A STORM FOR CHRISTMAS
If you, like me, spend part of every Yuletide bemoaning the end of the Norwegian series Home for Christmas, then you’ll likely be happy to see that A Storm for Christmas (which stars many of the same actors and has some of the same writers) has blown into Netflix just in time for the end of this year’s holidaze season. After the usual slew of feel-good, chipper holiday fare, it can be a nice palette cleanser to watch something with a more melancholy and existential mood.
Christmas is coming, but before it can arrive a large snowstorm is bearing down on the Oslo airport, causing all sorts of flight delays and cancellations. For some reason, when stuck in these sorts of situations, many humans think if they complain enough or just insist loudly enough that they have to to be somewhere that someone will suddenly say, “Oh well, since you really need to travel, we do have a super secret plane that changes the weather as it flies, which, yes, I can book you, and only you, on, but please don’t tell the other passengers.” This doesn’t happen, but that doesn’t stop characters from complaining. And there are a LOT of characters in this series. It’s a lot to juggle and I sometimes wondered, especially toward the end when all the stories were being wrapped up, if a couple could have been left on the editing room floor. First, there are all the people who work at the airport. Ronja (Maibritt Saerens), a priest who helps everyone out, who is having her own quiet crisis of conscience, and wants to know that she’s still on the right path. Marius (Jon Øigarden), a bartender with a health secret that is quite literally eating him alive. His job is to keep people buoyed while they wait for the next stage of their travels, but he’s having trouble keeping his professional mask in place. Alex (Ibrahim Faal) works a second job as a part-time Santa, but has had it up to here with the entitled kids asking for iPhones and Chanel bags. Can anyone or anything help restore his faith in the next generation? Thea (Carmen Gloria Pérez), the security guard, trying to make human connections with passengers and co-workers alike. Henrik (Valter Skarsgård), a towering, young baggage handler who may have his life changed by a quivering, lost purebred dog. Olav (Ravdeep Singh Bajwa), a pilot who, after making a somewhat hairy emergency landing for a sick passenger, is now stuck on call in the airport and isn’t too happy about it. And last, but certainly not least, Kine (Catharina Vu), the customer service agent who fields the seemingly endless complaints and questions from the passengers who are mostly convinced that one more nudge or nag will definitely get the plane out on time or their ticket upgraded to first class.
The only person who does get upgraded is Dianna (Hanna Ardéhn), a young woman who is supposed to be on a fanciful trip to Paris, but who doesn’t complain when it gets delayed. Kine is so amazed by her politeness that she even upgrades her to the VIP lounge where Dianna runs into Olav, the pilot. The two are immediately attracted to each other, but, of course he is frustrated by her romantic dreams and she is annoyed by his reliance on logic and reason. I smell a romance a-brewing! Also, lounging in the VIP lounge is the well-known, but miserable pop star Ida (Ida Elise Broch), who is having an identity crisis as she stares at giant posters of herself. She’s accompanied by her incredibly competent, but underappreciated assistant Ingvlid (Evelyn Rasmussen Osazuwa) and her bodyguard (Kalle Hennie).
Arthur Berg (J.V. Martin), a well-known pianist, is accustomed to first-class travel and being inside the VIP lounge, but this trip he’s been shunted to economy class and slumming with the rest of the riff raff. Obviously, he heads pretty quickly for the bar, even though he’s really not supposed to drink. He’s angry about not being able to smoke, about sagging ticket sales, about playing commercialized music, about being stuck, about… Well, you get the picture. The man is ripe for some human interactions, realizations, and life change. Also sidling up to the bar is Sara (Thea Sofie Loch Næss), a young woman who keeps talking about the father she needs to buy a present for while staring wanly at another character. It’s not a great mystery to solve, but it’s a tender story of loss and love that’s both crushing and lovely to watch unfold. In his shorts and brightly colored short-sleeved shirt, David (Jan Gunnar Røise) joins the crowd at the bar, talking about how he’ll be meeting up with his wife soon in Málaga. However, his vibe is just slightly off. It’s like he’s almost too happy to be stuck at the airport with all these strangers. So you know there’s more to his story than he’s letting on.
Around the edges are Kaja (Talia Lorentzen) and her constantly arguing parents (Line Verndal and Oscar Jean). She will go to extreme lengths to try to get them to broker a peace deal and perhaps teach Santa some lessons. Stine (Sus Noreen Jondahl Wilkins), after making an unnecessary joke about the disabled bathroom, has sex with her lover and then realizes she’s screwed in terms of making it home to her irked boyfriend who thinks she’s away on a work trip. Her story, which is among the weakest, will turn into a Planes,Trains, and Automobiles kind of situation, which is rescued (in more ways than one) by the presence of Ghita Nørby, who you may remember played a fantastic patient in Home for Christmas. A Swedish woman (Alexandra Rapaport) with enough wealth and entitlement to make some finance bros seethe with envy, gets booted from the VIP lounge for being an ass and then jumps the taxi line by offering an obscene amount of money for a ride to another airport where she’s sure she can get a flight. But weather is gonna weather and limited drama series are gonna teach life lessons, so you and I both know she’s going to end up elsewhere and doing other things. She plays her part fantastically well and ends up being one of my favorite characters. I would watch several hours of her and her fur-collared coat being a jaw-droppingly impressive snob to everyone.
Finally, there are Maria (Ariadna Cabrol) and Lukas (Iker Pedraza Proskauer), a mother and son from Spain, using the very last of her savings to travel to New York for a surgery that will save his eyesight. I struggled the most with this story because of how ableist it was and much it leaned toward inspiration porn. When Maria first speaks about the surgery to Kine she talks about it as if Lukas will die if he doesn’t get the surgery. I’m not saying going blind isn’t a huge deal, but by the end of the series it seems that, with money, the surgery can simply be rescheduled? Lukas speaks in tones of wonder about how as his eyesight has weakened how his hearing has become incredibly acute. I’m not doubting the phenomenon so much as I’m cringing at how it’s portrayed as a thing of admiration and exaltation, rather than the body simply adapting to changing needs. Then there is the whole part about Lukas’s musical abilities, which is confusing and I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be tied to his eyesight or not, but I think it was, which is troublesome to say the least. There were a couple of other places where ableism popped up. Like the quips about who is entitled to use a disabled bathroom and when Kaja’s mom makes a crack about a fat man getting on the plane. Ugh. It’s a lot of ableism packed in around the edges.
That said, even with the questionable choices about disability plotlines, juggling 5,632 characters, and places where I felt the series could have used a little more tartness to balance the sweet, all six episodes go down smooth. It left me with some warm feelings about humanity and the connections we’re sometimes able to make when we least expect it. Also, I found myself really pining for a good and gusty snowstorm—though preferably one where I’m stuck at home, not at an airport.
Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:
I HATE CHRISTMAS
I Hate Christmas is an Italian re-make of Home for Christmas. It’s a pretty fun watch, but it lacks some of the warmth and coziness of the original. Wait. Nope. I promised myself that I wouldn’t let this become a compare and contrast list. Not two sentences in and I’ve already broken my own trust.
Gianna (Pilar Fogliati) sits on her living room floor, looks directly at the camera she has set up, and tells us that she hates Christmas. Why? Because Christmas has it out for her. Really?! I mean, not exactly. It’s more that people put so much pressure on her at Christmas because she’s nearly thirty and doesn’t have a family of her own. Does she have a job she loves as a nurse where she helps all kinds of people? Yes. Does she have a close group of long-term supportive friends? Also, yes. But apparently these things pale in comparison to a husband (or at least a boyfriend) and a couple of kids when Christmas rolls around. However, she’s an independent woman who will not bend to the pressures put upon her by society, her family, and particularly by her mother. Ha! No. It takes just minutes of her being sat between her cherubic twin nephews at the dinner table before she cracks and falsely announces to her entire family that she has a boyfriend and will be bringing him to Christmas dinner. Oopsie doodles. Now she has a mere twenty-four days to secure a boyfriend.
Earlier, Gianna tramped through the forest looking for natural elements for her father’s nativity scene with older sister Margherita (Fiorenza Pieri), who does have children and a now useless husband and, in part because of childhood trauma, constantly worries about holding everything together. Also with them were Gianna’s close friends Titti (Beatrice Arnera), who is fiercely independent and wears high heels everywhere, including to forage for moss, and Caterina (Cecilia Bertozzi), who mentions within seconds of appearing on screen that she’s a nearly thirty year old virgin (because she’s waiting for marriage). There’s a moment when it seems they may fight to the death over a sprig of mistletoe because Gianna and Magherita’s grandmother always said kissing under it would lead to a year of passion. I realize this is supposed to be humorous, but, ugh, it rankled me. Anyway, Margherita, Titti, and Caterina eventually set up a system for sharing the mistletoe, but when Gianna suggests that perhaps she might need it for a Christmas kiss they all burst into giggles, which is part of what makes her throw down the Christmas Boyfriend gauntlet at the family dinner. It’s not that Gianna has never had a boyfriend. Oh no, she had a big love with Francesco until he broke her heart three years ago. Now, she’s finally to the point where she doesn’t talk about him anymore, though it seems her family may not have moved on quite so smoothly.
Can we pause for just a moment to discuss the depiction of Gianna’s mother? Sure, she does some growing over the course of the series, but she is largely the kind of predictably perfectionist mother who suggests a brace she saw that could help with Gianna’s posture, pontificates over dinner about so-and-so who is having a baby already, shunts Gianna to the children’s table lest she mess up the otherwise perfect pairings. Gianna’s father, on the other hand, is warm, congenial, and almost downright conspiratorial in his support of Gianna. Friends, I’m tired of it. How do we expect to shift the cultural norms if we show the same worn out representations again and again? How do we expect people to understand the societal expectations that Gianna’s mother herself has carried all these long years if we don’t really see her or hear from her until the very end of the series?
Woven into the narrative is the story of the baby Jesus. Well, not THE baby Jesus, but the baby Jesus that the city ceremonially places into the nativity scene every year. There is a whole parade where young girls dressed in white carry the doll through the streets until they reach an arched stone footbridge that crosses a canal. (Given that this is a fishing community, it’s not surprising that their main nativity scene floats on the water.) Just as a boat carrying figures of Mary and Joseph is passing underneath, a godly hand-off of sorts is performed, and baby Jesus goes from the land to his cradle on the boat. However, this year something goes wrong and he gets dropped (Ploop!) straight into the water and lost, well, not at sea exactly, but in the canal that leads there, so close enough. They immediately send out divers, but no one can find him. Gianna is quite sure this is somehow her fault because she lied to her entire family. Are we to believe this is the very first lie she’s ever told her family? Or just the biggest? The baby Jesus story will continue to play out alongside Gianna’s as the series progresses as a kind of humorous anecdote and quasi-religious quasi-miracle.
Anyway, the point is that she needs a boyfriend to turn this lie into a truth and I guess fix everything. But where to find one? Over drinks in the café Titti suggests Tinder. Caterina, who is secretly in love with the guy who works in her café who may or may not return the feelings, suggests her choir practice. Neither are ideal. Then the café’s toaster suddenly bursts into flames, and out of nowhere, a large, Genetically Blessed, muscular man steps up, peels his fitted white t-shirt off his body, lays it gently over the machine, and then, still shirtless, turns to Gianna and her friends—who are staring mouths agape, AS ONE WOULD—and says simply, “I learned that on a marinating and grilling course.” For the love of all things impure and imperfect, please watch just for this scene and its blatant camp and humor. I snorted.
Obviously, Gianna immediately signs up for a grilling course, but what she finds is a room full of men who are cowed by their chauvinist instructor, and she spends the entire evening out of her element and increasingly frustrated. She does, however, happen upon her first date there, and so begins her roller coaster ride of dating experiences. I suppose it’s less of a roller coaster than whatever that ride is that pulls you up, up, up and then just drops you straight down. Except when she hooks up with a nineteen-year-old. That has some definite highs for Gianna. Of course, there is excitement in the romance, but the real the meat of the story is in Gianna’s self-discovery, her relationship with her family, and developing relationship with her friends.
For us the viewers, it would be nice if the various dates had a little more oomph at times. They feel somewhat flat-line. Even when she’s arguing or in some daring situation or sleeping with a guy ten years younger, it all feels somewhat flimsy, which isn’t really the worst thing, but I also at certain points wanted something with a bit more heft. I did enjoy Carlo, the handsome businessman who at first tries to bully her to overcome one of her phobias. He later returns somewhat chagrined, though still with a lot to learn. He felt the most substantial of her suitors, even if I did have some issues with how they framed his disability. And speaking of issues, I had some with how they portrayed the sole queer character in the series. The way she approaches the character in whom she was interested feels somewhat predatory, especially when compared with how all the other characters interact. The thinness that plagues Gianna’s suitors also initially besets her friends as well, Titti and Caterina, who don’t really start to develop as whole people until the latter part of the series. That said, the ending for Caterina especially made me want to rewind and have an entire series that is more from her perspective, because the immediate chemistry and sweetness between her and the mysterious stranger who has been leaving her origami cranes on her bicycle was off the charts and deserved more screen time. We see more of Titti’s development, but couched in the usual narrative of a woman falling for a man she doesn’t expect to like.
The series has more than one disabled character, which is great to see, though, unfortunately, as far as I could tell, they are not played by disabled actors. Womp womp wooomp. Also, I have other questions. Gianna is supposed to be a nurse who really sees patients as people. Like her patient Matilde (Marzia Ubaldi), an 80-year-old with a endless well of adventures to share, who insists on being snuck outside to smoke cigarettes, because she’s 80 for fuck’s sake and she’s not going to quit now! However, and a mild spoiler here, Gianna never puts it together that the janitor isn’t ignoring her all the time, but is in fact deaf? I mean, is this supposed to represent the intersection of how together she is in professional life and how at loose ends she is in her personal life? Otherwise, it just seems unlikely that someone as avidly observant as she is in her workplace fails to think there could be any reason other than him ignoring her.
An entirely serious question: Why is “edamame” the ONLY transition song in the ENTIRE series? It’s fun and kitschy the way the beat and lyrics like, “balls hangin’ low while I pop a bottle off a yacht/Chain swangin’, cling clang and it cost a lot” contrast so entirely with the images of baby Jesus in the beginning, but oh my cerebrum, by the end of the final episode I absolutely tore my headphones from my ears when I heard the opening notes for the 7,432 time. The dose makes the poison and variety is the spice of life, and all that.
Look, I feel like I’m doing a lot of kvetching about a show that has enough charm, humor, and plot that I watched it pretty happily in one sitting. I guess, when push comes to shove, I did have a pretty hard time separating it from the original, which I admit to adoring more than adaptation.