It’s December, and you know what that means. It’s finally socially acceptable to watch Christmas movies. Some might find it weird how there are whole pieces of media that we only consume during a specific time of year, but I say that this self-imposed limitation gives us a chance to rewatch stuff we wouldn’t normally otherwise. Lord knows I wouldn’t have watched It’s A Wonderful Life enough times to have it practically memorized if I’d been able to pop it into the DVD player whenever. And one day, when I have my own family, I’ll have my own set of DVDs (or whatever form of physical media we’ll have in the wake of the apocalypse) to wheel out every December. Until then, as I spend yet another Christmas in the middle of nowhere, with no company save that which I can purchase at my local Baskin-Robbins, I’ll be checking out Christmas media I’ve never had the chance to watch. Like these two flicks.
The Holiday (2006)
This is a movie that I remember being advertised heavily when it came out, but I was still too young to go to the movies on my own to ever see it. For non-Americans reading this, if you don’t have at least a learner’s permit, in a lot of American towns you’re SOL for going to the movies or arcade or… well, pretty much anywhere. Hell, the town I grew up in didn’t even have sidewalks, it was so anti-pedestrian. But anyways, the point is, this is one of those movies that child-me was certainly interested in when he saw the trailers for, but which could only remain as an interesting possibility until this year, when I finally checked it out.
Was it worth waiting 15+ years to finally see it? Honestly, I’d say so. Because if I had seen it any earlier than 2023, I wouldn’t have had this line from Ted Lasso that perfectly encapsulates what kind of movie this is. Yes, I know, this isn’t a Hallmark Christmas movie. But tell me you don’t think of Hallmark when you watch The Holiday. It’s great. It’s very much the sort of movie for women wondering if this Christmas alone will be like every Christmas in the future, and who desperately just need some cheesy wish fulfillment with which to cheer themselves up, with all the marshmallowy, saccharine sweetness you could hope for (much like the Baskin-Robbins I ate whilst watching it).
And yeah, to that end, there are definitely some plot contrivances and holes and aspects that make one scratch one’s head. What are the actual schematics of this house exchange program? How is it that these women can just instantly book international flights without taking a huge hit to their savings? (pre-2008 economy, huh?) But come on now. All of these are questions that you don’t need to ask, because if you’re watching The Holiday, you’re not here to ask questions. You’re looking for love, in all its cheesy, romantic glory. And The Holiday delivers that in absolute spades. This is a film made for those of us who feel like we wasted our lives in relationships that didn’t really make us happy. Where our wants and needs were diminished or dismissed. Where we were made to doubt our skills at sex or general attractiveness or even our basic self-worth. And we now just need a little pick-me-up to tell us that hey, it’s okay. There’s still time.
Some might argue that this kind of wish-fulfillment is cruel. It’s giving us false hope, like so much other feel-good, BS, positive messaging out there. After all, not one of those dating gurus or lifestyle coaches out there is willing to address the dark thought that lurks in the back of our minds when we’re told to just be ourselves: What if, even if we become the best versions of ourselves that we can be, we are still on some intrinsic, fundamental level undesirable, unattractive, and unloveable? I might be inclined to agree with that assertion, if The Holiday wasn’t so self-aware, and unapologetic, in its intrinsic silliness. The bit where Cameron Diaz’s character (who cuts movie trailers for a living) starts hearing intrusive thoughts as movie trailers was a genuinely amusing and accurate portrayal of how intrusive thoughts work. And really, everyone’s character arc in this film is centered around how even if it looks like you’ve got everything going right in your life, you can still be crippled by feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy.
The thing is, unlike most romance movies, The Holiday doesn’t try to crowbar in a bullshit third act breakup, and I think that’s because it’s smart enough to center the conflict not on the characters’ romantic relationships themselves. The two couples in the movie hit it off pretty much as soon as they meet, and a lot of screentime is spent less on passionate gestures between them and more just them doing normal first-date things: hanging out, bonding over shared interests, and developing a banter and rapport with one another. But the crux of their arcs center around their own feelings of self-worth, overcoming those and reaching a point where they are ready to open themselves up to a relationship that makes them truly happy. I quoted Ted Lasso before, but I think, like Ted Lasso, this movie has loads of laughs and a whole lot of heart, which makes it well worth a rewatch next Christmas for me.
Last Christmas (2019)
This is another Christmas movie that I saw the advertising for, but never actually watched. Though unlike The Holiday this time my excuse was not due to a lack of mobility. See, Christmas 2019 I went to visit my sister, who at the time lived in the middle of nowhere (Lehighton), Pennsylvania. Lehighton ain’t much of a town. Indeed, in conversation I often use it as shorthand for the middle of nowhere, because quite literally the only things of note in the whole little village are the Gamestop and the movie theater, both of which are in the same strip mall. Though really I hesitate to even call it a strip mall. It’s less a strip and more… a smudge? Look, Lehighton is in the middle of nowhere, and if anyone from there ever reads this blog, I don’t think they’ll be offended by my saying that because I haven’t said anything untrue.
But anyways, I actually got to visit NYC whilst visiting my sis in Pennsylvania, and thus got to see poster advertisements for Last Christmas. I know, like something out of the 80s. But I can assure you, it isn’t just in Japan that you can see advertisements for films and plays in the subway in these modern times. And yes, in some obscure corners of the States you can even find halfway decent subways, though they are of course significantly more rundown and grimey than anything you’d find in Japan.
I never got to see Last Christmas in NYC, since there are far more interesting things to do in the big city than go to a movie theater. And when my sister and I returned to Lehighton, we ended up watching Frozen 2 and later Rise of Skywalker instead of Christmas, for the simple reason that the Lehighton theater was not showing Last Christmas. I suppose they didn’t think foreign films would sell. Or they saw Henry Golding and went “Now hold on there! Don’t you be touching that pretty White girl!”
They needn’t have worried. Despite the advertising, and Golding’s general sexiness, Last Christmas is not a story about Emilia Clarke getting together with a cute Manic Pixie Dream Boy who turns her life upside down with his irrepressible joie de vivre. Rather, it’s about Golding’s golden boy being the spark Emilia Clarke needs to realize her life isn’t heading in the direction it should be, and that she needs to turn things around, regardless of whether she gets a sexy dream boyfriend or not.
Emilia Clarke does a wonderful job portraying a massive fuckup whose life is a hot mess, but who has just enough basic decency that you want to see her turn her life around. You scream and groan as she keeps being impulsive and irresponsible, but you cheer when she finally takes the necessary steps to change her ways, and by the end her evolution into a better person feels far more earned than any Christmas miracle.
The film is also much more politically engaged than what you’d expect from a Christmas movie. Christmas films are, as a general rule of thumb, meant to engage with as broad an audience as possible, and as such they tend to focus on feel-good fluff, rather than any hot-button issues of the day. This is not to dismiss such an artistic approach. The film’s title and soundtrack does, after all, come from a band that was famous for taking a feel-good party approach to music rather than political engagement. However, Last Christmas is very much an anti-Brexit film, with none of the main characters being of Anglo-Saxon background, and the film celebrating all the people who came to Great Britain to make a better life for themselves and their children, while lamenting the anti-immigration fervor that has gripped the nation in recent years.
Last Christmas doesn’t dwell too long on its anger against Brexit. It is, ultimately, a story about one woman’s personal journey. But I think this aspect of the movie helps it stand out from your usual holiday film fare, and the finished product is one I heartily recommend.
So now, by the time this gets posted, it should be Christmas Eve. I hope you’re all having a Happy Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanza, or heck, even a Merry Festivus. Just so long as you’re all doing alright. And if you’re feeling lonely, well, hopefully you’ve got some Baskin-Robbins, a warm blanket, and a feel-good Christmas movie you can watch by whatever source of heat is available in your accommodations. Happy Holidays to you all.