How do you satirize a genre that’s become a spoof of itself? It isn’t an impossible trick but, to pull it off, it takes a keen eye for detail and a filmmaker who can thread the needle between appreciation and cynicism. 2014’s They Came Together, a comedy from the creators of Wet Hot American Summer that hilariously destroyed the rom-com genre, is the bellwether for me, and this year’s clever seasonal spoof Cup of Cheer comes remarkably close to matching the same comedic roasting of those Christmas TV movies we love to hate.
City journalist Mary (Storm Steenson) travels back to her hometown of Snowy Heights to write a big holiday piece. But after an awkward run-in with a quirky local named Chris (Alexander Oliver), she hears unfortunate news of a local hot cocoa café facing closure. Chris, the owner of the café, is heartbroken along with his even quirkier brother Keith (Liam Marshall), who co-owns the business. In a last ditch attempt and unbeknownst to Chris (who doesn’t want to be seen as a charity case), Mary and Keith plan to raise the money to keep the business afloat before the deadline on Christmas Eve.
Cup of Cheer pokes fun at holiday novelties and the fairytale qualities that usually fluff up these pandering romances. While it may seem easy to go overboard on Christmas traditions for a laugh, director/co-writer Jake Horowitz and co-writer Andy Lewis find more material by taking amusing jabs at the paint-by-numbers narrative structure; including lines of dialogue that are blatantly setting up exposition and conflict. The movie skates a thin meta line, but Horowitz’s direction keeps the comedy from being smug or from being a pretentious exercise in stripping away the conventions of seasonal schlock. Throughout Cup of Cheer, the audience knows they’re a priority when it comes to farcical send-ups. The spoof also isn’t afraid to delve into edgier material, though the feature marginally slips up when gross-out humour is at play. We’re still laughing because juxtaposing a disgusting sight gag in a sweet, lighthearted story shocks us. But when the film lingers on the punchline, I couldn’t help but feel like the film had momentarily forgotten its purpose.
Holiday movies are a target on everyone’s radar, even for people who enjoy them as guilty pleasures. However, no one has ever really taken a swing at calling them out. By taking several chances, Cup of Cheer does a terrific job spiking the egg nog.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie