Sunday, December 11, 2011

25 Days of Christmas Movies, Day 11: Hard Times at the Holidays

So I worked myself hard yesterday baking enough cookies for several boxes of assortments for all my co workers.  I made a box for everyone in the department and my two math friends, and the leftovers I popped into a platter for the school secretaries.  I suddenly feel both thoughtful and generous, and I suppose that is what Christmas is all about.  Thinking of others and giving...and I suppose it doesn't hurt that giving away all my cookies removes the temptation for eating them since I'm watching my figure now (and getting excellent results I might add!).  Back to the baking...I spent 5 hours on my feet mixing and measuring and taking things out of the oven and at the end of it I was so tired I was passing out before 10 last night, which is unheard of for me on a Saturday night.  And as I sat there, falling asleep contentedly after a heavy day of cooking and preparing for the last week of school, I started thinking of people who aren't as lucky as myself and others in the middle-class bracket.  There are people out there who are struggling to just keep their financial lives together let alone afford to buy gifts.  And I thought of a film I just watched a few nights ago that I feel fits those late night ponderings of mine nicely.  It is the story of a woman who cannot muster any Christmas spirit simply because her life has gotten so bad this year that she cannot focus on it and an angel who tries to win her back by showing her what could be worse.  It was a well-reviewed but largely unseen live action film from the Mouse House in the 80s, and I am pleased to revisit it here for you.  So lets go and experience One Magic Christmas.

Ginny Granger is the mother of two and wife to Jack Granger, a dreamer and a factory worker.  They are solidly in the middle of working/lower class and things seem to keep getting worse.  Jack has been out of work since June, the family has to move out of their house (which is company owned) by January 1st, and Ginny is forced to work at a local grocery store (a job she hates and which keeps her from her kids) in order to make ends meet.  Stress is added to her plate by her children, who keep asking if Santa is coming this year and manage to keep breaking things in the house, and Jack, who wants to take out a loan for a bike shop.  Ginny sees all of this as foolish and loses her temper quite often, feeling bad about it afterward but not understanding why her family doesn't understand why they simply cannot be frivolous at this time.  One night, Abbie, Ginny's daughter, goes out to mail a letter to Santa asking him to make things better for her mother.  As she drops it in, an angel named Gideon takes it back and tells her that she must get her mother to mail it in order to make her mother better.  This is easier said than done, though, since Ginny simply refuses to indulge Abby's belief in Santa and Christmas.  Gideon, realizing matters are dire, begins to set in motion events that will test Ginny's beliefs and her strength.

Wow, this may have been the most depressing Christmas I ever saw.  You get to witness the demise of a family's finances and security on Christmas Eve and you are treated to some doozies of worst case scenarios.  It's a wonder someone watching it doesn't start hating Christmas as much as Ginny does.  However, that is sort of the point...to see people at their lowest so that we can see the holiday persevere and bring them back up from the dumps.  Very much like It's a Wonderful Life, an angel comes to intervene in a person's life to bring them back into loving Christmas...and he can't show the positives of the holiday, no of course not, he has to bring the protagonist to her worst so that she can see what COULD be missing rather than what is.  I won't ruin the surprises, and there are many, but I will say that this angel does way worse things to Ginny than Clarence did to George in It's a Wonderful Life.  Oh, special mention should be given to Mary Steenburgen, who plays Ginny to subtle perfection.  She isn't the average Scrooge at all.  We see her bounce back and forth between tempers and remorse for hurting her loved ones.  It all seems so real and true to life that I began to forget I was watching an actress in a part and really believed I was seeing a working class mother at the end of her rope.  She hates the holiday and hates herself for being impatient with her family...it was one of the most subtly nuanced performances I've ever seen.  Harry Dean Stanton is also good as the angel Gideon who isn't all smiles and sunshine like Clarence Oddbody, but rather he is melancholy and genuinely sad by Ginny's lack of faith.  It is a nice change from the usual overly-happy and "rah rah...CHRISTMAS!" as these characters tend to be.  I'm not sure if One Magic Christmas is going to be your cup of tea given the very dark factor of it, but it is certainly different from what else you will see during the holiday season and will definitely make you thankful for what you have.

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