Christmas, Again | Charles Poekel | USA | 2014 | 80 minutes
Chris Lay looks at Charles Poekel’s debut feature, a nominee for the John Cassavetes Award at this year’s Independent Spirit Awards, and suggests it is not as saccharine sweet as you might expect from holiday fare.
Early January is a weird time to be writing reviews of a Christmas movie.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas movies, but once the holiday season is over you tend to be more than happy to put them back on the shelf for a year (barring some weird Christmas in July type shindig). I’m easily drawn to December’s ability to balance the brightness of innocence and wonder with darker feelings of loneliness and melancholy. It was with that in mind that, based on the title alone, I snapped up first-time writer/director Charles Poekel’s Christmas, Again from the list of Missed Madison Film Festival offerings.
Sadly, I only have a single memory of going with my family to pick out a tree before we “invested” in an artificial one. But I definitely recall the transaction going down in a Winnebago, not unlike the one that’s the center of the action in this film.
Kentucker Audley (from last year’s Queen of Earth and Funny Bunny) stars as the aptly named Noel, a Christmas tree salesman who is in the middle of his fifth year hustling trees all night, every night, on a neighborhood corner in New York City. The plot that spins out from this humble street corner setting is modest, with Noel getting something of a bittersweet new lease on life after nursing a broken heart. But Christmas, Again has some real depth to it and wisely doesn’t spoon-feed the audience anything. Well, other than the name Noel. That one you get for free.
One night Noel stumbles across Lydia (Hannah Gross) out on a park bench, and he gingerly carries her back to the safety of his trailer. (Wisconsin Film Festival fans might remember Gross from last year’s Stinking Heaven.) Noel is a perfect gentleman, going so far as to cut the gum out of her hair. But an offhand comment to another customer days later leads to trouble for both Noel and Lydia. I hate to be coy about it, but it’s worthwhile letting it all get revealed in its own time.
Thankfully Christmas, Again is nothing as saccharine sweet as its Amazon Prime description would lead you to believe: “He spends the season living in a trailer and working the night shift until a mysterious woman and some colorful customers rescue him from self-destruction.”?
C’mon now, that sounds like a holiday spin on As Good As It Gets, which this most definitely is not. Lydia is far from “mysterious” and the “colorful customers” are just random New Yorkers for the most part.
For anyone tired of New York getting tagged “as a character” in some dull romantic comedy or other, I have good news because Christmas, Again almost aggressively avoids even momentary glances a the park across the street. Up until almost the literal eleventh hour, practically every big of action takes places within sight of the little camper that’s up in the curb. It’s an intimate film that never feels claustrophobic.
I doubt that Christmas, Again will end up as some sort of evergreen yuletide classic. But with some excellent casting and effective plotting, try giving it a spin in 11 months if the old Charlie Brown special isn’t quite hitting you like it used to.
Check out other Missed Madison Film Festival reviews posted throughout the day:
James Kreul on The Tribe and Taylor Hanley on Buzzard here at Madison Film Forum.
Grant Phipps on Blind at LakeFrontRow.
Vincent Mollica on Spring at WUD Film Presents.
Four Star Video Podcast discusses Black Coal, Thin Ice.