Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Christmas in July: All I Want for Christmas (1991)

Once again I worry that all this Christmas sentiment has slightly melted my heart, because All I Want for Christmas is another somewhat sappy holiday movie that I found mostly charming if entirely forgettable. It's thoroughly predictable from start to finish, but it has some really nice performances and a fairly light touch when it comes both to holiday sap and silly comedy, and the characters actually seem to genuinely like each other rather than just profess their love for the sake of the plot. This isn't some forgotten masterpiece, but like Nothing Like the Holidays, it's the kind of movie you could catch on TV in December and then unexpectedly watch all the way through.

A great deal of the charm comes from a very young Thora Birch as one of two kids (the other is played by a young Ethan Embry) who scheme to get their divorced parents back together on Christmas Eve. Birch made a big splash with serious roles about a decade later in American Beauty and Ghost World, and then basically descended into direct-to-video and TV-movie hell after that. But for someone whose image is still largely cemented in playing angsty teenagers, she's actually quite a revelation here as a cute and precocious kid who's never annoying or fake. Embry is good too, although his performance is a little more smarmy, and he has to deal with both the scheme to reunite the parents and a budding romance with a slightly older girl.

Harley Jane Kozak and Jamey Sheridan make less of an impact as the parents, but they still do a good job of making both the bickering and the reconciliation seem natural (I also appreciated that the movie didn't stigmatize divorce, just illustrate that these two particular people should reunite). And the regal Lauren Bacall shines in her few scenes as the grandmother who wishes her daughter would dump her current loser boyfriend (Kevin Nealon, in the least nuanced part) and get back with her upstanding ex-husband. It's pretty much just The Parent Trap at Christmas (and without identical twins), but it has a genuine humanity to it that overcomes many of the cliches. Either that, or Christmas movies have addled my brain.

The True Meaning of Christmas: Again, it's all about family togetherness.

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