Netflix’s holiday season continues with Father Christmas Is Back debut:
British comedy with the right cast. Kelsey Grammer! Elizabeth Hurley! John Cleese! This nerdy and horny Brit from Love! This film has a lot of star power, so it must be a huge success, right? Is not it?
Uptight Caroline Christmas-Hope (Natalie Cox) just wants the perfect holiday with her enormous and profoundly dysfunctional family. Unfortunately, the Christmas family consists of Caroline’s well-meaning but lazy husband, Peter Hope (Chris Marshall). Her sister-cool fashion editor Joanna Christmas (Elizabeth Burley). The bad girl Vicky Christmas (Tallulah Riley) and The Beatles obsessed Christmas student (Naomi Frederick).
And his presumably very calm mother, Elizabeth Christmas (Caroline Quentin). Mom contacts Uncle John Christmas (John Cleese) because Dad – Kelly Gramer’s James Christmas – had left the Christmas family 27 years ago. But ignore this trauma because this is the year Caroline gets Christmas back!
And then Santa Claus returns without warning and throws everything off the rails – not that the holidays are coming soon. This family could live in disarray without Kelsey Gramer’s help.
The film wants us to laugh at Santa’s estranged young American friend Jackie, but April Bowlby’s seriousness makes it impossible. Jackie is cute, well-meaning, and one of the few cute characters in the film. Jackie is also the opposite of Bowlby’s role on the odd HBO superhero show Max Doom Patrol – and it’s great to see his reach!
Santa’s Return captures the feeling of spending the holidays with a group of family members who can’t stop arguing. Where bad things are said to be irreversible and where every well-meaning plan falls to pieces. This may not sound like a vacation to experience or save, and it may not be a vacation you want to spend two hours watching Netflix on.
Each character in Santa’s Return varies from evil:
Joanna’s hatred of children – including her niece! A real Disney villain is utterly baffling (the natural character of Paulina, from the dressing room to dialogue, consists of constant references to The Beatles). There are no character arcs, no excuses, none of the heart-to-heart that is so important to this genre.
Sometimes actors approach the fact that their evil deeds are fun. Hurley, whose Joanna entered the film in a vision that presents the truth of the high-end Yeti/Elvis fashion, seems to enjoy the role. But these moments, like most films, are accentuated by an incredibly awkward score and, in some cases, Looney Tune’s sound effects.
Of course, there’s a reason Grammer’s character isn’t portrayed. As a villain straight from the top (believe it or not, the film has a happy ending), but there’s no attempt to mislead. Most of the film takes place as Britain’s worst family abuses this beautiful American couple. The wild thing is that once Gramer’s slain father and future Bowlby trophy wife arrive. Your sympathy falls on them, even though they’re destined to be antagonists.
Santa’s Return has a solid ensemble that deserves a better script as well as much better lighting. If this was your Christmas party, you’d be going on very long rental car trips several times a day. Since this is a Netflix movie, you can just turn it off.