Sunday, January 01, 2017

The Spirit of Christmas-Film Review

 

My Christmas film reviews conclude with The Spirit of Christmas (2015) directed by David Jackson, and starring Thomas Beaudoin and Jen Lilley. This is an unusual addition to Lifetime's Christmas film catalogue---still a romance, but one that's part ghost story/part mystery.

It seems an odd blend of genres for a Christmas film. Or perhaps not so odd when one considers the famous ghostly Christmas tale we're all familiar with, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carole. There are huge differences, of course. This is no Dickens classic, though it is still enjoyable. Also, this film's hero, Daniel (Thomas Beaudoin), is already dead. His journey of self discovery, however, is similarly focused on exploring the ghosts of his past.

The plot summary: big-city lawyer Kate (Jen Lilley) is tasked with arranging the sale of a deceased client's property before the new year. The house is actually an antique mansion in a small, snowy town upstate.

The problem is no appraiser is brave enough to hand in their appraisal report. Each one ends up spooked by the mansion's resident ghost--that would be Daniel, who met his untimely end in the first half of the 20th Century. Kate arrives to expedite the house sale, but ends up as the mansion's only resident. What follows is a series of confrontations between Kate and the house's resident ghost. The ghost finds himself granted with a physical body for twelve days each Christmas.
Kate's incredulous about the prospect of a ghost in residence. Then she's intrigued by it. Finally, she becomes determined to help free Daniel from his confinement (no one remembered to simply call in a priest, which seems like an obvious step one, as far as I'm concerned).

The film takeaways: physically, the lead actor (Beaudoin) is tall, with chiselled cheekbones and a sharp, undercut haircut that's both strikingly modern and believably early twentieth century. And if you think the now-popular undercut hairstyle for men--which consists of a closely shaved side-fade on the sides, and a full head of hair on top---is a hipster invention, google men's hair circa World War I and prepare for a surprise. I get a real kick out of the fact that a men's haircut that was popular circa 1915 is cool again.

Jen Lilley is the real jewel of the film. As Kate, she shines on screen. With reddish hair, she's also a near double for actress Amy Adams, and she's just as charming as Adams might have been in the role.  Lilley seems comfortable with both sight-gags, and sensitive moments. One of the film's best sections is the first quarter, when she's alone in the house with no other actors to play off, which shows her charisma even in a room alone. She makes Kate seem plucky, relate-able, and real in the most unreal circumstances. The film is most successful when Lilley's on screen.

The director, too, does a lovely job. The house is believably atmospheric, and most importantly, actually looks like a historic home. The night scenes have a dash of real spookiness, if you don't mind that sort of thing in your Christmas romance films. The director also makes use of the snowy landscape, allowing the house to feel like a land out of time.

The story splits into two parts: Daniel's present circumstances and burgeoning love for Kate, and the mystery concerning his death and his past love. Unfortunately, the flashback scenes are less successful/believable than the modern ones.

The story's conclusion requires you to suspend your disbelief and simply believe in a happy ending, which is really the end note for all happily ever after films, so I won't complain about that. It also emphasizes the importance of forgiveness which, in the modern world, seems a rare concept.

As a Christmas mystery-romance-ghost-'This-Old-House' film, this works, largely because of Jen Lilley's winning performance and the skills of its director.

I give the film: *** Three Christmas Trees out of Four.
Content Warning: None

If you enjoyed this review, be sure to check out my other reviews here:
Christmas Kiss
Miracle on 34th Street


Image Credit: The image in the post above is within the public domain, and  can be found here http://artgallery.yale.edu/collections/objects/11195, Lithograph: Harper’s Christmas,  Artist: Edward Penfield, American, 1866 - 1925, Yale University Art Gallery

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