The Christmas movie, like any other film genre, doesn’t stay constant. Even though Hallmark and Netflix Christmas rom-coms seem to grab the greatest share of attention these days, they’re not the only trend around.
For example, ever since 1998’s Like Father, Like Santa — Santa’s estranged son Harry Hamlin schemes to make his toy business even greater than his dad’s — there’s been a steady flow of “children of Santa” films: Mr. St. Nick, Arthur Christmas, Santa Baby, Once Upon a Christmas and this year’s Santa Girl on Netflix.
I’ve seen two movies centering around advent calendars the past couple of years, Holiday Calendar and Christmas Calendar (the former’s magical, the latter mundane) so I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before we get Advent of Horror (“I saw a snowflake behind the door — you’re going to freeze to death before midnight!”).
And then there’s Christmas time-travel, something I learned about while writing Now and Then We Time Travel, an encyclopedic look at time-travel movies.
There’s Snow Globe Christmas (an Asylum mockbuster of the delightful Christmas movie Snowglobe), Back to Christmas, A Christmas Eve Miracle, Mr. Scrooge To See You and the topic of my post today, Christmas time-loop films.
While Groundhog Day is the name everyone knows in this sub-genre, Christmas unsurprisingly has it beat for quantity (definitely not quality). It’s not just that Christmas is a bigger draw for viewers, Christmas is perfect for the games time-loop movies play. Bill Murray’s weatherman has to grow and change and struggle surrounded by strangers. There’s a lot more drama if you’re surrounded by family, trapped into recycling the same issues and conflicts and insecurities over and over and over … The downside of that is that time looping merges rather blandly into the usual Christmas family stories or rom-coms; so far nobody’s come up with a Christmas time loop as fresh as Repeaters, which tackles the question “if everything I do gets rebooted, does it matter I did it?” (spoiler: it matters a lot).
Both the first time-loop Christmas film, Christmas Every Day (1996) and the most recent, Pete’s Christmas (2013) are blandly watchable Christmas fare in that way. Teenage protagonist has crappy Christmas filled with family conflicts and other problems, like ineptitude at sports. Time loop starts, protagonist tries to take advantage, eventually starts solving family conflicts instead. All ends happily. A little too happily for me: Robert Hays as the dad in the ’96 film is so pushy about wanting his son to play basketball I thought part of the resolution would be the kid saying “No!” Instead he just practices so much that he gets good.
Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999) works better in that Huey, Dewey and Louie are being outright selfish brats in the first day of the “Stuck on Christmas” segment. When Christmas reboots, they go right on being spoiled brats, taking full advantage of the set-up before, of course, getting the Christmas spirit and helping their family have a great Christmas instead.
They’re actually angels compared to Kevin (Jay Mohr) Christmas Do-Over (2006), a petulant jerk (his songwriting career never took off. He’s still pissed) who at one point treats his own son like crap, then hand-waves it away —kid’ll forget about it tomorrow, no harm, no foul. As Repeaters points out, hurting people is a bad thing, even if the time-loop erases it. Hurting your kid, a much badder thing. At the end, Kevin doesn’t really learn to be a better person, it’s more like he’s learned how to game the time-loop system so it lets him off the hook. I hate this one.
Steven Weber’s Calvin starts out as a dick in 12 Days of Christmas Eve (2004) but the movie doesn’t excuse that. Instead, Calvin dies in a freak accident on Dec. 24 and gets 12 chances to reboot the day and redeem himself. Here we get time-looping matched up with another Christmas perennial, Scrooge’s redemption, but it works. And Molly Shannon as Calvin’s exuberant guardian angel is a delight.
And of course we have to have a time-loop rom-com, 2011’s 12 Dates of Christmas. In the initial iteration Kate (Amy Smart) blows off a Christmas Eve blind date with Miles (Mark-Paul Gosselar) in hopes of winning back her ex. She fails, but when Dec. 24 reboots, Kate assumes the universe is giving her a second chance, then a third … but she has to keep redoing that date with Miles too, and you know something, he’s really great (in a nice twist Miles is slightly freaked out when Kate, from his perspective, seems to fall in love as soon as they meet). When Kate and Miles finally kiss at midnight (after she’s helped out several other people) Christmas finally comes.
So far Christmas has yet to give us another Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow, but there’s always next year.