Many families have strict rules when the Christmas season officially begins. It can be the 1st. December or the last day of school or the day after your Sagittarius sibling’s birthday at the end of the year.
Whatever your timeline, even the low hum of All I Want For Christmas before its time is considered sacrilegious.
But this year (not least thanks to the other C word) there are plenty of excuses to throw this rulebook out the window.
And what could be nicer for an exhausted, isolated and generally depressed mind than sitting back with your loved one and enjoying vacation-themed trash over some fun snacks?
Since the observation season starts early, it is best to save the classics for a closer day. Here’s your guide to the best (worst) Christmas rom-coms to experience this December.
The Playing Field: A highly motivated political advisor, Erica, is sent on an important fact-finding trip over Christmas to help her boss decide whether to shut down a US air force base in Guam. Your match? An overly charismatic pilot whose mission is to save the base – and Christmas. A few lines of dialogue in the first two minutes summarize it pretty neatly:
« Operation Christmas Drop. It’s sort of a mission from an air force base in the Pacific, where they throw gifts and supplies to remote islands for Christmas. «
« I have no idea, but since the Congresswoman became head of the base reallocation and shutdown commission, this place has been high on her list. «
Who is there? Kat Graham (The Vampire Diaries, The Holiday Calendar) plays Washington insider Erica, while Alexander Ludwig (Hunger Games, Vikings) is Air Force Captain Andrew Jantz.
Cringe Factor: This is actually the least terrifying and heartwarming of the group, also because it’s loosely based on the true Operation Christmas Drop, the US Department of Defense’s longest running humanitarian airlift. It’s been running since 1952, and Australia and Japan jumped on board in 2015.
As you would expect, there is a bit of hero worship by the US armed forces (« Sometimes I look down and see I have the best job in the world, » music swells, helicopters land on a scenic tropical beach) but compared to Say, dear John, it’s pretty light.
Thanks to a really awkward rendering of Deck The Halls (decking my legs with tons of suntan lotion?) and a very poor dance scene, the cringe factor is rated 4/10.
Action Holes: Given its location in the middle of the Pacific, the idea that Andersen Air Force Base is on the chopping block is highly unlikely. So that’s the whole premise of the film.
Other than that, I was very confused by the CGI gecko. This was mostly filmed in Guam, so it seems strange that they couldn’t find a local animal willing to sign up.
Christmas Cracker: You may recognize Kat Graham from another cheesy Netflix Christmas movie – The Holiday Calendar. Even the Santa-looking brother Bruce who appeared in the film is actually the Bruce Best who helps coordinate real Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
One more thing: If you * really * look closely about 20 minutes after the end of the movie, you will see a RAAF C130J in the background. (Believe it or not, I asked our chief correspondent to check this out, and it’s legitimate. )
Select this if. . . They prefer the mild temperatures of a tropical beach to the snow-capped indescribable European countries of most of the Christmas classics.
The Pitch: In the long-awaited sequel to The Princess Switch, Duchess Margaret is soon to be crowned Queen of Montenaro, so her like beast, Stacy, who originally married the Prince of Belgravia, is in town to cheer her on on. She also plays Cupid to bring Margaret and Kevin, Stacy’s baking business partner, back together. Lady Margaret’s celebrity cousin Fiona is here to steal the crown and cause trouble. This one is actually quite complicated, so there are some spoilers ahead of us.
Who is there? Vanessa Hudgens, Vanessa Hudgens and Vanessa Hudgens – yes, she plays all three leads. Also Sam Palladio (Catherine the Great, Nashville), Nick Sagar (The Haves and the Have Nots) and Lachlan Nieboer (Downton Abbey).
Cringe Factor: Modest cringe points point to Kevin for dealing with his breakup by growing a sad beard and adopting another cat.
The evil Fiona-Bumblebee also get some nasty laughs for chloroforming one of the Hudgens characters and dragging them into a van. Yikes.
Plot holes: Obviously the switch is faulty. Vanessa Hudgens juggles a lot here and she does her best, but Hudgens who plays Stacy and plays Margaret is not fooling anyone, let alone Hudgens who plays Fiona and plays Margaret who was played by Stacy.
Christmas Cracker: If you are a frequent flyer, buckle up because it’s the crossover you’ve always dreamed of.
At Lady Margaret’s coronation we catch a glimpse of the adorable crowd: Amber and Prince Richard von Aldovia from A Christmas Prince with their baby Ellerie.
But it’s not the only cross-reference. If you saw the first Princess Switch movie, you can remember Kevin and Margaret / Stacy sitting down to watch a movie on Netflix and choosing A Christmas Prince. Somehow the movie A Christmas Prince exists in the Princess Switch universe, but at the same time the nation of Aldovia exists and is actually a close neighbor of Montenaro and Belgravia.
To go further, Aldovia happens to be featured in another Netflix Christmas movie starring Vanessa Hudgens, The Knight Before Christmas. This means that the princess of this film (there is always a princess) and her time-traveling knight theoretically exist in the same universe as A Christmas Prince and, more broadly, The Princess Switch.
The pitch: Cool heartbroken girl with nagging family meets Australian boy with engagement issues. After separately hideous catastrophes on Christmas Day, they agree to be each other’s completely platonic dates for each holiday on the calendar to avoid intimacy with casual dates and to consider questions from over-invested relatives. Will these crazy kids make it through the year without falling in love?
Who is there? Emma Roberts (American horror story, We Are the Millers) plays single-girl Sloane, while Luke Bracey (Home and Away, Dance Academy) is Playboy Jackson. Kristin Chenoweth (Glinda the good witch from Wicked!) On Broadway and Frances Fisher (Rose’s mother on the Titanic) can also be seen.
Cringe factor: Strong 7/10. Perhaps the hottest moment is the eventual mall reveal, which includes a bonus recall on a « hoax » that is very easily overlooked. So take care.
There’s also the weird thing about the subtle slut embarrassment towards Sloane’s aunt Susan, played by Kristin Chenoweth, who primarily gives our main character the whole idea of holidat.
Action Holes: There are several unanswered questions in Holidate. Who takes a date home for Easter? Who is meeting on Mother’s Day? Who is meeting Cinco de Mayo? You get the picture. What happened to Sloane’s father?
Christmas Cracker: Watch out for Ryan Gosling – or at least his double. At a moment when the fourth wall breaks through in the supermarket, a blurred blond man is reading through the peas behind Emma Roberts. Many fans believed this was Ryan Gosling himself, but it’s Chad Zigmund. He worked on the film as Luke Bracey’s deputy, but was likely able to sign up for the Gos in a pinch.
Select this if. . . You’re in the mood for something festive, but you’re not quite ready for a full-fronted tinsel festival.
The Pitch: Prince John of Edgemont – his friends call him Jack – has fired his « selfish boasters with loud mouth » of a chef and is looking for someone new to his family’s annual charity banquet. Struggling New York restaurateur Jessica is spot on, desperately in need of a Christmas miracle before she is forced to give up on her dreams.
Who is there? Shein Mompremier (Scare BNB), Travis Burns (neighbors, SAF3), Emma Lane (neighbors) and Irish celebrity chef Stuart O’Keeffe.
Cringe factor: DAMN HIGH. We see a strong 8/10 in the acting decisions alone.
Edgemont is described as a « small European country » but Jack is clearly Australian. The cacophony of the accents is exquisite. Aside from Prince Jack the boy, there’s the inexplicable mix of Adelaidian and Scottish from his mother Rupert, a couple of New York impressions, a part-time Canadian / part-time North Dakota side kick, Hailee, and an angry Irish chef. To be fair, the actor who plays the Irish chef is a real Irish chef.
That being said, there’s a sad montage of artistic vignettes, including a shirtless reveal and a touching subplot that includes a father-son reunion that is almost too terrifying to take. Overall a solid 10/10.
Plot holes: Look, several. Mainly the sweet meeting. Why is this great royal banquet taking place in New York and not in the royal palace? Why is the prince responsible for the catering? Why did he stumble into a restaurant in a trendy but indescribable part of town looking for a caterer?
Even the prince has apparently never heard of a meatloaf and doesn’t understand the concept despite the name.
More glaring than all of this, however, is why the accents and script are so bad. « This is America. She can’t make me eat cake! «
Christmas cracker: Director Fred Olen Ray has made 14 Christmas films in the last 10 years alone. Recent hits include A Royal Christmas Engagement, which sees an advertising man fall in love with a secret prince, and Baking Christmas, which is about a sibling Christmas cake. Outside of his festive fare, Olen Ray directs adult films. Make it what you want.
Select this if. . . You love Christmas dinner. There are enough steamy montages of golden-roasted honey carrots and glistening turkeys to make you believe this movie was put together by Jamie Oliver himself.
The playing field: The pompous, devilishly handsome Prince Alexander breaks his leg while skiing and inexplicably has to recover in a remote children’s hospital to « escape the press ». . The chief pediatrician Dr. Tasha Mason is outraged by her unexpected guest and still doesn’t have a crush on the guy she happened to go to boarding school with.
Who is there? Kaitlyn Leeb (Spinning Out, Christmas With a View) plays the good doctor, Nick Hounslow is our handsome prince, and Charles Shaughnessy (yes, this is Maxwell Sheffield from The Nanny) is disappointed with Papa King Edward.
Cringe Factor: There’s a reason this 2018 movie is still on the best (worst) list. The cringe factor is off the charts. First, there’s the very obvious, forced side romance between Tasha’s brother and Prince Alexander’s bodyguard, played by two actors with less chemistry than a pair of weird socks.
Honorable Mention goes to the really sad CGI work. There is a shot of the hospital where the words « BPS CENTER HOSPITAL » are clearly written on the side of a building. Not to mention Maxwell Sheffield, who repeatedly video-linked on a bulky flat-screen TV in the nurses station.
The standout moment, however, is a poorly advised musical performance on the children’s ward. The prince pulls some strings to cheer up one of his favorite little patients, Ben, by helping his single mother get to the hospital for her son’s surgery. Joining the mother and son is « Genevieve Fisher, Our Favorite Vocalist! », Who performs a rousing country version of Jingle Bells. An awkward swaying dance follows.
Plot Holes: Throughout the hospital scene, every single child appears to be wearing a hat or cap over a full head of hair.
In a very late story shot about an hour into the film’s start, a fairly obvious conclusion is drawn about boy-girl-boy-boy-boy-falling-in-girl-swooning. It’s almost like the producers realized they had 20 minutes left to tackle a second complication with a big ball and a scheming opponent.
Christmas Cracker: Without revealing too much of the plot, it seems pretty well prepared for a sequel. And we’re in luck because Christmas With a Prince: Becoming Royal was released in 2019. Sorry, it’s currently unavailable to stream in Australia, but never say never.
Select this if. . . You are looking for the lowest possible production values with the highest possible cheese factor.
If you fancy a trip to your local movie theater, give Happiest Season a blast. It’s a Weird Christmas Rom-Com directed by Clea Duvall (Veep) and starring Kristen Stewart (Twilight, Seberg), Mackenzie Davis (Tully, Schwarzer Spiegel), Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) and Dan Levy (Schitt’s Creek). .
Or if you’re looking for something less in love and more kid-friendly, check out this year’s Netflix original Jingle Jangle (starring Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, John Legend, and Ricky Martin, among others). or wait until next Friday the 11th. December the very Australian A Sunburnt Christmas arrives on Stan.
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