Co-written by the screenwriter of Father of the Bride and The Parent Trap—although I suspect actually algorithmically generated, as nothing here bears any relation to organic humanity as we know it—Best. Christmas. Ever! is a film that exists on Netflix. At first glance, it exists primarily to provide some of the kind of light, inoffensive holiday fun that its title and presentation hint at and that families might be looking for to have on half in the background around this time of year.
I didn’t have it on in the background. I was assigned a review, and by god, I take my job seriously, so over the course of an eighty-two minutes that felt more like three hours, and more endings than The Return of the King, I gave Best. Christmas. Ever! (man, it hurts to write that out fully every time) my undivided attention. What I found was an uncanny valley-esque experience that I have to confess I found difficult to translate into the usual form of what we humans know as a ‘film review’.
There is a story here of sorts, though it has the lowest stakes imaginable and the movie zooms through its character and plot points at breakneck speed—although I struggle to describe even that here, as ‘speed’ can’t be the right word for something that moves so sluggishly and drains your energy so much. But again, in any ordinary review of a film made by our species, these would be critiques. In the case of Best. Christmas. Ever!, it seems like something different. I feel like I’m just pointing at and trying to describe something new and strange, something I don’t fully understand, which also has an undercurrent of menace. Like one of those ever-increasingly human-like Boston Dynamics robots that’s always presented with a cutesy demonstration of it jumping over obstacles but that you just know will be caving protester skulls in within a decade.
In this ‘film’, the artificially generated avatar of Heather Graham plays a woman who hates those overly positive ‘holiday newsletters’ that families apparently send out around Christmas time. I’ve never seen any of these in real life, but that’s because I live in England, where that kind of forced sunniness and cheer is generally frowned upon and where our Christmas cards all look like that incredible ‘accidental Renaissance’ photograph taken a few years ago at New Year’s Eve in Manchester. So I have no direct experience of these newsletters.
Anyway, the Heatherbot 2.0 used in this production mimics the feelings that a human would have over being upset with their own life not turning out the way that they had hoped. What drives her particularly crazy is the Christmas newsletters sent by her old friend (portrayed by an avatar of Brandy), which relentlessly describe a life insanely blessed and fortunate. Heatherbot’s husband, brought to ‘life’ here by a rendering of Jason Biggs, tries to put a positive spin on things and remain supportive, but occasionally struggles. Eventually, one of the annoying children that the couple have does a thing that leads to the family accidentally spending Christmas with the other, much wealthier, family. And then some stuff happens for a while until the movie just sort of ends.
I could talk about the odd editing, or the flat, featureless look everything has about it, or indeed the way situations and emotions often seem to get set up only for then to nothing really happen—but then I’d be defaulting to reviewing a human film again. Force of habit, I guess! Silly me, it’s time to prepare for the world that’s clearly being heralded here. I’d be remiss too if I didn’t mention the highlight of the ‘movie’, which is a scene in which a six-foot karate champion straight up power kicks the avatar of Heather Graham across a room because he mistakes her for a burglar, but he only does so because he inexplicably turns the light off first. Did he turn the lights off to attack her? Did he just turn them off first and then notice her? Nobody knows. That’s OK. The machine is learning its humanity one day at a time. Be patient. Its time will come.