Well Netflix is in the game now. What started last year with the release of ‘A Christmas Prince’ and ‘Christmas Inheritance’ becomes full blown in 2018 with the release of 4 more original Christmas movies made to compete with Lifetime and Hallmark. Fortunately, or unfortunately if you’re me, they didn’t get the memo that these movies are supposed to be terrible.
While I haven’t watched a Christmas Prince or its sequel, they’re really more of Laurie’s type of movie, and I was thoroughly entertained by the Christmas Chronicles until those creepy CG elves showed up and Santa went Blues Brothers, the Holiday Calendar piqued my interest. A magic advent calendar that predicts the future? That sounds one part promisingly zany and one part terrible! While I truly believe a worse network would’ve made something great out of this (oh wait they already did and used the much better title of ‘The Christmas Calendar’!), Netflix proves its might and deep pockets by making an adequately produced and averagely written movie you’ll forget as soon as the credits roll. As a side note, the other new Netflix Christmas movie, ‘The Princess Switch’ follows the other networks leads in taking a classic movie and setting it at Christmas; in this case, ‘The Parent Trap’. I may have to check it out.
Yes the Holiday Calendar is just average. It’s not good enough to be memorable but it’s also not bad enough to be memorable. It’s just …meh. It’s been a few days and can’t recall any of the characters names or anything more than the general outline. That’s not to say there’s not a place for generally good workmanlike movies. It’s just…it makes it harder to review when most things are competent. That’s not to say there isn’t things to make fun of though!
Abby Sutton (*double checks notes as that doesn’t sound right but sure let’s go with it*) works as a family photographer in a department store. She’s clearly on autopilot until Josh, her bff with a terrible haircut that somehow involves braids and a buzz cut, surprises her by being back in some nameless New Jersey coastal town. He’s been out of country for 18 months travelling and blogging about photography, a passion they both share and which Josh introduced to Abby. We learn her family photo job doesn’t feed her soul but does feed her body. Her manager Mr. Singh hilariously breaks up this reunion because time is money.
So a couple things to note right from the very first scenes. First: this movie features A LOT of dialogue. Its characters rarely shut up and are quippy and fast talking almost as if the screenwriter rummaged through Joss Whedon’s garbage and found and a discarded dialogue notebook and proceeded to use everything in there. Two: The actor who portrays Mr. Singh is one of the few who realized this should be a zany over the top movie. Three: there’s actually diversity instead of just of white people. And Four: it’s nice to have actual production values. Look actual winter! There’s no CG snow or bright green leaves still on tree’s! Raise that bar Netflix!
Back at Abby’s house we meet her blended family including her black father and white mom, along with her sister Sarah, brother in law, niece and grandpa. Her parents are pushy about her life choices and literally tell her photography is a great hobby but it’s not a career choice. Boy are they going to have egg on their face at the end of this movie! Josh also arrives at this family get together and Sarah cajoles Abby about her and Josh getting together. Abby tells her they’re just friends. Her and Josh also have this ‘thing’ where they fake take pictures of each other with their hands making camera noises and all. It’s supposed to be endearing but it’s just cringey.
Before her and Josh leave, Abby receives the titular advent calendar from her grandpa who says her dead grandma (always a dead family member, even Netflix can’t get away from the trope) wanted her to have it.
Abby drives Josh over to her apartment but before going in points out a studio for rent and wishes for it for Christmas. Normally i’d be mad at this telling rather than seeing but in the context of these blabbermouth characters I guess it makes sense. Abby gives a bunch of excuses about being burnt out and static for not going for her goals. Her real wish is to just let go and she’s so lost she’s debating leaving the bohemian starving artist lifestyle to join the family law firm. She then blames all the egg nog she drank for expressing her feelings…yet she was still driving a minute ago. Now clearly she’s not that bad off because her apartment is huge and well furnished. Josh admires and praises her new pictures she took while he was away but their literally just pictures of shadows. Seriously this girl is obsessed with taking photo’s of shadows.
Suddenly there’s a noise and they realize the advent calendar has fallen over. They pick it back up and try and open some doors but they’re all stuck shut. Oh well I guess it’s broken off to bed! That night the calendar lights up. It’s also clear as the movie goes on that it can’t seem to decide if the calendar is actually magical or just a regular calendar. It also doesn’t trust its viewers and resorts to putting “Day 1”, “Day 2” every time the calendar opens because deducing when it’s a new day is so very difficult. I will stoop to the same level out of spite:
DAY 1: Abby puts on her elf costume because now her job is going to be taking photos of kids with Santa. On her way out the door she spots that the calendar has opened and inside is a toy trinket of boots. At Santa’s village she learns that the extra help Mr. Singh had hired has been poached so she calls up Josh and his friend Fernando for help. They slow mo enter and “Dangerzone” plays…or at least it did in my mind.
For some reason they already have elf costumes. Also Fernando is the only other character to realize this movie should be zany. He’s got an accent, he’s excitable, he believes the best Christmas movie is “A Christmas Story” and the movie has a manic energy every time he’s on screen. Unfortunately he’s not important to the main plot or even the side plots. Damn shame.
Back in the talky main plot, Josh and Abby are at coffee shop where Josh gives Abby a Christmas present. It’s a pair of boots he bought for her while he was in Italy. Coincidence? Magic? Obvious giveaway of the ending?
DAY2: The calendar again has another open door, this time with a Christmas tree trinket. Abby tells Josh (and Fernando) about the boots trinket and that she got boots. She’s now on the lookout for Christmas tree related things and already believes the calendar is magic (it’s literally day 2 Abby, I know that because the movie told me so!). The three of them also agree to dress up and go see a screening of “A Christmas Story” when it starts playing next week.
On her drive home Abby runs over a tree that flies off a passing car. She gets out and banters witlessly with this handsome stranger. There’s some jokes about her killing the tree, but wait he killed it when he cut it, oh so he’s an axe murderer, she’s going to make a citizens arrests, etc and this is why I’m breezing through without trying to talk specifics of what’s said because there is JUST. TOO. MUCH. BEING. SAID! Anyways she gives handsome stranger her jumper cables to tie the tree down to his car.
DAY 3: This time the calendar has a nutcracker trinket. At this point Abby’s looking into the history of this future predicting advent calendar so she talks to gramps. Gramps tells her the story is her grandma found it in a shop in France. He met her crossing paths in front of the Louvre while he was on leave during the war. He tells her it’s just a calendar, what else would it be.
At her nieces school pageant Abby takes a bunch of photos which are to be sold at a later school auction. She also runs into handsome stranger and co-tree murderer whose real name is Ty. He’s a single dad of course and look out, his daughter Jess is dressed like a nutcracker! Her sister Sarah later tells her Ty is the most eligible bachelor at the school, all the moms always ways their best yoga pants.
Later that night Josh arrives at Abby’s apartment after an urgent text, she now thinks the calendar is haunted. Josh thinks she’s been drinking. He doesn’t believe the toys are predicting the future and agrees to wait up with her to watch the next door open. They fall asleep cuddling though because that’s just what good friends do. Also I just don’t feel the sexual tension that should be there if these bff’s are ever going to get together.
DAY 4: It’s a candy cane. Other than the boots these are literally so generic that they could be found anywhere Abby goes at this time of year. Point proven, there’s loads of candy cane columns at Abby’s work. Those of course get knocked down when a kid kicks Santa and Josh tries to stop him. Abby gets crushed by one and the movie abruptly ends… in my dreams. Instead she hurts her wrist. At the clinic wouldn’t ya know it Ty is also a doctor. He gives her a splint and tells her to take ibuprofen and a drink…which is not good advice but he actually was asking her out. He puts his number on her prescription which 1. She doesn’t need because ibuprofen is sold over the counter and 2. I’m pretty sure is frowned upon by the medical society. But it’s charming because the movie says so and they’re both so witty and fast talking that you don’t have time to think otherwise. Now I know how Rooney Mara felt in the opening scene of the Social Network.
When Abby returns to work she promptly gets Josh to agree to keep covering for her so she can go change for her date which is literally tonight. Is he even getting paid for this? They also do their cringey finger photo thing again, *bleh*. And here’s where the movie really gives away the ending; Fernando, the lovable oaf, goes over to Josh and says “there’s a guy? I thought you were the guy”. Josh tells him he’s just the friend. Clearly Fernando’s in on this.
On the date, Ty and Abby have hot chocolate instead of the expected alcohol. Abby tells him about her photography and the studio space she wants to rent. Ty talks about how he opened a clinic instead of becoming a surgeon like the rest of this family. Not once does Ty’s daughter Jess come up or his ex which is super odd but hey maybe he’s saving it for the third date. They also kiss at the end of the date and Josh see’s this and walks away.
DAY 5: The spell is broken on Abby and she decides not to look at the calendar this morning…the camera then shows us its skates rather than letting us discover on our own later. Abby’s out and about on her day off taking blurry photos of shadows again; this time it’s of people skating (those are seriously still photos and not me taking a picture of action in the movie, adjust your shutter speed Abby!).
Josh shows up to hear about her date and she says she’s seeing Ty again tonight. We then get a quick montage of Ty and Abby going skating for their second date.
Mercifully the movie decides it’s time to continue this montage and skip ahead a bit. I suspect this because Joss Whedon’s discarded notebook ran out of usable material. We get a couple glimpses: day 6 is a reindeer and Abby and Ty take a horse drawn carriage. Day 9 is carollers and at dinner Abby see’s carollers carol by outside the window. Again no sign of his daughter Jess or notes about who’s watching her while Ty’s out on the town. Furthermore these trinkets are still things you’d see literally everywhere everyday during December.
DAY 14: The trinkets a wreath and when Abby leaves her house she finds a giant wreath on her doorstep. It’s signed from Ty but the handwriting is legible which is not very doctory at all.
DAY 15: I’d like to point out that my initial feelings on the solid production values were maybe incorrect. The movie re-uses this same establishing shot of the town numerous times.
Abby has a quick conversation with Gramps where she tells him she’s not sure of Ty. They’re spending time together but she doesn’t feel like she’s getting to know him. Gramps flat out tells her he figured her and Josh would be together by now since he searched the world and came back.
At Abby’s work and Josh and Fernando’s unpaid elf internship they all agree Abby can dress up as the leg lamp for the showing of “A Christmas Story” tonight at 5pm. Abby totally forgot though, she has a date at 3pm with Ty! She tells them she’ll meet them at theatre at 5pm.
Ty and Abby’s date is to volunteer at the local homeless shelter serving turkey for dinner. There Abby meets some two nice hobo’s who let her take their picture. She’s already slacking off from volunteering but it’s a good thing because the nice hobos warn her about Ty and how he’s always bringing his dates to the shelter to show how nice he is. They tell her the most important past is how the other person makes you feel. Such wise hobo’s I wonder the trinket will be…But first, it’s 5pm! Abby and Ty rush to the theatre but the shows already started and it’s sold out. Abby is disappointed, her friends are disappointed, everyone’s disappointed…except Ty who gets to go to her apartment and probably thinks he’s about to get it on. Abby though is more in the mood to explain the advent calendar to him and how all the things have connected so far and today she got a trinket of the three wise men. She connects this to the hobos at the homeless shelter. Ty rightly points out that it’s likely all coincidence since these are Christmas related trinkets and it’s Christmas time. Plus there was only 2 hobos at the homeless shelter! Abby and Ty get into a fight over how many girls he’s brought to the homeless shelter, that’s she’s taking advice from hobo’s, and that while their dates have been post card perfect Ty isn’t real enough for her. Finally Ty realizes what’s happening and asks “are you breaking up with me over a calendar!?”. Yes she is. Oh and Gramps was the third wise man, clearly.
DAY 16: Again Abby doesn’t want to see what the calendar has for her but the movie shows us it’s a Turkey.
Abby apologizes to Josh for missing the movie and tells him she broke up with Ty. Just then Mr.Singh returns to tell them that the Mayors photographer has the flu so get your camera’s because you’re taking pictures of the Mayors tree lighting ceremony. Hilariously the mayor uses and Acme brand dynamite plunger to explode light the tree.
The mayor also wants to meet Abby and thank her for stepping up. She even mentions she needs some fresh images in her office and asks Abby to send her a link to her work. It’s the big break Abby has been looking for…except Josh accidentally deleted all the photos because he got distracted by a family (his words, not mine). This leads to Mr.Singh firing Abby and hiring Josh as her replacement which makes literally no sense as this was totally Josh’s fault, how is he getting promoted from unpaid elf intern to official photographer for screwing up?!! Even though Abby knows Josh didn’t do it on purpose she’s still rightfully pissed and asks for space. She even goes home and packs up the calendar and almost throws it in the trash before deciding to put it in her car.
DAY 17: Abby looks for a job on the legit made in the early 2000’s website ‘Career Interconnect’
DAY 18: Abby is literally watching Netflix’s the Christmas Inheritance. Is this some sort of Netflix Inception???
DAY 19: Sarah comes to visit Abby’s pity party and tells her she smells like Cheetos and sadness. She reminds her that her niece thinks the world of Abby and will be supremely disappointed if Abby doesn’t shows up with the photos to sell at the school.
DAY 20: Abby tidies up her apartment and then crops some photos.
DAY 21: Abby heads outside for the first time in like 4 days probably and immediately notices that the for rent sign at the Studio space she’d been eyeing is being taken down. She goes over to the landlord to inquire and he immediately becomes the second best character in this movie (Fernando is still #1). Basically he has glorious sideburns and one line that he delivers perfectly. Abby asks if it’s been rented and he says “If the deal goes through” and shrugs and walks off.
I have no clue why I find it so funny but it would only be better if he was played by StarBurns from Community.
Abby goes to the school to drop off the photos and her sister Sarah barks orders at a frightened mother to go get the stuff from Abby’s car. You see Sarah is the PTA president and is not shy of throwing around her power.
Abby also manages to recover 69 photos (teehee) from the SD card of the mayors tree lighting ceremony. She goes to give the SD card to Mr.Singh and discovers that Josh didn’t accept Abby’s old job, instead it’s some old lady who keeps the lens cap on her camera. Mr. Singh offers Abby her job back but she says no and that it’s time for a change. She decides to text Josh as she’s no longer mad and ask for forgiveness.
DAY 22: It’s the day of the schools auction! Abby arrives a bit late and runs into her parents who gasp in awe at her pictures. They’re so life changing and wonderful that her parents apologize for being hard on her and now recognize she’s doing what she need to do. It’s literally pictures of shadows, have they never visited her apartment??!!!
Sarah also needs to talk to Abby as she had decided, without consultation, to include a photo session with Abby in the auction and it was the highest bidder. She tells Abby she’s going to have a lot of work in the New Year. Is this town obsessed with pictures of shadows or something!?
Abby also runs into Ty and they actually handle it like adults which is super rare for a movie of this ilk. Abby tells him he’s a good guy, Ty tells her he was out line for making fun of her and her calendar and they go their separate ways.
Abby, who hasn’t received any texts back from Josh, decides to call Fernando to try and sneakily talk to Josh. Fernando is watching some random movie and blubbering like there’s no tomorrow. He tells Abby he’s not crying, he has allergies! Oh Fernando, you hilarious man child. He tells Abby that Josh is gone on a date because he saw him wearing his ‘date shirt’. You know, that one nice shirt every guy owns that he wears when he wants to impress someone? Fernando also concedes that Josh could be visiting his parents in Florida as it’s a very versatile shirt. Upon closer inspection, Josh’s backpack is gone so he’s definitely in Florida visiting his parents.
Abby goes to her car and realizes the magical advent calendar is gone. She discovers it was accidentally picked up and sold at the school auction to an anonymous buyer. Are we seriously supposed to believe that? This town seems pretty small, I’m sure it could easily be narrowed down just by talking to person who accidentally sold it.
DAY 23: Abby tries calling Josh to make things right but gets voicemail. She then gets a callback but instead of Josh it’s Mayor Martinez. Turns out she bid on the photo session with Abby and wants to do it today at her house! Since Abby is jobless she of course accepts and we get a quick montage of more diversity.
DAY 24: It’s Christmas Eve now! Abby tells Gramps that the advent calendar was accidentally sold at auction. Gramps is not worried and tells her it’ll find its way back to her and that her grandma thought it was magic.
DAY 25: yes that’s literally all we get of Christmas Eve which is shocking but again kinda refreshing since other movies would try and make it something big. So now it’s Christmas day and there’s a present at Abby’s apartment. The present is of course the calendar and it pops open door 25 to reveal a snowflake trinket. Somehow this makes Abby flash back to Josh being there on a few of the days with the trinkets matching up. Again, if you spend anytime anywhere the generic symbols of Christmas would be there, this doesn’t prove anything other than Ty was right to make fun of her! The calendars back also falls off and Abby discovers a note with an address and an 8pm meet time.
Back at Abby’s family house she accuses Gramps of being in on this whole calendar thing. Gramps admits he bought the calendar at the auction but won’t tell her if it’s magic or just fate. He tells her it doesn’t matter since you end up in the same. So wait, we’re to believe that Josh set this all up? Every trinket in the calendar he and Abby just happened to be around those symbols on that day. Sure i get the generic ones but what about the three wise men? The only one that makes any sense is the boots on day 1 and the wreath on day 14 except the wreath was from Ty right? But wait, remember how i commented Ty’s handwriting was not doctor-like at all? Well we get a glimpse of a note that Josh left for the Sutton family and it’s suspiciously close to the same handwriting as the wreath note. Did Josh really sign Ty’s name? What was the plan here?
Also did Josh plan to delete the photos, disappear to Florida and have the calendar removed from Abby’s possession for the last week? What if she actually just wants to be friends with Josh? There’s an uncountable amount of variables here and this is the least realistic part of the movie.
But I digress; we have a movie to finish here. Abby shows up to the address given and is dumbfounded to see it’s the studio space she’s been pining over. Don’t look so shocked Abby, you literally live a block away, how did you not at least have an educated guess as to where this address was!? Out pops Josh and they do that photo finger guns thing again *super cringe*. They kiss and Josh says they should get out of the cold and heads toward the studio. Apparently that kiss broke Abby’s brain though as she tells him they can’t break and enter. Well duh it’s not breaking and entering because of course Josh bought, not rented, bought the studio space. That’s a lot of confidence in this new relationship Josh. He tells her he’s actually quite a big deal in the travel world and not at all a starving artist. They both say “i love you”.
Flash forward a whole year and they’ve officially opened their studio and it’s called “Magic Calendar Gallery” which is just terrible; It’s not even the name of the film!
Anyways Abby’s family has gathered to drink champagne and take their annual family photograph. This scene is just bizarre because you keep expecting for Josh and Abby to announce their engaged or expecting based on all the other hallmark/lifetime Christmas movies but it never happens. Instead the magic advent calendar, which they display in the window, lights up. What does this signal? Is the calendar actually magic? If it’s a whole year later it’s already the 25th and the calendar should be done? They’re probably just leaving it open to a sequel that seems unnecessary at least with these same characters.
While it wasn’t really what I expected (again, see the Christmas Calendar for how this should be done) I was adequately entertained by ‘the Holiday Calendar’ in the tamest way possible. It’s a generic and well made which is sometimes a nice change from the usual laughable-ness of Hallmark/Lifetime movies. While ‘the Holiday Calendar’ follows the same tropes it grounds them in a place and characters that actually feel real (except Fernando). In the end though it proves what I’ve always known, I like my Christmas movies over the top and zany. That’s personal preference though, your mileage may vary.