Part 1 of the Christmas Movie Watchstravaganza
This holiday season is starting off with a sweet-potato-flavored bang.
I must confess that as a person under 30 with a decent aversion to anything “corny” or preaching “family values,” I was afraid to turn this on. Contemporary Christmas family movies aren’t something I watch, they’re not something my mom watches, and right about now my Granny would be watching Drumline.
Also, because I’m a really square Black person with limited exposure to anything, my assumptions about what this film could be skewed toward…like…Tyler Perry minus Madea and plus some Christian drama movie called War Room that I once watched a random internet reviewer make fun of. I’m sorry. That’s just what came to mind. And when the back of the book said it was written by the author of that self-help book Think Like A Man, I made even more scary assumptions, figuring the men in the picture would all be praising their wives as “their better halves” or something in a very cringey manner.
But I was pleasantly surprised! This film is just a good ol’ normal entertaining amusing heartwarming family picture….
Well, three-quarters of it.
Okay, more like half of it. Weird romantic/”romantic” stuff and other generalized strangeness does happen, but we’ll get to that.
Also, please please don’t show this to your grandparents or your grandkids unless you want them exposed to:
- simulated doggy style
- a gun fired in the air
- an offscreen car crash
- prescription drugs that kinda look like Sweettarts
- children getting REWARDED for secretly setting up film cameras in the dining room. You know they’re posting that shit online. From all their Kidstagram accounts. Where it will stay. Forever.
- outtakes including the phrases “chewing ass” and “titty chop”
This is why it’s PG-13, friends! Mind that label!
The Gist of the Film
Alright, so this film starts out with a montage showing an always-busy, always-loving family throughout the generations. We go from a small, humble bedroom with a new husband, wife, and child-to-come to a sprawling bunch of kids, then grandkids. That new wife is now their matriarch, and she unites the family with home cooking and love. But when the montage ends, we find the patriarch alone in an empty house, holding the photograph of his dead wife.
There are some interesting conflicts in the film, some of them intergenerational. That grandfather, Walter Meyers, has not only lost Grace, but he’s also on the verge of losing the house that the two of them pooled their money together for so long to buy and fill with their lives. (And this is a FABULOUS wooden house, too, the most perfect house for a Christmas movie short of a glorified toy store or log cabin.) So he’s going to hold one last Christmas gathering with the whole Meyers family—he just hopes they can put their dysfunctional personalities aside long enough.
Is it possible, however, that they’ll pull out a Christmas miracle and not only revive their love of each other by remembering the love of their matriarch, but also…also keep their precious house???
I’m not sure that should count as a spoiler, but, uh, I guess, spoilers ahead.
Now My Thoughts Spill Out In a Random Order, Starting With The Elderly
Well, the first highlight of our cast is Walter, whose name I immediately forgot so I just called him Old Man. I’m usually rooting for the old man in a cast, unless he’s just an asshole…or, like Dumbledore, eternally foolish and incorrect. But y’know, sometimes you can take Old Man Virtuousness too far. In watching this film, I found that Old Man was never wrong in any way that mattered. He restored order during arguments, he reached out to others when it made sense to, and his efforts to pull everyone together proved fruitful. Heck, his big moment of meanness is him telling the rest of his folks that whether or not to sell this house is his decision, and he can do it quietly if he so chooses.
Sure, he owed fair warning to his youngest son (who was still living in the place, after all), but does he really owe an explanation to Uncle Lonnie? No, I don’t think so. For Uncle Lonnie does not deserve anything.
Actually, Old Man is wrong about one other thing: the way to recreate Grace’s sweet potato pie. You know, it was only in 2021 that I learned sweet potato pie is “a Black people food.” (Actually, are sweet potatoes considered “a Black people food” in general in the United States? I dunno, I live in a bubble and the world is a soup.) Regardless, for your future reference, the place I learned that was some random YA book called You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P!.
More to the point, Old Man is super into remaking this sweet potato pie. If only his family can get along and this pie can come out good, then it’ll all be perfect, in his mind. So before the gathering happens, he does practice runs with his pie. He uses instructions off the computer. He can’t even crack eggs right. The pies are all disasters.
Will the family pull out a miracle by pulling out Grace’s secret stash of recipes from who-knows-where in a magical moment?????
Time to Hate Kids
This film contains four separate instances of “really?” and I believe two of them belong to child characters.
Now, there are three kids in this film. I call them Smartass, Smartass with Glasses, and Smaller Smartass (she’s supposed to be “the cute one”). In other words, these are Alvin and the Chipmunks we’re working with. They’re hooked up to cyberspace with their digital phones, and they abuse this power by filming the adults when they’re in embarrassing situations and/or semi-justifiably pulling a gun on Uncle Lonnie.
Did you know that the one with glasses likes books?
Almost Christmas taught me that my least favorite child character is a smarmy one. I can just imagine all the things my mom might say if she saw them on TV. I mean, if they bother me, they would surely piss off a mom who used to say “parenthood is not a democracy, it’s a dictatorship.” To be clear, I hate that quote. But I may hate these little wiseapples more. They teach adults lessons not by being little angelic Linus van Pelts or by incisively, cluelessly pointing out their faults, but…by walking up to them and saying things like, “You know what, Mom? You kind of suck. Remember all the times you sucked?” It’s pretty convenient for the movie and it’s very unfortunate for me.
The moral: keep this movie far away from Granddad from The Boondocks.
I did find it clever, though, when the kids were watching Uncle Lonnie “fix” the electronic Santa and sled on the roof (a scene that I assume has to happen in every Christmas family movie or else Christmas will sue you). As we all know, Uncle Lonnie ain’t worth shit and he’s probably lying about his post-NBA basketball career in Croatia, so whatever he tries to fix is doomed to failure.
His wife Cheryl knows this, and she doesn’t want the kids around such dangerous foolishness, but the kids ask her “can we pleeease watch him fix the rooftop Santa?” because he’s such a hero and they love him thiiis much, and they believe in him. She goes “well, alright…” but the moment she leaves, Uncle Lonnie is “almost done.” He gets electrocuted, falls down, and clearly gains a debilitating back injury. The kids, being cruel, are all filming him.
You know, this is only the first time Uncle Lonnie acquires a horrible back injury that will give him pain for life. Yet every time he walks again. This truly was the strongest man in the NBA.
This…Weird Guy Who Jogs Around Their House
One character I couldn’t figure out because I misheard some early dialogue appears to just be a random dude jogging by at opportune times. He’s there when the families first pull up to the house, and the next morning he’s there when Rachel is locked out and needs to be doggy-styled inside through a window. This gives him the perfect opportunity to invasively poke the poorly-translated-ignorant-Chinese tattoo on her thigh. Again, kids can’t watch this.
If you guessed this man is actually Rachel’s will-they-or-won’t-they boyfriend, you’re right! If you also guessed that his sexual harassment is a terrible start to what will surely be a rocky relationship (which was nonetheless endorsed by the Think Like A Man author), then I am sure you’re also right.
Anyway, no, this is not a mailman or a strange hooligan. This is actually Malachi, the neighbor and Rachel’s old prom date. She never married him because she felt jilted, but after her own daughter tells her how much she and her feminine pride suck in that aforementioned speech, she comes around and congratulates him for prodding her ass without consent.
My Favorite Character Who Isn’t Elderly: Football Doofus
This heading is a little unfair, because his doofusness mostly goes away after a few scenes (a sad, sad mistake on the movie’s part), but boy does he make a strong impression when he arrives at the house.
Evan is Walter and Grace’s last son, and while that means he’s technically in the same person-pod as their other children Cheryl (Lonnie’s wife who we genuinely learn nothing about, except that she hates Rachel), Rachel (lady who gets doggy-styled), and Christian (politician I haven’t mentioned yet), he’s still in college and the generational gap isolates him.
When we first see him, he’s in the locker room and the football coach tells him “you can go to the big game! just take these meds!” or something like that. I think he’s supposed to be recovering from an injury, but my brain must have just abruptly vomited and suffered a critical error upon watching that scene, because not only did I miss that detail, I missed the fact that I could also rewind movies. So throughout the movie, this guy has an internal struggle: should he take weird drugs that kinda look like Sweettarts just to make it to the Big Game and be a Big Star, or should he, like, not do any of that???????
But that’s not as important as the fact that when he shows up, it’s like eight hours after every other family member is there, it’s like midnight, the little punk-ass kids are screaming about how they hate Aunt May’s cooking (unmentioned until now, diva), and the adults are screaming too but their screaming is about them hating each other, and then Evan shows up with his arms out and a cocky smile like, “Hey everyone…miss me?” And when everyone around him clearly hates it, he still doesn’t get it.
Nobody in my life understands why I always liked Johnny Bravo. I just wanted the ladies to like him.
When he walked in, Evan had some of that Johnny Bravo energy. And when the next morning he practiced his acceptance speech at the Big Game Awards, he got some more. This is his world; you’re just living in it.
And when Rachel gives him just about the lowest possible low blow by telling him that because he was born so late into Walter and Grace’s lives he was a “mistake,” he justifiably locks her out of the house in her freezin’ nightgown and tells her that, too, was a mistake. Of course, after that she gets doggy-styled. I can’t say that was justified, and if I learn that somehow Evan conjured Malachi to appear at that particular moment, I’m gonna stop liking him.
Sadly, I don’t think Evan’s arc came together in the way I would’ve wanted it to for maximum soothing family values. See, he’s taking these weird painkillers, and they’re always looking scary in his bag. But towards the end, he gets so angry about his pop Old Man Walter preparing to sell off the house that he drives really really fast and gets into a car accident. The result: he gets kinda banged up, and he’s not so injured that he won’t make it to the Big Game.
Now, hold on. The other part of his arc that I haven’t mentioned yet is how he hates the fact that his mother isn’t alive to see him get to the Big Game. It seems to me that he’s looking for greater proof of his parents’ love and approval, too. But he doesn’t really learn that, I don’t think? I was really expecting him to lose his chance to make the Big Game, and for Walter to tell him, “You are worthy of love no matter what, and we love you no matter what. Even if you are Johnny Bravo.” But it just didn’t happen that way. Ah well…
Aunt May: Serving Up Smiles
I find Aunt May fortunately and unfortunately quite relatable. She’s Grace’s sister and, as mentioned, a self-important diva and a strong personality. She won’t be pushed around but damn if you don’t let her push everybody else around. But she also has a big heart. Um, she also doesn’t learn anything despite being a jerk, but that’s fine, I still have Old Man to root for.
The nucleus of all her gags, her big scene, is the one where she makes her “amazing” full spread of Christmas Eve food. It’s all random gross-sounding food from all over the world. I’m not a big hyuk-hyuk laugher at movies, but this moment got a chuckle out of me because every time she proudly announced the next dish, in great detail, she would also note “I got this one from Ike and Tina Turner in 1977” or “this one’s Mick Jagger, 1983.” Somehow that specificity just gets me. Along with the fact that she is so excited that in her journeys as a…backup singer, or something, I think, on tours like this, she somehow acquired such common, beloved on-the-road recipes as, you know, mung bean winter casserole and egg salad-y stuff with a bunch of fish heads in it.
But there’s one part of this that makes me stomp my foot. Now, this film was released in 2016, right? And it takes place in Alabama (though it was filmed in Georgia, technically). Well, even as early as 2016, “milk tea with boiled tapioca balls” was becoming trendy among college students in the American South. I was there. So Evan should’ve come in and raised his eyebrows a couple times at that bubble tea stuff.
A Politician : )
Christian Meyers is an up-and-coming politician, and I think he’s also married but she doesn’t do much of anything so I forgot. Anyway, what’s really important is that he’s married to his job. When he first arrives, he also brings a random white man to serve as an assistant who, I guess, was expected to live in their basement for the weekend. Sadly (for all the shenanigans we lost), this is merely a proposal and he does not actually come to live in the basement. He does make a few awkward/racist/wacky comments, though.
Christian is predictably just some boring milquetoast guy who’s all about the business…the business of getting encouraged by Old Man Walter to stay in the race for Congress, that is. He comes into conflict with Walter because to get in good with some random politicians on the up and up, he has to close down the homeless shelter that Grace created (and may I add, I appreciate that 1. this movie gave Grace more of a lasting impact on the community rather than exclusively her family, in a way that gives her more plot relevance and that I think will ring true, and 2. the people in the shelter aren’t milked for sappy scenes that gloss over the realities of homelessness—the movie pretty much just keep it to “this is a meaningful community resource and it’s vital”).
Does a Christmas miracle perhaps lead to Christian rejecting the plan and driving to the shelter in the dead of night just to help Walter hand out food??????????
She’s got a lot of money. This is important because when she patches things up with Rachel (who has more to do than Cheryl in this film because a man is doggy-styling her), she apologizes for shouting that Rachel will never make it through law school by giving her a lot of money. Also, she and Rachel dig out Grace’s recipes. She forces her son Simon to eat gross May food he hates before she does, which is so not a Power Parenting Moment™. Another thing Cheryl does is pull a gun on her husband Lonnie for cheaterage. It’s her big comedy moment and it’s almost a non sequitur because she’s close to a non-character.
Or wait, actually, wasn’t that the other lady with the black hair? Which one was Cheryl? Who is the picture for this section pointing to?!?!? Oh, wait, that’s actually Christian’s wife. She has even less to do and less personality, so no wonder I mixed the two up despite them looking nothing alike.
Anyway, who’s next?
Lonnie: Born Uncle, Basketball Doofus
He’s weird, he’s pretentious, he’s easy to make fun of, May finds him easy to scream at because he ain’t no good and everybody knows it (even Alvin and the Chipmunks), and he won’t stop telling strangers about how he was an amazing NBA basketball player who went to Croatia, as if they are at all invested in the Croatian circuit AKA strongly implied to be the failure circuit. (As you can infer by making stereotypical assumptions about me based on the stuff that I like, I do not know anything about sports.)
He’s funny, but I can’t like him because he’s not virtuous, and he also has a way of acting that suggests he secretes slime. Why a young lady in the grocery store makes the goo-goo eyes at him is beyond me. Oh, wait, it’s because she’s the one person in the universe who recognized him from his basketball career. But I swear, when he went back to the store and that same lady went all “come hither” and walked off in slow motion, sliding her pants down just enough to reveal the thong, I thought, Oh, please. This HAS to be in his imagination. But sadly—for all of civilization—it was not.
Wackily, this lady shows up to Christmas dinner afterward without Lonnie’s knowledge, leading to much awkwardness, the kids illegally livestreaming the event like it’s a new season of Cheaters, and, ultimately, Cheryl pulling a gun on him.
Which results in his other back-not-breaking miracle: when Cheryl is chasing Lonnie with the huge-ass rifle she dug out the bedrooms, he runs out the door and (this is an actual thing they filmed, and/or digitally edited in) he takes a flying leap, clears the porch in a single bound, and quite inexplicably twists around and lands on his back. It’s like a cat landing on its feet, but reversed. It’s a skill that nobody on Earth should wish to have. Except him, because he’s got that Hulk back that got all swole from his years on the court.
I have no doubt they made this half-second shot just to justify the fact that he’s shivering on his back in the next part of the scene. Movie magic at its finest.
(I’m not sure it can top the time The Cowboy Way strung a dummy to a speeding train and called that an acceptable stunt double, but we’ll take what we can get, eh?)
Will they pull a Christmas miracle out of their asses and, after revealing the proof of Walter’s home foreclosure, also reveal the paperwork needed for…a divorce???????????????
Because I’m serious lonnie will die
Other Miscellaneous Stuff (Because This Review Is an Absolute Mess)
- Three characters dab. Two are in elementary or middle school, one is in high school. I must admit my ignorance, but I choose to assume that this is more period-accurate than milk tea with tapioca balls not being trendy to anyone.
- A heartwarming attempt is made to play the music listened to by Kids These Days, and to allow them to dab briefly (it must be a reflex they hold like most hold urine) before the adults put on Let It Whip by the Dazz Band from the album with that random caged white lady on the cover. No, I am not sure why I was so excited to call her “caged”; I think it’s the memory of that random white live-in assistant basement creature.
- Aunt May is the one who teaches Walter how to bake the ultimate sweet potato pie: make it with love. Y’know, I like how the solution wasn’t to go pilfer her old recipe and follow it word by word (although Rachel and Cheryl do bond over finding those recipes too). It was just to do it with a light and giving heart.
- Watching movie people argue usually just makes me angry, because I know that their communication is so awful and that the movie itself is about them tunneling through that. It’s a foregone conclusion! Some of these character interactions, like Rachel with Malachi when they’re on their mutual bad foot, are like that. Also, I literally just read the script of The Piano Lesson by August Wilson where communication is about as good as it could reasonably get and the only things that can mend its broken family are changes that are seismic. Predictably, I found it so much more engrossing than, y’know, B-plot movie conflicts. If I’m going to watch a bunch of angry people in a room, they had better be talking about some deeper philosophical content. There could even be twelve of those people, and they could all be men. I don’t mind that.
- Okay, I get that there’s a happy ending where we keep the house and all, but does this old man really have the money or resources to keep on running this house
- You know this already but I HATE a cantankerous will-they-or-won’t-they it’s-just-a-misunderstanding relationship starring Baby Needs A Man.
- This is like the thousandth time I’ve seen a person in a movie or a TV show doing the gag where they, knowing nothing about cooking, turn the oven dial way up thinking, “Hmm, double the temperature, half the time!” This joke is EVEN less edible than the comment on the “blacaroni and cheese” she burns. This joke is old! Ya need a new one!
- Why are all these ladies more light-skinnded than the men? Colorism is real??????????????????????
- Despite all that I still liked it
If you’re looking for some ol’ normal heartwarming family picture, with family values that are present and warm but not overbearing, that also includes a man doggy-styling his jilted prom date and poking near her bumhole without her permission, then this is the film for you and you have odd tastes.
Thank you for reading, and Patrons, thank you for Patreonning.
I have other media thoughts: check out my equally sardonic review of Fluke, my somewhat terrified take on Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square or my oddly reserved look at Spaceballs. Or, for something totally different, take a gander at me ragging on Pokemon Red! (It’s archaic!)
Alternatively, the Christmas List: