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I guess I just like liking things

You’ve heard the song I bet. Someone’s sent you a link to either what they think is the most beautiful Christmas song, or the most painfully terrible Christmas song. I’m firmly in the “painfully terrible” camp on this one, so it’s with some trepidation I load up the Christmas Shoes DVD. I did ask a friend to do this week’s column on my behalf in the hope I could spend this time re-watching The Muppet Christmas Carol instead, but she declined. She may or may not have laughed right in my face at the mere suggestion.

We start with a car driving into a snowy cemetery, so that’s cheery. It’s Rob Lowe, looking like he’s going to cry. Via voice over, Rob tells us he likes to decorate his mother’s tombstone for Christmas because his mother loved Christmas. There’s a guy already there staring at a tombstone. They have a short chat. Voice over Rob tells us something about miracles, laughing children and shoes. He clears the snow off the tombstone and then gazes off into the distance, which triggers a flashback. That is a pretty lame superpower.

We go back in time 15 years. There’s a house with pumpkins on the porch and there’s leaves everywhere so I’m assuming it’s Autumn. In order to look 15 years younger, this Rob Lowe has shaved. He’s waking up his daughter, Lily, for school by telling her how amazing she is, so she thinks he’s not going to her concert. Rob says he will totally go to the concert, and promises to bring flowers. Rob’s character is called Robert, which will make my life easier. His lovely wife, Kate, is making coffee, but he can’t stop for breakfast because he’s late for work. He has time to tell his lady that the house she wants is for sale, and has four fireplaces. She wants to know if he’s coming to the concert.

Rob is unhappy at work, being a high powered lawyer with low powered cases like his current one of defending farmers against accusations of fish murder. He’s printed out his wife’s resume so she can go back to work and help pay for the shiny house he wants, but she doesn’t want to go back to work because she’s a mum and would rather be around for Lily.

38 million pairs produced, but this pair is special.

38 million pairs produced, but this pair is special.

As Rob leaves a coffee shop on his way to the car, a delivery van trundles by. The back door opens and a shoe box falls out, spilling a pair of red embroidered shoes onto the road. No other boxes fall out, so either the truck was carrying just this one box, or the other boxes were properly secured by someone who knows how to do his or her job. Rob grabs the shoes and waves them at the back of the truck as it drives off, but the driver cannot hear him. Oh no! Rob throws the shoes into his car.

We cut to a young boy playing football with his mother, who sends him running backwards over the road in a display of shoddy parenting. Just as she throws the football, Rob drives by and the ball bounces off his windscreen. He’s annoyed, not really having time to stop and talk to people about football. Mum and son head inside for breakfast, but Mum is all out of breath suddenly.

No dessert until you've eaten your fish.

No dessert until you’ve eaten your fish.

The boy’s dad, Jack, comes in for breakfast and tells Maggie (the mum) she should do short order cooking because she’s amazing at pancakes. She and the boy are busy looking at the classifieds and they find the ad they want, but Jack says no dogs. The boy can’t understand why not, and asks “Are we poor?” “No,” says Maggie, “We just don’t have a lot of money.” To explain why the boy can’t have a dog, Jack goes and gets the fishbowl. The fish have been dead for two weeks (no they haven’t, they’d be way more rotted). So, no one in the house emptied out the dead fish for two entire weeks? As Jack is leaving for work, he asks Maggie if the doctor has called. He hasn’t. On cue, Maggie starts coughing and choking. She’s faking to ask about a puppy. What a jokester! What a funny girl!

Jack owns a mechanic shop, and business is pretty bad. A coffee machine might bring in more people, he thinks. Or he could go around in the night messing with engines, but he’s not a lateral thinker and decides on the coffee.

Right, so, I couldn’t keep calling him “The Boy” so I’ve looked it up and the kid is called Nathan. Nathan is at school, with his mum, and the teacher, Dalton,  is reading them a story about magic shoes. Nathan gets into trouble for throwing a ball of paper at another kid. Your mother is right there dude, show a little brain. The teacher makes Nathan finish reading the story, which is about a girl who can’t walk but can dance in her dreams with special shoes. When it gets to the bit about how the little girl dances with angels, Nathan’s mum gets all teary. She says she used to have a pair of shoes just like the ones in the story that she loved to dance in. I just don’t even know what to say at this point, the Corny Cheese is piling up so high.

It seems The Mum is the choir leader which is why she’s hanging out in her son’s classroom. I did think helicopter parenting, but I was wrong. Everyone’s super pumped for the concert. Nothing says “Fun night out” like a bunch of kids playing instruments they started learning six months ago, am I right?

Rob does some high powered lawyering about farmers and fish. As an aside, he’s sorted out a job interview for his wife and his boss has loaded him with some extra work that has to be done today. That’s all you need from that bit, back to the school.

Lily is sick and doesn’t think she can sing in the concert. Maggie says she’ll be fine, she’s just nervous. Kate and Maggie have cozy chats as they set out the chairs. They establish that they’re both musical, but neither of them finished the degree, and that Rob should be at the concert later, but I don’t think he will be because his boss gave him a bunch of things to read for a case. Promise – broken.

Rob is walking around his office shuffling papers and holding pens to show how busy he is. The audience is filing in for the school concert and everyone is smiley and happy, but there’s a spare seat beside Rob’s wife where Rob should be, but isn’t. Terrible. Everything is terrible. Rob is working in a montage now, which really should have saved enough time to get him to the concert. Backstage, Maggie is trying to catch her breath. I hope whatever she has isn’t serious! This is me, trying to buy into the movie. Did it work? No? Fair enough then.

Bolstered by the love of her son, Maggie asks the curtain to be raised and walks on stage. She has good news! The choir is so amazing that they’ll be singing at the lighting of the town Christmas tree. This feels like it could be bittersweet. Lily is first up for a solo, and her mum is all happy but there’s still no Rob because fish and farmers. Kate has a video camera though, so she films it.

Nathan’s teacher lives next door to Lily’s grandmother (keep up) so he drives her home. This is Rob’s mother (stay with me). As they get home, Rob runs in all breathless. He has some papers for her to sign. It’s late, his mother is unhappy that he’s still working at this hour and tells him to not just make money, but to make memories. She’s probably read that off one of those embroidered pillows you can buy elderly relatives who are tricky to pick gifts for. Rob dismisses this comment and leaves.

At home, Rob enters with the shoe box tucked under one arm. His wife is watching the video from the concert. She’s pretty unimpressed with the whole “I couldn’t make it to the concert” story. The music goes all sad and plinky, and Rob’s wife says she’s used to being disappointed but Lily doesn’t deserve it. Rob goes up to talk to Lily who is kind of sad her Dad wasn’t there but not crying about it or anything. Rob promises to be at the next one, because he has learned nothing about making promises. “I don’t have to be there to be proud of you,” says Rob, which is a really crappy thing to say. He’s basically saying “I’ll never turn up to anything you do, but I think you’re pretty good anyway.”

Later the same night, the doctor turns up to see Maggie and Jack because no one keeps regular business hours. He has bad news for Maggie – she has congestive heart failure and doesn’t have long to live. Nathan, of course, is hovering outside the door and overhears. Don’t slip on the pathos there.

At Rob’s place, Lily is rehearsing for the singing at the tree thing, but apparently can’t sing the word “Joyful” and gives up. Kate is baking cookies for the choir. Rob himself is still wandering around with the shoe box. Lily says, all bright eyed and happy, “You will be coming to the Christmas Concert, right?” “You can count on me at Christmas,” says Rob. They’re all happy, until Rob mentions the interview he set up for his wife. She’s angry, but says she’ll go. Lily is sad, because if her mother gets a job Lily will never see her either. The music is so sad and plinky right now I bet the guy playing it was crying.

Maggie is talking to Dalton. She’s on the heart transplant list, but is worried that if she gets paged while at school Nathan will need a ride home. The teacher offers to look after Nathan if the couple have to zoom to Boston.

Kate is ready for her interview with a power suit and super high heels. As she’s leaving, she sees Lily’s music folder on the kitchen table. Meanwhile, Maggie is in the music room trying to get the choir to warm up, but they’re too busy chatting. Kate walks in just as Maggie bursts into “Silent Night” to get the kids’ attention. Maggie leans on a wall, she’s too weak to lead the choir today. Kate rushes over and Maggie asks her to take over the Christmas program because of being musical and all of that. Kate says she can’t, Maggie says she has to and goes all big sad eyes. Kate is about to say she has to go to an interview when he children start singing “The First Noel.” Both women get teary and Kate nods. I guess at this school they don’t do background checks on volunteers. It’s a magical Christmas Movie School!

Rob’s wife and Lily are trimming the tree at home, and inside one of the boxes of decorations is the shoes. Did you forget about the shoes? How could you. How could you. Rob arrives home and Kate sends Lily upstairs, knowing there’s going to be a ruckus. Rob is livid. He pulled a lot of strings to get the interview so his wife could get that job and they could buy the new house. Rob’s wife explains that Maggie is sick, and Rob tells her to get an aspirin. “She’s waiting for a heart transplant,” says Maggie, “something you might want to think about.” Sick burn on you, Rob. They have an argument, but then the sad music comes in again and Rob goes all soft and thoughtful. It’s hard being a high powered lawyer and no one knows his dreams. They both cry. Everything is sad.

To carry on the sad, Nathan wakes from a fitful slumber to go check on Maggie. She’s sleeping in her makeup, which is a no-no. He hugs her, waking her. “What’s the matter?” Maggie asks. Nathan tells her he just wanted to make sure her heart was still beating. This movie is basically mocking itself now.

The snow has come to the town, and Rob is delivering the shoes to the shoe shop. The owner says they don’t look like anything they ordered, which would make sense because mostly shop deliveries are in more than one pair at a time. Rob gets back into his car but it won’t start. The shoe shop owner offers to call a tow truck, I wonder where the car could possibly be going?

Oh shock, it’s Maggie’s husband Jack. Jack is just getting his tools ready when his pager goes off, there’s a heart available for Maggie! Nathan is at school, being sad. Dalton is going to take care of him, remember. Nathan asks his teacher “Have you ever known anybody who’s died?” Dalton says “No” which I find hard to believe as the guy is retirement age (this was mentioned earlier, but I didn’t bother to comment on it). His family and friends must be long lived.

Kate has the choir rehearsing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” while people rush around in a hospital. Maggie is wheeled in for the operation while Jack frets in the waiting room.

Dalton has taken Nathan to see Lily’s grandmother. She’s all smiley and cheerful (everyone is in this movie, it’s beginning to feel like Stepford). She take Nathan upstairs to show him a bedroom which is full of old baseball stuff. It belonged to her son Rob. She gives Nathan a baseball cap, then takes Rob’s old lunchbox downstairs to write Rob a letter. There’s a certain “Room of a dead child” feeling about the preserved baseball stuff all still on the walls, but Rob isn’t dead. Unless that’s the big twist ending, which I don’t think can be right. Movies like this don’t do twist endings, it might make them too interesting.

In the hospital, Maggie is sitting up. I was about to comment on how she’s looking very well for someone just out of major surgery and not even hooked up to any machines, when she asks Jack why they didn’t operate. Jack doesn’t know, but the doctor is here on cue to explain. Turns out the heart was no good, infected with Hepatitis B and therefore unusable for a transplant. The doctor explains, tearily, that Maggie’s immune system is failing and her blood type is rare (of course it is), so there’s pretty much no hope. Maggie decides she’d rather die at home, which is fair enough.

Kate is rehearsing on the piano when Rob slinks in to tell her he wants to make an offer on the special house he loves so super much. Kate isn’t that keen. She tells him she loves working with the kids at the school, and wants to be a teacher. Rob realises this means she wants to go back to college. He’s unhappy, she’s unhappy, he decides to make an offer on the house anyway and Kate is all “Urgh you’re impossible”.

Rob is dashing through the snow (see what I did there?) with an assistant. They are discussing the fish and farmers and details pertaining to the aforementioned farmers and fish. His assistant offers an expert but Rob goes all snappy pants at her and makes her sad. As Rob walks into his office, the receptionist hands him a package from his mother, which is totally the lunch box but Rob doesn’t have time to open it. High powered, etc. He rings the estate agent who tells him the offer on the house has been outbid. Rob is baffled that the owners are taking the higher offer because that is a complicated concept.

Kate is visiting with Maggie, who is stretched out on the sofa with an oxygen tank. Jack has made lunch for Maggie and they smooch before he goes to work. Kate is jealous of Maggie’s husband. Maggie advises Kate to hold on to what Kate fell in love with, because she has the wisdom of the dying. She knows Jack isn’t ready for her to die, and the women cry and sob a bit about Jack and Nathan. Maggie finally shows she’s human and has an angry fit about how unfair it all is.

Maggie is all cheery again as Nathan gets home. She’s telling Kate how she and Jack met at ballroom dancing classes, because she loved to dance. She now crowbars a comment about her old dancing shoes into the conversation, which Nathan overhears. He has an idea, and runs out of the house.

At the shoe shop, which is actually a little main street department store, Nathan runs to the shoes, knocking a clerk out of the way. He digs around in the shoes for a bit before finding the ones Rob was carting around for weeks. They’re $19.99 which makes him smile and he runs to the garage to ask his dad for a job so he can earn the money. Jack says no, because they’re not getting a puppy and Nathan is completely unable to say “This isn’t about a puppy” because he’s just about to cry. Rob is in, picking up his car and complaining about the time it took to fix it, and the expense. “With prices like this it’s no wonder you’re dying” says Rob and the music just goes absolutely pathetic. Rob’s tossed a drink can into the bin, so Jack grabs it and says “Well, a nickel’s a nickel.” Nathan asks for the can and goes all smiley because he knows how to earn the money now. I don’t understand why he can’t just explain to his dad what he wants the money for.

Rob’s off to talk to the farmers about fish because we are determined to really slam this boring subplot into this movie. There’s talk of farming. Also of fish. Rob promises to fight for the farmers. Whatever, can’t we move this along please?

Maggie is now in a special invalid bed at home, which Nathan is decorating with Christmas lights. Jack calls Nathan to dinner, but he’s busy turning the lights on. Jack is irate about the lights. The lights are ruining everything. Maggie says they’re beautiful. Jack changes his mind about them, the lights are awesome. Maggie decides she needs to talk to Nathan about the impending death thing.

At Rob’s mother’s house, Dalton, Kate, Grandmother and Lily are singing Christmas carols around the piano having a jolly old time. Rob turns up, late. He’s missed dinner, but his mother kept a plate for him so she takes him to the kitchen. As he’s eating, she says she knows he and Kate aren’t happy. Grandmother tells Rob a bunch of memories she has of his childhood, and says how sad it is that Rob’s father missed out on most of them. Rob goes all quiet and thoughtful, so the point is made. Dalton is leaving, and he and Rob’s mother chit chat on the porch for a bit about life and cans (Dalton has collected a garbage bag full for Nathan) and darkness and stuff. Dalton tells Rob’s mother she looks tired. That can’t end well.

Nathan has made Maggie a Christmas card with an angel on the front. “I’m going to be seeing a lot of angels soon, in heaven,” says Maggie. Nathan’s pretty sad about it, but cheers up a little at the idea of heaven being full of puppies. Then he remembers his mum is dying and gets all sad again. Nathan asks Maggie to tell his grandfather than he’s sorry he stole a dollar. Everyone cries. Jack stops drying the dishes to have a little weep.

Dalton is off to school when he sees Rob’s mother has left all her lights on all night. There’s no answer at the door, so he takes the spare key and goes in. Yep, she’s dead. Told you it wasn’t going to end well. We cut right to the funeral where everyone looks sadish, but not that upset really. The music is really sad though. Really, really sad right in your face with the pathos.

Maggie has had a check up. The doctor leaves and Nathan tells his dad that he’s going out with Dalton. It’s Christmas Eve, you know. Nathan has stuff to do even though Maggie is very much on the way out now. Dalton is trying to be cheerful, but I guess he can hear the pathos music because it’s not really working.

As they’re walking along looking into shop windows, Dalton admits that when he said he’d never lost anyone close, he lied. I knew it! Ha! Oh, his wife died. I retract my Ha because that’s pretty sad, and I like Dalton. He tells Nathan to remember to talk about his pain, or it won’t go away. They cheer up, and cross the road. It turns out they weren’t looking for stuff to buy, but for cans and Dalton has planted a bunch of cans in an alleyway (why he couldn’t just give them direct to Nathan I do not know). “There’s five dollars worth here!” says Nathan. “What are you going to do with all that money?” says Dalton. “Buy my mum some Christmas Shoes!” says Nathan. This fills my heart with a festive joy because it means this movie is probably almost over.

The choir is out in the town square, singing carols. Rob goes to the office window to watch, making it probably the first time he’s every actually seen his daughter perform. Having done one song, the choir begins to walk, spreading festive joy through the town. Townsfolk who happen to also have candles with them join in and the happy crew marches down the main street. Kate looks up at the office window, looks sad, then walks on.

In the office, Rob’s assistant says she has to go because it’s Christmas Eve and she has a life. She hands Rob a small gift which completely changes his whole passion for being at work all the time and he leaves. Nathan gets home to see a frail Maggie holding Jacks’ hand. He goes to his room, grabs all his money and runs out again. Maggie smiles at Jack and asks him to let her go. How he is supposed to do that I don’t know. Turn off the oxygen? Maggie asks Jack to get Nathan a puppy, and then says she wants to dance. Jack … well okay Jack turns off the oxygen and unplugs the IV, picking Maggie up to dance her around the living room. I thought the music was sad before, this is being played on the tears of kittens.

Nathan has made it to the department store, but the door is locked. Rob sees him banging on the door, sees the kid is crying and helps him by banging on the door also. A clerk opens it for them. Rob finds another clerk and asks for the Sing Along Doll he’d had put aside. If this is for Lily he’s well out of touch, she’s way too old for that. Anyway it was sold because he waited too long. Nathan goes to the shoe section, but the shoes are gone. There’s a pile of shoes on the floor, which he digs through frantically while Rob picks up some board games and toys. Rob sees Nathan sitting around having a teary and shows him a stuffed panda to ask if it’s a good present. Nathan just looks at him. Rob compliments the kid on his hat, which is actually Rob’s hat anyway. Nathan still says nothing. Rob rolls his eyes and walks off, kicking over a shoe box which has oh my gosh the shoes are totally in it! How utterly unexpected.

Christmas is saved! Oh, wait...

Christmas is saved! Oh, wait…

The store is closing, so everyone’s lined up to buy their stuff. Rob is next, but Nathan leaps in ahead of him. Nathan pushes over a pile of coins which thrills the clerk because it’s not like there’s 900 people waiting. The clerk says he’s $5.50 short. “You don’t have enough money, come back after New Years.” Nathan starts to cry and Rob asks him what’s wrong. Nathan tells him about how his mum is dying and it’s her last Christmas. He tells Rob that he wants his Mum to look beautiful when she gets to heaven but he can’t buy the shoes. Rob is moved, and has a Christmas Moment where his heartless nature gets all kind and nice, and pays for the shoes.

Nathan runs home through the snow and Rob walks away from his pile of stuff to go home without the toys and whatnots. His car won’t start. The store owner is hovering around as usual, and takes Rob to the concert. Rob is all emotional, having been Spirit of the Season’d all over the place.

Oh good, the song is starting now. The one I mentioned at the opening? The one that’s been in my head for a week? That one. Nathan is running home in slow motion, which seems like the least efficient way to get home. When he gets there, the choir is outside singing to Maggie. She’s still alive, just. The choir can’t be heard from inside, so seems like a waste of candle.

Nathan gives Maggie the shoes to wear in heaven, and Maggie says they’re the most beautiful shoes she’s ever seen. I’ve gotta say, they’re pretty nice. Nathan puts them on Maggie’s feet. Maggie taps her heart to remind Nathan she’ll always be there and we cut to the choir. We can hear them inside now, so Maggie is all happy to hear the music. Jack tells her she can go.

Rob catches up to the choir and asks Dalton if Kate is around. Kate is standing at the front of the choir, conducting so Rob probably should have just looked. They make eye contact, and an unspoken renewal of their love passes between them. That is a sentence I never wanted to have to write. Rob joins the song, which is Silent Night if you were wondering. the camera pulls back, Rob walks to Kate as the choir moves off to the next house.

The next bit absolutely makes me burst out laughing. As Rob and Kate are gazing at each other tearfully, a random farmer appears to say thanks for all Rob’s hard work. Nothing makes me laugh like a random farmer. The farmer goes off to join the choir, and Rob tells Kate he loves her and she should teach and everything is lovely and nice between them now. No one seems particularly concerned that the choir full of kids is now wandering around unattended. In the house, the light in Maggie’s room is turned off, and the three of them (Lily too) stand out in the snow and cry.

Rob is back at work after Christmas, and leaving early for Lily’s basketball game being as buying shoes for a crying child has changed him into a brilliant dad. As he’s leaving, he finds the parcel from his mother he never opened. The letter inside is smooshy, and read in voice over as we see Nathan chasing his new puppy down the road.

We’re back in the present day, with Rob reading the letter again by the gravestone. The other guy is still there. Turns out the other guy is Nathan, he’s still wearing the old cap and is studying to be a doctor. He doesn’t recognize Rob, which seems odd, but Rob knows it’s him when he sees the shoes Nathan left on the grave for his mother. The same shoes. All that fuss and they didn’t even bury her in them.  Rob stands alone in the cemetery for a moment and then leaves. Credits.

I have cried at many, many movies. Beaches, for example, gets me every single time. The end of It’s a Wonderful Life? Certainly. For all my comments in this column about being hard hearted, I am not. I am an easy target for a teary movie. I once cried at a coffee commercial, so there you go. This? Nope. I should have. Even knowing how it was all going to go, and knowing how technically sad it all is, I should have been blubbering into my hanky like a loon. I didn’t even tear up.

That’s not the say the story isn’t sad. Of course it is, a dying parent is a terribly sad thing, Christmas or not, but this film was so constantly aware of the Special Deep Message Of Life that it never go the chance to be enjoyable, just long and miserable.

A lot of time was spent making sure the characters were well established in their type. Maggie in particular was some kind of superhuman who only got cross or sad once in the whole movie. The rest of the time she was sunshine and roses. Careless/thoughtless father, long suffering wife, hopeful child (x2), hard working kindhearted father, wise Grandmother… again, all of them computer generated by the software I’m sure is used, all of them spouting the correct line for their character type and none of them particularity interesting or unique.

The performances were fine with a terrible script which had every possible cliche rammed into it. Predictable storytelling made it a slog to get through and it proceeded exactly as one would expect, there were no surprises or joys to be had in the story, but then there wasn’t meant to be any joys. This was a sad story. The movie stops you every so often to say “Remember, this is really, really sad.” Heavy handed and miserable. Despite the lessons that were hammered into this thing, I feel I have learned nothing at all about life, Christmas Spirit or being a good father. That last one might not matter so much as I am a lady, but still.

And with this most heavy handed and manipulative of Dire movies, I leave you for the year. Over the past few months we have enjoyed some terrible things together, from David Hasselhoff to Faye Dunaway’s plastic surgery to this, Christmas Shoes which is possibly the worst of the lot. I will return in January, having repressed any memory of that blasted song, with a new batch of terrible movies to share with you. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these things as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. Jolly Season to all, and a Happy New Year!


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