clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

25 Days of Bingemas, Day 17: ‘A Hollywood Christmas’

It’s about time we got a movie that stages holiday ‘Inception’

HBO Max/Ringer illustration

The Ringer’s 25 Days of Bingemas is a guide for people who love original holiday movies; it’s a guide for people who hate original holiday movies; it’s a guide for people who occasionally watch these movies and want more; it’s a guide for people who never hope to watch these movies but would like to watch one writer descend into madness as she attempts to differentiate between 25 unique forms of holiday magic, 12 different fake countries, and eight different male leads who make you wonder, “Wait, is that the guy from Mean Girls?” (It isn’t, except for that one time when it is.) Every day for the next 25 days, Jodi Walker will feature one of this season’s 169 original holiday movies, answering a curated series of questions in order to showcase the genre’s masterful formula, the dedication to chaos, and the commitment to consistently widowing lumberjacks that launched an entire genre of TV movie. On the 17th day of Bingemas, we turn our cheerful spirits to …

What are we watching?

A Hollywood Christmas.

Where are we watching it?

HBO Max

Why are we watching it?

Because, per HBO Max, “A director of Christmas movies finds herself living in one in this holiday romantic comedy with a clever movie-within-a-movie twist.”

How many Vanessa Hudgenses are in this?

No Vanessa Hudgenses star in this movie, and until I watched it, I had never heard of the people who do. I don’t know where HBO Max found Jessika Van and Josh Swickard, but I don’t care—put these two together in everything. Make them the Timothée Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan of low-budget holiday movies. I want to see Jessika Van and Josh Swickard snowed into cozy inns and saving Christmas pageants together. Make him the small city boy and her the big city girl next. Hell, put them in a medium-sized city—put them in Duluth! In a sea of Pretty Little Liars and Hallmark hunks that my heart already held a candle for, it was nice to be surprised by some new talent whose eyes are constantly sparkling with Christmas magic.

How believable are the lead characters’ ostensible careers?

Jessica is a writer and director of Christmas movies, which, according to the last 17 days of my life and the 100 Christmas movies Jessica estimates she’s seen in her life (get your numbers up, sis), that is very much an ostensible career. Equally believable is Christopher, the TV exec who openly admits that he moved from hedge funds into Hollywood finance simply because he went to prep school with the network head. Also, by the end of the movie—even after completely bungling the numbers—Christopher landed himself a gig as movie producer by way of smooching the movie’s director. I’d be mad about it, but I simply can’t be angry at the unexpected Chris Traeger-y enthusiasm with which Josh Swickard has chosen to play this bean counter.

Are there any fake towns, or perhaps a whole fake country?

Oh baby, we’re not just anywhere, we are on the Warner Bros. Studios lot. And while it’s a lot of fun to feel like kids let loose in a fancy department store we don’t belong in, by the end of the movie I could have used a field trip to almost anywhere else—a loft with exposed brick, a childhood home in disrepair, a retirement home with wise elderly grandparents to remind us of the meaning of Christmas. So help me Santa, I think I wanted more of this movie?!

How problematic is the meet-cute on a scale of “one saved the other from falling in a snowbank” to “one is the other’s boss and they fall in love on a work trip”?

If you haven’t noticed by now, this is a Christmas movie about the making of a Christmas movie. And in fact, when I fired up HBO Max, an ad for this Christmas movie about making a Christmas movie played before I watched the Christmas movie. Luckily, I had my totem handy (a hard copy of the Ghosts of Christmas Always cheat sheet) and was able to keep my sanity intact in the face of IRL Inception as I witnessed this meet-cute: On the first day of filming the movie-within-a-movie A Cupcake Christmas, one of Jessica’s extras can’t stop sneezing, so she pulls a similarly dressed extra into the scene. Only he wasn’t an extra! He’s a new exec at the network, and he’s come to Jess’s set to introduce himself and personally tell her that … the network has new management, it’s shutting down the Christmas movie division, the contract for her next three Christmas movies is void, and he’ll be overseeing things on set for the remainder of filming. He is immediately enamored with Jessica and Jessica cannot stand him—perfect.

Say, are these two opposites?

Uh, yeah, have you ever heard of a gal who loves Christmas and a grump who just doesn’t get it?! Well, Christopher isn’t exactly a grump, but he is a numbers guy, and he says the network is predicting better numbers on nuanced thrillers than predictable Christmas movies. And Jessica is the type of girl who informs him that the predictable nature of Chrirstmas movies is “a feature not a bug,” because I guess she thinks she can do my job better than me. (She can and she does.)

Is there any magic?

There are about 10 different shades of Chirsmas magic in this movie, but the most consistent one is the magic of meta messaging. Discovering that you’re living out a real life Christmas movie while filming a Christmas movie and identifying all the common tropes that arise throughout isn’t a gimmick that could work a bunch of times … but it is a gimmick that works this time. We’re watching Jessica fall in love with a big city businessman trying to shut down her passion project, while she directs a movie about a big city businessman trying to shut down her heroine’s bakery. And it’s all happening in a movie that’s airing on a platform that is literally and actively shutting down its own heroines. This is three dimensions of meta, and you can choose to enjoy it on whichever level of simplicity you’d like.

Is there a child who’s wise beyond his/her years?

Calling Jessica’s assistant Reena a child is no shade to Anissa Borrego, who is fantastically strange in the role (and already has a fancam—respect), but I can only assume she’s been intentionally styled to—how can I put this—give elf. Sometimes Christmas movies are clearly made in order to accommodate a punny title, but A Hollywood Christmas feels like someone watched Community and was like, “That thing where Abed is always narrating the plot mechanics of what’s happening within the show—let’s light that up with a candy cane and make movie magic.”

The moment Christopher walks on set and starts sparring with Jessica, Reena excitedly identifies what’s going on here: Jessica is starring in her own Christmas movie (in July). “Big-city boy meets small-town girl; they have conflict; small town charm wins out over the cruel corporate world; the lovers use Christmas magic to save the day and fall hopelessly in love,” she explains matter-of-factly. And she’s right. Slightly less predictable is Reena becoming an angry elf over an unexpected rewrite in the movie-within-a-movie revolving around keto cupcakes. But I get it—I, too, am angry about keto cupcakes.

Is there a villain who sows discord?

I just wanna know what A Hollywood Christmas knew and when it knew it. Theoretically, classic character actress Missi Pyle, who attempts to shut down the production on A Cupcake Christmaswhile it’s filming—is the villain of this movie. But considering that HBO Max’s parent company Warner Bros. Discovery is currently disappearing many of its own original series from the platform and already shut down The Minx mid-production, one can’t help but feel that they’ve cast themselves as the villain too. It’s bold! It’s strange! It’s an enigma wrapped in tinsel and (no) cash!

Is there a mysterious old man, and does that old man turn out to be Santa?

When everything starts to fall apart with the movie, Reena insists that Jessica has to confront her character flaw in order to release the Christmas magic that will ultimately save her failing movie in disrepair. Jessica finally cops to being a perfectionist, which is not what Christmas is about, and then a door on set opens and a shadow casts across the crew: It’s Santa. Supposedly he’s the Santa that was hired for the movie, but if so, he’s extremely method. He’s entertaining the sandbags dressed in puffer jackets because the movie didn’t have enough budget to hire child extras; he’s quite literally ho-ho-ho-ing while Christopher nearly kills him in a golf cart to get him to set on time. And with a tap of his nose, he makes it snow—for real snow—on the Warner Bros. lot right when the movie’s snow machine breaks. Because as a grumpy big city executive once said, “Christmas magic is like snow in L.A.—there’s no such thing.” Ho, ho, ho, happy Hollywood.