To quote the musical Mame, we need a little Christmas. With the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic proving to be a troubling battle we might still be a long way's off from winning, as well as racial division hitting a new crescendo, it would seem everyone is feeling the strain. So in the spirit of spreading a little warmth and joy to those in need of it, here's a look at some Christmas short films that will hopefully put a smile on your face:
Adam and Steve:
To start this list, we have a short film that could've also fit in with my last collection of short film reviews. In it, closeted siblings Adam (Sam Laughton) and Mary (Beth Kingston-Lee) are going to their family's Christmas dinner with their respective partners, Steve and Christine (Cameron Turner and Alekai Murphy). The twist? Brother and sister are swapping partners in order to hide their secret from their homophobic grandmother (Lyn Mann).
Initially, Adam and Steve seems set to be cringe comedy with an LGBT+ twist. As soon as our primary group of characters meet Adam and Mary's grandmother, the awkwardness as they endure her casually bigoted remarks could be cut with a knife. Then, when things take an unexpected turn, it seems like the perfect formula for wacky mishaps leading up to the big reveal. But instead, Adam and Steve cuts itself short by having the expected climax happen right after this surprise turn, leaving whatever potential dark comedy that could've resulted from it untapped. In fact, despite being advertised as a comedy, Adam and Steve is mostly a melancholic affair. While realistic considering the subject matter, this comes at the cost of a lot of plot potential going to waste and shoving two supposed main characters (Mary and Christine) into the background.
Performance-wise, Adam and Steve has a charming cast of actors for the closeted quartet. Sam Laughton and Cameron Turner do well at playing two conflicted men whose love is threatened by bigotry, though the ill-fated final moments of the film mar both men's characters with some fairly unsympathetic actions, which take some bite out of the emotional finale. Lynn Mann is the definite gem of the lot, playing the over-the-top bigot for all the black comedy its worth. But with a plot that falls apart right when it seems to be reaching its high point, Adam and Steve's cast can only do so much to make up for the missed opportunities.
Score: 4 out of 10 library bars.
A Second Chance at Christmas:
In a much more upbeat plotline, A Second Chance at Christmas follows the haughty Christine (Melinda Bennett) as an encounter with a homeless artist (Greg Jackson) might prove to be what it takes to thaw out her Grinchy heart. Essentially a condensed version of A Christmas Carol, A Second Chance at Christmas is a simple film that seems to linger on scenes for longer than necessary to fill time. There's also the matter of the film's dramatic revelation scene before the climax, which is marked by some hilariously overwrought music and visual effects.
But once you get through its more slogging segments, A Second Chance at Christmas is a heartfelt story about the power of kindness. While it would've been good to give some background explaining why Christine became such an ice-cold diva, Melinda Bennett nonetheless sells her character's emotional arc, while Greg Jackson is charming as the man who inspires Christine to change her ways. It's not perfect, but for what it accomplishes, A Second Chance at Christmas might just make you smile at its tale of generosity and redemption.
Score: 6 out of 10 pawn shops.
Romance is the central theme of this short film, with Brian (Dan Beckner) struggling to find the courage to ask his co-worker Meredith (Shashona Brooks) out before she leaves town for the holidays. While an incredibly simple plot, Mistletoe is made an exceptionally fun watch thanks to the film's primary cast. Dan Beckner and Shashona Brooks play marvelously well off of each other, bringing a deep authenticity to their dynamic as two people who share an attraction they don't know how to act on. With their effortless chemistry together as well as the charm they each have on their own, Beckner and Brooks will have you quickly rooting for Brian and Meredith to get together.
Mikie Beatty also appears as Brian's supportive friend Will, with Beatty transforming Will into an easily likable wingman for Brian. This all leads up a perfect conclusion, and one that is sure to warm many hearts (if the adorable little kids the film sneaks into the mix haven't done the job already!). If you're looking for a sugary sweet romance short to enjoy in a warm bed or over some hot chocolate, give Mistletoe a watch.
Score: 10 out of 10 sugar cookies.
Nice to Meet You:
Ironically enough, this short film from last year takes the concept behind a recently premiered Lifetime movie and instead plays it for holiday cheer. In it, we see teenage girls Nina and Kennedy (Marie Tagbo and Kierstyn Aug) meeting while taking a rideshare to do Christmas shopping--leading to an unexpected friendship forming between these two strangers. It's an incredibly uncomplicated plot, with much of Nice to Meet You's 7-minute runtime being spent on just watching Nina and Kennedy talk. On paper, you'd expect the film to be a total snoozer.
But thanks to the combined efforts of Tagbo and Aug (both of whom also had a hand in co-writing the film), Nice to Meet You becomes a harmlessly fluffy look at a surprise friendship blossoming over the holiday season. Tagbo and Aug share authentic chemistry as Nina and Kennedy become fast friends, and Kelsey Shryer (another co-writer) is effective as the girls' comically miserable rideshare driver. It may not be everyone's speed, but if you want a sweet and sentimental holiday short film that focuses on friendship rather than romance, Nice to Meet You fits the bill.
Score: 8 out of 10 math club rivals.
Cup of Kindness:
In the shortest film of this review set, two people both manage to experience the warmth that can be found in the holiday season, despite being miles apart. Like Mistletoe, Cup of Kindness is a film that has its strong cast to thank for how well its simplistic plot works at tugging heartstrings. While they never speak throughout the film, Patrick Stoffer and Rebecca Noble communicate incredibly effectively with their eyes and facial expressions, selling the emotions they each feel as the Christmas spirit touches them in different ways.
Despite its reported $5,000 budget, Cup of Kindness boasts an excellent musical score and cinematography, and the final twist adds another heartwarming fold to this short feature. For a quick taste of yuletide joy, take a sip from Cup of Kindness.
Score: 8 out of 10 Christmas bulbs.
The Last Day of Christmas:
In this Australian short film, an average night of Santa Claus (David Knijnenburg) making his present deliveries takes a turn for the worse. Initially, The Last Day of Christmas achieves the sort of black comedy that Adam and Steve seemed to be trying for, but ultimately abandoned. While this film also doesn't go all in on the cynical humor, The Last Day of Christmas's opening sequence is still memorably funny, with the highlight being the film's hysterically dark subversion of the "I Believe!" chant seen in so many children's stories.
The rest of the film goes for a more heartfelt tone, one which Tanya Schneider carries in her role as Mrs. Claus. While dropping the black comedy carries with it a bit of disappointment, The Last Day of Christmas's second half is strong in its own right thanks to Schneider's performance and the especially uplifting conclusion. The mash-up isn't perfect, but it proves far less frustrating than Adam and Steve's half-baked efforts and makes for a far more enjoyable watch.
Score: 8 out of 10 Santa lunchboxes.
For the final short film of this review set, we have a parody poking fun at the Hallmark Channel, namely their endless catalog of Christmas features. I'd say even the more die-hard fans of Hallmark have to acknowledge the blatantly recycled storylines and plot devices that appear on the channel. In First Snow, we watch as Brian (Anthony Cipollo) and Kylie (Rachel Keefe) bond and fall in love while partnered up for a vaguely defined work project.
While First Snow mostly sticks to having its characters snarkily point out the cliches and reused plot points found in many Hallmark flicks, there are a few moments of more original humor injected into the film. That, along with solid performances courtesy of Anthony Cipollo and Rachel Keefe, helps make First Snow a serviceable parody of the Hallmark brand.
Score: 6.5 out of 10 convoluted backstories.
While Adam and Steve got this list off to a bad start, the majority of the films covered here have been sweet-natured films that succeed in cultivating a sense of Christmas cheer. With hate and bitterness having the world and many of us in its grasp, films like Mistletoe and Nice to Meet You could definitely help raise the spirits of those struggling to stay optimistic. We may be in a dark place right now, but as long as there's hope, there's a chance to make it better. Be kind, stand strong, and remember that at the end of the day, love can conquer hate.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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