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I guess I just like liking things

Friends, it is upon us. We are now in December and there’s nothing you can do about it. The year is hurtling to a close, and all those New Years Resolutions you made last year can be recycled for this year because let’s face it – you didn’t stick to them. The other thing about December is that there’s a little thing on which you may have heard about – Christmas. This small festival has really gathered steam over the past few years, and there’s even movies about it now. In the spirit of the season, I’m watching them this month.

Barry Bostwick is in this. As a certified fan of Rocky Horror, I can only say “Yay!” That’s two Brad Majors’ we’ve had in Dire DVD land. I’m easily excited. Shelley Long is also in this, and while I quite liked her in Cheers (which is a contentious opinion around here, I’m sure Mark has a thing or three to say about it) I can’t say I’m overall a fan.

According to the notice at the start of the film, this was “Inspired by a true story.” I’m going to just say right now “No, it wasn’t.” It’s Summertime in suburban America. Lawns are being mowed, people are sunbathing and kids are playing street hockey. A rental sign is removed from a house and a red suited chap starts to decorate his lawn with light up festive ornaments, live reindeer and fake snow.

As the removalists drive off, Santa looks around at his magical Christmassy wonderland. The local kids who were playing hockey swarm into the front yard. Although they all look old enough to have given up the Santa thing several years before, they all believe very much in Santa, except for one kid who says there’s no Santa. Santa reels off the kid’s name, address and date of birth to prove he is real. Santa makes the kid (Tommy. Who is ten, and lives 5 blocks away. I feel creepy knowing this) say he believes in Santa. As soon as he does, the cardboard reindeer on the roof light up and all the festive stuff in the garden shoots glitter or snow or something. The kids are invited in to look at the garden, but the neighbours are all outside glaring at the crazy man who thinks he’s Santa.

We cut to the town hall, where Shelley Long is protesting the building of fast food outlet in the town’s historical section. She sounds a little drunk. In order to explain why the historical district shouldn’t have a McDonalds, she rambles on about golf courses. This comparison impresses Barry Bostwick, who’s sitting in the back row taking notes. Shelley is so convincing that the grumpy judge sides with her, and the fast food people don’t get their permit. All the townsfolk pump their fists.

Outside the courtroom, Barry is shouting his article down the phone to the newspaper because he is a reporter. Shelley is wandering around looking smug and pleased with herself for protecting the town from terribleness. The pair chat, they have a sassy flirty relationship but can’t date because Shelly is a City Attorney and Barry writes about politics. Oh well.

Not only is Shelley (they’ve given her a character name but I’ll stick with Shelley) a fighter for a better town, she’s also a mother, and the mother of Tommy at that. I’m guessing she’s a single mother, because flirting with reporters when married isn’t really a “Christmas Movie” thing. She’s in a meeting with a guy who wants to redevelop the old railway station into .. something. Jobs and retail. Shelly is all “Nope, community centre with women’s shelter.” We are establishing that she’s a caring, sharing sort of a person even in the face of big business.

Shelley returns home to her Mexican maid and her son, who is full of excitement about having met Santa. Shelley is distracted by a tin of tomatoes however, and Tommy gets sad faced because his mother never listens to him. “I’m trying to make dinner!” says Shelly, which is a total lie because the maid is doing that. Shelly explains that her job is pretty important, but Tommy is over it and shuffles off to do his homework in a sulk.

Here we see Barry Bostwick at the exact moment he realises he's in a tedious Christmas movie

Here we see Barry Bostwick at the exact moment he realises he’s in a tedious Christmas movie

Barry has turned up at Santa’s house to interview Santa for the paper. Santa ushers him inside all cheerful and friendly. The inside of the house looks like a department store Christmas set up exploded violently. Barry’s done his research, and knows Santa’s real name is Robert George, but Santa says that’s an old name and now he’s just Santa. He used to be a barber, but now he’s just Santa. How he is supporting himself is not made clear.

Santa says he’s all festive in June because people need love all year round, not just at Christmas, so he’s trying to promote the joy of the season even in the summer. He’s wearing the full suit in the Summertime, so I’m guessing his aircon is amazing. He’s wrapping gifts and being cheerful. He has plans to open Santa’s Dreamworld so that children can be in a perpetual state of Festive Excitement all year long instead of just for the last bit. I wonder what ol’ Shelley of the Preserving the Town will say to that.

The article appears in the paper and Tommy is happy and shows the maid, who is happy for him. Shelley is not happy, because her son has been in the garden of a strange man and she’d have known that earlier if she weren’t a terrible mother who cared more about town planning than her own son. Bad Shelley Long, Bad!

It's this face, or a tight smile. You get no in-between

It’s this face, or a tight smile. You get no in-between

In the main street, the traffic is somehow in gridlock. It’s supposed to be Small Town USA, so maybe everyone just gets together for a traffic jam every morning to kick the day off right. Anyway, there’s a couple of kids wandering about the traffic, so Santa stops his car to help them. She’s all the way across the road, so Santa walks the kids over to her. Once the kids are back with Mum, Santa starts to direct traffic but is swamped by people asking for his autograph. The cops have to move him on. Shelly is so unhappy about this whole thing that her face has taken on a sort of perma-disdain. Her voice has attained a high pitched monotone which is quite irritating. She tells Tommy and his two friends that Santa is a weirdo and she doesn’t want them hanging out with him anymore. While she’s on a high powered call to the office, the boys get out of the car to go talk to Santa.

Tommy and Shelley have a heart to heart in the middle of the street, and it turns out that while Shelley is campaigning to be Mayor, Tommy just wants his Mum home when he gets in from school. Shelley goes all heartbroken, and the music goes all violiny. Shelly looks at all the people swamping Santa, all of whom are over 40. She turns away, revealing that she’s standing in front of the “Friendly Wig Shop” which for some reason has made me laugh and laugh.

At the council offices, Shelly is striding around like a busy career woman, and making decisions about what she will and won’t support. Her PA tells her that she could be a Congresswoman if she plays her cards right, and maybe go all the way to the very top. Shelly pulls a face which could be “You’re crazy” or it might be “I know it!” or.. it’s a face anyway.

There’s a crowd at Santa’s place, the nation’s media has arrived to do stories about the guy, and the front yard is full of kids getting overly excited about plastic reindeer. The kids are also swarming inside the house, which is a wonderland of tinsel. Over the road, the neighbours have found a used diaper on their lawn. They blame Santa’s wonderland because of the crowd, which is probably a fair point. The guy throws the diaper in the bin, but his wife points out that the garbage trucks can’t get into the street because of the traffic. Santa is making everything terrible.

Barry’s back to do a follow up story for the paper. Santa takes him inside to look at the scrapbooks. They’re not actually scrap books, they’re photo albums but let us not pick nits. They are fill of photos of Santa with various US Presidents going back to JFK. He’s also got a shot with Elvis, but no one bothered to poorly photoshop that one so it’s not shown. They also haven’t bothered to try and make him look any younger in any photos, so I assume the guy has looked 75 for his entire life. Santa was a barber, but felt that cutting hair and shaving chins wasn’t going to make the world a better place, so now he’s Santa. I condensed that a bit for you. Barry is warmed in the heart region and takes the albums to do something with. Something newspaper related, probably.

Shelley is striding through City Hall again, on her way to the door. Her PA reminds her they’re having an important dinner with an important person, but Shelly needs to spend time with Tommy and can’t attend. Her PA talks her into going anyway because it’s more important to be seen doing important things with important people.

She gets home later to find Marguerite the maid picking up a vast amount of discarded clothes from the entry hall. Why there’s so many dirty clothes in the entry hall I do not know and don’t wish to ponder. Santa has been calling Shelley all day. Tommy dashes down the stairs on his way out to see Santa, but Shelly says he can’t and offers to take him out for ice cream. Tommy says no, he’s had dinner and we all know that no 10 year old boy would want ice cream if he’s already had dinner. Instead of ice cream, says Tommy, why doesn’t Shelley go with him to Santa’s house? No, says Shelley, because she’s whiny and serious and has no time for whimsy.

The next morning, City Hall is full of outraged people doing I Am Outraged In A Movie acting, lots of shaking of fists and babbling. They are the people who live near Santa and they want something done to stop the silliness. The traffic is terrible! The music is terrible! The reindeer eats garbage and the snow bursty thingy bursts too much snow. They’ve written up a petition to have him stopped somehow (presumably not killed, but you never know). Shelley suggests they all go and talk to him, but the angry mob pays taxes which means they don’t have to do anything for themselves.

Shelley is off to shout at Santa. In deference to the reported traffic issues, she drives, stopping her car in the middle of the road. Smooth move, Shelley. Barry’s hanging out in the front yard again with his notebook, because apparently he doesn’t’ report on politics any more. Shelley has brought the police to tow cars away and is all stern and grinchy. To be fair though, it’s June. I’ve complained about Christmas stuff going up in September, so I can totally see her point.

Barry joins her as she walks up to the door and accuses her of being a Grinch. Too late Barry, I already said that. Santa is pleased to see Shelley, but she rattles off a list of violations and tells him to leave town or stop his festive explosion. She returns to the car, but sees Tommy on the street. “My mother shut down Santa Claus,” he says, and he and his friends ride off on their bikes with expressions of sorrow. Shelly looks at Santa, Santa looks and Shelley, the music goes all heartwarming and then she leaves.

Now there’s a bunch of people at City Hall with oddly professional looking picket signs, demanding the return of Santa. Shelley’s PA is furious that Shelley went in person to close down the Santa house. It looks terrible for her Mayoral Election campaign. In order to save it, says the PA, they have to give the guy the railway station. How this will help I do not know. The PA goes off to tell the guy he can have the building and Shelley looks at a photo of Tommy on her desk. Violins play. Barry turns up to ask Shelley out to dinner again, but she refuses. He promises to write a piece on her side ofthe story and she agrees to dinner in order to set the record straight.

Santa turns up at Shelley’s house to see Tommy, who apologises for what his mother did. Santa tells him something about mothers being important or whatever, and then asks him to come along to deliver presents to a retirement home. Tommy is up for the adventure, but Marguerite stops him. Santa solves the problem of Tommy not being allowed to be with him by taking Marguerite with them.

Back at the house, Shelley is cooking dinner in her usual way, which means waving pots around and messing around with ears of corn. Tommy and Marguerite get home and tell her they’ve been out with Santa, so she goes from lovely smiley mother to Grinchy face mother in a split second. Tommy is ruining her chance to be Mayor by being with Santa, and she won’t stand for it. She offers to shoot some hoops with Tommy but he’s too upset.

Santa’s house has been stripped of all the decorations, and a big sign has been posted on the lawn to tell people they can’t loiter on the property. There’s a lady on the porch with a sickly child in her arms who’s come to see Santa. Rebecca, the sickly child, has managed to get the strength to meet Santa even though she’s terribly sick. She’s got lots of dark make up under her eyes and big sad puppy eyes, so she’s probably got something serious. If you’re wondering what that sound is, it’s your heartstrings being punched. Santa takes her and her mother inside to do cheering up, and the neighbour over the road videos them going inside because Santa isn’t supposed to have people in his house. The neighbour guy calls the cops.

The inside of the house is just as festive as ever, and Rebecca is opening presents, including an ugly doll. The cops knock on the door, Santa calls them in and everyone looks at each other meaningfully. The kid has the good grace to look embarrassed since she totally just got Santa arrested. Shelley is about to leave for dinner when someone calls her to say Santa is being illegal. She sighs and heads off to the jail to bail out Santa. Barry is at the restaurant and gets a call from a guy who lets him know Shelley is bailing out Santa. He rushes to his desk to look at the photo albums. Of course, what else would he do?

This bit is intercut, Shelley is taking Santa’s belongings in a small paper bag while Barry is flicking through the albums. Santa apparently has a daughter who has a miserable look on her face, and Barry looks up knowingly. Santa is Shelley’s father, so that’s a plot point. Shelley drives him home but refuses to come in for cocoa. She’s gone all Grinchy face again.

Santa goes inside and throws his hat at a doll which makes a weird dying squeak. He’s just sat down when Shelley storms in to shout at him. Seems Santa neglected his family in order to be Santa, and there’s no possible way Shelley can ever forgive him for that. Not ever. Nope. He can see Tommy but only as himself, not as Santa.

Barry is hanging out with Tommy playing video games. They’re having a male bonding session and Barry asks about Tommy’s dad, who Tommy has never met. Shelley gets home and Marguerite tells her Barry is there. I’m expecting her to go all prissy faced again, but she’s warm and smiley which is weird. I’m not comfortable with this aspect of the character, it is too new to me. It doesn’t last. Tommy asks if he can see Santa and gets sulky when she says no, so Shelley drops the smile. Tommy goes to bed and Barry reveals he knows her deep, dark, festive secret. She then goes back to his place for dinner since their date was ruined.

"Have her home by midnight, and no mistletoe!"

“Have her home by midnight, and no mistletoe!”

Shelley recounts her teenage Santa Traumas through the medium of flashback, explaining that dating and going to church were terrible because of her father being so jolly. When Shelley’s mother died, Santa was off in another part of the hospital. Shelley is very upset as she discusses this but doesn’t actually cry. Barry warns her that the story will have to be printed, but will give her a couple of days to tell Tommy all about it.

The guy who wants the railway station takes Shelley out to look at the place, and there’s a bunch of people standing around ready to invest. Shelley demands her Community Centre as well, this disused station must be massive because the investor guy is talking “Thousands of jobs” in retail and restaurants. He says five years for the centre. Shelley demands it in three, she’s all fired up now she’s dealing with Santa.

While Shelley is wheeling and dealing, Santa is at the Job Centre, trying to get work. Now that he has to store all his stuff and stable the reindeer, he has no money and needs work. He has no skills, and isn’t certified to work with children. Now we get a comedy montage of Santa working various jobs, badly. He’s fired as a travel agent for telling peopel not to travel as it’s too expensive. He loses his job at a fast food place for giving out the kid meal toys even when people didn’t order the kid meal. His job as a parking inspector ends when he’s caught feeding the meters. The lady at the Job Centre has given up, but Santa says he does have one skill.

Tommy and his friend who has a name I never caught are out looking for Santa. They find him working as a barber, and their little faces go all sad. Tommy turns up at home with a new haircut. Shelley isn’t at the office, so they talk. Tommy apologises for being a brat, and presents his mother with a new basketball so they can shoot hoops.

Shooting hoops breaks Shelley’s feet, but Barry is on hand to give her a footrub. Shelley confesses that she hasn’t told Tommy about his grandfather, and Barry tells her he has to run the story. She offers him a story about the railway station instead. He agrees and they kiss. Romantic. Sorta. If Shelley would shut up for three seconds it would be romantic.

The story about the developer runs in the paper the next day and the PA is tense about it. Now that people know the station is going to be torn down, they are protesting against the development. The PA is trying to put a useful spin on it when Robert George calls. This is Santa, calling to say he’ll never be Santa again. Shelley rushes over to his house and finds it devoid of even the smallest hint of Christmas. Santa says he’s totally given up on being Santa, but the pain is too deep for Shelley. She’s explaining how she can never forgive him for neglecting her when there’s a knock on the door.

Mr. and Mrs. Pathos with their children, Heartbreak and Sorrow

Mr. and Mrs. Pathos with their children, Heartbreak and Sorrow

A couple is standing there with two children. They’re all covered in dirt and the father explains that they’ve all been on the streets for 8 months and he wants his children to smile again, so they need Santa. Shelley almost softens for a nanosecond, then strides out, snarking at him for thinking it would be easy.

Shelley goes into Tommy’s room to confess all. Tommy is shocked, as you would be if you found out your mother was a big fat liar with pants on fire. Shelley explains that her father is a loser and she doesn’t’ want him in her life. Tommy is thrilled to have Santa for a grandfather, but Shelley reminds him he’s not really Santa but just some weirdo who dresses up. Tommy says he’ll go see him right now, and Shelley whines her tortured face off about how horrible it is having a Santa in the family. She forbids Tommy from seeing him.

Marguerite runs in to tell them there’s a thing on the news they have to see. Thankfully they get there just in time for the start of the story (that’s how it works in Movieland). A reporter is explaining how Santa is the father of Shelley, and calls her Scrooge for making him clean out the Christmas stuff. The story goes on to mention that Santa was jailed, and Tommy hates Shelley again.

The PA is in Shelley’s lounge room with one of the staffers from the office. Outside, the national media is swarming all over the place because nothing of importance has happened anywhere else in the country that day. The PA is livid about all the fuss and secrets and insists that Shelley attend a fancy lunch to start getting some better publicity.

Barry drops in to see Santa and there’s a big “For Rent” sign in the yard. Two of Tommy’s friends see it and zoom off to let him know. Barry goes on inside and finds the place full of boxes of Christmas stuff as Santa gets packed. Turns out Santa had asked Barry over to give him the money he’d raised for his theme park idea, telling him to give it to charity. Barry wants to know what happened the night Santa’s wife died.

Tommy is packing a bag to run away and live with his grandfather when his friends turn up to tell him Santa is moving. They all climb out the window to go stop him. Another twelve kids have turned up from somewhere, and they’re going to surround the house. There’s a rather too long montage of 10 year old boys riding bikes really fast to Santa’s house, and then Tommy shoots out onto the road without looking and is hit by a car.

At the hospital, Shelley blames Marguerite for letting Tommy out of the house as she was supposed to be watching him. Classy. Shelley does some more very sad acting, but still doesn’t actually cry. When the nurse finishes setting Tommy’s arm, she can go in and see him. Barry turns up and Shelley falls into his arms with a whimper (no tears). She’s furious at Santa for existing and making Tommy get hit by a car. It’s everyone’s fault but hers. Or actually Tommy’s since he should have looked where he was going.

Barry explains that the doctors at the hospital when Shelley’s mother died sent Santa home because he hadn’t slept. They’d promised she’d be alive in the morning, and he’d gone to see the kids to cheer himself up. Shelley refuses to believe it, but Barry is sold on the story.

Tommy is laying unconscious in his hospital bed. Shelley’s eyebrows go all sad, but there’s still no tears. Barry, bless him, manages a tear up. Well done that man. Oh there we go, Shelley strokes Tommy’s bruised face and squeezes out a tear. Santa has heard about the accident and turns up to see Tommy. The receptionist doesn’t believe he’s a relative and is calling someone for permission to get him inside when he sneaks off to find his own way. The receptionist sees that he’s gone and calls security. There’s a kerfuffle outside Tommy’s room, and the nurse rolls her eyes and says it’s some guy in a Santa suit. Shelley sticks her head out the door to see Santa arguing with the guards because he’s family and allowed to be there. The music goes all stringed instruments, and Shelley says “Come on in, Dad.” Awww, it’s a moment!

We get another montage. Shelley, Santa and Barry are keeping watch of the unconscious Tommy. Barry has gone off for a coffee or something so Shelley and Santa have a heart to heart. Shelley says she never wanted to be like her father, but as it turned out she is just like him – devoting her life to a dream that’s taken her away from her son. They both have an epiphany.

The following morning the nurse asks Shelley if Santa will go cheer up some kids. Santa says he can’t because he’s here with his family, but Shelley has changed her mind about everything and sends him off to cheer up the children. Okay. Now. This bit is genuinely terrible so bear with me. Santa is seeing the kids and asks who’s next. Shelley is there, she says “I am, I want my son back.” Santa says he can’t do that, but she insists, so he tells her to believe in Santa and he’ll see what he can do. “I believe in Santa,” says Shelley. “Then you’ll get your wish,” says Santa. What is even going on anymore?

Shelley is heading back to Tommy’s room when her PA pops up with some papers to sign. Shelley says she doesn’t have time, the PA gets snitty and Shelley shouts “No!” Just as she does, a bunch of doctors run into Tommy’s room. The nurse comes out and sees her, and screams that she has to come right now. Tommy is awake! Why that required half the medical staff to rush into his room like he was dying I don’t know.

Now that Shelley has forgiven her father and Tommy is allowed to see his Grandfather – Santa prepares to leave town. I give up. Anyway, all his stuff is on the truck and he’s walking to the station. The cops who arrested him offer him a lift to the station, but they take him to the old station. It’s been decorated with Christmas stuff, Shelley has opened it as Santa’s Dream World with the blessing of the city council.

All the people who were complaining half a movie ago are thrilled that Santa agrees to stay and the whole town sings a Christmas carol. As they finish, it starts to snow because Santa is magic and stuff. Credits.

Wow. That was a long movie. Well it was usual movie length, but it felt long. Shelley Long’s character was completely unlikable even in the parts where she was supposed to be likable. She was shrill, whiny, overly serious, demanding and prone to tantrums. She spent the entire movie looking tortured and or prissy and I warmed to her not at all.

Barry Bostwick was great! Sure, you can accuse me of Barry Bostwick bias (say that out loud, it’s fun) but he was good. Even his bits of the script weren’t quite so flat and cliched, which is not to say he didn’t have his share of nonsense to say. If not for Barry, I think I would have stopped this movie at the halfway point and made up the rest.

Santa, the character, was okay at the start, but spent so much time being Wise and Kind and Good that I began to wish he’d run over a kitten or something just to give him some depth as a human being.

The movie does get a point for not having Shelley give up her career – I was certain she would in order to be a Good Mother, so it’s kind of cool that they didn’t go that path when they could have. Then I would have had to have a whole rant on the subject of women in movies (again) so they’ve saved us all some pain there.

All in all though, this movie was long, dull and tedious with heavy handed attempts at being emotionally deep and no joy or laughter at all. Way to ruin Christmas.


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