One Christmas Eve
Written by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Directed by Jay Russell
Ever have one of those crazy nights where all sorts of weird stuff happens, and then you pick up a bunch of new best friends and a dog? Sure, we all have many times, and One Christmas Eve celebrates that phenomenon with Christmas flair! One Christmas Eve is a comedy movie which I didn’t know Hallmark even did, but I guess so because here it is! One Christmas Eve is an uneven holiday film that jumps around tonally and has some major missteps, but also does a few things surprisingly well that worked out enough to win me over in the end.
Nell Blackmore (Anne Heche) is freaking out trying to ensure the first Christmas after her divorce is a magical one for her two children. Opera-obsessed bad singer Emma (Alissa Skovbye) and video gamer Alden (Griffin Kane) are less than worried that Christmas won’t be special, because kids will be kids. Cesar Cortez (Carlos Gómez) is a worker looking to get him and be miserable during Christmas break, only to find someone dumped a puppy in front of his store. With no one around as it’s late at night on Christmas Eve, he looks for a happy family to dump the dog on the doorstep of to pass the buck. He picks the Blackmores, but his attempt to flee after buzzing the doorbell is foiled when he slips on a sled and injures his leg. Nell suddenly has to deal with someone injured on her property while a mystery dog entrances her children.
Thus begins the troubles for the night, as they go to the hospital. Nell parks the van in the loading zone, thinking it will just be a minute, but ends up taking forever (as someone who has been to the ER several times, you should expect to sacrifice many hours waiting around). She also first meets Dr. Chen (Brian Tee), who will take care of the family during each of their visits tonight. Alden takes the dog for a walk and ends up falling down a hole in a building under construction. Emma wanders out to go find him, and their van gets towed thanks to Reggie (Kevin Daniels) the security guard. Thus as soon as Cesar is free to go to the hospital, they’re back, with Alden having a broken wrist and Emma having cold exposure. That was rather poorly executed, her coat gets caught on a fence so she just leaves it, and suddenly is hospitalized even though it doesn’t seem that cold, and she’s fine a short bit later.
Reggie feels guilty that Alden got hurt on his watch and ends up joining the crew, taking the family for a ride to where the van was impounded. But there are car breakdowns, literal highway robbers, a snowstorm, an incompetent tow truck driver, a night at a police station, fires, and more trips to the hospital ahead for the group before they can enjoy their Christmas.
One Christmas Eve‘s at its best when it’s not trying to be funny, but is more of a slice of life for the family and the people they encounter. The group forms a surrogate family through the various disasters, bonding through adversity. Reggie is alone because he followed his girlfirend across the country here and she summarily left him for someone she knew in high school. Cesar lives alone and his daughter is stationed in Afghanistan. Dr. Chen is also divorced, it’s implied his son lives with his ex-wife as he doesn’t stop by his own place at any time. All the characters have family that are seperate through various means. It’s nice they don’t try to sugarcoat the characters by making them all widow/widowers, but just real people who are in relationships that don’t always work.
I will give mad props to One Christmas Eve just because of the Dr. Chen character. A dreamy, desirable, and charming Asian man with a major role? This is like finding a unicorn! Hallmark’s original films tend to trend towards majority white leads. In fact, all 12 of their Christmas movies this year have white leads, this is the only one with a non-white in one of the lead roles, as Carlos Gómez gets just as much focus as Anne Heche. It’s also well-stacked with minorities in large supporting roles, easily besting all the other flicks this year in that as well. And while it’s obvious that One Christmas Eve set out to be diverse, the roles aren’t stereotypical roles and could be cast by any race with only minor changes to dialogue.
Unfortunately, some of the comedy in One Christmas Eve is a bit strained, so many things don’t come off as funny and fizzle out. There is also some weird editing, which jumps the tone of One Christmas Eve around and makes a few scenes confusing. The worst example is a scene where the son Alden is chasing after the Not Named Yet Puppy in a building that’s under construction. Thus begins a series of wacky slapstick events as Alden makes a big mess chasing after the dog. I think this was supposed to be played as humorous, as it had fun music. But it was more odd stunts than funny stunts, and not odd funny. It also culminates in Alden falling down a pit, which we discover after the commercial break results in him having broken a bone in his wrist. Which is actually not funny, especially since he’s alone in the building in the dark and cold for a while before being discovered. Injured children at the bottom of a cold dark pit is not Christmas hilarity.
Some of the dialogue that seems like missed jokes also feels like actual things people would say, like you are watching a real family interact instead of a movie family all spouting the perfect lines. It’s that sort of mix of feelings that kept me thinking about One Christmas Eve, because even if it isn’t a perfect film, it sure was memorable because of what did and didn’t work. Nell seems to have an aversion to dogs and is irrationally mad at the puppy, though she does risk her life to save it at one point. As her objections to the dog are delivered in tones that seem more exasperated than angry, I’m not sure if her not liking the dog was a running gag or just a mom that’s lost control trying to work things back together.
At TarsTarkas.NET, we judge films based on how well they accomplish what they set out to do. Thus a Hallmark Channel feature would be judged differently than a big budget feature. One Christmas Eve is a mixed bag of successes and failures, but does enough right stuff at the end that I can’t help but like it, and will end up bumping its score up a tad (please ignore the fact the scores may be meaningless and you should form your own opinions!) There are plenty of detractors, but some people aren’t happy at a Hallmark film unless it has angels running around. You could do worse than One Christmas Eve, a strange Christmas mutation that has a good amount of heart and bits to snark at. And anyone who has ever gotten angry because they keep replaying Christmas songs on the radio over and over will enjoy the eventual revolt against “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”!
Rated 7/10 (Time’s up!, we get to see a lot of x-rays in this movie, elevator rider, long-waiting patient, bye-bye car, daughter, wrap all the wall art!)
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