With no shade or disrespect intended, it's wild to see the long and winding road that director Mary Lambert's career has taken since hitting a relative high when she helmed a notorious Stephen King adaptation back in 1989. She has since jumped around in a number of different genres and styles, and has recently started to deliver some cheery and cheesy Christmas movies for Netflix. The good news for Christmas movie fans is that she's as good with this material as she is with anything else she could choose to direct.
Best. Christmas. Ever! is a comedy with plenty of heart to it, a standard Christmas movie format, that sees Charlotte Sanders (Heather Graham), her husband, Rob (Jason Biggs), and their young children, Grant (Wyatt Hunt) and Dora (Abby Villasmil), end up at the home of Jackie Jennings (Brandy Norwood) for Christmas. Jackie has the gorgeous Valentino (Matt Cedeño) for a husband, and a young prodigy in the shape of daughter, Beatrix (Madison Skye Validum). Is that a bad thing? It is for Charlotte, who has spent years being irritated by the seemingly perfect family life that Jackie sets out in her annual family newsletter. Maybe she can take this opportunity to see what lies below the surface though, and to prove that all isn't as lovely as it appears to be in the Jennings household. You might already be able to guess how this works out.
Co-written by first-timer Todd Calgi Gallicano and the much more experienced Charles Shyer, this is a fun film that sets up everything you expect to happen in any standard Christmas movie around some enjoyable set-pieces that are elevated by the star power of the cast. And you can stop your sniggering now. They may not be at the top of the Hollywood tree, but this central cast feel a step or two up from the usual assortment of bland and inoffensive people used in so many of these films.
Lambert works well with everyone, and there are times throughout the first half of the film in which things come together with surprisingly effective results. It's still very standard fare, but it feels as if it might be a bit more amusing, and even a bit more risqué, than most. That's only temporary though, and the halfway point turns sharply to drive headlong into much more familiar territory. It's still a bit better than many other festive viewing options though, thanks to the development of the main characters, and the fun performances from the people portraying them.
Graham is the nominal lead, with viewers watching her go on a complete journey from start to finish, and she's used well here. I like Graham in most things, whether or not she's the right person for the role, but she's very comfortable with the particular blend of comedy and drama she has to work with here. Brandy may not be as firmly established as a working actor, but she's really good in her role, allowed to act with a constant air of optimism and joy that works because of her earnestness and warmth. Biggs is decent in support, and Cedeño is used mainly for his handsome looks (but also does well in complementing his onscreen wife with equal amounts of heart and unselfishness). Young Villasmil may not have much to do, but does just fine, and both Hunt and Validum get one or two moments to shine in their respective plot strands, although I am using the words "plot strands" fairly loosely here.
I liked this. Although still constrained by the requirements of the specific kind of movie it is, Best. Christmas. Ever! feels like something that hasn't been made with the same focus on budget and formula than many others that are released around the festive period every year. I won't rush to rewatch it, it's no new holiday classic, but I also wouldn't mind if I was in the same room with someone else putting it on for their first viewing. How's that for a glowing endorsement.
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