Christmas films are overrated. There: I said it. Christmas films are underrated. I said that too. I’m not deliberately trying to be awkward – that comes naturally to a film critic I suspect – as both statements can, and do, coexist truthfully.
To call something a ‘Christmas film’ is to categorise it instantly, broadly placing it within a box holding our set opinions. I call Christmas films overrated because mainstream audiences, and I’m generalising wildly here, do seem to experience a fuzz of warm nostalgia when it comes to remembering – or perhaps miss-remembering – festive fare. Take Home Alone (Chris Columbus, 1990 – don’t string me up yet!), it’s a good, typically solid film from Columbus and a surprisingly violent one too for what it’s worth. Released at any other time of the year, I’d wager it’d be fondly remembered but never hailed as anything more than it is. Perhaps in the vein of Stuart Little (Rob Minkoff, 1999) or Spy Kids (Robert Rodriguez, 2001) say. However, Home Alone is a ‘Christmas film’ and, as such, considered by many to be a classic. By this default it is allowed to be unrealistic, that’s fine; it can get away with an over-sugared conclusion and it’s overlooked that, as a story, the film’s almost entirely screen-deep. Christmas is the time of year when audiences want to forget the real world (frankly, after 2016 we deserve a break) and need to believe in a message of hope. Is being rewarded for surviving another year, however, quite the same thing as watching a brilliant film?