I knew that I had to see A Christmas Movie Christmas as soon as I saw the trailer for it. The plot is simple, yet potentially wonderful. Two sisters wake up to find themselves IN a Christmas movie. That's it. And it means you can have all of your comforting tropes, yet also have some laughs at their expense. In theory.
There were warning signs, however. First up, this is a film directed by Brian Herzlinger. He has moved on to make a pretty decent career for himself, certainly in the TV movie world, but film fans, like myself, who had to put up with his relentless spamming and childish behaviour on IMDb back when he was trying to get people to see his first movie, My Date With Drew, will always react badly to seeing his name. If you want to know how to make friends and influence people then study the behaviour of Herzlinger back between the years of 2004-2005 and do the exact opposite.
The second warning sign was that this was written by Brant and Kimberly Daugherty, a newly-married (at this time) couple who also give themselves main roles in the movie. I expected the worse, considering how the two might be working while wearing the rose-tinted glasses of honeymooning lovers, but also figured that I already tolerate enough extra sweetness in my Christmas movies anyway so maybe it wouldn't be so bad.
You know what? It wasn't so bad. Although that doesn't mean the movie was really good.
Lana McKissack plays Eve, and Mrs Daugherty is her sister, Lacy. Eve LOVES Christmas movies. Lacy does not. Both must navigate their way around some very typical plotting when they find themselves in one, with no idea of how they got there or how they can get back to reality. Lacy starts to connect with a handsome man who is also a dab hand at baking cookies (Paul, played by her husband). Eve is drawn to a young man named Dustin (Ryan Merriman, best known to film fans for his role in Final Destination 3, although it's worth remembering that a decade has passed since then). But complications arise in the shape of Russell (Randy Wayne), a pop singer who looks exactly like Eve's real-world partner, Chad, and Noele (Addy Stafford), a woman who sweeps in under the pretence of saving the traditional Christmas festival, but who is mainly there to be an obstacle on the path of true love between Eve and Dustin.
Although there's nothing here that is painfully bad, there's nothing here that's as good as it should be either. This should have been a lot of fun, a way for everyone to have their Christmas pudding AND eat it, but very few scenes make the most of the premise. Most of the blame must lie with the script, with Mr & Mrs Daugherty often casting aside the meta potential, and comedic potential, in favour of Christmas movie moments you can get from at least a hundred other, often better, movies. A couple of details work well, and the whole premise is all part of the fun, which is worth bearing in mind, but this could have been a lot funnier, without having to lose any of the sweetness.
As disappointed as I was with the script, it turns out that I didn't really have much to fear from the Daughertys, who both do well enough onscreen. Perhaps they are given a bit more attention than necessary, and you get a few shots that linger just a tad too long on them, but they do fine. McKissack and Merriman are better, however, and deserving of the lead roles. The former has a sense of glee and enthusiasm throughout, at least until things start to look like they could fall apart, and the latter is a standard nice guy for this kind of plot. Wayne and Stafford both do well in their roles, although it's a shame neither was given a character who would provide more of a threat to the proceedings, and Brigid Duffy is a delight in her small role as Gram Gram.
As director, Herzlinger does the basics required of him. He may now have a film career spanning fifteen years, but he still seems to approach material in a way that feels like he wants to get everything done without any fuss. There's no attempt to add anything to make his films stand out from the pack, even though I realise that can be hard to do with the Christmas TV movie restrictions in place.
A Christmas Movie Christmas should have been good fun, especially for anyone who has seen as many of these movies as I have (and I know there are more of you out there). Sadly, it's just okay.
Buy The Muppet Christmas Carol instead.