Help for the Holidays has many of the ingredients for a TV Christmas movie – mugs of hot chocolate brimming with marshmallows, strands of garland twinkling with lights, and a family that seriously needs to get its Christmas mojo back. It’s all set to give you the holiday feels, except it wasn’t always the holiday I expected.
Christine Prancer is an elf “from up north” who longs to see the wider world. She gets her wish when she is sent by Santa (Steve Larkin) to help a family rediscover the joy of Christmas. The problem is, she doesn’t really understand Muggles and, having lived a sheltered life in the North Pole, she finds herself somewhat out of her element in Southern California. Summer Glau, who plays Christine, has her character’s look of bewilderment down but may have over-perfected it. The naïve elf’s perplexedness could just as easily be mistaken for the robotic stare of a life-sized horror doll ready to murder your whole family. Perky elves, I’ve decided, are kind of creepy, unless they come from Rivendell.
Besides, I’ve seen enough Christmas movies to start doubting any new acquaintances I might make during the holidays, especially the romantic kind (this, however, has ever been a problem). It seems now is a time ripe for running into angels and elves and other other-worldly creatures. Christine disguises herself as a babysitter to the Van Camps two young children while the parents busy themselves with increasing their profits at their Christmas-themed store. She doesn’t see much of them, nor do their kids, but Christine does end up spending more and more time with mom (Eve La Rue) Sara’s brother, David (John Brotherton).
Christine doesn’t know what to do about her feelings for David though, or anyone for that matter. She must abide by Santa’s rules about not becoming emotionally entangled with humans lest she be sent back home. It seems a bit harsh, but this is coming from a guy who puts lumps of coal in kids’ stockings. Christine also develops a soft spot for the kids, who are eager to celebrate the holidays properly – with a real Christmas tree, homemade cookies, and popcorn garland. Instead, Mom and Dad wait until after the store closes on Christmas Eve and use unsold decorations to brighten the house, only to cart them back on Boxing Day for post-Christmas sales.
That’s a cynical move even for the steeliest Grinch, but I almost didn’t mind. It reminded me of a dusty children’s story, a favorite from my middle school library, about a mom who refuses to celebrate Christmas “like every Tom, Dick, and Harry.” Granted, The Coat Hanger Christmas Tree by Eleanor Estes is about non-conformity and decidedly against milking the holidays for every dollar. That’s a far more appealing and original story than Help for the Holidays ever tries to be, but let’s not leave it to Hallmark to push the boundaries. This movie’s cranky parents and their moody kids was a good change and the delirious teenager love between Christine and David gave me a fizzy feeling, but in the end, Help plays it safe. It rescues its characters from their Christmas doldrums and satisfies those who still believe, or want to believe, in Santa Claus.
Prod: Lincoln Lageson
Dir: Bradford May
Writer: Abbey Cleland, Bob Saenz
Cast: Summer Glau, Eve La Rue, John Brotherton, Dan Gauthier, Izabela Vidovic, Mason Cook, Steve Larkin
Time: 87 min
Country: United States