For some reason, Christmas movies can't seem to fathom their audiences being intelligent. They invest much time and effort in maintaining an ample supply of falsified emotions and hokey plot devices. But they always end on a condescending note, topping themselves off with a throwaway lesson about the True Meaning of Christmas ™.
Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage looked as if it would approach this dicey realm of cinema with a modicum of class, but once again, the movie gods have proven me wrong. This drama falls victim to genre cliches in all the usual ways, the stench bestowed upon them by their recycled nature emanating all the way to the final credits.
The year is 1977, and budding artist Thomas Kinkade (Jared Padalecki) is leaving behind his studies at Berkeley to head home for the holidays. Unfortunately, his homecoming isn't a very joyous one, for bad news greets him before he even steps in the door. His mother, Maryanne (Marcia Gay Harden), has been a little too charitable in her ways, giving so much to her community that she's fallen behind on her house payments. With only a matter of weeks before the bank forecloses, Thomas and his little brother (Aaron Ashmore) get cracking on raising enough cash to save the family home. Thomas's talents land him a job painting a mural of his quaint little burg to draw in tourists, though he ends up inspiring his fellow citizens. One by one, the quirky townspeople come to realize what matters most during the holiday season — that, as countless films have espoused before, love is the greatest gift of all.
I suppose I should feel crummy for pretty much telling you all that Christmas Cottage has to say, but most people will figure that out with a quick glance at the cover art. It's the sort of story that could direct itself, and from what a schmaltzy disaster the film turned out to be, this one probably did. I don't mind seeing stories that have been told since the dawn of movies, as long they're told well and provide at least some incentive to keep watching. Christmas Cottage comes up short on both of these fronts, not even bothering to spice up a recipe that's turned out with very little success. It's not so much a story as it is a series of random events, stuff that the filmmakers chuck out to keep viewers occupied on their way to an inevitable conclusion. But the film manages to screw even this up, as the subplots fly at you with next to no rhyme or reason. It flips back and forth through a Rolodex crammed with extraneous characters and story threads, none given enough space to do anything but eat up time.
I hate to pick on a flick with such honest intentions, but Christmas Cottage makes it hard not to. It's a film that doesn't tug on one's heartstrings so much as it yanks them, all but threatening physical harm if viewers don't shed a tear. It didn't take me long to pick up on the film's underlying current of phoniness, its persistence in hammering home a simple message that a Hallmark card could convey with more tact.
What's especially sad is that the rather fine cast that's been assembled ends up paying the price. I wasn't a big fan of Paladecki before, so his dazed and confused performance came as no surprise. Harden, however, is a talented actress whose Herculean effort to rise above the corny material is of little avail. She's still stuck delivering dour news to the camera every once in a while, to kick-start the plot whenever it sputters out (which is quite often). But the most high-profile victim here is poor Peter O'Toole, who plays Thomas's crotchety next-door neighbor. Even he knew what a hackneyed mess he got himself into, for his howlingly awful and overplayed performance couldn't have been an accident. O'Toole's role as the token wise sage is the sort of part he was just making fun of in Venus, though this film is deluded enough to look upon it as no laughing matter.
Pleasant cinematography aside, little about Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage warmed the cockles of my heart. I can see people picking it up to enjoy on a chilly winter night, but for Grinches like myself, Christmas Cottage is like a lump of coal in our cinematic stockings.Powered by Sidelines