The Christmas season brings with it its fair share of fluffy cinematic bobbins. Brightly coloured fare with a disgustingly saccharine message of family, or love, or the true meaning of Christmas, or some nonsense. And we love them for they are each and everyone glorious in their own right. Deck the Halls with Danny DeVito? Terrible film. Will I watch it every year? Of course, it’s cheerful dammit. The last decade though has seen the rise of the bitter, the emotionally disenfranchised. It’s all Bad Santa‘s fault. Everyone suddenly thought it would be terrible groovy to dump on the festive season. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, bollocks is it.
Setting its stall in this sour Christmas market is writer/director James Dearden’s Surviving Christmas with the Relatives (or Surviving Christmas or Christmas Survival). Preparing for a family Christmas in her deceased parents old home Miranda (Gemma Whelan) and husband Dan (Julien Ovenden) must overcome a series of “hilarious” and “dramatic” obstacles just to get through the whole blooming event. These annoyances range from Dan’s first son being committed after a psychotic episode brought on by drug use, Miranda’s sister Lyla (Joely Richardson) threatening to the house away and Lyla’s husband Trent (Michael Landes) alcoholism and womanising. So far a Ken Loach Christmas but don’t worry hilarity ensues with misunderstandings over vibrators, cooking turkeys out in the woods and cars being towed away.
That’s all just scratching the surface of the film’s story. For there is a story just no plot. The characters, of which there are many, are introduced quickly and then most largely forgotten about. Some appear on the peripheries to deliver a quick quip and some return to suddenly become the film’s solid focus for ten minutes before leaving again. The large cast and the unfocused plot leave you struggling to care the tiniest bit about any of the characters, let alone remember their names. There are so many annoying people with ultimately petty problems that it makes National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation feel like Sophie’s Choice.
Which is a shame because the cast put in committed performances. The script must have come across as some sort of festive chamber piece, like a less historical The Lion in Winter, to entice them all in. They are poorly served by a meandering narrative, poor pacing, and generally miserable atmosphere. Perhaps the greatest sin is the film has little to do with Christmas. Sure the music department seems to have bought a shiny new copy of Now That’s What I Call Christmas to tell us we’re watching a festive film but the big day is only used as a plot device to bring all of these miserable people together with their boring and self-deluded issues. One of the plot threads of a dissolving marriage seems to be solved by money being thrown at the problem which can all agree on is the true spirit of Christmas.
Dir: James Dearden
Scr: James Dearden
Cast: Julian Ovendon, Gemma Whelan, Joely Richardson, Michael Landes, Patricia Hodge, Ronni Ancona, James Fox, Sally Philips
Prd: Nick Hamson,
DoP: Matthias Pilz
Music: Hugo de Chaire
Runtime: 101 mins
Surviving Christmas with the Relatives is available on DVD and Digital now.