Movie Review ~ Spirited

The Facts:

Synopsis: Each Christmas Eve, the Ghost of Christmas Present selects one dark soul to be reformed by a visit from three spirits. But this season, he picked the wrong Scrooge.
Stars: Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer, Sunita Mani, Patrick Page, Tracy Morgan, Joe Tippett, Andrea Anders, Jen Tullock
Director: Sean Anders
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 127 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review:  Before we journey through this Spirited review, I feel I must be transparent about a few things off the bat. That will help better frame how I came to this new musical re-telling of A Christmas Carol, one of the multitudes of versions of the Charles Dickens perennial classic. I love A Christmas Carol. I will watch a performance (or versions) of it every year and be struck by something new about the piece each time I see it. There’s a lesson to be learned from Dickens’s story of redemption, and my opinion is that the darker, the better. Let the story start from a deep, despairing place because the renewal of salvation Scrooge experiences at the end means much more; the takeaway is more impactful.

The next thing I’ll say is that I’m not generally a fan of either star of the film, Will Ferrell or Ryan Reynolds. Both actors trade in schtick, and while it has made them a boatload of money, it’s a schtick that’s beaten to death and quoted by those less talented on the delivery forever after. (“No really, I don’t need to hear that Anchorman bit again Kevin. Thank you.”) Each has occasionally struck out with work that has shown their acting chops, but to say they are comfortable with coasting along is putting it mildly. I also am not the biggest fan of Dear Evan Hansen, the multiple award-winning musical Spirited songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul composed for Broadway and helped adapt for the bomb-tastic 2021 musical. It even took me a second viewing to appreciate their Oscar-winning songwriting for 2017’s The Greatest Showman.

There was the dilemma I faced when Spirited was staring me down the other night. Dickens=good.  Ferrell/Reynolds=iffy.  Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water) being third billed tipped the scale in the right direction, and I committed to at least starting the movie but not finishing it at that late hour. It’s rare in our house not to pause for a bathroom break or other distraction, but after the two hours was up and Spirited’s charming closing credit sequence was complete, my only regret wasn’t staying up past my bedtime but that I wasn’t able to see this joyous holiday entertainment on the biggest screen possible. (It’s in limited release now but widely available on AppleTV+ on November 18.)

Written by John Morris and director Sean Anders (Daddy’s Home), Spirited takes the story we’re all familiar with (A Christmas Carol) and gives it a modern twist. Scrooge gets redeemed on his Christmas Eve night, but what about the next Christmas? And the one after that? And the one after that? The “haunt “business is a well-oiled machine and by the time we join the crew, Marley (Patrick Page, In the Heights) is running a tight ship. The Ghosts of Christmas Past (Sunita Mani, Evil Eye), Present (Ferrell, Holmes & Watson), and Yet-To-Come (voiced by Tracy Morgan, The Boxtrolls, and physicalized by Loren Woods) get in, do their job, and pass their torch to the next on the schedule.

They’ve just completed their latest mission (a Karen-esque suburbanite played by a recognizable star), and are planning their next when Present suddenly turns his focus to Clint Briggs (Reynolds, Deadpool), a smarmy public relations exec that can spin any story (illustrated by Reynolds in a go-for-broke 11 o’clock musical number that comes around the 9:00 am mark). The only problem is Clint is classified as ‘Unredeemable’ and automatically excluded from the yearly haunt – but Present sees a challenge and, facing retirement, pushes Marley to take on Clint despite the warnings that their efforts will fail. Of course, they can’t know that Clint truly is as nasty as he looks and isn’t as easily rattled as the centuries of souls that came before him.

The screenplay (and songs) takes some unexpected turns, sometimes following the Dickens text but diverging enough, so you’re never sure where you’ll find yourself at given beats. That’s nice to find, especially for the experienced fans of A Christmas Carol, but also for those willing to let Ferrell and Reynolds try on a new side of themselves. Both are nicely musical and dance well, culminating in several smashing full-out dance numbers set to Pasek/Paul’s lively tunes and performed with dazzling choreography by Chloe Arnold. Sure, they start to sound the same after a while, and you won’t be turning the TV off humming them, but they’re clever and fun while you’re in it, and the old time pub song ‘Good Afternoon’ is a showstopping riot.

If the film drags its feet a little, it’s when we go down the rabbit hole of Clint’s past. That’s where we find good actors like Joe Tippett (Mr. Harrigan’s Phone), Andrea Anders (The Stepford Wives), & Jen Tullock (TV’s Severance) struggling with some saccharine dialogue (or, in Anders’s case, several bizarrely ugly wigs). So much effort is spent on the production numbers looking great, I wish more time were spent on the dramatic scenes being as tight. At least Spencer’s scenes are razor-sharp, and if you had seeing Spencer in a musical on your Christmas wish list, you could check that off now because she’s lovely in her few moments of musicality. Spencer is the epitome of the heart that Spirited is going for, so anytime she’s on screen, she has a way of centering everyone in the film.

There’s so little to offend here; I’d encourage you to block out the early negative buzz from some ‘unredeemable’ Scrooge-y critics who can’t see what the film is going for and ultimately achieves. It shows us a new way of approaching a story while at the same time illustrating the flaws we all examine in ourselves. The flaws can define us and make us embittered against the world, or we can take ownership of them and use them toward doing good. The message is clear, and sometimes, in the case of Spirited, it’s sung. This will be added to the holiday rotation in my home, no question.

Movie Review ~ Falling for Christmas

The Facts:

Synopsis: A newly engaged, spoiled hotel heiress gets into a skiing accident, suffers from total amnesia, and finds herself in the care of a handsome, blue-collar lodge owner and his precocious daughter in the days leading up to Christmas.
Stars: Lindsay Lohan, Chord Overstreet, George Young, Jack Wagner, Olivia Perez, Alejandra Flores, Chase Ramsey, Sean Dillingham, Antonio D. Charity
Director: Janeen Damian
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 93 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review:  Up in my neck of the woods, the weather hasn’t quite gotten frightful, but the holiday movies are arriving, and so far, I am happy to report that they are indeed delightful. Our first present under the Christmas tree is this much-anticipated Netflix film I’ve been waiting for almost since last December. I may even say that I’ve been waiting for it for longer than that because Falling for Christmas isn’t your run-of-the-mill factory-produced offering but a welcoming back of sorts for a star we haven’t seen for some time, Glee’s Chord Overstreet. Nah, I’m kidding. While Overstreet is the male lead of this well-produced treat, you’re here to read about the return of LiLo herself: Lindsay Lohan.

Getting her start in the soap opera Another World before the age of 10, Lohan made a name for herself in the solid 1998 remake of the Disney classic, The Parent Trap. Her real superstardom would be locked in when Mean Girls was released six years later, but just as quickly, the pressures of having to deliver would push her in dangerous directions. With parents more interested in being stars themselves, Lohan essentially had to go it alone. The missteps we all made growing up were, for her, the subject of gossip magazines and the Hollywood rumor mill. Everything we experienced in private she went through on movie sets. By 2013, she had earned the reputation of an unreliable commodity, valued more for her crash-and-burn potential than anything else. What has everyone always said about her through it all? Her talent was undeniable.

Lohan has spent the past few years slowly building up her brand again, including signing a deal with Netflix for several feature films. The first picture in that package is Falling for Christmas, and right out of the gate, Lohan has a winner on her hands, a movie tailored to her talents and contoured to the charm that made her loyal fans fall for her all those years ago and stick by her side. Even better? While Falling for Christmas could undeniably be lumped into those annual Hallmark-y/Lifetime-ish holiday films that feature key elements (a red dress, cups of hot cocoa, carols, one big kiss at the end), Jeff Bonnett and Ron Oliver’s script has loftier ambitions.

Beauregard Belmont (soap star Jack Wagner) has made the ski resort experience a luxury destination for those who want to hit the slopes in style. All the comforts of home are elevated, and his Instagram-ready accommodations are growing in popularity with each passing season. That’s great news for him, but it spells tough times for Jake Russell’s North Star Lodge in Summit Springs. A family-owned business gifted to him by his late wife’s father the North Star Lodge is seeing their reservations for Christmas dwindle, losing customers to Belmont’s fancier digs. Jake (Overstreet) is doing his best to make ends meet but he’s starting to come up short.

As the film opens, Jake meets with Belmont to find a compromise so that both businesses may thrive. Still, Belmont has other things to worry about, namely finding a job for his daughter Sierra (Lohan), who is about to be engaged to vain influencer Tad (George Young, Malignant). Tad has no sooner put a ring on it at the peak of a snowy mountain than Sierra is falling down the side of said mountain, bumping her head and forgetting who she is. Luckily, she’s rescued by Jake and winds up waiting for her memory to return at his lodge, helping and getting to know his young daughter (Olivia Perez, In the Heights) and mother-in-law (Alejandra Flores). One guess what happens the more time the widower and amnesiac heiress spend together at a cozy inn at the most festive time of year?

Poking holes in a block of Swiss cheese like Falling for Christmas is pointless. Lohan’s character is a Paris Hilton type, and if she went missing, I doubt she’d be left unaccounted for as long as Lohan is (then again…). It’s always hysterical how easily movies think amnesia can come and go, with memories jumping in and out at will. Lohan keeps the film bright and bubbly, with that soft, husky voice back into its higher register (not down in the deep smoker’s well it had dropped to) and her eyes sparkling and ready to have fun. There’s a twinkle in Lohan’s smile and spirit we haven’t seen in some time, and that vibrancy goes a long way in making Falling for Christmas sit right. 

Credit also must go to director Janeen Damian for surrounding her star with a strong cast and production. It feels like the “good” Netflix money has gone into it, with the Utah-filmed movie giving off an authentic vibe. It helps that it was filmed last November when it was visibly cold and not in the Spring like most are when they are forced to rely on foam snow to cover the trees. Overstreet has a winsome hangdog look, but he’s incredibly winning as the right guy for Lohan’s character. I must also give significant kudos to Perez for landing on the tolerable scale of child actors – so many kids in similar-themed movies can torment you with their cutesiness. 

We’re only in the second week of November, but it’s never too early to welcome a little holiday cheer into your heart, which is why Falling for Christmas is such a pleasure. I had my fingers crossed this would be as warm and pleasing as it was; that it turned out to be high-quality was the curled bow on top of it all. Lohan could have an entirely new career as the Queen of Christmas if she wanted, and ooo, would I love that! But if this is the only holiday outing we get with her, it’s a jolly one!