Friday, November 7, 2014

In Defense of Christmas Movie Schmaltz

Yesterday evening Diane and I caught ourselves watching a Hallmark Channel original Christmas movie, one of those schmaltzy, predictable holiday fares that used to be confined to the 25 days before Christmas but now begin on All Saints Day. We did not want to watch anything with weight or that was overly dramatic or requiring a great deal of thought. This was perfect. This particular genre of film has many detractors, myself included until recently. I have modified my opinion not because I think this is great motion picture fare, but for other reasons. These films seem to be where solid character actors go to die. They also provide a chance for unknown but attractive actors and actresses to cut their teeth (although one wonders about listing one on an actor’s resume). Then there are the director, writer, producers, cameramen, grips and crew to consider. In other words, these films provide a good deal of work for a good many people. Dean Cain has stayed alive doing them, and he is not alone. And, if the script is decent, with clever dialogue and reasonably good direction, these films can be a guilty pleasure, and I am no longer ashamed to say so. If films are meant to entertain, these do try. This particular film was called One Starry Christmas. If it had been called Starry Starry Christmas instead, it might have been about Vincent van Gogh’s Christmas in Arles. But no one, to my knowledge, has ever told a Christmas story with Vincent as the protagonist. Mmmm. Maybe I should. File for future reference, Idea #529. This film concerns – spoiler alert! – a cowboy who rescues an astronomer and wins her affections from away from her self-centered lawyer boyfriend. Suspense: none. Predictability: total. But the journey was mind-divertingly enjoyable, the storytelling uncomplicated, and the acting sincere. Not one member of the cast was familiar to me, but I liked the people I was supposed to like and I-Snidley Whiplash booed the one I was supposed to boo. Plus, the story proved that a twang doesn’t guarantee simplicity or stupidity, while holding a law degree doesn’t guarantee complexity or intelligence. As for the female lead with the biggest smile I’ve seen in awhile: being a pretty, desirable, up and coming astronomer – priceless. I noticed another element to the broadcast: the ads. They were geared toward someone on or approaching Medicare, with ad after ad addressing Medicare supplement plans. Other ads dealt with being a grandparent, or, most blatantly, selling a toy for smaller kids specifically to us, replete with the young baggers saying, “Thank you, Grandma,” or “Thanks, Grandpa.” I have found my demographic at last! There are, however, a set of Christmas movies that rise above the schmaltz. We all know which ones they are (among others): Love, Actually; It’s a Wonderful Life; The Bishop’s Wife; Elf; and Die Hard. After all, nothing says Christmas better than a full grown human sitting on a tiny elf’s lap, or Alan Rickman blowing the top off a building in LA. Now, that’s distracting.

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