Christmas movies are more or less eternal. 90s Christmas movies, not so much. Today I watched “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” a Jonathan Taylor Thomas vehicle, which contains so many mid-90s trappings that I’m personally surprised the film didn’t kneecap Nancy Kerrigan during filming (topical).
Okay, so the plot of this film is that JTT is Van Wilder, if Van Wilder looked like he was 15 and his college looked like two rooms in an elementary school. JTT’s character (Jake? Whatever, I’m calling him JTT) is the archetypical student that has it all. The bullies all buy test answers from him, he rescues the nerds, but still makes sure the nerds do his homework and get him concert tickets. The exact character model created when filmmakers decided that the jock/nerd dichotomy still existed, but that audiences preferred to think of themselves as the one person in the school that’s above it. JTT has received tickets to fly home to visit his family, which he doesn’t want to do. He wants his girlfriend to fly to Cabo with him. She (Jessica Biel, also looking 15) says no, because FAAAAAAAMMMILLLLLYYYY HOOOOOLLLIDAAAYS.
Then his dad (Gary Cole, yay! Wasted on saying FAAAAMMMILLY HOOOLIIDDAAAYS, boo!) calls and drops the movie carrot. If JTT is home by a certain holiday date, he gets the family Porsche. Perfect, a smug fuck gets a free Porsche, it’s a Christmas miracle. Now that we have a MacGuffin, all we need is a premise. So some bullies that are mad at JTT dump him in a desert dressed as Santa with his hat and beard glued on. How they get him out there is a mystery. In one scene, they surround him, in the next he awakens unharmed in a Santa Suit in the desert. Did they drug him? Is this really the story of three college bullies (all of whom refer to themselves in the third person with a –man suffix, vis. “The Ed-Man”) that drug, strip, and cosplay up another college student before leaving him to die in the desert? Seems sort of lighthearted for that.
Anyway, now we have our pieces, so JTT is off to be Santa to a bunch of anecdotal road goobers. You know what’s going to happen, it’s vignettes where he inadvertantly helps people by bringing his inmitable cool and reluctant altruism to those in need. So we see him barf in a grandma’s purse, help a dimwitted thief get back on the right path, help a cop reunite with his angry girlfriend, and so on. In the very first of these scenes, his beard is ripped clean off, leaving only the smug Punchalectable® face of JTT, but everyone calls him Santa anyway. What’s especially weird about all these scenes is that they are not called back in any form. When he’s done with the road thief, that’s the end of the road thief. There’s not much of a lesson learned (seriously, he’s not a bad guy at the start of this movie, he’s just sorta smug) and the characters are just left behind.
While this crap is happening, Jessica Biel is stuck riding home with Ed-Man, who is a sort of walking 90s dumb jock trope. Don’t feel too bad for Biel though, because she herself is a horrific stereotype of the too-cool for you 90s girl. She says things like “I take it back, there’s no intelligent life on this planet” and “It’s e.e. cummings, is anything more romantic?” I dunno, but is there anything more tropey than a movie girlfriend that is unerringly familiar with all poetry and considers it the very height of romance to have it unsolicitously quoted at her? She rebuffs his advances a bunch of times and then accidentally kisses him under the mistletoe. There you go.
Eventually all the chunks come together and JTT gets home, just a bit late but close enough for his dad, who only cared about getting his son home for Christmas, enough to bribe him with a $200,000 car. JTT gets his girlfriend back (she left him twice for various reasons, mostly pertaining to being angry that he isn’t sufficiently Christmas-y). Hooray!
This movie was dumb and boring. I know that sort of statement doesn’t make for a good review but sue me, I’m not a professional. It’s got the same pervasive sense that there’s a set of special Christmas morals that all good characters inherently understand, and we get to watch as those are relentlessly drilled into a selfish protagonist. In this film that boils down to Biel being angry at learning about the Porsche. “You’re going home for the holidays for a car? That’s not selfless! You should be doing it for [INSERT HOLIDAY TRADITION] instead!” That’s sort of bullshit logic that permeates these films. Of course he’s going to go get his free Porsche. You would too. $250,000 or the importance of draining joy from a hot mug of cocoa, you make the call. This film commits the crime of wasting Gary Cole on a role of just saying “I hope my son is home for Christmas” and “My son is not yet home for Christmas.” I give it a D+. Don’t watch this unless you’re a huge JTT fan, in which case you have it already, saliva-stuck to the gross wall of your spit-maché cave of old Tiger Beats.
(addendum: The only images I could find of this film that were high enough resolution to use on our front page slider were of Jessica Biel as a teenager. Stay classy, internet.)