Anna McLoud Gibbs

Tis the Season for “Wildly Sentimental Christmas Chick Flicks”

Every December I hunker down for my annual viewing of – no, not Rudolph. Not the Grinch, nor Charlie Brown. None of these, yet a classic in its own right: “A Christmas Kiss” (2011). The movie follows an interior design assistant who is working late one night when her elevator falls and she finds herself in the arms of a handsome stranger – who turns out to be her evil boss’s oddly kind boyfriend.

I have forced all my friends to watch the movie by sharing effusive praise for the movie: “The acting is so bad” and “The male lead is balding!” It was harder to convince my father, who, when I was a kid, would pull out his 6-inch-thick cinema bible to research any movie we wanted to watch. My favorite aspects of the movie weren’t as persuasive to him, but I wore him down last week. As we watched, he called out what was going to happen next with incredible precision. I had forgotten how predictable the plot was in the cloud of my powerful love of the Boston-based movie.

“A Christmas Kiss” was ahead of its time; today, similarly cheesy and predictable Christmas movies have joined a growing list of “Good Bad Non-Hallmark Hallmark-Style Christmas Movies” produced by various streaming platforms. These include “A Princess Switch,” “The Knight Before Christmas,” and “Same Time, Next Christmas.” Perhaps most notable is – not to be confused with “A Christmas Kiss” – “A Christmas Prince.” (Even Netflix acknowledged how bad its movie was. On December 11, 2017, the company called out, err, obsessed fans: “To the 53 people who’ve watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?”)

I try to explain to my dad that this is a burgeoning genre. The point is that the movie is “bad.” To clarify, “bad” meaning 1.) predictable and 2.) low-budget. (Low-budget usually translates to  unconvincing sets, poor acting, and poor writing. Some combination of poor acting and writing is the way that I rank the movies within the “bad Christmas genre.” Give me predictable, cheesy, cliche, and even something that I can laugh at because I know it’s bad – but don’t make me cringe.)

Why is it, though, that “predictable” and “happy ever after” are synonymous with BAD? Why do viewers and consumers of movies, TV, and books feel gypped by happy endings? Why do we so crave lack of resolution?

Maybe it’s because happy endings feel too easy, and thus are the mark of lazy or compromising writing. If you start a story and can immediately tell that all obstacles will be overcome to reach a resolution, there’s not much work required by the viewer/reader. And it feels like the writer didn’t have to do much work either. They just wrote up a daydream. There’s no effort there.

Maybe it’s because happy endings feel too unrealistic. The real world doesn’t end happily ever after. Marriages don’t end at the wedding ceremony, as it does in every princess movie. The world doesn’t end with its saving, as it does in every Marvel movie. Happy things happen in real life, but they aren’t usually the end. More bad things happen afterwards. A happy or unresolved ending is a matter of choosing where the ending is placed in a continuous story.

And perhaps it’s because we feel like we’ve been catered to. A happy ending is exactly what we want, and so it’s not what we want. We don’t want to feel like the story is because of us. We want it to be a story that exists without us.

And yet. And YET. There’s a demand – always has been – for “bad” movies. Why do we suspend our quarrels over quality and enjoy these low-budget and cheerful movies?

One day I casually mention “A Christmas Kiss” (I’m telling you, I talk about it all the time in normal conversation) to a fellow friend at Harvard. “OMG!” she exclaims. She goes on to explain that her entire family (including two Harvard professor parents) has watched “A Christmas Kiss” and absolutely loved it. Her dad, who particularly enjoys it, once texted the family group chat: “My new favorite Wildly Sentimental Christmas Chick Flick. It’s set in Boston, features some rather tame references to Shakespeare, and is in every way The Best. Syrupy rom-com. Genius.”

(Can one Wildly Sentimental Christmas Chick Flick really be better than another one? Absolutely. There can be GOOD bad movies and BAD bad movies. For instance, I could not finish “A Christmas Prince.” I could not do it. The acting and writing was horrendous in a way that could not be rectified by its style. We must still enjoy the process, right?)

Sometimes the reasons for our disapproval of movies (too easy, too unrealistic) are the same reasons for why we like them. Occasionally it’s nice to be made to feel a certain way without having to put too much into it. The arc of boy-meets-girl, something-prevents-girl-and-boy-from-getting-together, and finally boy-and-girl-get-together allows us to experience excitement and frustration and disappointment, all with the safety net of knowing that none of it is real and everything will resolve. Now that’s the type of knowledge that sits well with cozy pjs and a cup of hot chocolate.

Syrupy rom-coms? Genius.

Some Reviews to Get You Started:

A Christmas Prince: As mentioned above, I was unable to finish it. I think a respect or at least mild enjoyment of the characters is key to making it through these movies. I disliked pretty much every character and the writing was bland.

A Christmas Prince 2: I did watch this one. It took on about a hundred themes which was a bit too much for a movie of this genre. I almost felt bad for it. But it was watchable.

A Christmas Prince 3: Who. Are. Watching. These. Movies. (I have not yet got to “3: The Royal Baby”).

A Princess Switch: One of my favorite parts is when they shamelessly promote A Christmas Prince by having the couple watch it on TV during a romantic movie night. Other than that, the baker-princess plot line was hard for me to fully get behind. But, Vanessa Hudgens.

The Knight Before Christmas: Again, Vanessa Hudgens! Looks like she’s found a new niche. I appreciated this one more than the Switch, though my co-watcher disagrees with me on that one. But we did agree: the male lead gets more attractive the longer you watch, which is fun for viewing.

Same Time, Next Christmas: New this year, starring Lea Michelle of Glee fame. Though it’s easy to know who Lea is meant to end up with, her “bad guy” beau has a few redeeming qualities that makes the choice less straightforward for Lea (and viewers). I found the ending quite holiday-spirit-inducing. Plus it takes place in Hawaii – a fun twist.

A Christmas Kiss: Watch it. I assure you you’ll enjoy it.