' ' Cinema Romantico: Jolly Good Christmas

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Jolly Good Christmas

There is an ominous message lurking in plain sight in “Jolly Good Christmas,” Hallmark’s tale of a London personal shopper named Anji (Reshma Shetty) who got into the gift-whispering business because she put too much pressure on herself so many Christmases ago to find the right present for a significant other. That suggests the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping as honest to goodness neurosis, requiring therapy rather than a mere reminder of the secular reason for the season. That’s not Hallmark’s game, though, and I, as the kidz say, get it. No, finding the right gift in director Jonathan Wright’s movie is not about some soulless product but something personal, or maybe, just maybe, a person, like Mr. Right, like the handsome if slightly awkward and eccentric American architect named David (Will Kemp) Anji bumps into, first in a store and then on a bus, only to discover he is getting his English girlfriend a gift card for Christmas and hey, Anji thinks, I could be of some help here, triggering a whirlwind romance.

“Jolly Good Christmas” is a little like “Serendipity” if Sara and Jonathan hadn’t split apart at the end of the prologue and instead made the whole movie out of the prologue, like if they were searching for a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera rather than Sara putting one out into the world. This means we do not simply watch Anji and David scurry about in search of the perfect gift, but scurry about in front of prominent London landmarks in search of the perfect gift, falling in love along the way. It’s true that despite a commendable nod to London’s extensive Indian community, “Jolly Good Christmas” doesn’t capture the air of London, so to speak, quite like Franco Nero embodied the Eternal City in “Christmas in Rome,” while the familial crises of both characters don’t feel baked in enough and like a lot of these movies, it runs out gas in the final 20 minutes when the various reversals become too predetermined. Still, if Hallmark movies tend to be overly reliant more on plot, “Jolly Good Christmas” is the rare one that flourishes through [makes sign of the cross] vibes. 

There is a surprising thoughtfulness to Wright’s framing, both in walk and talk scenes and when Anji and David are standing still, tending to position her just in front of him, not leading him on but leading him along, a Christmas gift sherpa of sorts. In his performance, Kemp effuses a subtle kookiness to his turn that calls to mind Bruce Campbell, if Bruce Campbell had chosen to make these movies earlier in his career rather than waiting until now, that not only transcends the abundance of zeroes that tend to fill out these roles but embodies the obliviousness the character has where interpersonal dynamics are concerned. Shetty, meanwhile, possesses a vivacity and wit that makes her character feel truly alive rather than a beachy waved automaton while impeccably playing off Kemp’s eccentricity with expressions that are alternately quizzical, amused, intrigued, and finally, charmed. The best sequence in the movie is one alongside the Thames when he is hustling to catch back up with her and in Shetty’s eyes you can see she’s just reeling this big fish in, not only improbably animating her totally spurious sounding job description but carrying us, the audience, along in her wake. 

If I had one wish that I could wish this holiday season, it’s that Reshma Shetty become a Hallmark Countdown to Christmas regular. 

No comments: