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Christmas classics are hard to make. In film, as in pop music, for every festive entertainment that manages to become firmly entrenched in the public imagination, dozens of others are put out with the wilted fir trees and broken baubles once the cheer subsides. They may be revived at the hands of desperate TV schedulers, but in the 15 years since Richard Curtis’s Love Actually announced itself as a love-it-or-hate-it mainstay of the season, not much has managed the same status.
Netflix, however, appears to have designs on saving the modern Christmas movie – heavily promoting at least four chirpy new Yuletide-themed originals designed to be watched with equal glee by uncynical kids and irony-inclined revellers in search of drinking-game fodder. If The Christmas Chronicles, The Princess Switch, A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding and The Holiday Calendar all sound like titles generated by a computer program tasked with formulating family-friendly December fare, the films themselves play much the same way. They’re all of a piece in their upbeat, brightly lit inoffensiveness, peddling sugary, non-alcoholic Christmas spirit with blandly determined zeal.
Which isn’t to say they aren’t fit for purpose. Christmas is not a time for great concentration, after all, and there’s something oddly appealing about these films’ tinkly, undemanding sweetness. Like the cinematic equivalent of a Michael Bublé holiday album, they may even work best as background mood-setting for festive partying or preparations. In flooding their service with so many at once, Netflix has rather cannily realised how perfectly their streaming model aligns with the essential disposability of this genre: you wouldn’t pay to watch them in a cinema, but some films aren’t for life, just for Christmas.
It’s worked, too: rather as Netflix succeeded early this year with a slew of small-scale, youth-targeted romantic comedies, the immediate pop-cultural cachet and social media presence of these films has been surprisingly high. Taken individually, The Christmas Chronicles is the most palatable of the lot, thanks almost entirely to a wily, charismatic turn by Kurt Russell as Saint Nick himself, mired in some nonsense about two cutesy siblings tasked with saving the holiday after crashing Santa’s sleigh. Forget the kids; Russell’s Santa performing a festive jailhouse-rock musical number is entirely where it’s at.
Give or take some plot mechanics, meanwhile, The Princess Switch and A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding (a sequel to last year’s A Christmas Prince, though you’re unlikely to notice if you cue up the wrong one) are all but indistinguishable in their tweeny, pumpkin-spice foaminess – but in a pleasantly anodyne way. Cookie-cutter romcom The Holiday Calendar practically evaporates as you watch it, but at least its diverse, likable ensemble stands out in a genre that tends to give another meaning to White Christmas.
Will people return to any of these in a year’s – much less 10 years’ – time? Possibly not, though Netflix will surely have a new batch lined up. None has the sincere, sticks-in-your-head charm of another family-targeted Netflix original released last week, one with no Christmassy theme but plenty of good cheer. Irresistibly fuelled by a nonstop Dolly Parton soundtrack, with winning performances from Danielle Macdonald and Jennifer Aniston, Anne Fletcher’s Texas coming-of-age comedy Dumplin’ follows a plus-size teen’s foray into the realm of junior beauty pageants with surprisingly uncloying lessons in body positivity and broad-mindedness, neither shaming nor patronising any of its characters. It may largely unfold under sunny southern skies, but its blending of Dolly, drag queens and can-do spirit felt festive enough to me.
New to streaming & DVD this week
Girl With Green Eyes (BFI, PG)
A rarely discussed gem of mid-1960s British realism (below), finally given loving Blu-ray treatment. A delicate, wistful tale of an Irish convent girl’s romantic education, adapted by Edna O’Brien from her own novel.
Postcards from London (Peccadillo, 15)
Steve McLean channels Jarman and Fassbinder for this hyper-stylised study of a young rent boy making sensual and intellectual discoveries in old-school Soho, but it’s all rather academically mannered.
Return of the Hero (StudioCanal, 12)
Jean Dujardin smarms and charms his way through this minor French petit four, his old-school star quality giving a lift to its pretty, frilly period farce.
When a Stranger Calls (Second Sight, 12)
Oddly missing its Halloween cue, this is a sleek, tricked-out reissue of the still-effective late-1970s chiller that inspired Wes Anderson’s Scream, with its more negligible TV sequel among the extras.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Streaming: Netflix’s new Christmas films | Netflix