Holiday Movie Diary

It’s A Wonderful Life is my favorite Christmas movie and possibly my favorite movie of all time. I never get tired of watching it. I love its weird structure, which has a big chunk of backstory at the beginning. I love the angel narrators, who are proxies for both the audience and the director. I love Jimmy Stewart. Once I went back and watched a bunch of Frank Capra movies and it was interesting to see elements of It’s A Wonderful Life in the other films –including Jimmy Stewart. It was as if he had all the ingredients but didn’t combine them in the right way until he made It’s A Wonderful Life.

I haven’t watched It’s A Wonderful Life yet this year, but earlier this month I checked out a few new Christmas movies and one old favorite . . .

Godmothered (2020)
Director: Sharon Maguire
Writers: Kari Granlund and Melissa K. Stack

The charming premise of Godmothered is similar to Enchanted and Elf: a fairy godmother who lives in a magical kingdom journeys to the modern world and hilarity ensues as her fairy-tale values clash with reality. I watched this with my kids (ages 3 and 8) and we were all amused. The cast is full of great performances, anchored by Jillian Bell who is quite funny as the novice fairy godmother trying to make everything right. I think this movie has been overlooked but I bet it will find an audience over the years. We’ll definitely be watching it again next year at Christmas.

Happiest Season (2020)
Writer & Director: Clea DuVall

This movie got a lot of attention earlier this month and I enjoyed following the reaction more than I liked the movie, which I found to be emotionally confusing and occasionally dull. Kristen Stewart plays Abby, who is going home to meet her girlfriend Harper’s parents for the first time — but then on the way there, Harper explains that her parents don’t know that she’s gay, and would it be okay for Abby to pretend she’s just her lonely, orphaned friend who has no family to go home to? So, the premise is comic and sad, and I was in for it, but Harper’s family was so generic that I couldn’t figure out what the family dynamics were. Harper and her sisters seemed like old high school friends who never really knew each other well, rather than sisters who have come up in the same family drama. The parents had little personality beyond being clueless, though Mary Steenbergen did her best to make the mother part livelier. The most interesting scenes did not involve Harper or her family members–and maybe that was the point? I sometimes felt the screenplay should have leaned more into the side characters and just completely left Harper’s family on the sidelines, in the same way that they are trying to sideline Abby.

Dear Santa (2020)
Writer & Director: Dana Nachman

I teared up when I saw the trailer for this documentary about children writing letters to Santa but when I sat down to watch it, I couldn’t get very emotionally involved. Director Dana Nachman tells the story of the U.S. Postal service’s admirable “Operation Santa” program, which collects children’s letters to Santa and makes sure they are answered by partnering with local charities to provide gifts to children. Nachman follows several different volunteer groups and individuals who work hard to make sure that gifts are purchased and distributed. It should have been heartwarming, but after this pandemic year, when so many kids have been going hungry and missing school, I couldn’t help feeling like an annual holiday gift is a very small band-aid for much larger problems. The timing of the documentary is not Nachman’s fault, but the pandemic has really only highlighted existing inequalities, not created new ones. We are living in an age of such vast income inequality that the Operation Santa program felt like a relic from another era.

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Director: Sharon Maguire
Writer: Helen Fielding, based on her own novel

This movie has slowly turned into an annual watch. I liked it well enough as a romantic comedy when it first came out, but I had just graduated from college and I hadn’t been in the working world long enough to appreciate how funny it is about workplace dynamics. It’s also very observant about what it feels like to be a single person in your early thirties. In a way it could be a companion movie to Frances Ha because Bridget Jones is a similar character: awkwardly charming, romantic at heart, and only vaguely ambitious. I love this as a holiday movie because for me it’s very nostalgic — the fashions and even the actors bring me back to my teen years and early twenties. And the party scenes still make me laugh.

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