There's nothing like Christmas in Boston.
Right. The snow, the tree in the Common, skating at Frog Pond, the window decorations at Downtown Crossing, midnight mass at St. Ignatius, driving to Dedham to see that crazy house with the ten million Christmas lights...
No, no, I don't mean that Christmas in Boston. I mean "Christmas in Boston", the movie starring that girl from "The Practice" and a whole bunch of people who look kind of familiar in a pretty young actor-type way, and it's truly awful as only movies made for certain cable channels can be, and yet, whenever it's on, I sit down and watch it through every overdone commercial break.
I've had a lifelong obsession with movies about the holiday season. "Christmas on Sesame Street" figures just as much into my Christmas Eve memories as Santa Claus or the five o'clock children's mass at the church up the street. Somewhere in my twenties, I fell madly in love with Meet Me in St. Louis, and now I cannot imagine celebrating the holiday season without watching Margaret O'Brien murder all those snow people. And the cartoons -- those weird stop-motion rosy-cheeked figures from the 1970s are brilliant. I love how they all have the exact same faces, how the Little Drummer Boy and Kris Kringle could have been separated at birth.
But somewhere along the way, my nostalgia went into overdrive, and I became strangely enchanted by the type of holiday fare churned out by Lifetime, Oxygen, and the ABC Family Channel. "Christmas in Boston" is a perfect example of the candy-like confections these networks over-program their schedules with throughout the month of December.
Let me make this clear: unlike the films starring muppets and Judy Garland, "Christmas in Boston" is not a good movie. Not even close. It's bound to send most of you into pure sugar shock, if you can even last through the endless set up of why Gina and Seth, who've been pen pals since the six grade, are just destined to fall madly in love. Of course, they first have to both pretend to be other people, each sending their best friend to meet the other, and then get all angsty as the best friends hook up. And I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that the payoff -- the lame, too-quick kiss between Gina and Seth which doesn't even take place under mistletoe -- is barely worth the 90 minutes of overwrought confusion and thinly drawn subplots about toy manufacturers.
There are significant problems with this film, starting with the title, which wastes both the "Christmas" -- we never get to the actual holiday, and in the end it seems like a big excuse for the lead characters to don a dorky looking reindeer headband -- and the "Boston" -- while I appreciate the realistic city buses in the background, the movie is generic enough that it could be set anywhere. Then there's the issue of Gina's best friend screwing the man she thinks is Seth in Gina's own apartment, and the fact that Gina may have been fired, or at least demoted, but the movie is too much of the cinematic equivalent to a bag of holiday-colored Hershey's Kisses to ponder these loose plot points too seriously.
As bad as it is, "Christmas in Boston" is by no means the worst of the movies that clog the holiday airwaves this month. In addition to every Christmas related cartoon ever made (queue the Heat Miser theme song!), the ABC Family Channel, home not only to "The Cutting Edge 2" but "The Cutting Edge 3," is sharpening its hip young cred with treasures like "Cranberry Christmas" and "Chasing Christmas" and "Christmas Do-Over."
(I think the last one is Groundhog Day for the holidays, starring Jay Mohr. I don't know about you, but for me, nothing says Christmas like a smarmy blond LA comic.)
If twenty-somethings don't do it for you, you can flip on over to the Lifetime network, which is bound to provide a steady stream of divorced moms finding the Christmas spirit in their tiny generic small towns or their tiny generic big city apartments by falling madly in love with a stranger, or the ex, or Santa Claus himself. There are about twenty years of identical plotlines that have been churned out about these women, and the only thing that changes is the shoulder pads.
The thing is, there's something comforting about watching the holidays (and I should say holidays, because squeezed among the 937 Christmas-related movies is always one flick about finding the Hanukkah spirit, usually with a nice Jewish boy from around the corner with a dead first wife) reduced to conflict that can be resolved in the time it takes to polish off last year's fruitcake. The first rule of the cheesy holiday movie is this: there's no problem too big to be solved with a dusting of snow, or a visit from a man in a red suit.
And to be honest, it's not that bad of a lesson, particularly at this time of the year, when we tend to overstress about things beyond our control.
"Christmas in Boston" may be predictable and cheesy (and that's putting it kindly), but it serves its purpose. Just like the Waitresses classic tune "Christmas Wrapping" (another December must), it uses a familiar story, dressed up with holly, to help put me in the holiday mood.
And that usually lasts me until Christmas Day, and the 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon.
Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw
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12.10.08 @ 8:32a
Ha! I was thinking about Christmas movies - Meet Me in St. Louis in particular - the other day and thought to myself "that would make a great column topic."
My favorite is White Christmas, though I also have a soft spot for It's a Wonderful Life.
12.10.08 @ 9:38a
Not, obviously, to be confused with "Christmas in Hollis."
12.10.08 @ 10:28a
I hear you, Michelle. It starts out innocent enough. Watching the classics, DVRing "Home Alone." Then one day you find yourself home on a Sunday evening and start watching "Just Friends" and think, this isn't THAT bad. Next thing you know you're watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch and AC Slater in some sordid holiday crime caper/love story on Lifetime.
But you know what, whatever it takes to make the season merry. Enjoy every sugar-coated, gut-wrenching moment of it!
12.10.08 @ 11:51a
A Christmas Story is like The Princess Bride for me. Doesn't matter that I own it, I still have to sit down and watch it when it's on. At least until the first commercial break. Or maybe the second. Or... til the end.
12.10.08 @ 1:01p
I will stop what I am doing and watch "Miracle on 34th Street" any time during the holidays. Of course, it has to be the old one with Maureen O'Hara and Natalie Wood. I was delighted to learn that a friend who was a prolific child actor had a small, but important part, in the film. Of course, at age 67, he looks quite a bit different than he did in the film at age 6.
michelle von euw
12.10.08 @ 3:12p
Heather, I realized after writing this that I ignored the entire sub-category of the holiday special episode (Buffy & the miracle snow!). I guess that will be my December 2009 column.
12.10.08 @ 4:02p
12.11.08 @ 12:29p
I second Sandra on "Love, Actually." I'm a sop; I've watched it several times.
12.24.08 @ 11:32p
As I go to use my in-laws computer in Boston this article is up and open. I have spent Christmas eve being subjected to sappy holiday movies with the author that have made me want to pluck my eyes out.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!