Season’s screenings: Unwrap new holiday movies
The year 2020 could use some holiday cheer, which, luckily, can be found in front of a screen. Pour the eggnog, spike it if you choose, and get all nestled and snug on your couch to watch one these four new Santa-approved Christmas-themed movies:
Eleanor (Jillian Bell), an aspiring fairy godmother, is on a mission to give a happiness makeover to a reluctant Mackenzie (Isla Fisher), a 40-year-old single mom and widow who lives in Boston in this fantasy comedy. The movie was filmed across the city in January through March. From Charlestown to Copley Square, director Sharon Maguire (“Bridget Jones’s Diary”) bathes the city in a cheerful holiday glow with twinkling lights and rows and rows of festive garland. Other scenes were shot at City Hall, Boston Common and the North End. A deconsecrated church in Lowell was used for the interiors of The Motherland, the make-believe world where fairy godmothers live. The familiar sites certainly add to the enjoyment, but the odd-couple dynamic between Bell (overly enthusiastic) and Fisher (overly cynical) enlivens it even more. This is a Disney fairy tale, so there are loads of sparkle, frill, enchantment, wands and woodland creatures, to be sure. But the movie also dabbles in some of the progressive touches the studio has trended toward in movies like “Frozen” and the live-action “Cinderella.” Expect lots of humor and heart and a different spin on happily ever after. “Godmothered,” also stars June Squibb, Jane Curtin, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Jillian Shea Spaeder and Willa Skye.
Streams on Disney+ starting Dec. 4
You won’t go more than 10 minutes without getting teary while watching Dana Nachman’s documentary about the U.S. Postal Service’s century-old program to fulfill children’s Christmas wishes for anything from toys to bikes to puppies to a new mattress, refrigerator or a ride in a limousine. The Postal Service receives hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa annually and none of them make it to 123 Elf Road, North Pole, 88888. But some do get responses through Operation Santa, a program started in 1907 matching letters with donors who grant the children’s wishes. Nachman introduces us to the kids and the postal workers who read and sort their letters, which are distributed to Santa’s “helpers” - aka union workers in New York City and students at a Brighton Beach elementary school - who make Christmas dreams come true. The missives are scrawled with crayons or painstakingly handwritten on various types of paper in every shade of ink. And all contain some version of “I’ve been on my best behavior.” Many were decorated with stickers, glitter or drawings. Some are funny; others are incredibly sad. Little Loreali’s letter tells Santa her family’s home was destroyed in the Paradise, California, fires and she hopes he’ll find her at their temporary home. Spoiler alert: He does. “Dear Santa” captures that good feeling of giving and encapsulates everything that is right with the Christmas season. It’s sure to melt the heart of even the grinchiest Grinch. To participate in the program, log onto https://www.uspsoperationsanta.com/.
Showing in select theaters and available to rent via video on demand starting Dec. 4
Writer-director Clea DuVall (“The Intervention”) makes the yuletide “gay” - and wonderfully so - with this rom-com about a same-sex couple whose trip home for Christmas becomes tricky when Harper (Mackenzie Davis) admits to Abby (Kristen Stewart) that she hasn’t come out to her wasp-y family. Abby will pretend to be Harper’s roommate, the first among many deceptions that will be revealed as the script works its way through the familiar beats of Holiday Movie 101. But despite the film’s unabashed predictability, it does make some genuinely warm and funny points about parenting, family ties and being true to oneself. Contributing to those humorous and heart-felt moments are a host of excellent supporting players led by “Schitt’s Creek’s” Daniel Levy, who steals his every scene as Abby’s gay best friend, and Mary Steenburgen as the sarcastic-mouthed matriarch. Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Victor Garber and co-writer Mary Holland round out the fine cast.
Streaming on Hulu
“JINGLE JANGLE: A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY”
If it’s the power of belief you want, then look no further than this darling movie-musical boasting style, spectacle - and substance. It centers on an all-Black cast in a Victorian period setting in a town called Cobbleton. Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker is Jeronicus Jangle, a singing-and-dancing toy maker-inventor betrayed by his former protégé (Keegan-Michael Key). Things change when his granddaughter, Journey (newcomer Madalen Mills, a delight), arrives to help heal old wounds and reawaken the magic tarnished by grief, estrangement and disloyalty. The movie, from writer-director David E. Talbert (“Almost Christmas”) with original songs by John Legend, Philip Lawrence and Davy Nathan, feels like a Broadway spectacular. Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose, Lisa Davina Phillip and Ricky Martin voicing the villainous toy Don Juan Diego top the talented supporting cast.
Streaming on Netflix
Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.