Movie review: #Christmas with You

(courtesy IMP Awards)

Who knew there was so much love in the offing at Christmas?

Well, clearly lots of people because with the total of new Christmas films this years reaching a whopping 170, pretty much all of them rom-com oriented, it’s very clear that in the words of Love Actually‘s theme song, life is very much all around us.

Not only is it omnipresent, realised with decorations so lavish and lights so bright that you can’t help but feel like you’re in fantastical winter wonderland, but is follows a reasonably set pattern which is all about people caught in a mess or a rut of their own making discovering that maybe life isn’t quite done with them yet.

Original these films largely are not, but when the template is so clearcut, and the season so unyielding on its romantically redemptive qualities, it all boils down to how well you play in this very festive narrative sandpit.

Which is where Christmas with You comes in, an admittedly slight piece of festive filmmaking which takes a strong Latinx cultural presence, which blessedly takes us away from the overwhelming usual whiteness of Christmas films, the idea of finding love and newness somewhere far away from your workaday life and some snappy music to serve up precisely what the festive doctor ordered.

To be fair, while the film doesn’t exactly reinvent the genre, content to glide its sleigh along the tracks already well-worn by many other Christmas movies before it, it doesn’t keep the warm-and-fuzzy quotient up nice and high which is why to be honest we watch these films.

We want to believe that you can be a pop star, Angelina (Aimee Garcia) who’s getting on a bit and is in desperate need of a big Christmas hit to stay on the charts and in the public consciousness, who decides on a whim to leave New York City for a few days to find a sweet almost fifteen-year-old fan, Cristina (Deja Monique Cruz), who posted a heartfelt clip about missing her dead mum who sadly won’t be around for her daughter’s quinceañera, which is a major right of passage for Latinx girls.

While Angelina’s fabulously sassy manager/assistant (it’s not entirely clear what she does exactly besides play the role of cheeky best friend/supportive narrative figure), Monique (Zenzi Williams) queries why they are doing a house call for a fan – it’s clear why because both Angelina and Cristina have lost their mums, a commonality which is sweet but also, in keeping with much of this film, a little hamfistedly done – Christmas with You needs this to happen so the singer, who is trying to escape her narcissistic boyfriend of convenience, Ricardo (Gabriel Sloyer), can meet widower music teacher Miguel (Freddie Prinze Jr.) with whom she is, naturally, destined to fall head over heels in love.

Which she does, of course, over three full-on days when the two write a hit song together, get entangled in each other’s lives and telegraph with all the subtlety of the vividly coloured, lights-packed decorations covering every spare centimetre of every room in the Miguel and Cristina’s home, which they share with tequila-drinking grandmother Frida (Socorro Santiago), that they are MEANT TO BE TOGETHER.

At face value, it is all marvellously silly.

Why would a singer, with her career hanging in the balance, spending precious time with strangers instead of writing a hit song? And who actually falls in love in three days to the extent that they’ll blow off a gig on Saturday Night Live to honour their suddenly arrived-at heart’s desires? And would you really be willing to engage with someone so profoundly if everything about you to that point suggests all you want is a great social media presence, musical relevancy and a reborn career?

Likely in the real world you would not, but this is a Christmas rom-com where the usual rules do not apply and where people’s aching, broken hearts can find happiness and joy just when they need it the most, and honestly how is that not ridiculously attractive?

Especially when, like this reviewer, you find yourself at the end of a year of frantic work demands, burnt out and fed up, and longing for something deliciously diversionary to make you feel good about the world again.

Christmas with You, despite all the usual festive rom-com tropes and cliches that come close to irretrievably weighing it down, does make you feel wonderfully, heart-liftingly, light and airy good about the world again.

Yes, it’s confected fairytale make-believe of the most flimsy of kinds, but that doesn’t matter because when Angelina and Miguel find each other, two lost souls who didn’t know they needed love as much as they do – one quite realistic note is how grief and the need to just keep going on can blind you to your own needs – it feels like the biggest, most romantic hug there is.

Add in New York City at Christmas and houses and buildings festooned with so many lights and wreaths and tinsel-filled decorations that it’s wonder they don’t collapse under the weight, feisty supporting characters who make their presence felt, and an otherworldly sense of stepping away from the everyday concerns of love and life, and you have a film that’s good for the soul.

Granted, Christmas with You is not going to win any awards, cinematic or musical, but that’s not really the point because it just precisely what it needs to – it reminds us of how wonderful and magic can be, how grief can scar us but love can heal us (cheesy but true and the film knows it) and how when you’re least expecting it everything can change for the better.

And why not have that all happen at Christmas where anything feels possible; it might not be in the real world much of the time, but that’s why films like Christmas with You, slight as they may be, are needed because they confirm what we want to believe, that good things happen in the holidays and we just need to be open and ready to receive them.

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