I know it may not feel like it, but ‘tis the season to be jolly.
Amid the depressing reality that now involves a new COVID-19 variant while people are still coming to terms with the rollercoaster that was the last two years, jingle bells and Christmas carols may seem like a jarring tradition of celebration.
But the holidays are also a time of comforting sameness amid uncertainty, one where you can muffle your inner film critic and embrace the cringe.
Netflix Christmas movies have become quite the binge-watching affair, whether you’d like to admit it or not. A keyword search for “Christmas” on the streaming platform yields dozens of holiday movies, ranging from classics to this year’s specials. Some are already out for anticipatory pre-Christmas viewing, while others are rushing on their way like Santa on Christmas Eve. And surely, there’s something for every holiday mood.
A Heartwarming Netflix Christmas Movie: “Single All the Way”
After Hulu’s Happiest Season and Hallmark’s The Christmas House, Netflix’s first gay holiday movie is a long time coming. Single All the Way, a lighthearted exploration of a gay man’s relationship with his family, has already been praised for sidestepping the hackneyed coming out trope in movies featuring LGBTQ leads.
Sick of being seen as a sad single by his family, Peter (Michael Urie), a young gay man, brings his best friend Nick (Philemon Chambers) home to New Hampshire for Christmas, with all intentions of pretending they’re in a relationship. But their pretense falls apart before it even begins, when they find out that Peter’s mother has already set him up on a blind date. The rest of Peter’s family, however, are convinced that Nick and Peter should be together instead, and set their hearts on matchmaking the pair.
Representation aside, the setup is quite the supermarket cake mix of the Christmas romance genre—sappy dialogue, mushy family interactions, and a predictable storyline—in other words, the formulaic movie we need for wholesome holiday viewing. The quirky characters, like the awkwardly endearing Peter and the drama queen aunt Sandy (Jennifer Coolidge), effectively work their charm into the tried-and-tested template.
Watch this when you’re… looking for something sweet, funny, and want to regain hope for 2022.
A Romantic Netflix Christmas Movie: “Love Hard”
Dating columnist Natalie (Nina Dobrev) travels across the country to meet her hot dating app match, only to discover that the man behind their charming conversations is really Josh (Jimmy O. Yang), a dorky dude who looks nothing like his profile photo.
Turns out, Josh had furnished his dating profile with photos of his conventionally attractive friend Tag (Darren Barnet). Caught off-guard and attempting to make the most out of a futile cross-country trip, Natalie and Josh broker a deal where she would pretend to be his girlfriend in front of his family, while he helps her seduce Tag. But, surprise surprise, the unlikely pair end up developing feelings for each other instead.
The film obviously attempts to keep up with conversations of the times, like the sadly common catfishing on dating apps, and society’s changing ideas of attractiveness. In a musical scene, Natalie and Josh even alter the lyrics to the notoriously problematic song “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” dialing up the level of consent to make it sound more cutesy and less, uh, harrass-y.
The moral of the story is more than a little iffy (an intentional catfish being rewarded with love), but this cringey story does make for festive hate-watching, or a cheesy triumph for those firmly on Team Duckie.
Watch this when you’re… sick of swiping left and just want to see a Tinder romance work out.
A Family-Friendly Netflix Christmas Movie: “The Claus Family”
The Claus Family movie poster. Image: Courtesy of Netflix
For those who aren’t fans of the festive season, there are viewing pleasures for you, too. They’re like secret love letters to Christmas, without the overt celebration.
The Claus Family tells the story of Jules (Mo Bakker), a mopey teen who discovers that his grandfather is Santa Claus. While most kids would be absolutely ecstatic by the revelation, it becomes a source of agony for Jules, who hates Christmas and has come to associate the holidays with the death of his father. Things get worse for our moody protagonist when he realizes that he’s supposed to replace his aging grandfather as the friendly gifter.
This Dutch-Belgian coming of age film explores grief and kinship through the heartwarming lens of the Christmas spirit, but a sulking Santa-to-be is sure to put a damper on getting full-blown jolly for the season—unless, of course, tempering the holiday spirit and mixing it up with a bit of teen angst is your goal. As we learn with Jules, perhaps the real meaning of Christmas lies in doing something you’re not thrilled about, just to spread some joy to loved ones and strangers alike.
Watch when you’re… feeling utterly unfestive but would still like to go through the Christmas movie motions anyway.
A Funny Netflix Christmas Movie: “The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star”
The Princess Switch franchise stars Vanessa Hudgens in three starkly different roles: Stacy the plucky baker, Margaret the no-nonsense royal, and Fiona the femme fatale former antagonist. In the latest installment of the movie series, the three identical-looking women join forces to retrieve a stolen relic. Keeping to its namesake, chaos ensues as the lookalikes dabble in some impromptu identity swaps.
A complete departure from its previous movies, which were more caught up in palace romance and politics, The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star, has gone full heist mode. We see our characters decked out in black bodysuits, complete with high-tech gadgets, as they traverse rooftops and slice open windows.
Watch this when… you’re down for some action scenes during the holidays.
A Nostalgic Netflix Christmas Movie: “A Castle for Christmas”
Sophie (Brooke Shields), a novelist, goes to Scotland amid controversy about her latest book and decides to buy herself a castle. However, she first has to convince Myles (Cary Elwes), the grumpy duke who owns the castle, to sell it to her. Soon, the bickering pair find themselves living in the same castle under some arbitrary agreement, which, let’s face it, is just a way to get scenes of the two leads in accidentally romantic encounters.
Between the feisty Sophie toasting “to women buying castles” and the duke chilling sultrily in a bathtub in an unlocked bathroom, the movie is a rehash of all Christmas rom-com tropes—to its credit, unabashedly so. The storyline isn’t really the point here anyway. Seeing the 80s heartthrobs share the same screen is enough for us to revel in nearly 100 minutes of awe.
Watch this when… you’re craving for a big dose of classic nostalgia, or when you want to bond with your older relatives without having to hold a conversation.
A Fantasy Netflix Christmas Movie: “A Boy Called Christmas”
In modern-day London, as three siblings struggle to cope with the recent passing of their mother, their aunt regales them with a tale of a boy from once upon a time. The boy, Nikolas (Henry Lawfull), who also lost his mother, goes on a magical adventure with his pet mouse to the land of elves. In his epic journey, he encounters an assortment of mythical creatures—trolls, pixies, flying reindeer—and uncover the origins of Christmas traditions.
The magical element of A Boy Called Christmas comes through with vivid CGI characters, sprawling fantasy landscapes, and gripping action sequences. But even while giving a make-believe treatment to its world building, the film doesn’t shy away from addressing grief with a realistic tone. Like any good children’s movie, our hopeful protagonist Nikolas ultimately conquers challenges with trusty companions and lots of courage.
Watch when you’re… actually looking for a genuinely good, wholesome watch.
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