This was originally published in this month’s issue of the UCC Express, but seeing as it’s christmas I wanted to share it here too!
Sleigh bells ring, church bells chime and Christmas classics are played in abundance. Many of these festive favourites are sickeningly cheesy, so what is it that keeps us watching them on repeat every year? These films allow us to escape from our hectic christmas schedules for 2 hours, and provide a means of uniting the whole family in a universally appealing activity. This leads to the most obvious conclusion that it is the act of watching christmas films, rather than the quality of the films themselves which makes us enjoy watching films that are mediocre at best every year.
Many of these films contain beautiful moments – when the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes after a young Taylor Momsen shows him the meaning of Christmas (The Grinch), when Mark turns up at Juliet’s door in a slightly stalkerish but definitely romantic bid to win her affections(Love Actually), when the snowman and the boy go flying while “Walking in The Air” plays (The Snowman). However, these overly cheesy moments that are interspersed throughout these christmas hits disguise the basics plots and distract us from the truth – the majority of these films are passable at best. They follow a formula in which Christmas is approaching, someone or something provides a threat to Christmas, it seems all is ruined, and then an unexpected hero saves the day so everyone can go on with their lives and have the beautiful, mushy christmas they were all preparing for at the beginning.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that following a formula is necessarily a bad thing. After all, don’t all films follow a basic formula? The problem comes when we take a predictable formula, and combine it with a tolerable execution and production. It makes me wonder what it is that makes us continue to watch the same run-of-the-mill films every Christmas without fail and come away feeling like we have gained something. My opinion on this is that we love Christmas as a concept, and that anything related to Christmas automatically gets to piggyback off of the love we already have for this time of year. As a result, we don’t criticise these films the way we do films that we watch at other times of the year. “Deck The Halls”, for instance, follows two neighbours who are having it out after one of them decides to decorate his house so that it will be seen from space. If this isn’t an example of mediocrity, I don’t know what is.
Also in this genre of festive favourites is the christmas films with a more modern day setting, aimed towards teenagers and adults. Four Christmases, Love Actually, The Holiday – all of these seem to focus more on the characters’ love lives than anything else. These can be compared to the classic rom-com without the Christmas theme, where we see pretty much the same storyline without the crutch of the holiday season. Even rom-coms, which are infamous for being sappy and predictable, don’t have this excuse to be satisfied with average. While many are still fairly undistinguished the “When Harry Met Sally”s of this genre are miles ahead of their counterpart in the christmas genre.
It stands out as alarming to me, also, that a holiday with such an important historical and religious context has a lack of films in this genre representing this aspect of it. A Christmas film based on the birth of Jesus does not exist (unless you count Monty Python’s Life of Brian, of course.) There are above average classics, such as “A Christmas Carol”, but none which actually cover where christmas came from, or even give any significance to the historical context of this holiday. The importance of giving is a running theme in every christmas film, which is a good message of course, but we feel so good getting this message from them that we don’t look for any more, and they don’t feel the need to go any deeper than this. As a result of this, a whole aspect of christmas is lost in these movies.
These christmas films are undeniably enjoyable, but the problem arises when we mistake “enjoyable” for “good”. They are enjoyable, as Christmas is enjoyable, and I certainly like watching them. I like allowing myself to escape from my own chaotic Christmas, mindlessly revelling in 2 hours of ideological cheese. However, this does not mean I will go as far as to ignore the commonness of this genre and claim it to be “good” in any way. A fitting analogy is that they are the Mc Donalds of the film industry – we know what we’re going to get, we expect a lower standard and we are therefore happy with what we get. Just like we like Mc Donalds, we like Christmas films. This highlights the reason only 5 films in an overpopulated genre have been nominated for Oscars – because they are reaching the standard they have set for themselves, but this standard is not in keeping with the bar set by the rest of the industry.
At the end of the day, mediocrity aside, I’m looking forward to continuing the annual traditions of watching The Grinch, The Santa Clause, Home Alone. I’m looking forward to the act of watching these films. I’m looking forward to the feeling that when I do watch these films this year, it will well and truly be Christmas.
Writing this article made me realise how little tolerance I have for Christmas films – I just don’t find them that good at the end of the day! But this is quite an unpopular opinion, so let me know what you think. I was also delighted to see this in the UCC Express, and I’d recommend picking up a copy if you get the chance!