Why The Home-For-The-Holidays Movie Needs To Die

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I truly believe some movies are the result of high-stakes dares. What else could have produced The Family Stone, a heartwarming Christmas classic you will watch at least 25 minutes of this December via channel-surfing alone?

The Family Stone, if you're unfamiliar, is a 2005 flick that has all the makings of a lovable holiday film — terminal cancer, dinner-table homophobia, a man mere days away from proposing to his girlfriend who then decides that his girlfriend's sister (whom he has just met) is a much better option, which is totally cool because his brother wants to get with the soon-to-be-jilted girlfriend anyway. But somehow, it works. (For me, anyway. My editor has a different opinion.) If you're seven candy canes in, and your Christmas tree or Menorah lights are a-twinkling, then you, too, will probably tear up as you watch Elizabeth Reaser watch Judy Garland sing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

But The Family Stone was a fluke. It's the rare, semi-tolerable film that's part of a festive blight worse than knotted balls of twinkle lights: the home-for-the-holidays movie, a genre that banks on the notion that the right cover of "Jingle Bell Rock" and a certain quota of ugly-sweater hugs has the power to create the next yuletide classic, regardless of the quality of the script or acting skills on display.
In 2004, Christmas with the Kranks was unleashed upon the world, earning just a "5% fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film depicts a town in revolt when a neighborhood couple (Jamie Lee Curtis and Tim Allen) decide to "opt out of Christmas." They skip a tree in favor of a tropical vacation. When their grown daughter reveals she's coming home for the holidays, however, they participate in a twisted holiday-supermarket sweep. It's not just that the jokes are aggressively unfunny (Botox makes your face frozen!); it's that we're suppose to learn a very specific lesson from this home-for-the-holidays film. That lesson is: However badly you've behaved, even if you've wrestled your neighbors for a ham and nearly killed yourself with an unwieldy glass snowman, everything is forgiven and worth it once you all gather 'round the perfectly decorated tree. Cue the children's choir singing "Carol of the Bells."
Possibly the worst (best?) example of the horrible home-for-the-holidays film is 1998's I'll Be Home For Christmas, a movie that can't even be saved by the charm of Jonathan Taylor Thomas. The film reads more like a montage of Christmas mistakes, as Thomas runs in a race of Santas, throws up in an elderly women's purse, and engages in a car chase. The last line of the movie's Wikipedia description says it best: "They let what Jake did slide, based on his Santa suit." By invoking the holiday spirit (or at least attempting to), the audience is supposed to let sloppy filmmaking slide.
Holiday movies should be more than ads for Getting Into The Spirit (in fact, many actual ads have more heart and a better narrative arc than these movie offenders). By presenting 90 minutes of bad jokes wrapped up with 10 minutes of hugs and mistletoe, most home-for-the-holidays films don't prove that the festive spirit prevails; rather, they suggest we can treat our friends and family horribly, just as long we're willing to share a glass of eggnog together on December 25.

Bah humbug.

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