WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
If there is one genre of film that is consistently enjoyable for me, it’s Christmas movies. I have yet to find a Christmas movie that I did not at least find entertaining. The reason for this is quite simple: it’s a Christmas movie. Anything that has any relation to Christmas will always be at the very least enjoyable, even if it’s the most generic and unoriginal film ever. I can’t help it; I just love the holiday.
This is where Help For The Holidays comes in.
Before I continue, I feel it necessary to give a little bit of background on why I’m doing this article. I originally did a review of this film in video form for my YouTube channel. However, admittedly, I was unsatisfied with the way the video turned out. I feel I could have done the review better. So I decided to write a review of it in an attempt to do that. If you’ll recall, some time ago, I wrote an article for this site, namely "Theory: Is Summer Glau the Female Leonardo DiCaprio?". I’d like to take this moment to thank the people at this site for allowing me to do so again. It’s always a pleasure to write for this site.
So anyway, Help For The Holidays (known as La Baby Sitter de Noel in France and Help for Christmas in the United Kingdom) is a 2012 made-for-television Christmas movie produced by the Hallmark Channel. I first watched the film last December when it aired on Hallmark in celebration of Christmas. I admit that I most likely would not have given it any attention if it were not for one simple factor: it’s star. Now, if you have seen the film or this article’s banner (or the name of this website), you know who the star of the film is.
The film focuses on one of Santa’s elves, named Christine, played by Summer Glau. One day, Santa, played by Steve Larkin (in what according to IMDB is his second time playing Santa, the first being an episode of George Lopez) gives Christine the assignment of visiting a family who have lost their Christmas spirit. The parents in the family, Sara and Scott VanCamp (Eva LaRue and Dan Gauthier), are busy running a Christmas-themed gift shop, brilliantly named “Holly Daze” (Get it? Because it sounds like “holidays”?). Their business has become very successful, leading them to focus most of their time on their business and leaving them with little time to spend with their children Will and Ally (Mason Cook and Izabela Vidovic). Will and Ally also have an uncle named Dave (John Brotherton), who often spends time with them when their parents are busy. Christine, posing as a nanny for the family under the name “Christine Prancer”, sets out on a mission to bring them closer together and rekindle their Christmas spirit, which may prove more difficult than she thought. You may think I’m just keeping the summary simple, but in actuality that’s really all there is to the movie. It’s a very simple story.
Now, as I stated earlier, if it were not for the star of this film, I doubt I would have given the film much attention. Maybe I would have since it IS a Christmas movie and Christmas is probably my favorite thing in the world, but usually when I think of Christmas movies, I usually stick with classics like It’s A Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol. However, I was very glad I chose to watch this movie. It was actually much more enjoyable than I initially believed it would be. I didn’t necessarily expect the film to be bad, but I did not expect to like it quite as much as I did. And I really did.
Now, since Summer Glau is the star of the film, I guess it’s only fitting to start by talking about her. Going into this movie, I instantly expected to love Summer in her role in this film. I mean, I thought the casting was absolutely perfect. I can think of no one who is more fit to play one of Santa’s elves than Summer Glau is. I mean, can you think of an actress more likeable and cute than Summer? I can’t. Therefore, who better to play one of Santa’s adorable elves?
But that aside, how was she in the movie? Honestly, what do you expect? She was fantastic as usual. If we’re speaking completely truthfully, I think that Summer’s role as Christine is my second favorite performance I’ve seen her in, behind that of River Tam from Firefly. Calm down, Terminator fans; I haven’t seen Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles yet. Season 2 is on my Christmas shopping list (is that sentence ironic?)
Truth be told, if I were ever to make a list of the most likeable characters ever, I’m pretty sure I’d place Christine somewhere on the list. Quite honestly, I just cannot fathom how anyone could possibly not like her. I’m not just saying that because I love Summer Glau; I’m being serious here. I don’t think in my time talking about movies I’ve ever seen a character quite as upbeat, positive and happy as Christine, or at least I don’t recall ever seeing one. And for the record, by this I mean TOLERABLY upbeat. Will Ferrell in Elf is a completely different story; that’s just annoyingly happy, at least in my opinion. I’m sorry if you like that movie, but that character just irritated me for most of it. You may be asking what that has to do with this review, but I’m only saying it because Elf and Help For The Holidays are when you think about it very similar movies. Summer Glau as Christine is very positive and happy like Buddy the Elf, but it doesn’t ever cross the line into being annoying. When you really think about it, writing-wise the character is pretty, dare I say, generic. It isn’t a very complex character. But that isn’t bad if the performance is good, and Summer’s performance in the role just worked tremendously well. She’s clearly having a ball with this role and enjoying every minute of performing it, and when someone is clearly having this much fun in something, it’s kinda hard to not at least be entertained by it.
But here’s the important thing to note: like I said earlier, they didn’t overdo this. The writers of this movie (Bob Sáenz and Abbey Cleland) could have written Christine to be too happy and upbeat. Not only would that risk getting annoying, but in my opinion, you’d have not cared as much about the character. If Christine had been written as being too happy and upbeat, she wouldn’t have seemed realistic, and realism is necessary in making a character likeable. No matter who you are, you will at some point get upset or discouraged if faced with a difficult or seemingly unsolvable problem. If they had made it so Christine was 100% motivated and never gave up hope in what she was doing, she would not have seemed real. Realistically, even the most positive and upbeat person ever would at some point begin to give up hope in this situation and wonder if they have any chance in accomplishing what they intend to accomplish. And there are definitely plenty of moments where Christine begins to get discouraged and sad when she feels there is no hope in making the VanCamp family feel the joy of the season. Even she begins to give up this hope at times. It helps makes her feel more three-dimensional. And in my opinion, you can’t help but feel for her. You want Christine to succeed in what she is doing because it just breaks your heart to see her get sad and give up hope that she will. She’s just such a likeable character that you don’t want to see her get sad. Half the time, part of you just wishes you could reach out and give her a hug to cheer her up. And that’s the sign of good writing when you care that much about what happens.
Going back to Summer’s performance, any time the character is supposed to feel any emotions, it almost never feel rehearsed; when Summer’s character is supposed to be happy, she seems legitimately happy. When she is sad, she seems legitimately sad. As usual, she clearly got was really into the role. In fact, recently I read from some article (I cannot recall what article) that apparently Summer’s family considers this their favorite role that she has done because they apparently saw a lot of Summer herself in the character. No wonder she worked so well in it, huh? It’s like if you had Ted Bundy playing the role of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.
Also, as I stated in a previous article I wrote for this site, this movie really helps in showing Summer’s versatility. Think about it: Summer has gone from playing a mentally damaged psychic teenager (Firefly) to playing a Terminator (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) and now to playing a happy and upbeat elf from Santa’s workshop. If that isn’t the sign of versatility, I don’t know what is.
But we can’t spend this entire review just talking about Summer (as much as I’d like to). Let’s move on to the rest of the cast. Now, when I first watched this film nearly a year ago, I admit that I didn’t really care much for the rest of the cast. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I did like most of them to an extent, but they were nothing that special. However, upon watching again, I surprisingly began to look on most of the supporting cast in a better light.
Let’s start with John Brotherton as Uncle Dave. I don’t know what exactly it is, but I did actually like this character a fair amount. I think much of it comes through the performance, much like with Summer Glau as Christine. The guy was very likeable in his role. Something I also noticed on a second viewing is that his relationship with Summer Glau’s character is actually surprisingly believable. Naturally, the two characters are going to end up falling for each other. I mean, what movie doesn’t have a romantic subplot? But either way, they work well together, and their romance is actually well-handled and sweet. In fact, one of my favorite scenes in the film is shown right after Christine returns home to the North Pole. Having basically given up hope that she will ever be able to help make the VanCamps feel the joy of the holidays, she goes home and all traces of her presence disappear. There’s a scene where Uncle Dave visits the apartment that she stayed in to talk to her, and once he enters he finds the place completely abandoned. This scene is in my opinion very well done. I couldn’t help but feel bad for Uncle Dave. I really did feel that the man truly had grown to care about Christine, and now she just disappears from his life. It’d be like if in The Little Mermaid Ariel just disappeared and returned home to the sea right as Eric started to really fall in love with her. Wouldn’t you feel bad for the guy?
Now, someone else I warmed up to upon a second viewing is the children in the film. I was originally indifferent to the two kids, Will and Ally VanCamp. On a second viewing, however, I did begin to like them a bit more. I will give the kids credit on the fact that they’re better than most other child actors. Usually child actors are either boring or gratingly annoying. Luckily, these two kids are neither. I mean, they aren’t fantastic, but they’re good for what they need to do. As I said before, their relationship with Summer Glau’s character was very nice, and it was fun to watch the three interact. I’d also like to say that the boy, Will, has one of the funniest lines in the whole film, as shown in the photo below.
In fact, in talking about funny moments from the film, that’s another big praise I have towards this movie. I did not expect to say this when I first watched the film, but the film actually managed a fair amount of funny moments, at least in my opinion. I didn’t expect to laugh much in this film, but I surprisingly found myself laughing quite a few times. How odd is that? A Hallmark Christmas movie made me laugh a lot. Of course, then again, a lot of the laughs in the movie came just from Summer’s facial expressions and reactions in certain scenes. Some of her expressions in certain moments of the film just had me cracking up. I never noticed before this movie how funny some of her expressions could be. In particular, look at her reaction to seeing Santa (the real Santa in disguise as a fake one) when out with the kids:
Now, since this movie is a television movie, and a Hallmark television movie at that, there of course will be a limited budget. They can’t afford to make this some huge marvel or something like that. But I think in the case of this film, that kind of came to the movie’s advantage. By this I mean... well, let’s start with the sets, in particular the sets for the North Pole. These sets aren’t as complex as something like in The Santa Clause or something like that. That was a $22 million film. This is a made-for-TV Hallmark movie. But like I said, the limited budget came in advantage. With these limited resources, they would obviously have to put more effort into giving the sets and such their own kinda charm. And while these sets are pretty simple, they do have their own kind of charm to them. The same goes for the magic effects; they’re pretty simple, but they work for the type of movie it is.
I also surprisingly liked the music for the movie. I don’t know what it is, but its nice music.
Now, as with any film, I did have problems with this movie, but the problems I have are not crippling ones. My first problem with the film was the parents. In regards to Eva LaRue’s character, the first time I watched the film, I really didn’t like her. I can’t go so far as to say I hated her because I can at least somewhat understand where she is coming from, but I really didn’t like her. I don’t know; maybe it’s because I liked Christine so much, and to see someone constantly mess things up for her just made me instinctively not like them. In terms of the father, I just plain was not interested in him. The father was not that interesting, and I honestly feel that you could have run the movie without him.
My other problem with the film is more nitpicky: I fail to see how anyone in this group of people did not pick up on the fact Christine was an elf sooner. I mean, ALL the evidence points to this: she’s constantly happy, she’s obsessed with Christmas, she constantly pulls awesome stuff out of nowhere as if by magic, she still believes in Santa Claus... how did no one pick up on it? I mean, yes, the children seem to think there’s something off about her, but even they don’t pick up on the truth until much later. I don’t know what kind of Glasses of Obliviousness these people were wearing, but they must have been pretty thick. But hey, I can forgive this since I was so engaged in the movie.
So to wrap this review up, I liked this film the first time I saw it, and I surprisingly liked it even more the second time I did. It was a truly enjoyable movie that really put me in the spirit of the holidays. I guess the best way to describe the movie is that it has... well, heart. Of course, for a network that proclaims itself as being “The Heart of TV”, I guess that’s a given. And hey, isn’t that what a Christmas movie is supposed to do: have heart and put you in the spirit of Christmas? I admit that obviously most of that comes through Summer Glau’s outstanding performance and that without her the movie would have just been a generically entertaining Christmas special, but hey, you know what they say: sometimes one person can make a huge difference. Speaking truthfully, I might end up watching this movie every Christmas if it’s on, because I really do like it. Give it a chance if you haven’t seen it. It’s worth it.
Oh, and if you’re reading this, Hallmark, put this movie on DVD please. You put every other one of your Christmas movies on DVD.
On the same topic, you can read two exclusive interviews with Help for the Holidays's writer Bob Saenz, as well as an interview with Head of Makeup Myke Spezzano.
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