Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: The 12 Dates Of Christmas

12 dates of Christmas indexDear Amazon, Netflix and Disney+: If your streaming service were using films like this as the minimum benchmark of what’s in your library, I would have few reservations when re-subscribing.

Among the titles in my yet-to-view list are Seasons 9-12 of ‘NYPD Blue’. Primarily because of decent memories of the show itself and the curiosity if Mark-Paul Gosselaar was able to transcend his role during his 87 episodes just like he has done as ageing baseball player Mike Lawson (‘Pitch’) and married dad Mitch (‘Truth Be Told’). Playing Mike allowed him to showcase his gravitas as a dramatic actor while Mitch enabled him to confirm that he can play comedy pitch (no pun intended) perfect.

The problem with romantic comedies that get churned out in the assembly line of studios just seemingly following a formula rather than taking the lead from Pixar and finding the best version of the story. During times when I give up (and basically get ready to ignore anything similar from now on), I get flickers of hope from films that are made just to air on the telly. I guess this also makes it easy to get the attention (and viewing minutes) of Disney Plus subscribers as there isn’t an overwhelming number of titles to choose from (though I feel like Disney+ is hiding some titles and intentionally does not let them appear when I want to see all titles).

The Setup: Kate Stanton (Amy Smart) is trying her best to get out from a blind date because she would like to focus all her energy into getting back with Jack. Which is too bad because she actually won the fix-up lottery as Sally (Mary Long), her dad’s current wife, has decided that Miles Dufine (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) would be a good fit for her (even if Kate still has a bit of ‘levelling up’ to do). Miyoko (Laura Miyata) tries to get her best friend to move on but Kate is quite convinced that she and Jack are meant to be together. That their time apart is simply semantics, and before long she would be on track again (two years of dating, engagement the next year, then married in year four). Having the right person to spend the rest of her life with is just secondary to hitting her ‘happily ever after’ milestones (Oooh…another unintentional pun). So, this means that when she finally meets her date, no amount of pivoting (Miles does show he is a very patient man) would convince her to veer from her wanting to win over the other guy.

The Inciting Incident: The time loop starts. Unlike other stories dealing with this type of time travel, little is done to explain (as this isn’t a story interested in that side) why it happened. Kate also does not get a ‘guide’ like ‘Ghosts of Girlfriends Past’ (I am as surprised as you that there are only 4 on IMDB that references the ‘guide’ approach that ‘A Christmas Carol’ uses to move the protagonist along a story arc). One of the biggest things Kate has to overcome is her wanting to keep things the way they are since her mother’s death. This is one of the reasons she refuses to accept Sally even when her dad married her and still consider her as an ‘other’. The second is her patience (which the repeating days and nights do force her to address as she has no choice but to be taken back at the perfume section when her day resets) and flexibility when things change suddenly.

I could say I’ve stopped recording titles that hint at being a subpar romcom when trawling through the TV guide, but looking through my DVR titles earlier, it seems like I am still hoping as there are new ones I have yet to see if they pass muster. But there was a time when I actually took time to view them (and I’m not just talking about one interaction scene), hoping for some sort of ‘find’ (compared to now…when my hope is ‘flimsier’). This was one of from that era. Katherine Heigl may be the Romantic Comedy specialist (and the actor likely to come into mind when a screenplay that falls within the genre gets shopped around to the various studios and producers), and it’s a shame that either Mark or Amy aren’t getting their pick of the crème de la crème of scripts. Viewers like me are relegated to waiting for a miracle such as this one where casting decisions are done similar to Marvel (picking the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Paul Rudd as protagonists in an action centric film).

It’s the little things that enable them to show what 8/10 acting is like (even in a 6/10 film). Whether they are doing it intuitively or because they’ve spent significant time building the characters during rehearsal, it is what I hope a lot of performers I see up on the screen set their sights to. Maybe it’s biased for me to say that there is a divide between Mike and Miles. There’s also Amy growing immensely from her appearance as Ruby in ‘Felicity’. I know it’s probably because I hadn’t crossed paths with a lot of her projects, yet I do hope that she finds her own ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ or ‘Hot Pursuit’.

Comedic Moments:

  • Socks: the full-proof Secret Santa gift
  • ‘Lady Friend’ isn’t the right term for someone’s wife
  • How does food taste in dreams?
  • Kate making sure she’s wearing her running outfit next time she sees Michael
  • Those frustrating moments when the time loop brings you back to the start when you’re not ready

If an executive from The Hallmark Channel asked me what benchmark they should use for future releases, I would point them to this one. It has a decent enough script that allow all actors to either rise above it (just as Mark and Amy does) or just phone in their performance (there is at least one example in this — though I have a feeling that it’s just a matter of having him go though the right training to unlock his capability as an actor). The biggest change being the opening: it reeks of formula. From the cheesy Christmas Song (if I were watching this for the first time with full volume…I would have moved on) to the 90’s prolonged opening credits. I know this isn’t a season finale of ‘Homeland’ and I’m not expecting to be on the edge of my seat while the usually dizzying opening credits is replaced by the show’s name (white over black — only reserved during season finales), and even before any dialogue is spoken that visual cue is enough to prime me into gripping the cushions tightly.

Because this film deals with the dynamic between men and women, there is always the question of consent. Pieces have slammed films that managed to brainwash (what’s a less-confronting word?) viewers that stalking is romantic. What is missing though are essays that tackle where the line is (which does help some men), because persistence is okay but it is very challenging to navigate the line post Harvey Weinstein and with all genders in the process of understanding what the #MeToo movement means going forward. It doesn’t get much screentime, yet it is enough to shoe the stance of director James Hayman: Miyoko eying a co-worker’s (Vijay Mehta who’s character doesn’t have a name except referred to as ‘Ad Man’) arm when he crosses the line.

Looking at setups and payoffs, I’m not going to flag every bit that has one but not the other. I will mention one thing though: the fumble about the whole ‘Katie’ setup. I would have liked to have heard a reason why Kate isn’t accepting of that name in relation to her. Is it because Sally uses it often? Or maybe it’s something that her mother used to call her (and therefore no one else is allowed to call her that). I know it’s expecting a lot from this particular film, and if you’re in a pitch meeting with a similar screenplay, you have my blessing to quote me and mention to the studio representatives that it is a niche (well made Romantic Comedies) that is lacking of content.

The most interesting thing about the film is that it was involved in a suit. I initially thought it was due to being similar to any of the time loop stories out there, but then found out that it was connected to a pitch made to Disney (because technically one day all roads lead to the behemoth?). I still haven’t found the result of the suit (I’m guessing none came out of it as it really didn’t become a major piece of news even if Denise Gruska managed to move the suit forward), and agree with Dominic Patten that a lot of stories following that structure had already been written by Charles Dickens (who technically should be getting credit for originality. Maybe it’s just me who feels like it is a case of reiterations of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ trying to claim originality over each other’s stories when the credit should have been to William Shakespeare. I’m fascinated by the whole thing because Disney in general thrives on a brand that is respectful of others (that is the kind of films they make), but then again it was pitched to ABC which has ‘Scandal’ (which has a component of ‘outsmarting the other side’) as part of it’s media properties.

Comparing it to ‘The Holiday‘, it keeps the cheesier moments short. Something to add to your December/January viewing queue (as part of your DVD stack or when deciding what will tip over the scales when you choose the streaming platform to subscribe to during those two months because a particular house-guest likes the genre). I think by watching these kinds of films (even just for a minute or so to determine their fit), I am hoping that one day I’ll come across the right director and writer combo to possibly reach the level of Richard Curtis’ 2013 masterpiece: ‘About Time’.

Leigh Lim.
Find Leigh on Twitter / Leigh’s Tumblr feed / Leigh on Instagram

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