Post Two of my Christmas film reviews. This time, the sugary film, A Christmas Kiss (2011) is on tap.
This is one of a growing genre: the made-for tv Christmas film involving a meet-cute romance, which treats Christmas as more of a decorative aesthetic than a religious holiday. It's the candy cane of Christmas films, basically.
Ideally a Christmas film would talk, occasionally, about Christmas. However, many, many Christmas films fall under this category, and I certainly still enjoy these films for what they are (romantic comedies which happen to have Christmas trees as background decorations), instead of expecting it to be more substantial.
I love romantic comedies. I write romance. Romance writing is trickier to execute than many realize, and I think there's a latent undercurrent of misogyny in critical opinion concerning romantic comedies/the romance genre as a whole (New York Times Book Review, which will review other genre books but never paperback romance, I'm looking in your direction). Love isn't a mathematical formula on screen, or on paper. Its a blend of character chemistry, compatibility and vulnerability. It's their story as they're drawn into a journey. I think it's one of the most difficult things to write convincingly, and so my benchmark for a 'good' romantic comedy is not the same as my benchmark for a drama. What I judge by is how well does the film execute the expectations of its genre.
So here we go: A Christmas Kiss (2011). Wendy (Laura Brekenridge), a young, up-and-coming decorator, has a starter job, an ambitious, hard driving boss Priscilla (Elisabeth Rohm), and a group of supportive-Millennial style, 'we-all-just-graduated-and-are-trying-to-get-our-lives-together' friends.
One night, the aforementioned friends gussy Wendy up for an outing. This is complete with fancy dress and fairy makeup. Wendy, glamorously incognito, steps onto an elevator and into her destiny.
There she meets tall, hunky, handsome Adam (Brendan Fehr). A malfunctioning elevator and a moment of fear result in a passionate kiss between Wendy and Adam. When the elevator doors open, Wendy dashes off like Cinderella. Only later does she realize the man she kissed was the boyfriend of her boss. Oops.
Adam fails to recognize Wendy without the elaborate makeup and dress. Adam, apart from being handsome, is also wealthy and well-heeled. He also has his own troubles. He's struggling to reconcile himself to the thought of a future with Priscilla. On the verge of a breakup, Priscilla finagles her way into holding onto the relationship, even as Adam drifts further away emotionally.
Priscilla (that's our villain), is contracted to decorate Adam's home for an upcoming event (confession: I love movies that involve fancy old historical homes). Priscilla, largely uninterested in the project, tasks Wendy with all of the grunt work and the design specs. When Adam unknowingly praises Wendy's work, Priscilla takes the credit for it. Of course she does. Meanwhile, Adam and Wendy are slowly realizing they're kindred spirits.
The judgment: The film succeeds by virtue of the cast. Wendy and Adam's connection translates sincerely on screen, and their time together, including a marathon of Chinese food and Christmas films, serves as a sweet device to bring the pair together. Fehr is playing the silent, stoic type, but he shades the character with a dimensional backstory that the text only hints at (I found he did the same on Roswell). Laura Breckenridge is a charming heroine. Even when you wish Wendy would speak up, Breckenridge's portrayal of the character is believable in the moments when she does stay silent. The actress who plays the villain, Rohm, steals her scenes so successfully, she merits a more dignified exit than the one her character gets. Nonetheless, all is well that ends well, and if I was bothered at all by the fact that the hero was in another relationship while he was falling for the heroine (not my favorite plot device), his eventual mea culpa makes up for it.
The movie is aided by some creative direction. Its director, John Stimpson, makes the most of the small spaces offered to him to shoot in. One shot of the skyline is particularly magical, and if the budget was small, it didn't feel small. I'm always impressed when films with small budgets and unknown writers succeed where big budget rom-coms can't.
A Christmas Kiss is also one of those movies you catch on tv mid channel serving, vow to watch no more than ten minutes, and end up finishing in one sitting, along with whatever remains in the Christmas cookie tin. I'd recommend eating the cookies, plus watching the movie.
Review: *** Three Christmas Trees
Content Warning: None. The characters are only seen kissing.