Commentary: ‘Tis the Season for Streaming Christmas Movies

Love in the Wild
by Leonora Cravotta


“It’s Christmas Eve and we are going to go celebrate being young and being alive,” Miles (Jack Black) declares to Iris (Kate Winslet) in the delightful Christmas romantic comedy The Holiday (2006), which concerns two “unlucky in love” women, Iris and Amanda (Cameron Diaz). The two decide to nurse their broken hearts and bruised egos by respectively swapping their Cotswold cottage and LA mansion for the holidays. As the fates would have it, Kate and Amanda each find love and a new outlook on life during their Christmas swap. I love this sugar plum saga, which I have previously written about in these pages, because it reminds us that friendship, love, and new adventures are always available. We only need to open our eyes to the world around us and celebrate our blessings.

Christmas is a reminder of these blessings, as is the tradition of the Christmas movie. Many of these films depict the archetypical portrait of the disappointed, cynical person who has an epiphany that transforms his perspective and makes him more appreciative of the bounties that he currently enjoys and more receptive to creating new relationships and new experiences.

To achieve this transformation, the disappointed individual sometimes has to embark upon a physical journey that ultimately proves to be a metaphorical one. I have selected three Christmas films that involve a pilgrimage of sorts that have touched me and put a smile on my face.

Holiday in the Wild (2019)

Holiday in the Wild is the story of Kate (Kristin Davis) a New Yorker who surprises her husband, Drew (Colin Moss), with tickets for a second honeymoon in Zambia and receives a surprise of her own when Drew tells her that he is no longer in love with her but that he was waiting for their son Luke (played by Jack Owen Lowe, Rob Lowe’s son) to leave for college to ask for a divorce. Shocked and saddened, Kate, a nonpracticing veterinarian who gave up her career to be a stay-at-home wife and mother, decides to go to Zambia on her own.

There, she meets Derek (Rob Lowe), a pilot who manages the sanctuary and coordinates tours for visitors. Kate and Derek are initially dismissive of each other. He sees her as a superficial big-city person and she sees him as a guy with a chip on his shoulder. They eventually bond when they rescue a baby elephant whose mother was killed by poachers. Kate additionally learns that Derek is also an artist. Kate decides to extend her stay and use her training as a veterinarian to assist with the animals’ care and medical treatment. Although Holiday in the Wild follows the typical plotline of the sophisticated city girl falling for the creative sensitive guy who hides behind a cone of self-protection, it has an emotional rawness that elevates it above the standard romantic comedy fare. Filmed on location in Zambia, it is visually stunning. Davis and Lowe, who have acted together before, have amazing chemistry that further enhances the film’s believability and appeal.

Christmas As Usual (2023)

Christmas As Usual (Så Var Det Jul Igjen) is a Norwegian film that tells the story of Thea, a Norwegian woman (Ida Ursin-Holm) who is living with her Indian boyfriend, Jashan (Kanan Gill), in California. Jashan surprises Thea by proposing to her just before the holidays. Although they have been dating for less than a year, she accepts and invites Jashan to spend Christmas with her family in Norway. While her mother, Anne-Lise (Marit Andreassen), is aware that Thea has a boyfriend, she is very surprised to learn that he is Indian. While Jashan genuinely wants to win the respect of Anne-Lise as well as Thea’s brother Simon (Erik Follestad), sister-in-law Hildegunn (Veslemøy Mørkrid), and niece Ronja (Matilde Hovdegard), he makes one cultural faux pas after another. Most notably, he takes it upon himself to prepare a spicy Indian dish for the family on December 22, a gesture that upsets everyone because that is the day of the Norwegian holiday “Tiny Tiny Christmas.” The family was looking forward to consuming the traditional Norwegian food associated with the holiday. It also becomes increasingly clear that there are communication problems in Thea and Jashan’s relationship. Thea is not fully forthcoming with Jashan about her family. She neglects to tell him that her father died the previous year. She also does not mention that her ex-boyfriend from a five-year relationship lives nextdoor to her family. Moreover, she hides her engagement ring from her family while telling Jashan that she is waiting for the perfect time to share their good news.

Christmas As Usual, which is based on a true story, is a highly entertaining and emotionally stirring film. We share Jassan’s desperate attempts to fit in with Thea’s family and we equally experience Thea’s frustration when he fails to do so. As the film progresses, we realize that Jashan and Thea do love each other. We also learn that Thea’s family has a far more positive opinion of Jashan than they were able to overtly express. The family isn’t rejecting Jashan or his Indian heritage. Rather, they are clinging to their Norwegian Christmas customs as a way to hold on to the memory of the father, husband, and grandfather who is no longer with them. Christmas As Usual reminds us that love, family relationships, and friendships are rarely cookie-cutter perfect. Instead, they are imperfect molds of happy but complicated memories, emotions, and hopeful musings about the future. This film is also beautifully shot, with many picturesque scenes of Christmas lights set against a snowy background.

Love Hard (2021)

Love Hard is the story of Natalie (Nina Dobrev), a woman who travels from Los Angeles to Lake Placid, New York, to surprise Josh (Jimmy O. Yang), a man she has been chatting with online, only to arrive and find out that she has been catfished. The film takes its name from the movies Love Actually (2003) and Die Hard (1988) because, during Natalie and Josh’s early conversations, they exchanged thoughts on the “best Christmas movie,” with Josh picking Love Actually and Natalie picking Die HardLove Hard does an effective job of paying homage to its two namesakes with its dialogue and plot devices. Josh uses his friend Tag’s (Darren Barnet) picture on a dating site because he thought that his friend’s more traditional good looks would result in more matches. And he was right. Natalie, who writes a column about dating disasters, thought that she had done her due diligence on Josh by asking him to post a photo of himself holding a newspaper with the day of the conversation’s date on it. Oh, the wonders of Photoshop. Natalie, who has turned her bad dating experiences into a meal ticket, is so enraptured by her conversations with Josh that she is ready to believe that her bad dates are behind her and that true love is on the horizon. Natalie is so convinced that Josh could be the one that she suggests to her boss Lee (Matty Finochio) that she shelve her column about dating disasters to write one about true love triumphing. While Lee is at first reticent, when he realizes that Natalie has not even met Josh, he encourages her to fly to Lake Placid, believing that this experience will result in the greatest dating disaster of all.

Natalie is naturally very disappointed when she realizes that Josh isn’t who he said he was. But when he offers to help her win over Tag, she changes her mind about him. By assuming the Cyrano de Bergerac role, Josh reveals that he is a kind and caring person. Natalie also displays her vulnerabilities and her empathetic nature. The plot of course evolves into a complicated love triangle but concludes with the requisite happy ending. I enjoyed this film enormously, largely due to the strong performances of the principal actors. Nina Dobrev is a beautiful actress with an engaging screen presence who is willing to take creative risks. However, it was comedian Jimmy Yang who steals the show with his sensitive portrayal of Josh.

Christmas is a time when we realize that we are all traveling in search of happiness and love. We also acknowledge that we sometimes find ourselves on what appears to be the wrong path and, consequently, we feel lost and alone. It is during these challenging moments that we must have faith that we will find our way. Christmas movies remind us that “If you look for it…. you’ll find that love, actually, is all around.”

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Leonora Cravotta is Director of Operations with The American Spectator, a position she previously held at The American Conservative. She also co-hosts a show on Red State Talk Radio. She previously held marketing positions with JPMorgan Chase and TD Bank and additionally served as Director of Development for an award-winning charter school in Philadelphia. Leonora received a BA in English/French from Denison University, an MA in English from the University of Kentucky, and an MBA in Marketing from Fordham University. She writes about literature and popular culture.
Photo “Holiday in the Wild Trailer” by Netflix.





Appeared at and reprinted from The American Spectator

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