It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and for the gift that truly keeps on giving, I’d like to bring our collective attention to: Cheesy Holiday Movies. Every year brings a fresh round of sacrifices to my altar of indulgent escapism, and I cannot recommend that indulgence highly enough, especially now. To say that 2020 has been a bad time is an obvious understatement, but if you’re looking for a champion against this seemingly endless stretch of nights spent at home, I’ve curated a selection of festive double features, just for you.
Disclaimer, before we begin: overt displays of self-awareness resulted in immediate disqualification — this is not a Krampus (2015) / Pottersville (2017) kind of vibe.
Big City Girl, Small Town Christmas:
Christmas Inheritance (2017) / Christmas in Mississippi (2017)
The trope of big city girl returns to her hometown to learn the meaning of Christmas is a classic, full of charming condescension and yearning for a “simpler” time. Of course, that comes with a whole host of problems. But, if you go into this with a generous heart, these movies are about slowing down, appreciating simple pleasures, and connecting with other people! They’re about beautiful towns full of people who care about each other and who also somehow run totally viable small businesses! And honestly that’s what Christmas means to me.
When I first saw Christmas Inheritance, I was just starting out on my Cheesy Christmas Movie journey — it had that guy from Carol and The Obvious Child, so maybe it would be a normal movie, in the way that those were? I was wrong, of course, but I was surprisingly happy to be so. Every scene is more and more cringingly cliche — she slips and he catches her at all the right times, the power cuts out right when you expect it to, the town rallies and works together in a way that literally everybody saw coming. But, it can be fun, sometimes, to be right about things, and it can be comforting, accurately predicting what comes next (perhaps now, especially). And that’s kind of what this whole Cheesy Christmas Movie thing is about: the comfort found in predictability. And Christmas Inheritance is a great introduction to that concept.
Similarly, Christmas in Mississippi really takes the comfortable predictability to the next level. Even to someone watching for the first time, this movie is easy and familiar specifically because it is just a collection of cliches that somehow makes up a narrative. Ex-highschool sweethearts reunite to put on a festival of lights for their small town, which is finally recovering from the effects of a hurricane that hit 5 years prior. But the protagonist is up for a promotion back in The City and will she fly out there On Christmas Eve to take another interview?? (she does not) Look: I am a simple woman and I love to be right.
See also: Christmas Camp (2018), Christmas Hotel (2019), Random Acts of Christmas (2019), Christmas Belle (2013), Hometown Holiday (2018)
Festive Friday – Body Swap Christmas:
The Princess Switch (2019) / The Princess Switch 2: Switched Again (2020)
We are living in the Vanessa Hudgens Christmas Renaissance, and these movies are proof. This Double Feature is the ultimate testament to the fact that Vanessa Hudgens could do Austin Powers, but Mike Meyers could never do The Princess Switch.
In The Princess Switch, Vanessa Hudgens plays a simple Chicago baker with an unreasonably hot best friend. Aforementioned hot best friend signs her up for an International Holiday Baking competition in far off and deeply fictional Belgravia, hosted by the Prince of Belgravia and his fiance, the Duchess of Montenaro (who just so happens to be also played by Vanessa Hudgens). Neither Vanessa is quite satisfied with their life, and so they switch for a couple of days — the Duchess spends some time with the hot best friend, and the baker gets to know a literal prince. But neither of these men know about the switch! Hijinks ensue!!
In the eagerly awaited sequel, The Princess Switch 2: Switched Again, the two Vanessas find themselves back in fictional Europe — and this time, it’s personal. Duchess Vanessa is rushed into a surprise inauguration for the throne of Montenaro, and Baker/Princess Vanessa has to step in to give the Duchess a little alone time to process it all. BUT! Little do they know that Duchess Vanessa has a surprisingly identical cousin who lives to wreak havoc! Enter: Chaos Vanessa. And Hijinks!! Ensue!!!
Vanessa Hudgens is a generational talent and the queen of Christmas, long may she reign. (For more Vanessa Hudgens content, check out the Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time Travel bonus double feature on our patreon.)
See also: The Christmas Switch (2018), Switched for Christmas (2017), Christmas in the Heartland (2017)
Christmas Crimes & Mistletoe-demeanors:
A Christmas Mystery (2014) / A Christmas Catch (2018)
Who doesn’t love a little Christmas crime?? We’ll start off with A Christmas Mystery because it’s a decent introduction to the Christmas Crime genre, insofar as there is a mystery and a romance and just a little bit of danger, but also because you’ll really need to warm up (read: start drinking) if you want to make it through the second movie in this pair.
This first film’s titular mystery is, itself, not very difficult to solve. However! There are so many smaller mysteries within this movie that put your detective skills to the test — mysteries like: “What exactly does this protagonist do for a living? Lawyer? Reporter??” and “Wait — how are these people related again??” and, of course, “Who is genuinely this bad at writing exposition and why did someone pay them to make a movie??”
You should be pretty sloshed by the time you start A Christmas Catch because it is borderline unwatchable. Every scene is about a minute and a half longer than it needs to be and the plot is periodically interrupted/actively delayed by straight-to-camera montage sequences that rely entirely on the charm and charisma of the lead actress (which is really too much to ask of anyone). But it does hit the satisfying story beats of both Christmas and Crime — the protagonist and the love interest are both abnormally invested in the Holidays, and there’s an identity reversal a la The Usual Suspects that turns relief to despair and back again (but only if you’re drunk and not really paying attention! So, again: highly recommend imbibing).
See also: Christmas Bounty (2013), The Santa Con (2014)
Santa of the Opera – Musical Christmas:
Christmas on the Square (2020) / Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)
This is a Dolly Parton household and I will not hear a word spoken against her. That noted, I say this with all the love in the world: Christmas on the Square is outdated and hard to watch. But at the same time, of course, I completely adore it. Christine Baranski is a miserly landlord with a complicated past. She learns the true meaning of Christmas with a little help from literal angel, Dolly Parton. Also the whole thing is a musical! With synchronized dancing! And an extended disco-themed flashback sequence! I mean, look: we love Christine Baranaski; we love shitting on landlords; we love Dolly Parton. Truly you cannot go wrong here, even with a secret baby plotline and the whole-ass concept that Anyone is buying land in order to build a MALL in this, the year of our lord 2020.
Moving into the second half of this double feature, we can see that, right off the bat, the production values on Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey are worlds higher than Christmas on the Square. BUT! It is exactly as cheesy, just in a totally different way. Jingle Jangle feels classically Christmas, with (forgive me) Big Dickens Energy — from the literal curiosity shoppe and the tale of greed punished and forgiven, to the frankly incredible sets and costumes — but also there’s synchronized singing and dancing. Honestly it’s A Lot of Fun and a joy to watch. I wish it had come out when I was a kid because I would’ve been obsessed for the aesthetic alone.
See also: The Mistle-tones (2012), A Christmas Winter Song (2019)
It’s a Wonderful Lie:
Holiday in Handcuffs (2007) / Holidate (2020)
I am not shy about my great love for the Fake Dating trope, and so I have devoted an entire double feature to it here. We begin with Holiday in Handcuffs, which sounds worse than it is (though it is pretty bad). No one is a cop, BUT Melissa Joan Hart does kidnap Mario Lopez at gunpoint and then forces him to pretend to be her boyfriend at her family’s traditional Christmas in a remote log cabin. It’s fully illegal and he should absolutely press charges, but instead (spoilers) they fall in love.
Holidate, in general, has a much better relationship to the concept of consent. Two beautiful people (Emma Roberts and a non-Hemsworth Australian) both struggle with long-term relationships and the pressure that’s put on them during the holiday season. So, they mutually agree to be each other’s date for whatever holiday, as long as they’re both still single — no strings, no pressure, no expectations. You watch the two of them get to know each other and each other’s friends over the course of a year, and you see them come up with more and more excuses to spend time together. (Do people really need dates for St. Patrick’s Day? Cinco De Mayo? Labor Day?? Who’s to say.) But for as much as this movie at least operates on a more realistic romantic timeline, it is still overwhelmingly cheesy and a lot of fun. Also! Kristin Chenoweth is there! What more could we possibly ask for?
See also: Midnight at the Magnolia (2020), The Christmas Contract (2018)
A Christmas Prince (2017) / A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding (2018) / A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby (2019)
This list wouldn’t be complete without the truly glorious triple feature that is the Christmas Prince franchise. The intricacies of this world are vast and inconsistent, but therein lies the charm.
The arc of this trilogy is, essentially:
- Blogger would like to be a real reporter, so she bluffs her way into the royal household of Aldovia to get the scoop on whether or not the playboy prince is really king material. She soon finds that he is, in fact, husband material.
- It turns out that monarchies are not actually great at: fostering individualism OR serving the people. Who knew?? (Please see The Beautician and the Beast for more information.) Princess Blogger refuses to be silenced by her royal soon-to-be in-laws, and pretends to care about The Workers and their missing pensions in order to make herself feel like a real reporter.
- Bottle episode. (Get it? Like a baby bottle? — but also a royal artifact goes missing when visiting dignitaries are snowed into the castle, and they have to solve this mystery before emergency services arrive to dig them out!)
I honestly cannot express what beautiful trainwrecks these movies are. You absolutely deserve to sit down with three massive mugs of increasingly boozy hot chocolate and watch all of them.
See also: A Princess for Christmas (2011), My Christmas Prince (2017), Christmas with a Prince (2018), A Christmas in Royal Fashion (2018)
The Gift of the Vagi:
Carol (2015) / Happiest Season (2020)
Carol is the Cate Blanchett/Rooney Mara adaptation of The Price of Salt (1952), a classic of lesbian fiction for the fact that the lesbians end up together instead of dead. And Happiest Season is about Kristin Stewart’s inexplicably unfailing devotion to Mackenzie Davis, who does not deserve her.
I think we had high hopes for Happiest Season, as a society, but it was a waking nightmare and truly a testament to just how far we haven’t come. Yes, Kristin Stewart and Mackenzie Davis do end up together and nobody dies, but The Price of Salt set that bar nearly 70 years ago, and still we struggle to do more than meet it. And as much at Happiest Season very much is a Bad and Cheesy Movie, this double feature with Carol is more of a depressing bad than a fun bad, which means that it doesn’t quite fit the theme of this list (hence, Honorable Mention). But in all honesty, I just couldn’t resist The Gift of the Vagi joke.
Over the past 20 or so years, romance as a genre has been severely underserved in the mainstream theatrical market. Throughout the 80s and 90s, we could count on charming romantic comedies with medium-low budgets to churn out year after year. But traditional studios aren’t investing in that anymore! It’s as if the market for anything remotely niche (Romance? Seasonal Celebration?) has completely dried up. So many of the major blockbusters are just big-budget remakes of pre-existing properties, and I for one am sick of it!
Netflix has spent the past few years polishing up Hallmark’s seasonal signature to bring these easy, cheesy, romantic holiday movies to a wider audience. And as much as Netflix does not get everything right (I’m looking at you, tax avoidance and Adam Sandler), I am honestly grateful for the work they’re doing on this front.
So, please take this list and enjoy! Have yourself a Holly Dolly Christmas! And be sure to check out Our Patreon for some Bonus Double Features that didn’t quite make it into the final edit (Seasons Greedings: Christmas Business! The (Sexy) Ghost of Christmas Past! And more!)