Devoured by the ouroboros of "A Christmas Movie Christmas"

The Christmas movie is coming from inside the Christmas movie!!

Devoured by the ouroboros of "A Christmas Movie Christmas"

Last year, upon discovering that the Netflix original movie The Knight Before Christmas featured a scene with characters browsing Netflix original movies, I challenged Netflix to commit to its meta bullshit. Make a movie about two actors falling in love while filming a Netflix original Christmas rom-com, I proposed, and call it As We Stream By the Fire. The sequel could be about them getting snowed in while filming their movie’s sequel, and it could be titled Streaming of a White Christmas.

I stand by these ideas, because they’re great, but little did I know that Netflix was not the only company interested in meta bullshit: apparently a movie called A Christmas Movie Christmas was released the same month that I pitched my self-aware Christmas series. In my defense, A Christmas Movie Christmas premiered on a channel called UPtv, a network that calls itself “the trusted destination for uplifting entertainment,” which is not on my radar. I had to stumble upon this film organically a year later, with Hulu recommending it to me based on my hideously embarrassing watch history.

This movie is about a pair of sisters, Eve and Lacy. Eve is obsessed with Christmas movies, and Lacy isn’t. That’s about as much characterization as we get. In this Christmas movie about Christmas movies, the only character trait that matters is how you feel about Christmas movies. Lacy is supposed to be the jaded, cynical one, I guess. The problem is that the actress who plays her, Kimberly Daugherty, is more of a sweet, quirky type, as is the actress playing Eve, so there’s not much differentiation between the two.

It didn’t surprise me, then, to learn that Kimberly and her husband Brant Daugherty wrote and produced this movie. The actress playing Eve is definitely a Vanessa Hudgens type, so I thought for sure that the Daughertys had written the part for Vanessa Hudgens but couldn’t get her. So I was surprised to learn that Vanessa Hudgens is one of Kimberly’s best friends in real life. Kimberly seems to be very in with famous LA people. Her best friend is Ashley Tisdale. She and Sarah Hyland attended each other’s weddings. She’s friendly with Selena Gomez. Her husband was on Pretty Little Liars and she was on Grey’s Anatomy, but also in Scales: Mermaids Are Real, a movie that I only know about from an upsetting Danny Gonzalez video. If you can’t tell, I spent a lot of time researching Kimberly, and that’s because this movie was so corny that I kept pausing it, sometimes for hours at a time.

Anyway, we’re introduced to our protagonists when Lacy drops by Eve’s cubicle at work. I assumed that they worked at the same company, but when I rewatched it, I realized that it’s never established what Lacy does. Maybe she was just visiting. Maybe she worked in a different department for the same company. Unclear! All we need to know is that she’s not a fan of Christmas movies. Eve is, though. She’s watching one at work starring her favorite leading man, Chad Matthew Monroe, and no one notices or cares. She tells Lacy that she went ahead and drafted up some graphic design ideas for their magazine’s spring issue, then confesses that they’re not even in the planning stages yet but she just had so many good ideas. Lacy’s like “Wow, you’re so driven and good at your job,” which I guess is supposed to be another character trait of Eve’s, but then her boss drops by to ask why she hasn’t submitted the edits he’s requested on a press release and Eve doesn’t have them because she was working on those spring issue layouts and her boss is mad because the press release needed to go out that day. So I would argue that Eve is not good at her job. But we’re supposed to realize that she’s just settling on a dumb role instead of pursuing her passion, because she has so much potential as an artist!!

a boring magazine page with curved word art that reads "GOING NATURAL." It is unremarkable.

How is she letting her talent go to waste?!

Eve and Lacy live together in a spacious townhouse apartment with multiple TVs, but the heat is out so actually they’re struggling. Lacy was supposed to have a date, but she got stood up, something that happens to her all the time. A lot of character exposition is shoved into this scene. After Eve shoddily decorates the apartment, for instance, we get this exchange as Lacy holds up burnt, shapeless cookies:

LACY: Why does it look like a pack of toddlers tried to make Christmas cookies in here?
EVE: Because I tried to bake Christmas cookies in there. I don’t get it. Design is so easy on the page, but in real life…
LACY: Join the club. I’m used to men who don’t turn out like the package promised.

What does any of this mean? Someone flubbed a line, first of all, because one sister says “make Christmas cookies” and the other sister says “bake Christmas cookies” as an echo. I’ve never heard a group of toddlers referred to as a “pack,” though I’ll allow that one, because I like that it implies the children were feral. More importantly, though, we’re supposed to understand that Eve can’t make cookies because design is easier on the page than in real life. But baking cookies is not an act of design, and Eve’s design work doesn’t involve designing cookies. It would make more sense if the cookies looked incredible but tasted bad, and then you could say that she’s only good at design. But she’s not, in real life, because she also can’t decorate her own apartment, even though she has such an eye for the Word Art feature in Microsoft Word. And then Lacy follows this up with more nonsense! What club is she inviting Eve to? The club of things that are easier on the page? Why is she talking about packages? Eve didn’t take cookies out of a package that turned out worse than the package promised! She made cookies herself, badly! No promises were broken!

I don’t know, dude. This movie badly needed a script doctor, which would have solved some of its problems. Not all, though. The props department also needed to step up their game. Lacy’s mug still has the price tag on it.

Two women walk outside. One is drinking from a mug, revealing the price tag sticker on the bottom of it.

Anyway, the sisters go for a walk and Lacy says that she’s worried that Eve uses Christmas movies to escape her real life, and Eve retorts that their real life sucks because they’re both single, her boss doesn’t even know her name, and they can barely afford their apartment. They should try downsizing to solve that third problem! Eve wishes that she could live in a Christmas movie, in a little town with a cute grandma and a charming beau, as they’re passing a guy dressed like Santa Claus ringing a bell for donations. (I hope it’s not for the Salvation Army!) Santa asks if that’s what Eve really wants and tells Lacy to make a wish too. It’s corny and clunky. I would have made this funnier and more organic by making the Santa really pushy about donations, insisting that they give him money in exchange for a wish. Eve would go along with it because she’s an optimist who loves the magic of the season, but Lacy would be bullied into it by the asshole Santa.

Either way, both characters make a wish, though Lacy won’t say hers out loud, and then of course when they fall asleep that night, they’re magically transported to the world of a Christmas movie. The special effects here are top-notch.

CGI sparks flying from a Christmas wreath.

Lacy and Eve wake up in a cozy house with Gram-Gram, their cute, doting grandmother, in a quaint little village called Holiday Falls. Eve learns that she’s dating a pop star named Russell played by “Chad Matthew Monroe,” and she has to put together the town’s Christmas Festival with a sweet innkeeper named Dustin. (This was a missed opportunity, by the way! She kept saying that she wanted to find her beau, like five times, so I thought for sure that one of these men would be named Beau. Beau is a name! It was the name of a leading man in Holly’s Holiday! I really need to write my own movie one of these days because I’m a fucking expert at this!)

This movie does have some funny jokes. The Daughertys are definitely familiar with the genre and throw in a lot of specific details, like the sisters’ hair and makeup looking perfect when they just got out of bed, constant references to the sisters hailing from “the city,” and a newspaper headline declaring that the prince of some made-up country would be marrying a commoner on Christmas. Unfortunately, though, this is still a made-for-TV Christmas rom-com. A Christmas Movie Christmas be like “Christmas movies be like” when it’s the Christmas movie that be like, if you will. It pokes light fun at these kinds of movies but it’s still just as cheesy, as much as I want it to be a sharp Wet Hot American Summer-style parody. (Michael Showalter, David Wain, if you’re reading this: I am more than available to work on a script for Snowy Cold American Holiday!)

It’s also quite badly produced. Russell gifts Eve a necklace that looks like it came from the Dollar Store. Outdoor scenes are consistently overexposed. One important scene is shot inside a bakery with light flooding in every window, backlighting the actors so their faces are hazy and never fully in focus.

A hazy, backlit actor.

And the acting is rough. There are only eleven principal actors in the entire cast, so they really should have paid better attention to who they cast in smaller roles. Santa is terrible. Gram-Gram is just a nice old lady, but they should have cast a scene-stealing comedic actress. “Chad Matthew Monroe”-as-Russell is supposed to be an exaggerated version of the perfect man, but the actor playing him cannot compare to Ryan McPartlin’s work as the mannequin brought to life in Holly’s Holiday.

The leads are fine, though Lacy is miscast. Eve is an annoying character, but Lana McKissack elevates the material. I thought that the actor who played Dustin looked like a cross between Shia LaBeouf and Taran Killam, but it turns out that he’s actually a third, different teen actor from the 90s: Ryan Merriman, DCOM all-star! He was in Smart House, A Ring of Endless Light, and my personal favorite, The Luck of the Irish,  and he’s pretty good. I have some notes about Lacy’s love interest, played by producer and co-writer Brant Daugherty, though. I have notes about Lacy’s entire storyline, actually.

So Lacy meets a goofy baker named Paul and he falls in love with her immediately. Fine. They’re trapped in a Christmas movie, so that’s what happens. The problem is that Brant Daugherty plays Paul like he’s Buddy the Elf: a chipper, wide-eyed, always-smiling maniac. And the movie wants to comment on this — Lacy rolls her eyes at his zaniness and tells him that the love notes he’s left for her are “stalkery and weird” — but of course they still end up together. This is where A Christmas Movie Christmas really needed to be cleaned up. Before the sisters are sent to Holiday Falls, we learn that Lacy “has dated every jerk in the city” and is constantly getting stood up. So she has bad taste in men, right? But then, Paul confesses his love to her. (“You’re the most unique girl I’ve ever met” he says, though literally nothing has indicated that so far, and then he actually adds, “You’re not like other girls.”) Lacy says, quite reasonably, that Paul doesn’t know the real her, but then goes on an emotional monologue about how she always sabotages relationships and doesn’t deserve a good guy like Paul. I thought that men were sabotaging her relationships? By not showing up to dates? But okay, I guess she picks people who seem like they won’t show up to dates, intentionally. When she tells Eve about their breakup, though, she literally says “I pushed away the best man I ever met.” The next day, Eve says Lacy always burns bridges and Lacy snaps “What’s that supposed to mean!?” like it’s a total revelation. She herself just expressed that exact sentiment, explicitly, to Paul and then to Eve! Then Lacy has to make a speech at Paul about how she pushed him away on purpose, because she didn’t think she deserved a good guy like him, like that’s new information, but she can be a better person because he believes in her so they should get back together. None of this was earned! She tells Eve that she’s sick of always quitting jobs and quitting relationships and moving around, but there’s only 20 minutes left in the movie and this is the first we’re hearing of her doing any of that. How often does she move around? She lives with Eve. What jobs has she quit? Does she end relationships, or do guys just not show up on first dates? What’s Lacy’s deal and why did Paul, of all people, help her fulfill her Christmas wish, which was to be a better person? Were we supposed to think Lacy was a bad person?

There are also some very strange ethical questions surrounding Eve’s storyline. When she’s dropped into this universe, she’s dating Russell, the pop star, and things are pretty serious between them. But Eve has, in reality, only just met Russell. So she’s actually falling for Dustin, therefore betraying a boyfriend she barely knows. In Russell’s timeline, Eve is his committed girlfriend and they’ve shared lots of time together. In Eve’s timeline, she just met both potential beaux and prefers Dustin. “Supposedly you’re dating Russell,” reasons Lacy when Eve feels guilty. “But you weren’t present for that conversation.”

Screenshot of a man fastening a necklace for his girlfriend, who looks upset. The caption reads "You are the only person in the world I can truly be myself with."

That’s quite a minefield to explore! They don’t, though. It’s just a regular love triangle. Similarly, I thought that Gram-Gram’s character had some wild implications, and it would be very funny if her storyline was ratcheted up several notches. At one point, she brings out ornaments that she claims the sisters made when they were little girls, something they have no memory of, since they’re from a timeline where this woman isn’t even their grandmother. I wish that Gram-Gram could be constantly sharing memories and details from this universe that make no sense to them, ratcheting up in intensity as the movie progressed. “Do you remember when you baked those cookies with too much ginger in them?” she’d chuckle. “That was in the old house, of course, the one Eve burned down.” Lacy and Eve would go about their journey and Gram-Gram would pop in from time to time like “I don’t know what I would do without you girls! Why, I was just thinking about the time Lacy had to rescue me during that avalanche. And Eve, you literally gave me your kidney! We share these matching scars forever!”

Obviously, my version of this story would be wilder. The obligatory cute child in this movie asked Santa to bring her Daddy back, and I straight-up assumed she meant from the dead and I was so mad when an alive father figure showed up on Christmas Day returning from some stupid war. Of course he wasn’t dead. This movie plays by conventional rules. But I still feel that there’s so much wasted potential! No one calls Eve “Christmas Eve” all movie, even though she loves Christmas. People say “Merry Christmas, Eve” to her and the movie doesn’t comment on it! They don’t make any jokes about her name at all. This is Christmas Movie 101 stuff, A Christmas Movie Christmas!

It’s all very boring, unfortunately. Eve has to “save Christmas” by throwing the perfect Christmas festival for the NPCs of Holiday Falls, even though they’re all incredibly full of cheer already because they live in Holiday Falls. Dustin’s mean ex-girlfriend shows up to be an obstacle to their romance, but Eve is technically dating Russell anyway, so there was already an obstacle to overcome. Everything is just limp and messy. The sisters get transported back to real life with Paul and Dustin, two actual humans who have been brought to this timeline but presumably have memories of living in Holiday Falls. What will they tell people who ask how they met? Do Paul and Dustin now have backstories in this universe, like Eve’s history with Russell that she wasn’t aware of? Should we be concerned about the butterfly effect here? Whatever. Lacy, who was allegedly rotten to the core, I guess, learned to be a better person by being around Paul, a man-child with boundary issues. Eve learns that her life wouldn’t actually be better if she were in a Christmas movie, so she should pay attention to her real life and be a graphic designer. The payoff for her storyline is her boss learning her name.

A Christmas Movie Christmas is pretty dumb, because Christmas movies are pretty dumb, and A Christmas Movie Christmas, though a Christmas movie about Christmas movies, is still a Christmas movie. It’s not satirizing the genre, nor does it intend to. Satire requires a clarity of purpose and target lest it be mistaken for and contribute to that which it intends to criticize! A Christmas Movie Christmas fully intends to contribute to the canon. There are two types of people in, I’ve learned, and I’m the kind that doesn’t like Christmas movies. But the lesson of this movie, I think, is to pursue your passions, and my dream is to write a better Christmas movie. Maybe I’ll become a better person or pick up a beau in the process, but I really just want to get paid to think about these dumb movies since I’m already doing it for free. UPtv, I can put you on the map! Let me write or direct or even help the props department! Let’s make next Christmas a real Christmas movie Christmas with a Christmas movie to cherish for Christmases to come. I’m already lost inside this world, and this feels like my only possible way out, so please give me money for it.

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