There aren’t many upsides to overdosing on made-for-TV Christmas movies, but the law of averages says that every once in awhile you’re bound to stumble on one that stands above the rest. And as a sweet reward, I hit upon this movie, loosely based on Remember the Night, a 1940 film starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. On the 2nd Day of Christmas thankfully has that rare combination of good acting, snappy writing, and plenty of holiday heart.
It stars Mary Stuart Masterson as Trish, a small time thief who enlists her parentless niece Patsy (Lauren Suzanne Pratt) to help pick a few pockets until they are both caught during a Christmas Eve rush at a department store. With the courts and social services closed early for the holidays though, the owner insists that a security guard, Bert (Mark Ruffalo), keep an eye on them until Christmas is over. The three bond, that is when they are not throwing insults at each other, and find a chance to start over.
What makes this movie different from most holiday TV movies is that none of the characters is overly concerned with being likable and that in turn oddly makes them more appealing. Trish does her best to be a surrogate mother but she’s still a thief and, by her own admission, isn’t looking to change careers. She’s good at what she does and it pays well besides. However, her affection and Patsy’s charm don’t excuse the fact that besides good dental hygiene and keeping a healthy diet, she’s adding theft to her niece’s list of life skills
Bert, on the other hand, is Trish’s righteous opposite, having come from a long line of police officers. Kept off the force due to a health issue, he does his best to enforce lawful behavior wherever he can, even if it is just in the handbag department. He’s not outwardly resentful, but his middling job makes him prickly, especially when Trish doesn’t give him space to wallow in pity.
Both Masterson and a young, sweater-vest cardigan-wearing Ruffalo are exciting to watch, and they share an excellent chemistry. The two exchange quips with the bite and humor of celebrity comedians at a charity tennis match. The sarcasm bounces all over, and while there is a surly edge at times to their characters, it never snuffs out the Christmas mood.
Patsy is a big reason, and she’s played with great mischievousness by Pratt. The young actress shines, handling her character’s moral uncertainty with more agility than actors many times her age. Patsy has no issues nicking wallets from the rich – they mail them back right away, she insists – or asking Bert to steal a Christmas tree, but she’s troubled when her aunt breaks a promise to him and attempts to run away. If she’s uneasy about that, she’s positively beside herself with worry that she’s been struck off Santa’s list for her many crimes. In the end, it’s Patsy’s innocence, which isn’t showy or romanticized, that helps all the characters realize their chance at redemption.
Prod: John Ryan
Dir: James Frawley
Writer: Brian Hohlfeld
Cast: Mary Stuart Masterson, Mark Ruffalo, Lauren Suzanne Pratt, David Hewlett, James Purcell, Lawrence Dane, Howard Hesseman, Arlene Meadows
Time: 96 min
Country: United States