I got through my last crazy holiday weekend. From here on out, other than choir rehearsal Wednesday and Christmas Eve services, any activities are optional.
This weekend, I turned to Amazon Prime Video for my holiday movie fix, and it was a partial fail. The movies I watched were quite good, but not really what I was looking for in terms of a “put on my snowflake flannel PJs, turn on the Christmas lights, and drink cocoa” kind of evening.
First was a movie called A Christmas in New York, which was described as being like Love Actually. The only thing in common with Love Actually is that it told multiple stories. The “Christmas” part just meant there were a few decorations around. It could have been set just about anywhere because it took place entirely inside a hotel. The movie was about one night in a hotel, peeking in on what was going on with some of the people staying in the hotel that night. It was very “stagey,” with the kind of scenes you do for scene studies in acting classes, so I wonder if that’s how it started, and then they turned it into a movie. The acting really was quite good. It was a case of giving good actors some pretty basic material and then letting them run with it. It was just nothing like Love Actually and had zero Christmas feeling.
Which made me start thinking: What is it about Love Actually that makes it what it is? I think a lot of it is the quirkiness and how they made a lot of unexpected choices. Like, in a storyline about a widower and his stepson coping with the loss of a wife/mother, instead of going with something more conventional, they had it focus on the boy’s crush on a classmate and coming up with plans for showing his feelings. Along the way, they did grow together (I noticed on this viewing that the boy goes from calling the stepfather by his name at the beginning to calling him “Dad” at the end of the movie). The story about the husband straying in his marriage gets odd doses of humor from the world’s slowest sales clerk when he’s trying to buy his secretary an expensive gift without his wife catching him and from the wife having to face her children inexplicably dressed as a lobster and an octopus for the school Christmas program immediately after realizing he hadn’t bought the expensive gold necklace for her.
The other movie I watched was The Man Who Invented Christmas, the story of how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol (I suspect it was heavily fictionalized). It’s a really good movie, but not very Christmassy because he’s writing the story earlier in the year to be published at Christmas. I loved the way it depicts the creative process — Dickens will be surrounded by his characters, who are all talking to him, and everything’s going great, and then someone knocks on his door and all the characters vanish. That’s so much what it feels like, though in my case it’s more likely to be a phone ringing. As depicted here, Dickens himself goes on a bit of a Christmas past/present/future journey about his own life during the course of writing the story, with Scrooge always alongside to nag at him, and he has to come to terms with a lot of things before he can write the redemptive ending. Like the other movie, there’s some great acting. All the scenes of Dickens and Scrooge going at it are so much fun when it pretty much means throwing Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer in a room and letting them go (the more I see of Dan Stevens in other things, the more I understand his desire to leave Downton Abbey. He must have been so bored). Someday I think I’ll have to do a double feature of this and Finding Neverland, with the theme of the flights of fancy that are part of the creative process.
Next Sunday night I think I’m going to do my annual viewing of The Holiday, and I’ll have to maybe find a few other things to watch on Saturday. Otherwise, it looks like my evenings this week are spoken for, so that may be it for holiday movies this year.