In the new Netflix holiday movie, The Knight Before Christmas, Vanessa Hudgens’ character Brooke tells her skeptical sister, “Just because you can’t explain something logically doesn’t mean it can’t happen.” It’s a tried and true (or exhausted, your call) theme, particularly in Christmas movies. The holiday-movie genre would cease to exist if children ever got bored of watching other children convince cynical adult scrooges that magic is real, and it often takes the form of Santa Claus and his sparkling sleigh.
So, it should come as no surprise that in The Knight Before Christmas, several variations of the aforementioned “if you just believe” line are uttered throughout the film. The surprising part is that the message seems to function not as a valuable lesson in open-mindedness for the film’s characters, but as an urgent request of the audience not to probe too deeply into the sheer nonsense of the plot. “We know none of this makes sense—not even in the fictional, magical way—but that’s not important,” Hudgens and her costars more or less desperately cry.
The High School Musical alum plays Brooke Winters, a recently dumped high school teacher who proclaims, “We all grow up fantasizing about being a princess, and finding true love with a knight in shining armor and living happily ever after, but the thing is, that’s all it is. A fantasy.” What subtle foreshadowing, Vanessa. Five days before Christmas Eve, Brooke meets Sir Cole (Josh Whitehouse), an English knight who was transported from the 14th century to the present day to complete some unknown magical quest.
Spoiler alert: The quest is falling in love with Brooke, and we never find out why a random witch referred to only as “Old Crone” decides that dating an Ohioan science teacher from 700 years in the future is Sir Cole’s destiny.
The expected gags about someone from centuries ago interacting with baffling modern technology ensue. Sir Cole, with his preferred uniform of chainmail and his tendency to frighten passersby by suddenly brandishing his sword, calls cars “steel horses” and TVs “magic boxes that make merry.” When a group of girls ask him for a selfie, mistaking him for a character at a holiday carnival, he responds, “Prithee, what might that be, my ladies?” There is even an extended bit that reeks of product placement in which Sir Cole is first mystified by an Amazon Alexa, asking her to bring him his horse, then infuriated that he can’t figure out how to shut her up. Yet somehow, he manages to drive a car with relative success on his first try and seems to completely understand modern phrases like “cheating” to describe adultery and “pay it forward.” Sure, why not?
The most unbelievable part of the movie, though, is not the magical time travel or the rampant anachronisms, but the fact that a single 30-year-old woman who lives alone invites a man she just met and believes to be crazy to sleep in her home. Brooke feels bad that he has no place to stay, and despite the weak protestations of a family friend, just welcomes this guy with a sword to crash in her guest house. The fact that everyone in Brooke’s life believes Sir Cole to be a sweet, but delusional man-child à la Buddy the Elf, yet continues to support their blossoming romance, is straight-up bonkers. She needs new, better friends! At one point, her sister (Emmanuelle Chriqui) sincerely says, “Aside from the fact that he thinks he’s a knight from the 14th century, I’d say Cole’s the whole package.”
Also, it should be noted that there is no reason The Knight Before Christmas needed to be a Christmas movie. The plot itself is only tangentially related to the holiday in the sense that it takes place around the same time, everyone exclusively drinks hot chocolate, and the Old Crone sometimes masquerades as Mrs. Claus.
My expectations for this movie were high, given my well-documented love of cheesy Netflix rom-coms. And the pandering Christmas movie canon has only been strengthened by such delightfully absurd additions as The Holiday Calendar and The Princess Switch (in which Hudgens plays twins and flexes bizarre accent work). But The Knight Before Christmas fell short, not quite hitting that riotously, entertainingly bad threshold that was promised by its ridiculous premise.