‘Tis the time of year when my background noise is nothing but rotating Christmas Romance movies. I’m not here to rag on the formula. We all know the formula — at the 1 hour 45-minute mark, the couple will break up. Then at the 1 hour 55-minute mark all their problems are solved. They make up and finally kiss with just one minute until the next movie starts. We know it, we’ve accepted it. There is no changing the formula.
What I want to talk about are three new movies this year that rose above the usual crop of eh, it’s okay for background.
- One is so awful it induces rage.
- Another has that small-budget B-movie adorableness that tries so hard you want to give it a cup of cocoa.
- And the last is honestly, truly a good movie.
Let’s start with the Hilariously Bad because those are the best.
The Royal Nanny — So Bad It’s Entertaining
Now I understand why every other royal movie invents a tiny European kingdom where everyone is inexplicably British. When they actually try to use the British crown the people couldn’t give two shits if their Prince is kidnapped and the idea that the Royals will Christmas in the conference room of a Hilton is a hard sell.
The Royal Nanny is set in another universe where there’s a King (who spends the entire runtime offscreen, I assume in a coma that absolutely no one in the news is concerned about. The Sun isn’t even trying to tie it to a sex scandal with a gimp). The heir is a princess with a husband who’s been shipped off to an undisclosed war zone, I assume because the Royals were trying to get ahead of a brewing scandal (the Gimp’s ready to talk to Martin Bashir). Finally, the spare—and our hero—is a manbaby.
I’m getting ahead of myself. This movie opens with our heroine Claire talking with her MI-7 partner (who she has the most chemistry with hence why he has to have a wife and kids). Suddenly, they stop and fail to stop a supposed threat to vague royal stuff. They intercept a present with a teddy bear. Inside of it are the security details for Kensington Palace from the 60s which for some reason is a big deal. I mean, I know the Crown is big into tradition, but you don’t update security details in sixty years? No wonder it was so easy for generic bad guys to get it.
For some reason, their leader—whom I’ll call O—decides that this means the terrorists plan to kidnap the crown princess’ kids. Do they tell her? Warn her security detail? Maybe put out the Brit version of an APB since they know what the terrorists look like? Of course not! Instead of contacting the Palace and working with the local police to find these terrorists, the only solution is to have Claire go undercover as their nanny.
This was sold as an ‘adorable moppets try to torture their nanny because they’re just such rascals’ movie. Yet, when our MI-7 agent rolls up, all she does is disarm a handful of pranks like a penny taped under a faucet. For being evil masterminds, these kids are really phoning in their pranks. They need to talk to a kid from the 90s. We’re then introduced to the hero Edmund via a bucket crammed full of spaghetti. Forget the pranks, I want to know how these kids managed to make so much spaghetti without a single person on staff noticing.
Edmund is the kind of hero where if you had to spend ten seconds with him in real life you’d want to strangle him. But in romance movies, his constant belittling of people just trying to do their jobs is considered charming. He’s been helping these children sabotage numerous nannies. Since the best the kids can come up with is menial pranks that’d get a vague sigh, all of the abuse cruel enough to send women fleeing from a lucrative job has to be coming from a spoiled prince.
Wow, so romantic.
Ignoring the horrific treatment of the help, Edmund himself does have character (a rare find for most male leads). While the two leads do get to spend a few minutes here and there together, they keep getting interrupted by the plot.
This movie has so much plot.
There’s a (take a deep breath): terrorist group, nannying bratty kids, winning over the kids, falling for the prince, potential kidnapping, useless boss, chasing terrorists, father in a warzone missing Christmas, blaming the prince for kidnapping his niece and nephew, buying Christmas gifts for the princess, actual kidnapping, twist villain, umbrella kung fu, warehouse fight, and more.
Balancing plot with the burgeoning romance can be a tricky challenge within the formula. This movie just laughed at the idea of balancing either and plowed through like a drunk snowmobiler careening off a mountain.
Spoilers if you at all care about spoilers!
Instead of the kids getting kidnapped, they grab Edmund for no good reason given the twist villain. What had me cracking up was that the Prince of England is kidnapped and absolutely no one outside of the three MI-7 people gives a shit. There’s no news reporting, no police, and absolutely nothing shuts down. Life continues on as always.
Boy, this other universe England really hates their royals.
The King’s in a coma!
The Prince is kidnapped!
But I’ve got to make my Christmas pudding, so…
Can we talk about the twist villain? It’s like someone watched Spectre and thought “Yes, that is a coherent and brilliant plot. I must steal it.” I still cannot understand how kidnapping any royal will get the closet agency any money.
The chemistry between Edmund and Claire is burning a peanut in a calorimeter. They have some cute sparks that quickly fizzle out because here comes more plot.
If you want a silly, cute romance stuffed with so much plot it’s leaking out of the sides, check out The Royal Nanny.
Haul Out The Holly — Deep Hurting
Have you ever wanted a Christmas romance where every single character is so toxic you begin to suspect the heroine has been tricked into joining a cult? Then try Haul out the Holly!
This movie opens with kid Lacey Chabert (I don’t remember the characters’ names and frankly it doesn’t matter. It’s Lacey playing the same character she’s done for the past five years on Hallmark) waking up on Christmas only for her parents to ditch her. See, they’re just so much into CHRISTMAS that they don’t give a shit what their daughter wants to do for Christmas. After all, if you aren’t celebrating loudly in the streets are you really keeping baby Santa in your heart?
As someone who grew up in a house where one of my parent’s hobbies was forced on the rest of us, my hackles shot straight up. The constant browbeating, forcing the child to participate no matter how much they don’t want to, taking away all of their free time in the name of family—is it any wonder a grownup Holly wants nothing to do with Christmas?
I’m surprised she didn’t move to a deserted island just to get away from her parents and their Christmas fascism.
You think, that has to be the worst of it, right? The parents will realize why they pushed their child away and learn from their ways?
Oh, you sweet, hot cocoa child.
Adult Lacey, who’s falling into a depressive episode from a breakup, is cajoled into coming back to her home at her parent’s bidding. Except, once she arrives back in the Stepford Christmas special, her parents ditch her to go to Florida. Why didn’t they say anything to her on the phone? Because they’re selfish narcissists who don’t see their daughter as anything beyond an extension of their interests! Oh, they try to sell it as a trick to get her to fall for the lead, but I know the truth. I’ve lived it.
At this point, I was shouting at Lacey to get out of there. To go literally anywhere—Vegas, Chicago, Mars! Just get away from their manipulation so you can control your own life.
Too late because it’s time to introduce the hero, who I will call Mirror Universe Grich. MUG is if, instead of hating Christmas, the Grinch made the holiday his entire life and forced every single person to celebrate according to his specifications. MUG is the kind of guy who will require you to put a four-foot Nutcracker on your porch or force you to do community service. (Yes, that really happens in the movie. WTF?)
Not Christian? Can’t afford a child-sized plastic nut-biter? Dealing with chemo and don’t have the energy to string a thousand lights on your garage? MUG doesn’t give a shit! If you live in this Christmas Nightmare Neighborhood you are required by HOA law to deck your halls like Mainstreet Disney. (I really want the follow-up where a Jewish family sues the shit out of this place)
My hackles are replaced with goosebumps at this point. Every single resident is obsessed with Christmas. As obsessed as MUG, if not more. This is not normal. Every neighbor spends the entire week before Christmas devoting all hours of the day to cookie contests, Christmas song Kareoke, CGI snowman builds (Seriously. The snowman they build is so obviously CGI your eyes will bleed peppermint). Do these people not have jobs? Lives?
This is a cult. This is a Christmas cult. Whoever isn’t crammed full of Christmas cheer by December 25th will be bound with holly to the altar of snow ad sacrificed to the Yule God. Run, Lacey, run!
Alas, she doesn’t run. Her parents learn nothing. MUG is rewarded by everyone celebrating Christmas his way and no one overthrows his tyrannical rule. And poor Lacey…she is sucked in, forced to live in her parents’ old house (because a freelance copy editor can afford the taxes on a Utah mansion), and will have to celebrate this extreme version of Christmas every year until the day she is sacrificed.
This movie is Midsommer with hot cocoa.
A Holiday Spectacular — Earnestly Endearing
Do you care at all about the Rockettes? That’s okay, I don’t either and I still really liked this movie.
This movie is if Beatrice from Bojack Horseman had skipped her debutante ball to become a dancer and I am here for it.
Maggie is a rich young woman during the nebulous 1945s-60s. Her parents have picked her fiance, her future, and expect her to be happy to live in her little box without going mad. Maggie’s only outlet is dance and, on a whim, she tries out for the Rockettes.
She doesn’t get it. Kidding. She’s chosen, but her parents expect her to sit in her room sighing happily about wedding planning until it’s time to pop out babies. So Maggie hatches a plan to head to New York to stay with her cousin who married well under the pretense of doing wedding stuff. I guess rich people need to devote months and months to picking a wedding dress.
There is a brief fish-out-of-water moment as Maggie arrives at the Rockette boarding house and is stuck outside with her huge piles of luggage waiting for a non-existent doorman. Instead, she meets our hero John.
John is your standard male lead with a chiseled jawline and the personality of wood. Though, they sure do give him the weirdest backstory. He’s taking a photograph of modern tinsel stuck to a lampost. Maggie’s unimpressed, but come on, this proves the existence of time travel. Why is John the only person to realize this?
He says that he’s in the Navy, takes pictures for the Navy, but also works for his parent’s sandwich shop and wants to go to college to be a journalist. So far John’s claimed to have four different jobs at once. I’m so confused about the Navy part while he also works for his parents. There’s no mention of him being on leave or why the Navy has a dedicated photographer who I assume takes pictures of the sub sandwiches.
Writing Advice: If your hero has four jobs, maybe cut one.
Thankfully, the movie bypasses the easy clichés of rich girl doesn’t know how to boil water, or all the girls hate her because she’s just so special, or even she’s not as good as the others and they have to prove themselves by Christmas. It knows to focus on Maggie slowly realizing that she isn’t just dancing for one season, and wants to break free of the life she didn’t get to choose. Even John gets a little bit of character growth as he too finds his spine to narrow down his four jobs to one.
Unlike The Royal Nanny, which has me convinced MI-7 are three people working out of a hotel room, there are some lavish sets for A Holiday Spectacular (and no creepy CGI snowman in sight). The dance scenes are quite vibrant and have that big Broadway feel instead of a tiny dance studio in Utah.
If you’re looking for a Christmas romance that simmers against the status quo and is lovely to look at, check out The Holiday Spectacular.
If you want to watch an adorably confusing train wreck of a plot but with actors giving it their all, try The Royal Nanny.
For the love of god, flee from Haul out the Holly lest the cult gets you too!