From Hannah: Over the past few years Christmas has somehow become synonymous with cheesy Christmas movies from channels like Hallmark, Lifetime, and ABC Family (before it became Freeform). I’m not imagining things — Hallmark, for example, has increased its production of holiday movies to 37 and will add Hanukkah movies to its schedule next year. Last year, Netflix joined in on the holiday fun (?) with movies like Christmas Inheritance (which seems to be about all the men in a smart, thoughtful, and ambitious woman’s life making her cater to their demands just in time for Christmas?) and The Christmas Prince, which gained more widespread attention after Netflix sent out my favorite tweet ever (creepiness aside):
To the 53 people who've watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?
— Netflix US (@netflix) December 11, 2017
Which prompted not only controversies over how Netflix tracks viewer habits but also drew attention to a movie that probably didn’t deserve it. Which prompted the production of a newly released sequel The Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding. And it may be the worst movie I’ve ever seen and willingly watched all the way through. These movies, in general, have a particular reputation: they’re cheesy, they conform to similar plotlines (and, depending on the channel star the same actors and are filmed in the same location), and, generally, scoffed at for being “low” art.
So what draws in viewers?
Despite genuinely not being able to sit through some holiday romances (The Holiday Calendar) and happily complaining about the worst ones I was forced to sit through later (Christmas Inheritance), I will admit I have eagerly awaited the release of certain ridiculously plotted Christmas-themed films like the Vanessa Hudgens’s Netflix original The Princess Switch (it’s like The Prince and the Pauper but a baker and a duchess if it were written for people who watch the Great British Bakeoff and The Christmas Prince). In fact, my sister and I were “sold” on it precisely because it sounded terrible:
As Hallmark Networks’ Chief Bill Abbott says, the Hallmark brand of holiday movies relies, “in creating an experience where you can turn the TV on, feel comfortable and cook, decorate or do something holiday-related and that puts you in the spirit.” And it seems that competing networks like Lifetime and Netflix follow this pattern. Actor Kristoffer Polaha recently penned a column for the Hollywood Reporter describing why he stars in so many films and why viewers enjoy them. To put it simply, these movies are fun.
Honestly, I had far more fun watching The Princess Switch than A Star Is Born, which I can say with certainty will receive Oscar nominations. One of these films is an objectively better movie with much higher production values and better reviews from professional critics. The other movie was actually fun to watch.
Of course, many of these holiday feel-good films promote tradition, have the same troublesome romantic cliches as your typical rom-com, and the resolution to the older Holiday in Handcuffs will never stop bothering me. But what positive elements are there in these cheesy films? Do nay-sayers judge them more harshly than other genres that are also “low” art? Is the high/art low art distinction even a worthwhile one? Most importantly, what is the best/worst cheesy holiday film you’ve seen? (And what’s with all the “royal” Christmas movies?)
From Mav: I’m wondering what it is that makes a Christmas movie lovable. And for that matter… what is a Christmas movie, exactly anyway. I mean, some of them are obvious… there’s a long string of films that are just ABOUT Santa Claus…like all of the stop motion animation Christmas specials by Rankin/Bass productions that have been playing every year on TV since the mid 1960s. Frankly, there’s something simply awful about them. They’re… really bad. I’m pretty sure they were really bad back then too. But it’s Christmas and somehow they’re just sort of given a pass.
And then there’s perennial favorites like It’s a Wonderful Life, or Miracle on 34th Street or to pick something a little newer, A Christmas Story. Often these are actually good movies… but does anyone actually watch them? I mean really sit down and watch them anymore? Or is it just like the Rankin/Bass films? Are these just things that have been on TV every year at Christmas time for as long as any of us can remember, so it just feels “right” to toss it on, and like Hannah said, do your Christmas baking or decorating or wrapping or whatever?
And then of course there’s the debatable films. The ones people ask “is this a Christmas movie?” and then argue about on the internet. I’m thinking of Die Hard here. I think Die Hard is a Christmas movie… in that it take place at Christmas… and… and… and… well, I really just want it to be a Christmas movie, dammit! That’s the only reason anyone wants it to be a Christmas movie. It’s a great movie and it’s fun to watch and it’s better than sitting there and watching Jimmy Stewart wish he had never been born for the bajillionth time. You know… that and Hans Gruber… because what could make Christmas better than that?
But if Die Hard counts then so does Home Alone right? That happens at Christmas time. And what about Gremlins, Love Actually, or Planes, Trains and Automobiles? Christmas is totally a part of the plot of those just as much as it is a part of Die Hard. And hey, what about Mean Girls? That takes place over the course of a whole year, but Christmas is totally a big part of the plot and the key to one of the most important scenes. Same thing with Bridget Jones’ Diary, Rocky, Goodfellas, and Edward Scissorhands. Is there something about these movies that makes them Christmas movies? Or is it just that they’re good movies that vaguely have something to do with Chiristmas and we want to watch them?
Except, like we said.. maybe that’s not what makes a Christmas movie. Maybe the point is that you’re not supposed to really WATCH them. Maybe what makes a Christmas movie special is that you don’t watch. You’re just supposed to put them on. Maybe it’s just about atmosphere. Hannah mentioned a bunch of Netflix Original Christmas movies that have come out lately. She knows there isn’t much to them. I’m also aware of Lifetime and Hallmark Channel films that are much the same. Last year, Steph and I discovered a whole marathon of them that were like 10 films with the same plot. A couple of single people happen to be shopping for Christmas trees at the same time and their dogs end up canoodling so the characters naturally fall in love. Because of course they do… it’s Christmas. And if there’s anything a sad single person wants to do at Christmas, it’s fuck a stranger that they met at the Christmas tree lot. Especially if they’re depressed because their dog is getting more action than they are.
One of my favorite of these films doesn’t actually have a dog related plot, but still follows the same basic generic rom com formula, Lifetime’s Love at the Christmas Table. The plot is quite simple, Sam (Dustin Milligan) and Kat (Danica McKellar, who, as listeners might know, I’ve been in love with since The Wonder Years, and was my sole reason for watching the film) are kids who have grown up together seeing each other once a year at a big multi-family Christmas dinner. Over the years they grow up and apart seeing each other and whatever significant other one might bring… sometimes being jealous of the other if one is single. And then, when they show up alone, they realize they’re in love… because no one wants to be single at Christmas… especially if they don’t even have a dog. Toss in a random misunderstanding to make them doubt that love… and then resolve before the final commercial break so you can kiss under a mistletoe. And they all lived happily ever after. Because of course they do… Christmas is the only time of year when Lifetime movies don’t revolve around rape and murder.
I didn’t rewatch the film to type that… though I might before we record the episode. And I’ve only seen it once. But I didn’t really need to rewatch it. Because it’s the same as every single other one of these films really. I can get the base premise from the poster and I can pretty much derive the entire rest of the plot. So I’ll probably put it on and watch it later while I do anything else. Because… THAT’s how we watch Christmas movies… so maybe that’s what a Christmas movie is. Background noise for ambiance. Except of course Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas… which one must be riveted to when one watches… because it is delightful.
So what are your thoughts? What makes a Christmas movie good or bad and what are some of the best and worst examples? What are your favorites to watch or hate watch? What should we talk about on this episode and who wants to share in the discussion with us?