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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Ghosting: The Spirit of Christmas, or: Tea & Sympathy

*Spoilers follow*

As 2021 winds down, we have just one more Christmas film filled with cheesy goodness for the Collab. Luckily, we know ourselves well enough to avoid anything with princes, corporate executives, or hard-working single parents. On the other hand, a title with a play on ghosting done in poor taste along with best friends navigating LA and dreaming of tea blend competitions that don’t sound made up at all? Extremely our jam.

The Film:

Ghosting: The Spirit of Christmas

The Premise:

After a young woman dies following a perfect first date, she becomes a ghost and must determine how to ascend to the next plane.

The Ramble:

Los Angeles roomies Jess and Kara seem to be opposites in virtually every element of their lives, yet have remained bffs for years. Adventurous Jess hasn’t met a plan she’s followed through on, always seeking a new hobby, date, or job. Meanwhile, solitary Kara is content to stay indoors, making the apartment feel cozy and full of good energy.

Kara, a young Asian-American woman with long dark hair walks next to Jess, a young African-American woman with her hair up. They are walking through an outdoor Christmas market with booths and tables set up under red umbrellas.

On a fateful night when Jess heads out for a first date with a new match, Kara is perfectly fine with being at home, perfecting the special tea blends that are her passion. Though Jess isn’t too thrilled about the evening, she quickly changes her tune when she bonds with her date, aspiring artist Ben. Ecstatic on her drive home, Jess takes a moment to check a text from Ben…which turns out to be the last thing she does.

The character Jess grabs the coat lapels of Ben, a young African-American man who is leaning in close to her. Behind them, there is a wall of graffiti picturing angel wings.

Following her death, Jess experiences an unusual phenomenon: she haunts her own funeral. The only person more confused in all of this is Kara, who appears to be the only person who can see and hear her bff. Seeking guidance in these spiritual matters, Kara meets with her expert…energy healer(?), who advises her client that ghosts may be unable to move on because of love.

Around this time, Ben begins to feel disappointment that Jess never replied to his text after a great date. After an offhand remark that his sister Mae makes about assuming anyone who has ghosted to be dead, the two are chagrined when they learn the truth. However, they have the chance to make things right when Kara has a meet cute bumping into Mae at a farmers’ market…and Jess realizes there’s one other person who can see and hear her.

At night, Kara sits next to Mae, a young African-American woman. Behind them are lines of people at an outdoor movie screening.

But will Ben agree to essentially date a ghost on the chance it could help Jess ascend to the next plane? And will Kara process her own grief and pursue her dreams or be forever stuck in limbo along with Jess?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

This film is really sweet, and making Jess and Kara’s friendship the center of our story is a good call. It’s much more believable that a close, long-lasting friendship needs closure than a possible romance following a first date. The way Jess and Kara support and encourage each other even after death is cute. On a shallow note, our leads have some great outfits and I’m extremely envious of their apartment (which they can somehow afford in LA).

That being said, the script does have some problems, specifically when it comes to the spirit plane. The characters joke how poorly defined the rules are for ghosts in this world, but it still doesn’t make up for how little attention was given to defining what is and isn’t possible for ghosts. Jess walks on floors but can’t touch or open doors. She can sit on a bicycle but can’t turn the pedals. Jess’s best friend and potential boyfriend can see her, but her parents can’t. And no one can touch Jess or feel her touch…except for when they can. I consume too much sci-fi/fantasy to let that slide.

Additionally, I really hated the end, particularly the last couple of scenes. There’s a scene between Jess and Ben that reveals his death around a year later, and it’s played off pretty casually. In this version of the next plane, spirits get to hang out at a bar forever, which (a) sounds terrible and (b) really cheapens the message of our film. Two people have died tragically young, but it’s all good in the end because they get to drink in heaven for eternity, and this is…a happy resolution? This scene really took me out of the movie as the tone felt all wrong. Overall, it’s fairly charming and a bit more memorable than some other generic Christmas rom-com fare.

Would my blog wife take this one out for a ghostly date or refuse to even make it a weak cup of tea? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Silent Night, or: Mistakes Were Made

*Spoilers follow*

You can basically blame capitalism for our detour from the cheery Christmas path we’d planned for December. That, or the even more powerful forces behind the Hallmark Channel’s vice-like grip on its new seasonal content. With limited options streaming for the week, we’ve retreated to the familiar territory of holiday horror…though this route is still leading us through some unexpected twists.

The Film:

Silent Night

The Premise:

As a group of friends gather for Christmas, a secret threatens to cut the festivities–and even their lives–short.

The Ramble:

Things are looking festive all-round as Nell and Simon host their annual Christmas dinner for a group of childhood friends. Enjoying the holidays surrounded by the comforts of a large country estate certainly can’t hurt. However, as posh people who have known each other for a long time, it seems like a safe bet that secrets will surface and drama will erupt.

The characters of Nell, Sandra, and Bella, three women dressed in formal clothing, stand next to each other as they lean against a kitchen counter. Their expressions are intense as they eavesdrop.

The children aren’t an exception, and Nell and Simon’s boys are less than thrilled to reunite with Kitty, spoiled only child of couple Sandra and Tony. Very much a daddy’s girl used to getting her own way, Kitty has a rather strained relationship with her mother.

Also in attendance are Bella and her sober girlfriend Alex, as well as oncologist James and his significantly younger (and pregnant) girlfriend, Sophie. Sandra, now married to kind but boring Tony, is transparently in love with James and resents the hell out of Sophie.

As the day goes on, it becomes increasingly obvious that something terrible lurks beneath the pasted-on grins of the attendees. Over-emphasizing the evening’s importance for love and forgiveness, Nell maintains a smile even when serving one single potato to each guest.

The hosts and guests in attendance for the evening's Christmas dinner gather around a large table lit by candlelight. All of the 11 faces are turned towards the camera, facing the offscreen character of Sophie.

Sophie earns no favors when she lets the cat out of the bag in front of the children, revealing that the main event that night will not be Christmas itself, but a mass suicide. After years of destroying the Earth’s atmosphere, humans have inadvertently created a massive cloud of poison gas that is set to roll through the English countryside…right about now. The UK government’s solution? Provide as many of its citizens as possible with suicide pills to avoid the agony of a slow, painful death.

As the evening wears on, Nell and Simon’s eldest son Art becomes more and more determined to avoid taking the pill, as he believes there may still be hope. Similarly, Sophie cannot accept that her baby won’t even have a chance to live, and expresses her own reluctance to voluntarily end her life.

Will anyone in the house (or the world) manage to make it past Christmas?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Oooof, I haven’t been this emotionally devastated by a film ostensibly about Christmas since the WWI-set Joyeux Noel. I suppose there’s no reason to avoid the topic of climate change in Christmas horror…but does it have to be so bleak?

And I am willing to personally fight any and all members of the marketing team for this movie. We were promised a darkly funny Christmas murder fest, and there was no joy whatsoever to be found in the film we got.

There’s a bit of humor to be found in the abysmal (and quite accurate) global response to climate change (and having a fucking app for a mass suicide plan), as well as the adults’ emphasis on the whole situation not being their fault. But mostly all of this is far too real to do anything but further spiral down the rabbit hole of climate anxiety.

I’ll credit the cast here, as well as the festive Christmas ambience…that exists largely as a stark contrast to the horror outside. Overall, though, I couldn’t particularly enjoy this one, and I’d much rather a serial killer dressed as Santa any day of the week.

Would my blog wife take the red pill or…wait, wrong Christmas release? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Happiest Season, or: Harper’s a Lyre

Global pandemic, climate change, and political instability aside, we are truly living in a renaissance…for made-for-TV romantic Christmas romps. Though like most things streaming, we’re overwhelmed with options, this is also my favorite thing about the rise and rise of Christmas movies. This week’s pick is our 2nd LGBTQ pick of the month…which I don’t think would have even been possible 5 years ago.

The Film:

Happiest Season

The Premise:

A woman invites her girlfriend home for the holidays to meet her family…neglecting to tell anyone that her partner is anything more than a roommate.

The Ramble:

Since her parents died when she was just 19, Abby hasn’t been big on Christmas. She’s perfectly content staying at home to earn that sweet petsitting cash from all of the suckers who will be traveling for the holidays. However, when her girlfriend Harper impulsively invites Abby home to meet the family, she agrees, hoping to make better Christmas memories by proposing(!).

The character of Abby faces her girlfriend Harper as they hold hands at night, Christmas lights on the houses behind them. The two are arm-in-arm, smiling, and dressed warmly in coats and hats.

Though Abby has managed to convince her literary agent friend John to care for all of the pets while the couple is away, Harper suddenly reverses course the next day. She finally reveals on the drive to her parents’ home that the reason for her agitation is that she’s never come out to her family and is planning to introduce Abby as her roommate, not girlfriend. It will make things easier over the holidays with Harper’s high-strung family as they navigate her father’s mayoral campaign. Apparently.

The plan is complicated by Abby’s character flaw of being a terrible liar, though Harper’s family is so painfully heteronormative that the possibility of either woman being a lesbian never occurs to a single person. Harper’s parents even invite her ex and childhood friend Connor out for dinner with the family that Abby attends.

Harper and her family pose for a portrait that Abby is taking on a tablet. Harper, her parents, two sisters, brother-in-law, and young niece and nephew stand in formal wear in front of a Christmas tree.

In addition to contending with perfectionist parents who have made Harper the favorite, her sister Sloane is fiercely competitive. Seeming to have the perfect family that will look great for campaign photos, Sloane is proud and eager to prove she’s just as accomplished as Harper. Meanwhile, sister Jane plays the role of awkward weirdo, recapping the fantasy novel she’s writing to anyone who will listen, and not quite fitting in with the image-obsessed family.

While making her way around the small town and getting ditched by Harper at parties, Abby meets another of her girlfriend’s exes, Riley. Riley provides a calm & collected sounding board for Abby, who could use a break from Harper’s family…especially after a prank gone awry leads everyone of influence in town to believe Abby is a shoplifter.

Leaning against a living room bar, Abby holds a drink while standing next to the character of Riley, who looks at Abby with arms crossed.

Effectively ostracized from the family during their parties and campaign events, Abby begins to question how real her relationship with Harper can be, particularly since there seem to be two completely different sides to her girlfriend. At a certain point, the people-pleasing Harper will have to make a choice between her status as golden child and being true to herself…but will it be too late for her to find happiness?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before about this film, but Harper puts some unbelievably toxic behaviors on display, especially for a Christmas movie where we’re supposed to root for her relationship to work. I say this not only as a major fan of Aubrey Plaza, but as a proponent of functional relationships: Abby deserved better and probably should have ended up with Riley. The chemistry between Kristen Stewart and Aubrey feels more believable, and the character of Riley is way less awful than Harper.

Because the character of Harper dances right up to the edge of ruining this film, we should spend some time dissecting her as a person. Since the POV is mostly Abby’s, Harper comes across as an absolute disaster. We don’t get enough interiority to understand her awful behavior–not that there’s necessarily enough explanation in the world to justify how she acts. The way Harper’s family treats Abby is one thing (and is extremely poor, btw), but the way Harper interacts with her own girlfriend is truly terrible.

Even though I’ve done nothing but complain in this review, I do give the film credit because it is actually well-cast and well-acted for the most part, and the writing for the supporting characters is great. Dan Levy of course steals every scene he’s in, and Mary Holland’s misfit Jane is a character I relate to so much. The saving grace of this film is that it’s surprisingly easy to ignore Harper for the most part since she’s off ditching her girlfriend and sucking up to political influencers. Kristen Stewart and the supporting cast really shine in this one and make it worth the watch.

Would my blog wife propose to this one or go out drinking with drag queens instead? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Single All the Way, or: Just for Snow

The more time passes (particularly in our current pandemic existence), the less inclined I feel to embrace my inner Grinch around the holidays. And while I certainly don’t recommend pasting on a smile when you’re really not feeling it, sometimes the horrendous advice “fake it ’til you make it” does help me experience a bit of Christmas cheer even when I could stand to hibernate for the next 7 years at least.

Btw, fake it ’til you make it (and I really should emphasize again that I hate this expression) is advice that probably shouldn’t apply to relationships. But in the gumdrop fantasy Christmas land of feel-good holiday movies, that is the only appropriate approach to romance that lasts all season long.

The Film:

Single All the Way

The Premise:

At home for the holidays, single Peter agrees to a blind date setup while wondering if his roommate/bff could be the man he’s loved all along.

The Ramble:

After close to a decade living together in Los Angeles, bffs Peter and Nick have clearly iterated and reiterated that they absolutely 1000% have no romantic interest in each other. They have supported each other through Peter’s dissatisfaction with his vague, soulless social media advertising job, Nick’s writer’s block after writing a children’s bestseller, and countless breakups and disappointments. But there’s no way Peter and Nick would ever date, a statement that will definitely hold up well if we follow the conventions of similar gentle holiday-themed rom-coms.

Peter, a white man in his 30s with dark brown hair, stands next to his friend Nick, an African-American man with short dark hair and a perfectly groomed beard. Both are wearing a suit and tie at an evening party in a contemporary space decorated with lights for Christmas.

This holiday season promises radical change for Peter: instead of being the–horror of horrors–lone sadsack single in a family where everyone is coupled up, Peter is planning to bring home his boyfriend, a gorgeous cardiologist. Too bad the new boyfriend turns out to be shady AF, and meeting the family is quickly ruled out…but not before Peter has strongly implied he plans to bring home a major surprise for Christmas.

Good thing roommate and bff Nick is always there for Peter, and the inevitable fake boyfriend at Christmas scheme is hatched. However, immediately upon arriving in Peter’s small New Hampshire hometown, his mother reveals schemes of her own, namely a blind date with her spin instructor James. Relieved to dodge the fake relationship trope altogether, Nick is all too eager for Peter to go on the date…or is he?

Peter walks along a snowy street with James, Christmas lights behind them. They are dressed for the winter in dark coats and warm accessories.

Nick won’t have much time to think about it as Peter’s family keeps him busy, taking advantage of his many DIY skills to complete long-needed maintenance and make the family home look appropriately festive. I would venture the family, including Peter’s mom–who is so into the spirit of the season that she demands everyone in the family refer to her as “Christmas Carole”–quickly crosses the line into straight-up expecting their house guest to complete all of their minor household repairs in a way that feels underhanded even as Nick claims he loves doing this kind of work. I really hope no international viewers (including lovely Christa) think having hosts majorly exploit your labor is a normal expectation for Christmas visitors in the States.

Meanwhile, Peter is swanning around town with James, obliviously breaking Nick’s heart. Making matters worse, James is a conventionally attractive, kind-hearted athletic type regularly dishing out sage advice. Conveniently, James has moved to Peter’s hometown for ski season, just as our leading man is considering returning to the area for good and pursuing his dream of opening a small plant store. Not the kind as nightmare-inducing as in J-horror Pulse, ideally.

The character of Sandy, a middle-aged woman with voluminous blonde hair and brightly colored clothes, sits on a couch next to her niece, a blonde woman dressed more conservatively.

As members of Peter’s family scheme to set him up with Nick and James respectively, his former actor aunt Sandy is putting the final touches on the local Nativity play, a production she has personally scripted entitled “Jesus H. Christ.” With the rehearsals going less than well with Sandy’s exacting directorial style, Peter’s nieces put forward a win-win solution: have Peter and Nick assist with the play, thereby saving the day while spending precious holiday time together. Which, as I’ve underlined in several other rom-com reviews, feels like a better way to get stressed-out people to scream at each other rather than fall in love.

Throughout the proceedings, we check off a number of additional tropes, including Peter and Nick having to do a last-minute, dramatically important photo shoot, sharing a bed for pretty flimsy reasons, and doing silly choreographed dance moves. Is it enough for them to realize their long-simmering romantic feelings for each other?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was never going to get a 5-star rating from me. I will say the story is quite sweet, and it’s such a relief to have more LGBTQ+ stories regularly make their way into the Hallmark-type holiday rotation. Visually, our film looks so cozy and festive that it would be ideal for Netflix to provide a dusting of snow and a mug of hot cocoa for all viewers.

Beyond this, our film is so full of cliches and jam-packed with way more characters than necessary. Jennifer Coolidge is of course excellent as self-absorbed Hollywood stereotype Aunt Sandy and plays my favorite character by far. And not only because she manages to pull off an unexplained Glinda costume in the Nativity play. Many of the other supporting characters feel bland in comparison to be honest, and just kind of take up space.

I also happen to despise the “overbearing family believes your being single is the saddest story to be told while playing the world’s tiniest violin” trope that is this genre’s bread and butter. It comes across about as well as it does in any other of these holiday films, i.e. really manipulative and condescending AF. I’m glad that Peter’s sexuality is fully accepted by his family, but it’s slightly irritating that they can’t also accept his singledom.

Our leads are perfectly charming, though the annoying love triangle setup means Peter and Nick don’t actually get as much screen time together as you might expect…so I wasn’t overly invested in their relationship. That being said, I was definitely rooting for them, as James is one step away from being a walking Ken doll and is the type of blandly perfect man who usually turns out to be a murderer in Lifetime movies.

Despite the tone of this overly critical review, I did mostly enjoy this one, but not enough that I anticipate remembering much about it past this week.

Would my blog wife hit it off with this one on a blind date or scald it with boiling hot cocoa? Find out in her review!