Meta Christmas

Meta Christmas

As you might have guessed, I watch a lot of movies. I also listen to a lot of podcasts about movies, and I really enjoy behind-the-scenes stories about the way artistic inspiration and financial constraints bash against each other in order to get movies made. So I was really looking forward to A Hollywood Christmas, a holiday rom-com about the making of a holiday rom-com.

Jessica (Jessika Van) is working on her sixth holiday film and she's right in the pocket, working seamlessly with her crew and adroitly managing her ditzy, self-centered leads. When she needs a background actor, she grabs a guy who happens to be wearing a suit on the set. But, why would someone be wearing a suit on a movie set? Because he's the big bad money guy Christopher (Josh Swickard), here to cancel the entire division because it apparently does not make money. The new studio head, Ms. Frost (Missi Pyle), wants to make thrillers instead. This will be the last holiday film they make. Christopher has been ordered to stay on set and make sure they don't spend too much of the studio's money, but he quickly finds himself fascinated with the ins-and-outs of moviemaking. Jessica's assistant Reena (Anissa Borrego), points out that this is just like the sort of rom-com they make, but will the magic of Christmas actually visit a movie set?

First things first: I'm a huge Gilmore Girls fan, and the movie-within-a-movie set is Stars Hollow! I screamed. Doose's, Luke's, The Gazebo...all my familiar favorites were looking great. Speaking of familiar favorites, it was good to see Josh Swickard again, who was the MMC of The California Christmii. And I've loved Missy Pyle's brand of evil blondeness since Josie and the Pussycats. I was really hoping for some holiday zaniness, and I'm sad to say I didn't really get what I wanted. There are some Hollywood hijinks and the meta commentary from Reena about how Jessica and Christopher's relationship is following rom-com tropes, but everyone seemed...tired. There was not a lot of energy on screen, even when they were chasing an errant dog or having big emotional moments. There are a couple fun little visual jokes, but the character styling was boring and the movie felt flat. The most exciting character was Annisa Borrego's Reena, who might actually be part elf. She's adorable. The only piece of trivia on her IMDB page says she's known for having "a very high childlike voice," which is extremely accurate. I get the impression that there's a lot more goofiness in there, and it would have been nice if she'd had a chance to really turn it up.

This paragraph is a bit of a spoiler, but it's also the part of the movie that I will remember the most. During the movie's climax, Jessica has a breakdown about how her perfectionism has held her back, and it's Van's best scene in the film. But the thing is, her perfectionism isn't holding her back at all. She's successful in her field and creatively fulfilled. She seems like she's a flexible and generous collaborator, a calm presence on set, and a professional who knows how to stay on schedule. When Jessica was brought to tears by her own hubris, I was yelling at the screen that she doesn't need to apologize for being good at her job. The magic of the movie literally hinges on her humbling herself, even though she hasn't done anything other than be consistent, competent, and capable. Maybe it would bother me less if Christopher was also similarly humbled, but he's not: he's just a nice, rich, hot guy whose big character development is that he goes from a high-paying job in finance to a high-paying job in Hollywood without having to pay any dues or earn any stripes. He similarly falls up into his relationship with Jessica, despite his apparent inability to read back his own text messages and see he made an autocorrect error that could have been fatal to their relationship. The director and writer of this movie have both done a bunch of action movies, but this is one of two holiday movies they have coming out for HBOMax this year. I can't help but wonder how this movie would be different if it was made by people more like the heroine than the hero.