Put on your ugliest sweater, grab some gingerbread and hit that remote because it’s December and that means it’s time for another year’s serving of cheesy, trope-filled Christmas movies. I’ve seen enough Christmas movies to last a lifetime so I’m here to give you the run down on some of this year’s brand new holiday flicks (that feel like they were shot in the 90s).
For the sake of length (and because there are only so many Christmas movies I can watch in November before I lose my sanity) this list is made up of Christmas movies released in 2018 on, and by, Netflix.
The Holiday Calendar
In this romantic Christmas flick photographer Abby (Kat Graham) finds herself in possession of a magical advent calendar (you know, the ones with a door for each day but you always open several doors in one go because a tiny piece of chocolate a day isn’t enough). Of course, instead of holiday treats, this calendar chucks a man Abby’s way. The guy in question is Ty (Ethan Peck), a single dad who is also a doctor and, through some kind of witchcraft, has enough free time to go on dates every single night. Oh, and he’s typical nice-rich-guy good looking, just in case that wasn’t obvious. But Ty isn’t the only man vying for Abby’s love. We also have Abby’s pal Josh (Quincy Brown) who is so deep in the friend-zone at the start of the movie that you know he’s the one.
This movie has all the classic tropes of a 90’s ‘working woman who doesn’t have time for love’ romance flick, with some equally outdated Christmas kitsch thrown in for good measure. Abby’s grandfather sports a fantastically tacky DIY Christmas vest and her family is so painfully middle-class they have a mantel-piece covered in annual family photos. This is like nostalgia porn with the odd iPhone thrown into the mix, just to remind you this movie came out in 2018.
Kat Graham gives a pretty solid performance but the rest of the cast struggles with dialogue so forced you’d think the script was causing them physical pain. Then there are the just plain bizarre and mediocre elements of the film: Abby’s photographs mostly look like she took them while being shot out of a canon, Ty somehow manages to lavish a woman he hardly knows with gifts and extravagant dates every night– making you wonder if he ever actually sees his daughter.
But the film isn’t without it’s saving graces. There are little touches of things you wouldn’t find in a mainstream Christmas movie twenty years ago. There’s the focus on Abby’s career. She’s bummed out with her current job, where her boss is a total jerk-off and she doesn’t get to express her real passion (taking Santa photos isn’t exactly what any arts grad would call ‘career fulfilment’). Her mother is constantly riding her about how photography isn’t a ‘real’ career which, for any arts worker watching, hits very close to home. Throughout the movie Abby’s passion for photography remains at the forefront of the story, placing the romantic plot more on the back-foot. In fact, even though there is a classic ‘career woman needs love’ element to the story, the more powerful message is that Abby shouldn’t give up on her dream.
The final verdict: The Holiday Calendar is an old-school Christmas romance with a bit of a modern touch to it. Easy watching if a little slow and with some seriously cliché and stunted dialogue. Best served with a glass of cheap red, in true arts-grad solidarity.
Christmas With a View
Proving that Netflix doesn’t hold the monopoly on romantic Christmas movies, Christmas With a View is surprisingly charming despite its simple plot. Proudly toting itself as an adaptation of a Harlequin novel at just 15 seconds into its run time, this is a movie that delivers exactly what it promises.
The story centres around Clara (Kaitlyn Leeb), the manager of an ultra-modern ski resort restaurant who, like any working woman in a Christmas flick since time immemorial, doesn’t have time for romance. Of course, the arrival of celebrity chef Shane Roarke (Scott Cavalheiro) changes everything. Stuck between her growing feelings for Shane and her own career aspirations, Clara also has to deal with the demands of her boss, owner of the resort Hugh Peters (Mark Ghanimé).
This really does feel like stepping into a festive romance novel, complete with atmospheric shots of snow covered landscapes and cosy decorated rooms in almost every scene. This movie does well when it comes to setting but also delivers a simple but sweet story that feels both modern and timeless. There are no ugly DIY sweaters to be found in this Christmas flick, and while it has classical elements it feels decidedly modern.
Love interest Shane is such a nice, well-meaning guy that, honestly, it’s almost refreshing. Which, in 2018, seems a little crazy. But honestly, we’ve seen so many douchebag heroes and love-interests (thanks a lot, E.L. James), that Shane being a genuinely good guy felt like a breath of fresh air. Just ignore that really shocking green-screen cooking show introduction of his character (stock-image background of a blocky, fake kitchen, anyone?).
The only other characters of any note are Clara’s friend Bonnie (Kristen Kurnik) who seems so dumb that at times I cringed hard enough to cause myself physical pain, and the scummy Hugh Peters whose scheming led to a bit of a Scooby-Doo gang break in which was, admittedly, a little fun despite being ridiculous.
The final verdict: It ain’t half bad. Of course, don’t watch this movie expecting anything new and unique. This is a Christmas movie, after all. But if you want a cheesy, sweet and easy romance this is a good one to pop on with a mug full of cocoa.
The Princess Switch
It’s a trope as well-worn as two characters landing a hotel room with only one bed. I’m talking about the old classic: ordinary, usually working-class person looks exactly like someone rich/famous/noble/royal and they switch lives. Now, I’ll admit I’m not a fan of this trope. The only time I’ve ever enjoyed it was in BoJack Horseman when Todd switched places with the tyrannical prince Gustav of Cordovia (which sounds like a country made-to-order for a Christmas movie). So you could say I came to this movie with a certain level of apprehension.
This movie is exactly what you’d expect. Our heroine, Stacy (Vanessa Hudgens) is a baker who finds herself travelling to an oh-so-cosy made-up country called Belgravia, where everyone is (a) talking like they’re auditioning for Downtown Abbey, and, (b) obsessed with good, old fashioned, wholesome Christmas traditions. Stacy is set to compete in the nation’s annual Christmas baking competition which is, for some reason, a really big deal. But she’s not alone. Her friend Kevin (Nick Sagar) and his daughter Olivia (Alexa Odeosun) are coming along for the ride.
But it isn’t long before Stacy has a chance encounter with Duchess Margaret, her doppelganger and future bride of Prince Edward of Belgravia (Sam Palladio). Margaret wants to experience living like a commoner so she strikes a deal with Stacy. They’ll switch lives for a few days and, in exchange, Margaret will give Stacy whatever she wants (I would have asked for a house or something else expensive, but Stacy has more humble things in mind). Naturally, Stacy starts to fall for the dashing prince Edward (whose riding pants are so tight they might as well be a second skin), while Margaret gets close to Kevin and dotes upon Olivia. Cue the cheerful snow-ball fight montage!
This movie has so many clichés you can set your watch by them. Cute orphans: check. Dead parents: check. Magical old man who shows up at random intervals to impart wisdom: check. It also wouldn’t be a switch-places story without both women knowing next to nothing about the other’s life, or way of life. We get treated to Stacy’s complete ignorance about Margaret’s home country of Montenaro (does this girl not know about Google?), Margaret’s helplessness when it comes to speaking like one of the commoners and the much known fact: all rich people are good at riding horses.
This movie is also so much like a certain other Netflix Christmas film involving royalty and an American girl falling for a Prince that when I sat down to write this review I had to keep asking myself ‘did that one piano scene happen in this movie or that other one?’ (it was this one. I think). Thankfully, The Princess Switch is so self-aware that it actually has a couple of the characters sit down and watch A Christmas Prince during the movie. But unlike A Christmas Prince, this movie never quite sticks the landing on the fairytale romance. The ending is too perfect. There was no conflict whatsoever. Seriously, no one cared about the switch. Literally no one at all.
The final verdict: It’s not terrible, but all the adorable orphans in Belgravia couldn’t sell this one for me. It was a little too light, too cheerful. The best cheesy Christmas films need some drama, some actual stakes. This one doesn’t deliver. Tackle this one with a glass of mead. It’ll be almost as sickly-sweet as this movie.
A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding
If you haven’t seen the first instalment of A Christmas Prince, do yourself a favour and give it a watch, then report back for some dirt on the sequel.
Is there anything that says Christmas more than British accents and the monarchy? Given the recent influx of royalty themed Christmas movies you’ve got to wonder if people in the US think that the whole holiday season is actually about snooping around old-school British traditions (and they may be onto something). In this second instalment of A Christmas Prince, Amber (Rose McIver) returns to the fictional quasi-British country of Aldovia to prepare for her wedding. But she’s in for a rough time. Not only is she forced to follow a bunch of old and tacky traditions, but she also has to deal with Aldovia’s financial troubles. Her husband-to-be, Richard (Ben Lamb), faces the nation’s financial crisis in the only way politicians know how to – by going to lots of meetings. Amber wants to play a more proactive role in the political sphere but gets stuck watching other people plan her wedding. Understandably, she’s a little salty about this, especially when she gets told she can’t blog (because blogs are still a pretty big medium in 2018, am I right?).
Teaming up with her best friends from New York, the king’s little sister Emily and the pathetic antagonist from last year’s movie, Simon, Amber sets out on a quest to uncover the mystery of where-the-flip-is-Aldovia’s-money-going (a mystery you’ll solve the moment they mention it). Unlike the adoption scandal twist from the last movie, the stakes in The Royal Wedding feel far lower. Plus, the movie spends so much time on cutesy sub-plots (Amber’s dad falling for the surly palace chef, Emily’s Christmas play and an obligatory green-screen tobogganing sequence, to mention a few) that the missing money plot feels shallow and tacked on. On top of that, the romance itself is thin on the ground. Richard spends so much time in meetings that sometimes I forgot he was even meant to be a main character. When he is on screen he adds very little to the story save for reminding everyone how stressful it is to be king (we get it Richard, being rich is hard).
The film’s saving grace is princess Emily, probably because she seems to have more intellect and skills than the rest of the characters combined. She’s a master archer, can hack into government files and she’s a DJ? She’s also played as less of the ‘loveable disabled child’ in this film, with the focus more on her skills and sass rather than her wheelchair and crutches.
But this brings up another issue I have with this franchise: why is everyone in Aldovia so overbearingly white? The only non-white characters in either film are Amber’s friend Melissa (Tahirah Sharif) and the super campy wedding planner Sahil (Raj Bajaj). I get that Aldovia is a small European nation full of people with British accents but surely at some point in its 700-ish years of fantastical existence people from other countries and ethnicities would have shown up? Or does Aldovia have some kind of weird ‘whites-only’ policy like a quaintly British version of the South African apartheid? Okay, maybe I’m expecting a little too much world-building from a Hallmark-style Christmas movie, but my point stands.
So what’s the final verdict on the second A Christmas Prince movie? It was alright as far as cheesy, predictable Christmas flicks go but as a sequel it was lacklustre. The first instalment at least had some glitz and glamour (which probably may have contributed to the Aldovian financial crisis) and a cosy, classical feel. This year’s serving felt pared back and far less Christmassy, mostly because it tried to cram so many little storylines into a 1 hour 32 minute movie. Give it a watch after a couple of glasses of white and report back on the only storyline that mattered: Emily’s romantic arc with the adorable Tom Quill (Billy Angel).
Words by Lisandra Linde
Lisandra Linde is an Adelaide-based writer of fantasy and creative nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Feminartsy, Empire Times, Bowen Street Press anthologies Pulse and Tattoo and elsewhere. She tweets at @KrestianLullaby