This week, Field of Streams welcomes fellow Cinapsian Jay Tyler to bring us 4 great holiday entries on Hulu
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As we venture deeper and deeper into December, we as a society are starting to be increasingly exposed to the most sugar-coated of film genres: the mass-market Christmas movie. The tropes are well-worn territory now: busy big-city girl retreats to small town life, realigns to her classic (aggressively heteronormative) values and decides to live a simpler, happier life. They are light, fluffy, digestible bits of entertainment that are almost comically indistinguishable.
Hulu this year enters into the holiday movie craze (if you don’t count their long-running, uneven holiday-themed series Into the Dark) with the lesbian family comedy Happiest Season. So it felt appropriate to take a good look at some of the other holiday fare that Hulu has available, from the more off-beat to the kind of thing you’ve come to expect from the genre.
HAPPIEST SEASON (2020)
Abby (Kristen Stewart) is finally meeting her girlfriend Harper’s (Mackenzie Davis) family for Christmas. The catch: Harper hasn’t told her buttoned up family that she is a lesbian yet, and so Abby has to remain closeted during the trip, or at least until Harper is ready to come out. The rest of the film plays out with this premise as you’d mostly expect: Abby learns more and more things about her girlfriend’s past, feels strained within the confines of expectations and generally is witness to wild holiday shenanigans.
This is a decisively and unapologetically gay romance movie that tackles issues, and explores the inherent complexities of coming out. The film mostly works by playing up the strengths of the holiday movie genre (quirky, seasonal entertainment that operates with compassion) and avoiding the more regressive subtext. It also has a stellar cast (Mary Steenburgen! Alison Brie! Aubrey Plaza! Dan Levy!) who are all game for having an airy good time. A life-affirming bit of holiday cheer.
Cinapse has written about Anna and the Apocalypse a few times already, so consider this your semi-schedule reminder that there is a Christmas-themed zombie musical. The strangest part of Anna is that it plays its premise fairly straight forward. It’s never tongue-in-cheek, but rather a charming movie that also happens to have a seasonal flair to it and a few toe-tapping musical numbers. The most memorable music is probably when they are playing with genre a bit more; a wildly inappropriate song about Santa being sung at a high school talent show is a standout. A passion project, and an ode to a friend’s unique vision, this is a good choice for those looking for an off-beat Christmas tale.
The closest thing on this list to a straight version of what has been come to be known as the mass-produced “Christmas movie”, but with a very important twist: the male romantic lead who ends up teaching the busy big city woman about slowing down in the name of Christmas? Yeah, he’s a ghost. Not only is he a ghost, he’s the ghost of a bootlegger who died in the midst of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. So while this one follows the traditional beats, it also has at its core a mystery of how he died, and why he keeps coming back for the 12 days leading up to Christmas. It’s a strange take for the genre, and while it takes itself far too seriously for stretches, it does have a hunky ghost in it who talks like Frasier Crane. And that’s just delightful.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2019)
And now for something familiar, but not too familiar. This BBC production (originally broadcast as a miniseries but inexplicably presented as a nearly three hour film on Hulu) presents a very different vision of Charles Dickens’ definitive Christmas story, one that leans into the inherent creepiness that is often undercut by more cheery interpretations. It is, after all, ultimately a ghost story of otherworldly intervention into the life of a cruel miser. Writer Steven Wright seems especially invested in the larger cosmology and motivation of the ghost’s world. It is a darker and more cynical interpretation, definitely not appropriate for all ages.
What Wright and Dickens have in common, however, is a driving concern with the cruelty inherent to wealth. (A concern that producer Ridley Scott also shares.) Scrooge, here played with perfect chilliness by Guy Pearce, is presented far more relevantly than in most cases, where he is seen as distant and miserable, but not quite as nasty, as violently negligent. He is a man who in the pursuit of wealth isolated himself from the world, and the universe forces him to reckon with the cost of his actions. It is a dark re-imagining that takes a lot of liberties with the source material, but ultimately has at it the same heart of asking those in power to reflect upon that power honestly. The tone and method are not what we are familiar with, but the bleeding heart at the core of this old ghost story is still the same.
There are countless services to explore and great things to watch on all of them. Which ones did we miss that you would suggest to us? And, as always, if you’ve got thoughts on titles we’re missing out on or new services to check out, leave a comment below or email us.
Till next week, stream on, stream away.