Streaming services, cable TV and Primetime television are fighting for your viewership now more than ever. UNBINGED is here to help you weed through it all, with reviews of the latest shows that highlight what we love, what we hate and what we love to hate-watch, too. With literally hundreds of Christmas movies and specials on all the streaming services, cable channels, and networks to choose from this year, picking a film to spend the holidays with can be a chore. Some are exactly what you need to get into the spirit, while others are the dense fruitcakes we never wanted to taste. This week, UnBinged is here to unwrap the biggest offerings from Netflix, Apple TV+ and HBO.
LiLo’s back, kids! And just in time, as we all started thinking about cozy cold weather ensembles, which she models in this movie that’s about 30% Overboard and 70% every damn Christmas movie ever made this side of basic cable. Falling For Christmas is being touted as the “Lohanaissance” we’ve all been waiting for. Though one holiday film does not a comeback make, it does provide some harmless viewing over Indica-flavored Christmas cookies and a ginormous cup overflowing with good cheer. And by that we mean wine. Lots of wine.
In this holiday romp, Lohan plays Sierra Belmont, an heiress who loses her memory after a skiing accident. By forgetting her shallow life and awful fiancé Tad (George Young), she’s able to start anew with hunky ski instructor/struggling resort owner Jake (Chord Overstreet), a single dad with a heart of gold.
This romp hits every cliche Hallmark ever set as a Christmas movie standard: watching a rich girl learn how to do menial tasks, a story-important snow globe, Jack Wagner, several dead moms, a hot widow with money issues, a precocious little girl, a blooper reel, and a bewhiskered septuagenarian who may or may not be Santa Clause (spoiler: it’s a Kringle). And of course, a few Christmas miracles.
Is Falling For Christmas good? No. Goodness no. Other than Lohan and Overstreet, the acting is over the top, the script is predictable, and the writing showcases flagrant disregard for the art of storytelling. But is it fun? Hell yeah. Lohan commits to the god-awful drek with her whole heart, elevating the drivel to a highly watchable tripe. She even lends her voice to the soundtrack’s “Jingle Bell Rock,” a nod to her iconic Mean Girls dance performance. The end result is perfect background noise for wrapping presents, or a good reason for a cackling friend-watch and group activity (while getting jolly and juiced).
If magical snow globes and amnesia patients in Balenciaga are not your bag, then maybe a handsome but lonely romance writer with a mysterious past is. The Noel Diary might be based on Richard Paul Evans’ novel, but that doesn’t mean it’s able to escape any of the feeble banalities that have come to plague most Christmas movies.
Meet Jacob Turner (Justin Hartley, of This is Us), an impossibly handsome best-selling author with millions of Instagram followers and a cute dog. He also has family trauma, a runaway father, and a dark past. When his mother dies, he heads back to his childhood home to settle her affairs where he runs into Rachel (Barrett Doss), a gal looking for her birth mother who happens to be Jake’s former nanny. Together, the two embark on a journey to find Jake’s AWOL father (James Remar), who might hold the answers to Rachel’s past. Oh. And it’s Christmastime.
So, two good looking people end up traveling in close quarters for long periods of time. They talk, share meals, and cozy up to each other at outdoor screenings of It’s A Wonderful Life. Jacob starts to warm to Rachel, while Rachel starts to cool to her fiancé Allen. Somewhere along the way, they discover Rachel’s mom’s diary, thus the awful, awful title that doesn’t really fit.
The Noel Diary is a stunted tale populated with thirtysomethings with the musical tastes of sixty-year-olds. They listen to jazz standards and laugh at references from 50 years ago. In the end, it’s a cutesy love story with none of the fun or expected cliches that make many Christmas movies so much fun to watch. It still falls in the category of “passable entertainment” for hopeless romantics and people on heavy medication. Tis the season.
Spirited with Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell, is a fresh take on the Scrooge story that could’ve been a great Christmas charmer for years to come if it wasn’t bogged down by terrible tunes.
In this version of the Charles Dickens classic, Ferrell plays the Ghost of Christmas Present looking for one final challenge before he retires. He wants a real son of a bitch he can flip before he’s reincarnated and gives up the ghost, so to speak. Thus enters Clint Briggs (Reynolds), a PR man who specializes in creating scandals for social media clout, the modern age scum of the Earth. To make a difference before he leaves one spiritual plane for another, he takes it upon himself to make Briggs a pet project, determined to change his ways.
Spirited has a lot going for it, especially Ferrell and Reynolds, who do what they can to make a memorable Christmas flick we’ll watch every year, like Will did with Elf. But the musical elements feel unnecessary and actually harm the film’s momentum. The forgettable tunes keep this holiday pic from becoming anything more than an interesting novelty, as one song after another continues to hold the same standard of mediocrity.
Who is Spirited for? Due to the cussing and occasional inappropriate joke, it is not really a family film. Thanks to bland ballads, it’s not for musical fans. So, that leaves fans of Reynolds and Ferrell, which is fine and dandy. For those folks, there is a lot to like. Reynolds is his usual cocky, amiable self, seducing phantoms and charming the socks off of anyone with an AppleTV+ account, while Ferrell pulls out all the stops, bringing a bit of his Buddy the Elf charm to the latter half of the film.
All in all, this one is an uneven Christmas endeavor with amusing moments thanks to the two leads and the always lovely Octavia Spencer as Ferrell’s love interest. Tune out the abysmal toe tappers, and enjoy each star’s shine as best you can.
And finally, HBO remembers the true meaning of Christmas… The holiday classic that was once difficult to escape now has a sequel. Again. A Christmas Story Christmas follows the original Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) as he returns to the role that made pink bunny onesies and sexy leg lamps a holiday tradition. Though there have been previous attempts to capitalize on the unexpected success of the much beloved movie (A Christmas Story 2 and My Summer Story), this one brings much of the original cast back to Cleveland Street.
Set in the ‘70s, adult Ralphie is a struggling novelist who attempts to create the perfect Christmas for his family after the Old Man (the late, great Darren McGavin) passes. Returning to see his mom (now played by Julie Hagerty) and his old stomping grounds, Ralphie encounters a lot of his childhood all over again: disgruntled Santas, triple dog dares, neighborhood bullies, and a few familiar faces in the form of childhood friends Flick (Scott Schwartz) and Schwartz (RD Robb).
Though A Christmas Story Christmas is forced at times, attempting a bit too hard to capture the magic and innocence the original film delivered in spades, the family focus of the sequel and the familiar narrated voice-overs come close. The result is a sweet, light excursion that may not have the same comic zeal we remember (Billingsley’s acting efforts come up short), but makes for good cheer in its attempt. This is a Christmas movie that acts as a tribute to its classic predecessor and allows audiences to revisit cherished characters. During the holidays, sometimes seeing old friends and family is all that matters, right?
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