Recent Christmas films have been exercises in seasonal cynicism. Christopher Tookey says he would happily swap this year's two releases for Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life"by Christopher Tookey / January 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
All i really wanted for Christmas was a decent film but both the big seasonal movies this year are more accurately described as anti-Christmas films; and they seem to be part of a trend.
In his new alleged comedy, Jingle All The Way, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a workaholic businessman belatedly trying to buy his way back into his son’s affections by finding him an elusive action doll on Christmas Eve. Far from being a bringer of goodwill, Schwarzenegger seems throughout to be suffering from a kind of pedestrian road rage. He assaults shop assistants, Santas, elves and a reindeer, destroys a toy shop, steals a Christmas present from the child next door, and wrecks a religious black family’s Christmas meal. But then virtually everyone in the film is motivated by greed, envy, selfishness or lust. It has to be the most mean-spirited film of the year.
Jodie Foster’s second film as director, Home for the Holidays, is set at Thanksgiving, but recognisably in the tradition of Christmas films such as The Holly and The Ivy (1953) and stage plays such as Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings: it is about the awfulness of families reuniting annually. Although by the end there is a conventional, feelgood rapprochement, the film’s attempt to locate the “fun” in “dysfunctional” feels artificial. The one truly happy family that we see is when one of the characters-a homosexual-rings up his boyfriend at a gay party and asks wistfully: “How’s my real family?”
The same preference for surrogate families lies at the heart of Kenneth Branagh’s In the Bleak Midwinter, where the “real” family coming together at Christmas is not the gay, but the acting community.
The old-fashioned idea of Christmas as a time when families are happy to come together seems to have died out. In Hostile Hostages (1994), a crook is driven to distraction at Christmas time by the horrible, bickering family he is attempting to hold hostage. In Reckless (1995), a husband chooses Christmas Eve as the night to have his wife murdered, whereupon she spends the festive season on the run.
Reckless is only the latest in a string of horror chillers set at Christmas, including such alluring titles as Black Christmas (1975), You Better Watch Out (1980) and Silent Night, Deadly Night, a 1984 slasher film memorable only for the fact that a serial killer went about his bloodletting in a Santa suit.