Thursday, December 22, 2011

Surprisingly Tasty Breakfast Club Cheese In Your Stocking: Cancel Christmas

Is it possible that in the midst of all my cheese mining, there actually exists a made-for-TV Christmas movie I like without irony?
And it stars Judd Nelson?

As Santa Claus?

Quick Plot: We open quite suddenly on an empty  courtroom setting where a humorless 'board member' breaks the bad news to Santa: due to the increasing materialization of Christmas, Santa Claus will not be delivering gifts to children this year...UNLESS...

Cue Challenge!

The old man can convert two spoiled rich boys and a moody paraplegic to discovering the true meaning of the holiday without revealing his secret Santa identity. Conveniently enough, all three brats/kids attend the same ritzy private academy in Califor--

NO! What's this? A cheaply made holiday film NOT set in snowless & sunny LA? Can it BE?

Well sort of. See, the spoiled rotten Farley, his lackey Stephen, and Adam The Wheelchair Kid all live in the snowless & sunny... Atlanta. 

Which apparently looks  a lot like California, but comes at a lower budget.

Ah well. At least the film has a fairly original premise. Santa (played by Judd Nelson with the same creepily forced old man voice used by Corey Feldman in Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys) takes a job as a school janitor with his chief elf Randall in tow. The Bert & Ernie-ish pair also rent a room above Adam and his single mom who oh-so-serendipitously teaches Farley and Stephen. Oh, and Farley's dad is ALSO oh-so-serendipitously single. Some people don't need cute talking dogs to be matchmade.

Broom in hand and aging Judd Nelson disguise in place, Santa slowly works his magic on his charges. The refreshing thing--and I'm being weirdly serious about this--is that these kids genuinely DO start to open up but not necessarily to the creepily enthusiastic janitor and his assistant (who aggressively laughs in a manner as terrifying as anything in Clownhouse). When Adam's teacher mom confronts Stephen about his follower status, the boy thoughtfully evaluates his actions and takes a stand for himself. Farley starts off as a token rich kid, but the film lets us see that he's really just still recovering from the loss of his mother in a way that's not overly trite. Meeting Adam helps to bring out the best in him not BECAUSE Adam is in a wheelchair, but more in a way that these two angry middle schoolers simply enjoy one another's company.

I don't mean to say Cancel Christmas is on par with Wings of Desire in its humanism, but considering so much of the sentimental tripe hauled out for the season, it's genuinely sweet. I don't know that I'll seek out more work from director John Bradshaw and writer David Alexander, but I'll be quite happy if I see their names pop up on something like this in the future.

Especially if, like Cancel Christmas, it involves a star wipe.

High Points
There's a kind of wonderful sequence where Santa steals an hour working as a mall Claus in order to get a feel for today's youth. Instead of having the kids recite their shopping lists, Santa asks them what they're giving their own parents this year. This subplot develops a little more and in all scrooge-less honesty, it's absolutely refreshing

Aforementioned star wipe. This film has a star wipe!

Low Points
While the ending is earned, there's something about the execution of Cancel Christmas' final scene that feels incredibly rushed and sadly lacking the cheer I was hoping for, almost as if the budget was star wiped out by the time they filmed it

Lessons Learned
You know you have an absentee dad when only the butler knows how you take your steak

That Kipling dude could write

If you go to or work at a private school, you will have no discernible accent, even if you live in Atlanta

Perpetuity means forever (and ever)

Montage Mania
Stephen fundraises the only way one can: montage

Sass Factor
The nearly insufferable Randall gets the zingers AND the chance to dress in drag, which naturally means a wacky complaint about wearing heels

Token Slapstick
Absent! It's a Christmas miracle!

Cool Cat Alert
It's kind of hilarious how relevant and hip Cancel Christmas tries to be. For starters, Santa is handed a cell phone that will ring when his tasks are completed, as if someone behind the screens realized there's no better way to look current than have your Santa Claus hold a cell phone. Even better is the forced "teen jargon" spoken by Stephen. Really the only words he uses are 'dude,' 'stellar,' 'stoked,' and 'off the hook,' but it's all spoken with such pointed scriptness  and constantly commented on by 'old' people

Stocking Stuffer Or Coal In Your Stocking?
Cancel Christmas feels like the kind of film your friend's good-intentioned but a tad behind the times dad might make. It's sickenly earnest, but until its final scene, the saccharine is far more tolerable than it should be. Perhaps I've just grown so tired of career women being schooled or quirky antler-wearing singletons finding love that this kind of movie--made with no irony and save for an opening shot of a Hallmark Christmas village, seemingly no cash grabbings--just feels oddly fresh and...well, NICE.

Okay, and a little sentimental but I'm only human.


  1. I watched this, too, and was expecting an overly-cheesy flick, but it was ... fun. Weird, but fun.

  2. Right? I was really worried that I was just lowering my standards based on watching so much Family Channel garbage, but I found this one genuinely nice. SO glad I'm not alone!

  3. I think you nailed what worked here - the way the boys reacted wasn't the usual, stereotypical way these movies usually have kids act. They learned and grew. Good change, more flicks should portray kids like this!

  4. And Santa wasn't really the cause of all the change, he just sort of helped match-make these kids so that they could help each other and themselves. And heck, a Hallmark movie where I didn't hate the teenagers? It's impressive!