Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Holiday Movies

I guess I wasn't as eager to work yesterday as I thought. I completely ran out of energy by early afternoon. I did manage to write about three pages and do most of my freelance med school work, but otherwise, it was a day for lying on the sofa and watching movies. There was even a new holiday-themed movie on Lifetime.

Holiday-themed movies are kind of my guilty pleasure. I might even consider myself a connoisseur of them. I do have high standards, though. Or, considering the quality of most of these movies, maybe I should say I have particular standards. For one thing, I don't like the movies that are actually about Christmas, mostly because they aren't really about Christmas. They're about some genericized, tangential, commercial/secular thing that gets called Christmas, so it annoys me when the movie acts like it's really and truly about Christmas. I'm not sure a holiday-themed anything has been bold enough to actually address the true meaning since Linus's speech in A Charlie Brown Christmas. So I'm not a fan of just about anything that's about someone discovering the "true meaning of Christmas" when the "true meaning" is something like peace, love and generosity, with no mention of why those are part of the true meaning of Christmas. If you're not going to take it to the source, then don't bother pretending you're uncovering something meaningful. It's like those bland cards that are designed not to offend anyone by actually mentioning the reason you're sending a card.

As much as I love A Christmas Carol, I'm ready to call a moratorium on any updating or reimagining of that story, as well as the It's a Wonderful Life story. I'm tired of the stressed career woman discovering the true meaning of Christmas by magically waking up one day as a wife and mother, or vice versa. I'm tired of the driven executive changing after revisiting the past, seeing what's really going on in the present and getting a glimpse of the future. It's time to come up with another structure for a Christmas-themed story. I also avoid any holiday movie in which Santa Claus is an actual character, whether it's someone having to become Santa, Santa needing a wife, Santa's daughter/son needing a spouse, or any of those permutations.

Instead, what I like is using the holiday season as a setting to tell another story that possibly could have been told at another time of year but that is magnified by taking place during the holiday season. For one thing, there's the pretty factor. Twinkling lights, falling snow, fireplaces and all that are inherently romantic and fun to watch. Then there's the fact that the holidays amp up the emotional level. People who are perfectly content to be single eleven months out of the year may find themselves feeling lonely and wanting a partner at this time of year, whether it's because of the pretty, because of going to too many parties that feel like Noah's Ark with everyone else paired up, because of imagining a Christmas future being sad and alone, or because of questions about why they're not married yet at family gatherings. That can lead to people making decisions they otherwise wouldn't -- or being open to possibilities they otherwise wouldn't be. The holiday season also offers a change in routine that can create possibilities -- travel, being away from work, revisiting home towns, parties, neighbors/friends having family members visiting, the general holiday spirit that may get total strangers speaking to each other in public. The fact that the holiday season does end can even create a ticking clock, giving things a deadline -- things will go back to normal, you'll go home, the other person will go home, etc.

My preference is for well-done, big-screen movies. For classics, there's Christmas in Connecticut, in which a single woman who has adopted a perfect wife and mother persona for her newspaper columns has to play host to a war hero -- at her perfect Connecticut farm that doesn't actually exist -- as a publicity stunt. Then there's Love Actually, which really deals with that holiday season as stress issue. And The Holiday, which uses the change in routine to kick off the story. I'm also fond of While You Were Sleeping, which deals with the way the holidays amplify loneliness, and About a Boy, which also addresses loneliness vs. community (that one isn't strictly a holiday movie, but the main character is living on the royalties of a novelty Christmas song his father wrote, so Christmas does come up a lot and is pivotal). For non-holiday movies that contain pivotal holiday scenes, I include When Harry Met Sally and Bridget Jones's Diary. Since a lot of these also stretch to the new year, I often use these for that week between Christmas and New Year's Day when there's nothing much going on and nothing but bowl games on TV. A good film festival is a great way to beat the post-Christmas blues.

Then there are the made-for-TV movies, where we really get into the "guilty" part of "guilty pleasure." I'm less fond of the ABC Family movies, since those tend to go for the Santa plot or the "learn the true meaning of Christmas" plot. I lean more toward the Lifetime movies. Eleven months out of the year, I barely watch anything on Lifetime because I'm not a fan of the "my abusive husband left me while I was coping with my child's potentially fatal disease and being stalked" genre, but then the entire network changes in December and becomes the home of supremely cheesy romantic comedies set during the holiday season. They all seem to be filmed in Canada, so I guess a huge subset of the Canadian film/TV industry is devoted to these things. Some of them aren't all that bad while some make you wonder if there are any standards at all. A lot seem to be based on novels, which is why I have it on my literary bucket list to write a book that can get turned into a Lifetime holiday movie. I suppose I could make more money and cut out the middle man by writing a script, but I suspect I'd have an easier time selling a novel. These are all great for a boring Sunday afternoon when you want to lie on the sofa under a blanket, eat popcorn and drink hot cocoa, and possibly read a book while halfway paying attention to the TV.

There was one on last night that utterly baffled me. It was based on a book, so I now have that book on hold at the library so I can read it, compare and then discuss.

Meanwhile, I think I've made an executive decision not to put up the Christmas tree this year. The part of my holiday decor that I really like is the lighted garland on the loft and stair rail and over the fireplace, and that's what I can see from the places where I usually sit. I might even put up the little tabletop tree in my office. But I just don't want to deal with the furniture rearranging and everything else I have to do to put up the big tree. I think that maybe taking a year off and then doing something different with it next year will make it more special then.


Anonymous said...

Good call on When Harry Met Sally that's one that I always watch over the holiday's!

Chicory said...

Mmm, `While You Were Sleeping' is one of my all-time favorite movies. As for `Christmas Carol' remakes, none can reach the awesomeness that was `Muppet's Christmas Carol.'

Shanna Swendson said...

The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my favorites. Aside from the talking pigs and frogs, it's surprisingly close to the original text. Like, you can practically follow along in the book.