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25 Days of Bingemas, Day 6: ‘Menorah in the Middle’

It’s a Hanukkah yarn featuring Danny DeVito’s daughter, blogging, and a terrible fiancé named—what else?—Chad

Getty Images/Hulu/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; its 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 the 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 sixth day of Bingemas, we turn our cheerful spirits to…

What are we watching?

Menorah in the Middle.

Where are we watching it?

Hulu.

Why are we watching it?

Because, per Hulu, “Sarah is headed back home to her hometown for Hanukkah with news of her engagement. Upon return she finds out that her father had a heart attack and things have gotten out of hand.”

How many Vanessa Hudgenses are in this?

No Vanessa Hudgenses star in this Hanukkah movie, but I did keep wondering about the main character, Sarah. “Who is this nugget?” I asked myself repeatedly. Then I checked IMDb and—BOOM!—Lucy DeVito, daughter of Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman! And in keeping with the “wherever you go, wherever you are, someone of the tribe ain’t too very far” theme—oh, sorry, that’s an actual line from one of the 400 original songs in this movie, but more on that later—Jonah Platt, who plays Ben, is the brother of Ben Platt, who played Dear. (Of course, I already knew who Jonah Platt was because original holiday movies are a warm second home for Broadway stars, especially former Fiyeros.)

How believable are the lead characters’ ostensible careers?

Ben is a photographer, one of the more straightforward careers I’ve seen in an original holiday movie. That said, at times he is described as something akin to a wartime photographer, but also maybe a fashion photographer, and even more confusing than that, he tells Sarah that he’s moved back to their hometown of San Viejo to help all of the small businesses that are struggling via … free photography, I guess? Someone in this relationship needs to get a regular job, because Sarah is apparently an “independent food blogger.” And you know what that means…

Is there any singing/crafting/baking/blogging?

Six days into Bingemas and we’ve finally got blogging on the board! We definitely see Sarah click a few keys on a few MacBooks, but it’s also unclear what exactly she’s up to on her food blog. Her family owns a bakery, but we never see her express any real interest in food, and we definitely never see her cook any food or create a recipe. Somehow, in this movie that is ostensibly about blogging, baking, and craftsmanship (see above), all three trades are completely overshadowed by more singing than I’ve ever heard in any movie, including a movie about a pop star trying to write a Christmas song to save their career or whatever.

This movie straight up has a troubadour. He opens the movie singing these words: “Sarah is the girl—a sweetheart, a pearl! Chad, the boy, he’s a goy. Her parents, Frank and Linda, and her brother Jake, they run the family business, the bakery—they bake!” Opening every holiday movie with a helpful lyrical overture is actually a tradition I could get very into—but it becomes increasingly less essential the next 18 times. Things almost circle back to being charming when the movie closes with the whole cast singing, but it’s just a reminder of what we could have had instead: Jonah Platt sing Ahavat Olam.

Does anyone almost kiss only to be interrupted?

Right as Sarah and Ben finally admit that they’ve always liked each other, and are about to kiss on the town’s dark and secluded makeout cliff, a guy just comes charging out of the woods playing a guitar AND SINGING ABOUT THEM KISSING. It’s not the troubadour, though; this time, they can see him; and he’s singing about events he could have witnessed only by spying on them through the trees. Now, I’m sorry, but a man charging into a lover’s lane unannounced and exhibiting strange behavior is literally a scene from Zodiac. But these knuckleheads in love are just like, “Guess we’ll put this convo on pause and scoot right past this totally normal guy to go see if your totally normal boyfriend has put a horse head in my bed yet.”

Oh, right. Have I not mentioned the even more looming danger of Chad?

Is there a villain who sows discord?

Naming this character Chad was not enough. He’s basically a live-action version of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, stomping around San Viejo, launching red flag after red flag, and seeming pretty consistently on the verge of a hate crime. The actor Cristián de la Fuente is Chilean and the writers were still just like, “Fuck it, we’re naming him Chad. At one point, a banker who Chad is working with to steal the family bakery for his own gain—uh huh!—spots Chad’s fraternity ring, and they chant in unison: “Alpha man, flourishes across the land, take that rich bounty, HOO HA!”

The worst part of this deeply strange but ultimately pretty sweet movie is that there is absolutely no explanation for why Sarah would date Chad. He is rich, sure, but he is also constantly disrespecting her culture, screaming at her childhood friend that he’s not family, and almost immediately upon arriving in Sarah’s hometown he starts trying to … usurp her parents? Stockholm syndrome them into taking his financial advice? Entrap Sarah into marriage and her family into forced bakery-servitude? It’s almost impossible to explain to you how terrible Chad is without first growing a mustache to twirl it villainously, so in order to save time, please just imagine that Andrew Tate is inside John Cena’s body and controlling him with levers.

Is there a building in disrepair, or a business facing financial ruin?

Chad has Sarah’s family right where he wants them because their three-generation-old bakery is struggling and they’ve only just discovered they need to pay the bank $40,000 in the next week. They make about an eighth of that in a week, so it’s all very Maccabean, as you can imagine. I just wish we’d spent a little more time looking at glistening challah and a little less time looking at Chad’s financial presentations.

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

Sagar, the Uber driver Chad hired to drive him around all weekend who he assumed didn’t speak English, has been listening in on all of Chad’s calls and ultimately exposes that Chad plans to sell the bakery after buying the building from Sarah’s parents. Mysterious man who ultimately shows up bearing gifts? Close enough for me!

Is there any magic?

I guess wishing on stars, fountains, ornaments, and literally any inanimate object you stumble upon during the month of December is more Christmas-coded, and Hanukkah is more practical. Because to muster up $40,000 worth of business, Sarah and Ben do not wish upon a pinecone, but instead call upon “Jewish geography”: contacting all their former peers to get their families to buy their holiday goods from the bakery. This little phone tree ultimately makes its way back to San Viejo’s hometown heroes: the Baum sisters, a.k.a. the Silverman sisters, Sarah and Laura Silverman. They’re sort of zany fairy-godmother types who swoop in, write Sarah’s dad a check to repay him for all the free pastry he gave them as kids, hire Sarah’s brother onto their show, and straight up make Sarah and Ben kiss like two Barbie dolls.

Any chance they just thought of this title and then built an entire movie around it?

Until almost the very last scene I would not have said that they came up with the title first. Because Menorah in the Middle is a perfectly functional title: there’s alliteration, it tells the watcher they’re likely getting a Hanukkah story, and there’s a small but not insignificant suggestion that Frankie Muniz might be there. But then they had to go and say the name of the movie in the movie, clearly wanting to justify its existence. “Menorah in the Middle” is apparently a “game” wherein the Baum sisters put a menorah between Ben and Sarah, and then when they remove it, they just … tell them they have to kiss? Oh, you Baum sisters, I’ll tell you what your movie’s closed captioning told me, which did not get a single Yiddish word right for the entire 90 minutes: “You’re a real mush.”