Christmas Eve

Posted on December 4, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some peril, thematic elements and language
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Sad terminal diagnosis, gun, some tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 4, 2015

It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but the Christmas season is also the most hectic and the most fraught. Our to-do lists are overwhelming. Our expectations are even more so. And then there are the expectations of others. Everyone who celebrates Christmas expects at least a little magic around December 25th. Everyone, even the most cynical among us, wants to believe. Like Scrooge, we want to wake up as merry as a schoolboy and like the Grinch, we want our heart to grow.

In the gentle dramedy “Christmas Eve,” six very different groups of people get that chance. They deal in the most literal terms with life and death. There is love and loss and reconciliation. And it all happens because a guy runs his repair truck (labeled “Deus ex Machina”) into a power station and knocked out the electricity, so that six elevators get stuck and the people in them are trapped.

Patrick Stewart plays a wealthy man used to barking orders at cowering underlings. He is trapped by himself in a precarious construction elevator. The others are in groups. One is in a hospital elevator with orderlies, a nurse (played by Shawn King, the wife of producer Larry King — yes, that Larry King), a doctor (Gary Cole),a and an unconscious post-surgery patient.

In an apartment building, an outgoing photographer and a shy young woman are stuck together. A classical music ensemble is trapped together on the way to a performance. There is a lot of artistic temperament in a crowded space and one of them (Cheryl Hines) has a gun.

In another elevator, an IT guy who has just been laid off (Jon Heder) is trapped in an elevator with the boss who just gave him the bad news — on Christmas Eve. And in a shopping mall, two silly girls are trapped between brains and brawn. Their elevator includes a guy with a lot of muscles and tattoos who does not say much, a guy with some OCD issues and a lot of hand sanitizer, and a guy who could do very well on Jeopardy.

Before the power station can go back on line, the repair truck guy has to be rescued in a very complicated maneuver. So that gives us time to go back and forth as the temporary (but not as temporary as they intended to be) inhabitants of the elevators worry about everything from bodily functions to existential issues (I suppose bodily functions are a kind of existential issue).

As one might expect from the unwieldy construct, the movie is very uneven, careening back and forth between “Love Boat” level corny situations to a few moments of surprising insight. We are not surprised when the photographer gives the shy young woman a makeover and takes her picture. But we are at what happens next. The doctor was hoping he would be far from the hospital by the time his patient woke up and had to hear some bad news. But they are in the elevator so long that he ends up having to tell her himself, and the moment is sensitively handled. The weakest elements are the slapstick-ish rescue of the man who hit the power station and the interaction between the laid-off employee and his now-former boss, which requires a suspension of disbelief even Christmas cannot excuse. At its worst, it feels like a late-season “Love Boat” episode crossed with a late-night Hallmark Christmas movie, but at its best it reminds us that even in this busy season, we need to stop to smell the pine needles.

Parents should know that this film includes crude bathroom humor, some strong language, peril, gunshots, a sad terminal diagnosis, and tense confrontations.

Family discussion: Which of these people would you most like to be stuck with? What was the most important lesson learned by the characters? Which one surprised you the most?

If you like this, try: “New Year’s Eve” and “Valentine’s Day”

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Holidays Movies -- format Spiritual films
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