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25 Days of Bingemas, Day 24: ‘Reindeer Games Homecoming’

And before you ask, no. This is not the long-awaited sequel to the 2000 Ben Affleck movie.

Getty Images/Lifetime/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 24th day of Bingemas, we turn our cheerful spirits to …

What are we watching?

Reindeer Games Homecoming.

Where are we watching it?


Why are we watching it?

Because high school teacher MacKenzie’s determination to win her town’s annual “Reindeer Games” competition is put to the test when a famous movie star from her past returns home for the holiday.

How many Vanessa Hudgenses are in this?

On the 24th day of Bingemas, we remain in a Hudgens-less land. (Give her whatever she wants, Netflix—we need four of them!) In her stead, Sarah Drew—who you probably know from Grey’s Anatomy—is a more-than-equipped Lifetime heroine. Plus, Drew wrote this movie as well. (Weirdly, original holiday movies are often written by the actors who star in them … maybe that’s why so many original holiday movies are about actors.) I hope that she also had a hand in casting former Grey’s Anatomy co-star Justin Bruening, because that guy is great. There’s plenty to feel anxious about around the holidays, but running out of capable C-list stars to play hapless A-list stars in holiday movies simply isn’t one of them.

How believable are the lead characters’ ostensible careers?

Finally, our first true celebrity-comes-to-normie-town movie of Bingemas (and no, Justin Hartley playing James Patterson in a muscle tee does not count). Chase Weston is a big-time Hollywood actor who’s headed home to help his pregnant sister during the holidays. While in town, Chase is eagerly awaiting a call from his agent to see if he got a movie role that, as is frequently hinted at by the movie, he’s in competition for with Brad Pitt, and maybe George Clooney and Clint Eastwood too. Oh, to live inside the arrested development of original holiday movies’ popular culture, where you can still smoke cigarettes inside restaurants and dial up your dentist’s office whose number you know by heart.

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”?

Well, technically Chase and our heroine Mac already met-cute in high school. They seemed to have a kind of Haley James–and–Nathan Scott–in–One Tree Hill thing going on, where he was the popular kid and she helped him in science—but then oops, he fell in love with her genius and earnestness. But then something happened at the Science Fair in Poughkeepsie that ruined everything. Now Chase is back in his old high school where he finds his nephew being taught by his pretty former science fair partner, whom he hasn’t spoken to in over a decade. And other than the moment in which he pauses to wonder why she’s not currently performing an open heart surgery because she always said she would be a doctor one day, the spark reignites immediately.

Say, are these two opposites?

You know what I like about this movie? Chase Weston is a really nice guy! Like, exceedingly nice. Other than being 6-foot-4 with pecs like Superman and a face chiseled from marble, he’s just an earnest guy who likes to do a little acting blockbusters from time to time. He tells Mac some iteration of “I remember everything” more than once throughout the movie, and it’s really not fair to deploy the famous words of Pacey Witter on an unexpecting holiday writer. Chase and Mac are opposites in that he is mega-famous and she lives in a house that looks distinctly like a Best Western on the inside, but they’re both also smart and capable and immediately into each other. Their characters feel like real adult people, as opposed to sexy, sexy dolls shaped like adult people that some Lifetime god smashes together until they make TV-cinema magic.

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

Oh yeah, we’re hanging out in Harrison Falls, home of the 37th Annual Reindeer Games where Mac and her team of two elderly men are the five-time reigning champs. We soon find out those men are her father’s former colleagues from the fire station, because …

Who’s dead?

Mac’s dad is dead, and it is sad. She is still very much still grieving his death after leaving her residency to come back home and heal. Five years later, she still lives in his house and plays his game every Christmas with his former teammates as a way to feel closer to him. Or as she tells Chase, “I’m just desperately trying to keep him alive when he isn’t—he isn’t alive.” This movie about reindeer games really goes some places.

Is there any singing/crafting/baking/blogging?

And speaking of, let’s talk about these Reindeer Games. The stakes are very low! The games have been going on for nearly four decades, but for some reason only six teams are competing and the elimination process is very subjective. The first round is just a polar-bear plunge into the lake with no established way to win. There’s a round of ice sculpting that some novice teenagers are somehow able to ace, and a round of “Human Dogsled Derby,” which I think is a category on a website I’m not at liberty to link here. And finally, when it’s down to just Mac’s team and the team that Chase has been unwillingly drafted onto, it’s “Ball Hockey”—just gonna leave that one alone—which we barely see any of before Mac accidentally smacks Chase in the head and sends him to the hospital.

Is there a villain who sows discord?

There’s not a villain in this movie per se, but there is the looming specter of a business-sized envelope that Mac carries with her literally everywhere she goes, pulling it out to stare at every once in a while. When we find out that it was the last Christmas Eve letter her dad wrote her and that she hasn’t been able to open it since he died (I guess that means he died on Christmas day, adding yet another potential Christmas Ghost to our rankings), I knew I needed to start preparing myself emotionally. And yes, I did cry hot tears when Mac ultimately opened the letter and read how proud her dad was of her, but I also couldn’t have expected this letter to instruct Mac to “work hard, play harder” like some finance bro’s Sunday Funday Instagram post, nor for it to then immediately pivot to plagiarizing Mary Oliver. Dad’s are wild, man.

Does anything tip the scales from G to PG?

I’m pretty sure these two boinked. After a few close encounters, Mac and Chase finally make out on her porch, and then the scene just ends before we see him leave her porch. As in, they’re standing outside her door, and we don’t see her until the next morning. It’s not a lot to go on, but it’s at least an RBI during a Bingemas that has seen only two home runs.

At the end of the movie, does the title make sense?

I spent this entire movie thinking that the title was styled with a colon—Reindeer Games: Homecoming—and was therefore a sequel to either the terrible 2000 heist film Reindeer Games starring Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron, and Gary Sinise—or, more likely, to a Lifetime movie about a carpenter and a muffin entrepreneur who accidentally travel back in time to the 19th century advent of Ye Olde Reindeer Games. Since that turned out not to be the case, I find this title overly wordy, and I just have to say it: not enough Reindeer Games!

What is the meaning of Christmas, as stated by the film?

It really is a wonder big cities are so populated given the way people in these movies stay deciding to move away from them after six days, two kisses, and a crisis of conscience over ever leaving their hometown to pursue their dreams. But I have to hand it to Reindeer Games: The Remix when, after Chase falls in love with Mac, he’s all, “I never need to go back to LA, and I don’t even want to make this movie in Prague anymore.” To which Mac—not the heroine we deserve, but the heroine we need— is like, “I’m not much one for giving up autonomy forever, thank you.” This movie ends with Mac going back to her residency, Chase getting his big movie, and two people deciding to keep doing the things they love while supporting one another. Hell yeah, happy Reindeer Games from me, Sarah Drew, and (I still think) Gary Sinise!