he walks in the door until he tells everyone he’s gay (woof, no thank you very much). I’m sorry. Can we take a moment to look at Aunt Kaye? This woman has poise and confidence and I don’t think she would be trawling the bottom of a family Christmas party for floundering and flummoxed guys who show up unannounced. Also, these actors only have a five year age difference in real life, so if the genders were swapped… Well, I think we all have ample evidence for how things would go if the genders were swapped. The joke is always on the woman in the case of the horny older woman, so desperate she’s got to hit on her niece’s boyfriend and so clueless that she won’t take any hints to back off. (Let’s be clear that what they’re depicting is sexual assault and it’s not any funnier because the genders we expect to see are flipflopped.) Then he feels so awkward about it that he’s forced to claim he doesn’t even like women to get her to stop. Isn’t the patriarchy just grand? Don’t you love men being in control of stories? I’d also like to put an end to all instances of someone pretending they’re gay. It’s worn out and it smells of homophobia. Stop writing it into stories. Try harder.
In the end, I think I wanted to like this movie more than I actually did, though I didn’t dislike it either. There was just so much time spent on subterfuge and upset that the more tender moments felt like whiplash. Also, as a slight aside after watching a plethora of Christmas movies I’d like a chart of what constitutes enough snow to shut things down in various places, because I’m just entirely confused on that point.
Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:
SOMETHING FROM TIFFANY’S (2022)
This movie goes down smooth like a cup of hot drink on a cold night. (Or a cold drink on a hot night, depending on what part of the world you’re in this time of year. I don’t mean to be all cold climate-centric.) Is it a Christmas rom-com in the strictest definition of the term? Perhaps not, but now is not a time to get hung up on semantics. Just watch it and enjoy the Genetically Blessed Face, the predictable storyline, the background baked goods, and the lack of misogyny—and the fact that it is NOT an extended advertisement for Tiffany’s, which is what I initially feared.
Our story does begin at Tiffany’s where a Genetically Blessed single father, Ethan (Kendrick Sampson), and his Wise-Beyond-Her-Years daughter, Daisy (Leah Jeffries), are shopping for an engagement ring. After looking at the cushion and princess cut diamonds, Daisy points out that neither of these feel right, and then asks if they have a presidential cut. Is it cute? Maybe. But do we need to stop giving kids adult responsibilities in movies and then passing it off as cute? Absolutely. I want to see this nine-year-old child once complain that she’s hungry, that her feet hurt, that she’s cold, that she wants dessert for dinner, that she wants to stay in her pajamas, that she wants to go out when it’s time to stay in or stay in when it’s time to go out. It’s wholly unnatural to watch children act like miniature adults, sagely advising the woefully lost actual adults in their lives. Do you have any idea how destabilizing that would be for them in real life? (Kudos do go to Your Christmas or Mine for the kids being kids at all times.) Okay. I’m sorry. Back to the fantasy. Just as they’re finishing their very careful selection of a ring, another guy comes in looking for something “reasonable” to give his girlfriend. It’s pretty clear that he mostly wants the blue box with which to impress her. These three end up leaving the store at the same time, and the Reasonable Gift Guy pushes past Daisy to get out the door. In his rush, and absorbed by the glow of his phone screen, he steps into the street without looking and gets hit by a taxi. Ethan, being a Certified Good Guy ™ , runs out to check if he’s okay and momentarily sets down his little blue Tiffany’s bag right next to the Reasonable Gift Guy’s identical bag. Ruh Roh! Mistaken switcharoos are afoot!! An ambulance arrives to take the Reasonable Gift Guy to the hospital, and Ethan and Daisy go home to video chat with Ethan’s girlfriend Vanessa (Shay Mitchell), who very much does not like New York, but, like, in a full-throated kind of way, not in a vacuous “women are so difficult kind of way.” Ethan, who is a Creative Writing professor at UCLA and the author of a flop of a book, is thinking of moving back to write another book, but has yet to tell his girlfriend about this minor, minor life altering plan. Uh, Ethan, you do want to hold onto that Good Guy certification, right? Is he an adjunct professor at UCLA? A visiting professor? I’m going to assume the answer is yes, because otherwise I’d like to talk to him more about this plan to just quit his job and move to New York to “try to write a book,” even if he does have good connections at a publishing house.
Meanwhile, Rachel Meyer (Zoey Deutch) is happily making a giant mess and talking to her soup in her kitchen as she prepares an anniversary dinner for herself and her boyfriend Gary. (Is she kinda quirky? She is, but in the way that people are actually quirky because this movie was written by a woman instead of a man fantasizing about a woman.) Her best friend and business partner Terri (Jojo T. Gibbs) stops by, ostensibly to drop off some lemons, but really to let us know that: 1) She and Rachel currently own a successful restaurant together, but formerly owned a huge flop of a restaurant; 2) Rachel is pretty optimistic and Terri is pretty snarky (Bless!); 3) Rachel believes messes are important when beauty comes out of them; and, most importantly, 4) Terri does not like Gary one bit because Gary is a total twit.
Just as Rachel is putting the finishing touches on her outfit, she gets a call that Gary has been hit by a car and is in the hospital. Gasp! Ha. No. Actually, this is very unsurprising to learn because who else would Reasonable Gift Guy be but Rachel’s unimpressive current boyfriend? Gary is perfectly fine (in movie terms), except he has a mild concussion and some short-term memory loss, so he has to stick around until he can get an MRI. Basically, he can’t remember shopping at Tiffany’s and he needs to stay in the hospital for the day. This is highly accurate because, yes, it could take a whole-ass day of waiting around for an MRI and then to be discharged. It’s also very convenient because it gives Rachel time to bump into Ethan and Daisy when they, at Daisy’s behest, of course, stop by the hospital to make sure the guy in the accident is okay. (How they know which hospital he ended up at in the city, let alone exactly which floor without knowing so much as his first name, is a mystery we will never solve. Or a plot hole through which you could drive a snow plow.) Anyway, Rachel and Ethan have immediate rapport and easy banter. She invites the pair to stop by her restaurant’s holiday stall in Bryant Park. He makes a joke about her having just met the “biggest consumer of bread in America.” To which she responds, “No way? That’s you? I’ve been dying to meet you for years.” And I can’t decide if this is actually a cute exchange or if I am just so entirely grateful that there is no joke about someone not eating carbs or if those are the same thing.
On a whim, Ethan does stop by the stall later that day, where he finds Rachel working all by herself. (This is a terrible staffing decision. Are we sure Rachel owns a successful restaurant?) She’s slammed by impatient customers and so he steps in to give her a hand making coffees and selling baked goods. Only in a rom-com, my friends. Only in a rom-com. And we love to see it. Or I do, because it’s ri-donk-a-bonk. When the crowd thins, they talk about his dead wife. Le sigh. Of course he has a dead wife, but at least in this movie it is not the main focus and he has already started to move on from her death. Though, when asked to describe her he does say that she was like “song you wanted to play over and over again,” which is entirely meaningless, empty, and a little objectifying. Whatever. These two strangers go off into some seemingly remote and uninhabited part of the city together, because that is a smart thing to do with someone you’ve only just met without letting anyone know where you’re going. He tells Rachel about his book idea, which actually sounds pretty good and I hope someone actually writes it. She uses a cornetto to tell him that maybe he should start doing things with his heart and not [his] head.” a;kdjfads;lkjfl; Oops. Sorry. I was typing sans eyeballs for a second there because I rolled them so vehemently.
Obviously, all of this is leading up to Christmas Day when Rachel opens her gift and finds an engagement ring and Vanessa opens hers to find some dinky (by Tiffany’s standards) earrings. So Rachel thinks she’s engaged and Vanessa thinks she’s not. Oh noes!! Now, it’s important to note that this is not shoved in our faces. It’s like the people involved in the movie trust that we viewers are smart enough to get what’s happening all on our own. What? I know! It’s a novel concept. The rest of the story unfolds pretty predictably, except that the women aren’t pitted against each other and they’re portrayed as capable people, in control of their lives and emotions. Both Rachel and Vanessa just want to understand the truth and just want to know what the hell is going on. I mean, yes, Vanessa is a much thinner character, but she’s largely just a plot device to demonstrate the life that Ethan no longer wants. The same is true of Gary and all of his faults, and my goodness is he just one long fault line. This movie, however, is not. It’s sweet without being cloying and predictable without being boring. You should consider putting it in front of your eyeballs.
Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:
I BELIEVE IN SANTA (2022)
What in the Bananagrams did I just watch? You know how I say that there is sometimes a very fine line between cozy rom-com and creepy thriller? Yeah. With some extremely minor tweaks I Believe in Santa could be rebranded as a very convincing scary movie, and I think it would absolutely sell better that way. It gave me nightmares. (I am absolutely not joking. I woke up yelling.)
Lisa (Christina Moore), a newspaper columnist, and Tom (John Ducey who also wrote the movie), a lawyer, meet at a Fourth of July festival when Lisa’s daughter gets lost and Tom takes her into his booth where he’s giving out free legal advice. Lisa thinks he’s a creep at first, but she’s quickly convinced otherwise. I remain far less sure. Lisa and Tom have about zero chemistry, which is too bad because they’re married in real life, but maybe it’s not always easy to manufacture chemistry on the spot for your spouse? They both have very intense stares and he has slightly odd body movements and facial expressions that make me think of the quiet guy who turns out to be the sociopathic killer.
Anyway, everything is going swimmingly until the Christmas season rolls around. Lisa famously hates Christmas. Like, loathes it. This, we later learn, is all based on one experience from her childhood, which, fair enough, but also therapy is really great for allowing you to still loathe something, but without it eating you alive. Think about it, Lisa. Tom, on the other hand, loves Christmas. No, that’s not a strong enough word. He is obsessed with Christmas. Christmas is the essence of his being. He never takes time off from work, except to DECORATE HIS HOUSE FOR CHRISTMAS. I mean, fine. Everyone has their kink and Christmas is his. (Lisa’s favorite holiday, by the way, is the Fourth of July.) Neither has communicated their feelings about the holiday to the other, so all of this comes as quite the reality check.
And speaking of reality, just as Lisa is adjusting to the idea that Tom is her own personal Hallmark Channel Countdown to Christmas sprung to life, he breaks the news that he believes in Santa. Now, this is a bizarre and rice paper thin premise for a movie that they stretch until it’s literally in tatters. Tom insists that in most of the world they celebrate Christmas and that when you “find yourself humming along to a Christmas carol on the radio…When you go to a holiday party, or make plans to see family, you’re celebrating Christmas,” which is verging on evangelical erasure and is absolutely offensive. He claims that the Santa version of Christmas transcends country and religion, which is absolutely nope and nope, and I think Tom needs to get out and about more. The movie goes on in this vein, with Lisa being freaked the frack out by Tom’s fervent belief in Santa and Tom explaining things like, “it takes faith to believe in the unknowable” and that you have to do things like light Christmas trees in order to keep the Christmas magic alive. Because nothing says magic quite like obligation!! Lisa has a nightmare that Tom gets her a sexy Mrs. Claus outfit and he gives her such a leering look that nearly crawled right out of my skin. Maybe your subconscious is trying to tell you something, Lisa?
At one point, Lisa puts Tom’s best friend friend Assan (Sachin Bhatt) on the spot by asking him what he thinks about all this as a Muslim. Oh, cool, cool, cool. Tokenism and asking a brown person to educate you. Later, Assan explains that he accepts Tom’s belief in Santa because, unlike lots of other people, he has never judged Assan for being Muslim. I mean, okay, but also it’s a pretty low bar that your friend isn’t racist, right? Are they really comparing Islamophobia to being unsettled by Tom’s utter devotion to Christmas and belief in Santa? Anyone can see the false equivalency there, right? They seem to be arguing that Santa-ism (my computer desperately wants to correct this to Satanism) deserves to be a protected class, which, lordy, is quite the leap. However, Assan also adds that the only “difference between religion and Santa is that as we get older religious grown-ups tell us that our faith was right all along. But they don’t have proof either.” I’m not sure if they meant this as a dig at organized religion, probably not, but that’s how I heard it, and they have a point that lots of people believe in stuff they can’t prove. Like, my kid strongly believes that our cats enjoy being picked up umpteen billion times a day, which, for her, is all based on faith and the unknowable.
Tom spends a LOT of time explaining how Santa is not about consumerism, but the end of the movie seems to directly undermine that core belief, so I’m wholly confused about what they’re trying to convey. Santa’s magic is about wonder and magic and toys for kids and completing wishes that aren’t related to capitalism, but also if you wish hard enough for an expensive piece of technology it just might show up under the tree? And also Christmas is not about spending money, but it’s certainly better if you can get the tree that you pick out at a tree lot (which in this case appears to be largely dead) flocked—a thing I had never heard of, but the movie spends what feels like forever showing us.
Honestly, I really don’t have a strong opinion about Tom’s belief in Santa. People believe all kinds of things, and it’s part of what makes the world interesting and varied. I think that’s part of what the movie is clumsily trying to say? It doesn’t really work, though. But I’m definitely not so okay with there being an entire rom-com about it that feels so damn creepy and proselytizing.