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 18th day of Bingemas, we turn our cheerful spirits to …
What are we watching?
My Christmas Fiancé
Where are we watching it?
Why are we watching it?
Because, after Maya wins a contest to study under a master chef in Italy, she finds herself on the payroll for another job entirely: pretending to be his fiancé.
I really don’t want to bring Vanessa Hudgens into this. Despite me throwing in some occasional critique into these write-ups, Bingemas is not usually a place of judgment. However, as a sort of moral imperative, I feel I must warn you: My Christmas Fiancé is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. It made Merry Swissmas look like Doctor Zhivago. At the end of these 90 minutes, I’m still not entirely sure what it was about. I just know that around the time Denise Richards started poisoning a woman who had just sent someone else into anaphylactic shock, I deeply considered dumping cinnamon into my eyeballs and blinding myself.
How believable are the lead characters’ ostensible careers?
With all the creativity that the recent boom in original holiday movies has brought along with it, I guess it is comforting to know that we can still churn out a true clunker. This movie probably cost more money to make than I will ever physically see in my lifetime, and it debuted on a reputable streaming platform—yet it still made me try to turn my ears off with the sheer power of my mind multiple times …
And it also touched on a few classic holiday movie tropes that we haven’t gotten from our more progressive Bingemas installments, such as a truly problematic meet-cute. You see, Penn is the head chef at a renowned restaurant inside the Florilege hotel; Maya is his employee, an American chef who won a contest called “Cash for Cuisine” which came with the opportunity to train under a master chef. Maya doesn’t like working with Chef Penn, who yells and screams and belittles her, but once he’s signed her training certificate (a thing!) she can work anywhere in the world. It’s all very Devil Wears Prada without the talent, stakes, or aesthetics.
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”?
In a harrowing bit of writing, Penn finds out that his parents are coming to the hotel for Christmas and they’re bringing along the woman they’ve wanted him to marry since he was six. “Think, man, think!” Penn exclaims, suddenly looking at Maya and informing her that if she pretends to be his fiancé then his parents can’t make him marry this other awful woman. Of course, they couldn’t make him—an independent 30 year old man with a job—marry someone either way, but that doesn’t matter. There’s absolutely no reason why Maya should agree to helping this awful man who screams at her, except that he tells her that if she does, he’ll sign her training certificate and make sure she leaves with all the connections she needs. “So you’re going to blackmail me?” Maya asks. “No,” Penn replies, blackmailing her.
Is there a villain who sows discord?
Penn first tells Maya that his parents are bringing “the snake” to the hotel with them, and when she assumes he’s describing a pet, he elaborates: “Ashley Symington Price … her initials spell ‘ASP’—hence the name.” This line is delivered with all the joie de vivre you could possibly expect from such a well-written bit. But the dude wasn’t kidding about ASP being a terror—this lady suuuucks. When she finds out that Penn’s (fake) fiancé was raised by her dad, she smirks and says, “A shame how so many marriages end in divorce these days.” To which Maya replies, “My mother died of breast cancer.” (Sometimes Maya is okay.)
Is there a building in disrepair, or a business facing financial ruin?
We soon find out that ASP came along on the trip because Penn’s parents have decided to buy the hotel and shut down the world-renowned restaurant at her suggestion. The movie never explains why Penn’s parents would do that, except for the fact that they clearly hate their son. And listen, I get it—Penn is very unlikable! This family is like the Equate-brand Roys. But Logan Roy would never trust the business acumen of a woman who says she’s going to evaluate the profitability of a kitchen and just … comes in and starts snapping photos with an iPad. ASP is no Gerri.
Are there inn-related hijinks?
Basically the entire movie takes place at the Florilege, the set of which appears to be made entirely of papier-mâché. It’s a bold move to set a movie at a fancy Italian resort, in this, the year of our lord Daphne—but if My Christmas Fiancé is one thing, it is vulnerable to criticism. Perhaps because the hotel is so fancy, and the people so devoid of charm, there are very few hijinks (except for the ol’ aforementioned double-poison). But the movie does attempt to give the effect of hijinks by playing twinkly music in the background of every scene from beginning to end. I am not exaggerating—literally, the entire movie is scored. The only time elevator music is not playing is when the sound design inexplicably rolls into “Silent Night” each time Maya talks to her dad on the phone. When Maya walks into the movie’s big Christmas scene, they play Canon in D Major … more commonly known as the wedding song. Penn, her fake fiancé, is nowhere to be found.
Is there any singing/crafting/baking/blogging?
Well actually, he can be found—at the hospital. Because despite ASP being a raging bitch to Maya for this entire movie, when she suggests that Maya bake Penn an almond cake as a treat, Maya is like, “Yes, absolutely, I will do that.” And then Penn—a man with a raging nut allergy apparently!—just eats the mystery cake, no questions asked! Yes, almonds—and presumably many other kinds of nuts—send Penn into immediate anaphylactic shock. But for some reason that hasn’t come up once after months of working together in a kitchen with Maya.
And that is most likely because Maya does not know how to cook. After Penn nearly suffocates and has to go to the hospital, Maya is forced to take over the restaurant’s Christmas dinner. She scraps Penn’s planned menu because the kitchen, for some reason, has none of the ingredients for it. It briefly seems like Maya is going to call on her southern roots to save the day. She mentions smoking pork for barbecue—a notoriously quick and adaptable process!—but the plate she ultimately serves is, I swear to you, the saddest, blandest plate of vegetables and the thinnest slice of (non-barbecued) pork you could possibly imagine.
With this, the hotel is somehow saved, and Penn chases Maya down in the street to scream at her one final time about how he loves her. “You have the most purest, kindest souls I’ve ever known,” he yells—and no, that is not a typo. That is exactly what the actor says, and this movie is just like, “Yep, we don’t need another take—print it.”
Is there a mysterious old man, and does that old man turn out to be Santa?
You guys, I think Denise Richards was Santa. In an utterly confusing movie, her presence is the most confusing of all … unless it was to draw in The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills fans who never got enough Denise Richards (unfortunately, that is the precise reason I subjected all of us to this). When she arrives at the hotel, they call her “The Countess.” She, an American, is old friends with Penn’s British family somehow. She exclusively calls Maya “Miss Maya,” and tells her she’s a good influence on Penn, despite not having exchanged one word with Maya prior to that statement. She’s spending Christmas alone with no explanation, and always takes dinner with Penn’s family, despite hating them. Her last act of the movie is to collude with the entire hotel staff in order to poison ASP’s wine, ultimately sending her into a farting fit as she flees the dining room. And for that I guess we actually do have to say thank you to Denise “Santa Claus” Richards.