Netflix’s first tentpole Christmas movie, Best. Christmas. Ever!, arrives a tad later than usual. Now that it’s here, you’ll be wanting to fall back even further.
At-home humbugs who may be still reeling from last year’s Falling for Christmas will most likely avoid this more family-friendly festive fare. The more surprising reaction will come from those who are expecting the usual heap of corn and cheese, because even that demographic may be cringing by what this production believes they can get away with. What’s the reason? The reason is the season. And, boy, does the production use the season to cash a lot of cheques.
Much of the story is driven by the annoyance and jealousy of working mom Charlotte Sanders (Heather Graham), turning her nose up towards former classmate Jackie Jennings (musician Brandy Norwood). Jackie, living her best life, loves to send out an annual holiday newsletter and Charlotte, still trying to find her ideal lifestyle, detests reading about the Jennings’ yearly achievements. Charlotte’s family doesn’t mind this news, going so far as inspiring her son Grant (Wyatt Hunt) to railroad Christmas plans with a detour to the Jennings. The change in plans comes as a surprise to Charlotte and her husband Rob (Jason Biggs), but the pieces naturally fall into place for a dual Christmas celebration despite Charlotte’s sour mood.
Best. Christmas. Ever! has the potential to be a Meet the Parents-style comedy that could find its own version of snarky parental “grinchiness”. The performances are exaggerated, with Graham’s huffy snarls and Brandy’s smile lighting up every room she walks in to, but the film’s promise still glimmers. When actors “go big”, they can gradually reign themselves in. Director Mary Lambert is more than experienced with assisting her actors and, since this film marks her sophomoric holiday flick after Netflix’s adequately charming A Castle for Christmas, she can also identify her audience well.
Unfortunately, there’s no discipline with Best. Christmas. Ever!. The production rushes towards syrupy sentimentality whenever it can. While this relentless formula has proven to be a failsafe choice for holiday movies with the occasional sweet payoff (last year’s Baking All the Way, for instance), Lambert’s movie strains for the audience’s affection and indifferently creates climactic plot holes in the process. The viewer ends up becoming like Charlotte, rejecting every pass the movie tries to make.
The screenplay often abandons the feud to place meandering focus on a played-out subplot involving the kids trying to debunk Santa Claus. The plan is spearheaded by Jackie’s poindexter daughter Beatrix (Madison Skye Validum) while Grant tags along with his quirky (and creepy) stuffed monkey. Validum is asked to milk the character’s nerdiness for laughs, but the role is a boring cliché and Hunt, trying his best as Grant the well-meaning goofball, is simply asked to stand in the shadow of Validum’s cloying performance.
The allegedly breezy Best. Christmas. Ever! feels like a 7-hour flight with unattended kids walking aimlessly down the aisle as their parents exchange exhausting banter, spoken just loud enough for them to want other people to eavesdrop.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie