We don’t often do reviews by request. But it’s Christmas time. So in the spirit of giving, I give you a Pajiba review of Netflix’s The Holiday Calendar (A.K.A. the Kat Graham one). SPOILERS
Christmas tunes are in the air. Snow is on the ground, and the Sutton family is decking the halls with gleeful abandon. But their youngest daughter Abby (Graham) isn’t feeling the holiday cheer. This twenty-something aspiring photographer is in a rut. While her best-friend Josh (Quincy Brown) was globe-trekking and travel-blogging, she’s stayed in her quaint hometown and settled into a job at a family portrait studio. It pays the bills but doesn’t feed her soul. And with holidays upon her, it’s time to don her elf apparel so she can take an endless stream of pics featuring candy-smudged children posing with Santa. All this has her Grinching pretty hard until her beloved Gramps (Ron Cephas Jones) hands down her late Gram’s antique advent calendar.
An ornate house made up of 25 little wooden doors, the advent calendar has a bit of magic inside. Each day, a new wooden figure is revealed. A pair of boots happens to appear on a day where Josh gives her some posh boots from his travels. A Christmas tree comes the same day as her meet-cute with a handsome doctor, who doesn’t know how to properly secure a pine tree to his car. And so on. Abby begins to believe that the calendar is pointing her to happiness, and she thinks that means hot doc Ty (Ethan Peck). Meanwhile, her charismatic bestie who is endlessly supportive is left out in the cold.
Centered around a festive and magical McGuffin, the premise is charming, and is bolstered by Jones’s warm smile and Brown’s easy affability. But the device itself is woefully hokey and flawed! The toys within the calendar are all pretty standard holiday stuff. So when Abby is quick to find DEEP meaning when she spots a nutcracker, it’s a bit of a headscratcher. Faster than you can say “Frosty,” she’s gone from cynical to that breathless girl at a party who’s talking about signs from the universe and insisting she can tell your astrological sign based on your outfit. But a bit more galling is the big “twist,” when Abby realizes the calendar hasn’t been pointing her to the rando single-father she met through his reckless driving, but to the way hotter boy-next-door who’s been chilling patiently in her blind spot. There were ALSO Christmas trees and nutcrackers around when they were working together at Santa’s photo op! WHO WOULDA THUNK!?
Because it’s a holiday movie, hokiness is part of the package. Fine. My bigger issue with The Holiday Calendar is that it takes for granted that we’ll root for Abby, even when she’s introduced as being a selfish jerk. Happy families beam excitedly for her camera; she offers a bored expression and a brewing frustration. When her family gathers together for their holiday photo, she grouses. When her best friend finally returns from his travels and proclaims he knows now what he wants to do with his life, she cuts him off to talk about herself. She also scoffs at the idea that she’d actually read his travel blog. And when the hot doc comes into her life, she’s quick to bail on movie plans with Josh, even after he dropped everything to play an elf and help her at work. Too often when watching this kind of cheesy rom-com, I wonder why the female protagonist is at all interested in the blandsome love interest who’s tossed in her path. (Looking at you, Set It Up!) But this time, I was left wondering what does Josh see in Abby? She’s a self-centered and dedicated buzzkill who has no interest in him until she thinks their romance might be the solution to her dissatisfaction. And surprise bonus: He’s also rich! So now she doesn’t need her shitty survival job and can focus on her dreams without having to work for it. Hooray for a man’s love and money saving the day!
I turned this on hoping for a winsome holiday treat. But rather than offering a complicated heroine, The Holiday Calendar forgot to give Abby any positive qualities that made me root for her. She’s a shitty friend who flakes on plans and a snitty sister/aunt who eye-rolls and needs to be brow-beaten into fulfilling family obligations. And while she does do some charity work, it’s at hot doc’s prompting for a virtue-signaling date. (Three cheers to the two homeless “wise men” who out his gross showmanship.) In the end, Abby gets everything she wanted. And I’m left steaming because the whole movie proved she didn’t deserve any of it!
I’d never heard of Kat Graham before, so perhaps I’m missing out on the wider context of her charisma. Maybe that could have saved this flick from being a Christmas catastrophe if I went in not caring so much about Abby as a character, but cruising on a pre-existing appreciation for Graham. But as it is, The Holiday Calendar was far more frustrating than fun.
Want more Netflix holiday content? Check out our coverage of The Christmas Chronicles, Nailed It! Holiday!, The Christmas Prince, The Princess Switch, The Christmas Wedding Planner, and The Spirit of Christmas.