BY FRANK TERRANELLA
I have had a Christmas tradition for the last several years: I set my TiVo to record a couple dozen Christmas movies, and then I watch them for weeks and weeks. Sometimes I run into Valentine’s Day. Why do I subject myself to what are often horrible movies – formulaic and predictable to the extreme? Because that’s what I want at Christmas. No surprises. Just assured, feel-good happy endings with not a few tears.
For example, recently I watched a film on The Hallmark Channel called “Come Dance With Me.” Andrew McCarthy plays an ambitious finance professional who meets up with a woman who runs a small dance studio. Of course, McCarthy’s client wants to rip down the dance studio and put up a mall, or something else that makes a lot of money. McCarthy falls in love with the woman, and then faces the classic question found in almost all Christmas movies. He actually stops a co-worker and asks him, “If you had to choose between love and money, what would you choose?”
The co-worker says he would try for both, but McCarthy won’t let him off the hook.
“No, if it was just one or the other, what would you choose?” The co-worker opts for money. And of course, that’s the same choice that Ebenezer Scrooge and Henry F. Potter make in “A Christmas Carol,” and “It’s A Wonderful Life,” respectively. But McCarthy, being the protagonist of the piece, must choose love over his job.
After watching scores of these films with titles like “Christmas Every Day,” “Silver Bells,” and “A Dog Named Christmas,” I have come to see a pattern. These movies usually prefer rural life to urban life, they prefer characters who care more about others than themselves, and love always wins over money.
The conflict between heart and head is a staple of romantic comedy. Sometimes it’s blatant like in “Arthur.” Other times it’s more subtle like in, “The Bridges of Madison County.” In Christmas movies, we generally have a 30-something protagonist who has spent the last decade or so in the big city pursuing success. He or she has been career-driven to the exclusion of personal relationships.
Now comes the day of reckoning – Christmas. The character is faced with a choice between staying on the career fast-track, or taking the exit ramp to a more fulfilling life. The choice to go with love rather than money is assured by the last reel. Characters in these movies continually are moving from rural areas to urban areas and coming home for Christmas, only to decide never to return to the city.
The older I get, the easier it gets to become cynical, and feel that there is no hope for the world, with all the wars, terrorists and politicians. Christmas movies provide a recharge of the hope supply for the new year. So tune in for some tidings of comfort and joy this Christmas season. And tell us – what’s your favorite Christmas movie?