Christmas films tend to follow such a formulaic pattern that they are ripe for satire and subversion. This was the secret of Bad Santa’s success back in 2003, a film that tore out the pages of Christmas and used them to wipe up a foul holiday mess… to unbelievably funny effect. Cup of Cheer similarly aims for an often crass, incendiary, and tongue-in-cheek rewriting of the Christmas movie. And while there is a smattering of inspired touches in Jake Horowitz’s festive comedy, it won’t lift anybody’s festive cheer.
In an evident rip-off of overused tropes, big city journalist Mary (Storm Steenson) returns to her hometown to get a festive scoop for her big important writing job. There, she meets the predictably grouchy Chris (Alexander Oliver) who runs a hot cocoa cafe in town. He is behind with his rent but is more or less prepared to let the business die – along with his Christmas spirit. Undeterred and because the story demands it, Mary and her friends rally to save the business in time for December 25th.
Sadly the writing is on the wall early for Cup of Cheer. What should be clever, inviting satire is instead digested as overly-forced humour with long-winded dialogue. There is the odd line that merits a giggle and one or two antics that will make you crack a smile, but the laughs are far too fleeting. With such obvious nods to other Christmas stories and an advent calendar of festive puns, there is very little on offer if what you’re after is a sly rewriting of the old-fashioned festive flick.
The number of awkward pauses in the script is baffling, and the target audience is unclear. The humour goes from gross but child-friendly to needlessly provocative in the blink of an eye. The cast, who by no means does an appalling job, never seem convinced by the onscreen antics and feel strangely unattached to the story. With a deliberately by-the-numbers plot and such a disconnection between the cast and the script, it all feels a little soulless.
Aesthetically the film is fairly pleasant, and in the few quieter moments you can soak up some of the yuletide dressing that at least gives the set an inviting lick of colour. It is also true that Chris and Mary’s initial lack of chemistry is the point – it definitely improves later on in the film, a one-on-one conversation halfway through standing out as both the actors’ and the script’s strongest sequence. But it can’t sustain it, too happy to revert back to forgettable characters and unamusing asides.
There have certainly been worse Christmas films than Cup of Cheer (take a bow A Bad Mom’s Christmas) but the problem here is that the films it tries to upend are still far more entertaining than this will ever be. There is occasionally some fun to be had, but an unsophisticated story makes this festive caper its own worst enemy.
Dir: Jake Horowitz
Scr: Jake Horowitz, Andy Lewis
Cast: Storm Steenson, Alexander Oliver, Liam Marshall, Jacob Hogan, Helly Chester
Prd: Daniel Everitt-Lock, Jake Horowitz, Andy Lewis
DOP: Daniel Everitt-Lock
Music: Braden Barrie
Run time: 94 minutes
Cup of Cheer arrives on digital 7 December