ONE OF THE CURSES of this holiday season is the annual onslaught of what we, in our house, call “sappy Christmas movies.”
You know the ones — made for TV, plot in which stressed-out people find true love and end up together on Christmas, preferably with an unbelievably cute and precocious child (or, on occasion, a rebellious teenager who figures it all out and becomes a model young citizen).
They condense every possible Christmas cliché into two hours and have story lines that may vary with a few fill-in-the-blank options, but the rules for sappy Christmas moves are pretty clearcut.
The actors must be total unknowns, the kind who’ve never had a role in a real movie.
The setting must be in a place, like California, where there’s no snow. That makes it possible for it to snow, right on cue, on Christmas eve.
The plot must involve a widow in her 30s, who is pretty and blonde, or a widower in his 30s who is a good-looking, simple guy who is incredibly pleasant and kind. Carpenters and handymen do well in these movies.
Sometimes the widow and widower get together in the same movie. If either has a dog, the dog must be blonde, too, as in golden retriever or golden lab.
Usually, the pretty blonde widow is smart and ambitious and building a business that is experiencing financial difficulties.
Time travel is, apparently, a common occurrence with pretty people who fall in love at Christmas. The widow (or housewife, or single corporate woman as the case may be) is likely to have recurring dreams or flashbacks or flash forwards involving Christmas. In one sappy Christmas movie currently running a few times a week, the unhappy housewife falls into the clothes dryer and is transported to a parallel universe in which she is suddenly married to her former boyfriend. He’s a high-school quarterback type who has grown up to be handsome and wealthy, but then she discovers she loves her old family better and manages to reverse the process.
As certain as freezing rain in Kamloops, everybody will end up together at Christmas, drink eggnog around the tree and leave us with the certain knowledge that they’re going to live happily ever after.
I think my favourite (that is, my favourite one to hate) is the one about a blonde newspaper advice columnist who gets into a war with a handsome competitor. They each work in spotless, well-decorated newsrooms in a small town, and they hate each other. Naturally, they end up together in time for Christmas.
To my way of thinking, these movies are a much bigger threat to peace and joy on Earth than terrorism or the commercialization of Christmas. It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with pretending that Christmas is all pumpkin pie and turkey with all the trimmings — we get enough reminders of food banks and heartbreak and the numbing reality of poverty and people sleeping in alleyways.
But these movies are so bad, so utterly devoid of creativity, so bland and predictable, that they are a waste of programming space that could be better filled by superior fare.
Hollywood has produced some material that should be in our Christmas stocking of watchables every year. Everybody should take the time for A Christmas Carol (pick whichever version you like) and the classic of classics, White Christmas with Der Bingle, Danny Kay, and Rosemary Clooney. It actually has a bit of a plot, too.
I’m not a fan of Will Ferell’s Elf, but I do get an annual kick out of Bad Santa with Billy Bob Thornton, which is stupendous in its rudeness, the perfect foil for Miracle on 34th Street and about as far from James Stewart’s anguished performance in It’s a Wonderful Life — both of which I much enjoy — as you can get.
And National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, complete with Chevy Chase and his dysfunctional Griswolds family, never gets old.
I like variety with my Christmas movies. A little sappy is OK, but please add a dash of rude, actors who can act, and a storyline that doesn’t involve a man named Kris who — omigod, could he be the real Kris Kringle?
Made-for-TV just doesn’t cut it.
This column was first published Dec. 11, 2014. Nothing has changed. firstname.lastname@example.org.