Mena Suvari

I’ll Be Home for Christmas (2016)

Sometimes you come across Christmas TV movie that looks – for a few precious moments – like it could be tolerable, a treat even. The opening scene is picturesque, the music gets you in the mood, and the lead actor rumbles onto the screen with little apology. I’m describing the first minutes of I’ll Be Home for Christmas, where James Brolin meanders through the countryside in a rusty RV while his wife, the divine Ms. Barbra Streisand, sings the title song. It’s certainly a step up from your usual TV fare, and you’ll be forgiven for wanting a little more from Hallmark.

As it turns out, a compelling script would have been enough. Granted, you’re not watching this or any other Hallmark offering for its original screenplay, but a fresh idea would be wonderful and, please, dialogue that wasn’t lifted from a 8th grader’s journal. But, no, this movie is a depository of clichés with two big screen actors standing around to make the whole thing look respectable.

The movie starts with an argument between Jackie Foster (Mena Suvari), assistant DA, single mom, and estranged daughter of Jack (Brolin), and Mike Kelly, police detective, single hot guy, and loyal protégé of Jack. They fight over a parking space, not knowing that this is only their first of three run-ins that day. The Pride and Prejudice rule applies here. Jackie and Mike can’t stand each other, and besides, she’s in a Very Serious Relationship with rich guy Rand (Jacob Blair). That can only mean one thing; Jackie and Mike are bound to be together. (By the way, if movies are anything to go by, single ladies, go out and get yourself into a feisty tête-a-tête right now.)

While they’re busy doing their thing, Jackie must also figure out what to do with Father, as she calls him. This one’s harder to decipher. The status of their relationship is never that clear. Jackie has far more animosity towards him than he does towards her. She resents all the time he spent away from the family, especially during the holidays, while he was working as a police officer and is also upset that he upped and left after her mom died three years ago. I can’t tell when Jackie’s hating on her dad though and when she’s stressed out and exhausted by her slavish need to follow a schedule. For his part, Jack seems conciliatory, awkwardly trying to make amends with his precocious granddaughter (Giselle Eisenberg) and forever delaying a planned fishing trip in Mexico. Brolin doesn’t seem to know what his character is up to, which is strange since he directed the damn movie.

Mostly, I’ll Be Home for Christmas is frustrating for its dullness. The predictable plot doesn’t bother me so much as the lack of imagination when it comes to characters. Jackie, Jack, and Mike are entirely forgettable without a spark of wit. Pretentious Rand stands out a little thanks to his villainy. I mean, the guy scoffs at the mere suggestion of volunteering at a homeless shelter. Various subplots and secondary characters also get thrown in – a destructive police dog, a theft at the local tree lot, the closing of said shelter, but none of this makes the movie more engaging. If, like me, you get to the thirty minute mark thinking you’ve reached the third act, then give in to your urge to change the channel.

Released: 2016
Dir: James Brolin
Writer: Robert Bernheim
Cast: James Brolin, Mena Suvari, Giselle Eisenberg, John Reardon, Jacob Blair, Angela Asher, Laura Miyata
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2017

The Knot

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With a ninety minute running time, The Knot lasts about eighty-five minutes too long. You’d do just as well to watch the trailer and then tuck in to a night with Bridesmaids and The Hangover, to which this movie is compared. Aside from a general plot involving a marriage and a wedding party, nothing distinguishes its story or characters.

Much of the screen time is wasted on tried, juvenile gags. The groom wakes up with a stripper. Wait – she’s a dude. A bridesmaid is missing. Oh, she’s screwing another stripper. The best man drops the ring in the toilet. Must dive headfirst into the can to retrieve it. The outfitted bride has a violent need to defecate. Get the maid of honor to wipe her bum.

None elicit the slightest laugh and besides these, the movie experiments with several storytelling techniques that are equal parts superfluous and confusing. The film opens with a question and answer video shoot, à la When Harry Met Sally, that the bride and groom will show on their wedding night (but do not). Additional footage is scattered throughout but is not relevant to the plot. The movie also takes on a faux hand-held approach that only emphasizes how amateur this production is.

The characters are equally disposable, and the only one with a remotely interesting backstory is an awkward bridesmaid (Susannah Fielding) who’s married to a verbally abusive and philandering jerk. But her trials are just an afterthought and must compete with a spectrum of vapid characters, from the well-meaning best bud (Noel Clarke) to the reckless sidekick (Brett Goldstein, Rhoda Montemayor). Even the couple fails to impress. Jeremy (Matthew McNulty) and Alexandra (Talulah Riley) are about as dull as they are nice, and they are very agreeable. This despite a cast with substantial acting credits to their names. They just can’t wrestle an interior life out of a miserable script.

Released: 2012
Prod: Louise Dylan, Hakan Kousetta, Noel Clarke
Dir: Jesse Lawrence
Writer: Noel Clarke, Davie Fairbanks, Geoff Carino
Cast: Matthew McNulty, Talulah Riley, Noel Clarke, Mena Suvari, Susannah Fielding, Jason Maza
Time: 92 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2013