Random Acts of Christmas (2019)

Look, I am all for random acts of kindness or Christmas or whatever you want to call it. Who’s going to argue with the idea that small gestures can bring great joy or that they can be transformative? Indeed, I hope everyone can show more generosity, especially to strangers, especially to those in need, at this and every time of the year. But there’s just no mustering up enough nice things to say about this Christmas treacle, a movie so bogged down by sap that it gums up its own message.

Exciting things are happening in Chicago this holiday thanks to an anonymous Secret Santa. He hands out free bus passes and distributes cakes alongside a highway among other things. Sydney (Erin Cahill), a freelance journalist, seizes on the story, hoping to impress the boss of a TV station and earn a permanent position. Perry (Catherine Lough Haggquist), however, doesn’t care so much about the fuzzy feels as she does the identity of Secret Santa and is willing to give Sydney’s rival, Andy (Hamza Fouad), a shot. The reporter gets a break when she teams up with Cole (Kevin McGarry), another freelancer out to uncover the truth. Cole is of course – and this is not a spoiler – the Secret Santa.

Some of my complaints about this movie are tiny. Why, for example, does Sydney dress like a 1980s office lady? Could Patrick Duffy have been given a more meaningful role than chess partner and occasional chauffeur? Must Sydney’s kid (Jaden Oehr) shout every line like he’s auditioning for a candy commercial? Is McGarry as exhausted by his character as he looks?

These are small matters though compared to the film’s misguided message. On the one hand, the story hammers home the need to spread joy, which is fine. The Secret Santa helps the whole city to delight in the little things, and people start to live in the moment. We see this transformation in Sydney and her family; they bake cookies, meet their neighbors, sing with strangers. These moments alleviate her stress even as she’s working hard to chase down her story.

What in the bloody hell is going on with Cole though? I’m supposed to believe this very rich guy looked around the whole city of Chicago and decided the best way to spread Christmas cheer is to…give away free poinsettias to an upper middle class neighborhood, maybe parachute candy canes in the middle of a shopping center? Is there really no better way of spending one’s substantial fortune? If that’s the case, then this is a shitty example of philanthropy and someone get the writers a copy of Anand Giridharadas’s book. I’ll applaud Cole’s efforts to brighten Sydney’s holiday, particularly because he sees his own mother in her, but I’m not buying his vanity project, whether or not he puts his name on it.

Released: 2019
Writer: Barbara Kymlicka
Cast: Erin Cahill, Kevin McGarry, Jaden Oehr, Hamza Fouad, Patrick Duffy, Jaclyn Smith, Catherine Lough Haggquist
Time: 86 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Lifetime
Reviewed: 2019

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