It’s a bit presumptuous (and maybe even intentionally ironic) to title a movie Best. Christmas. Ever! (Nov. 16) when the film itself falls below the standard of even the most mediocre of the streamer’s original holiday movies. But unfortunately for fans of this kind of bizarre and hackneyed holiday fare, that’s exactly what the folks behind the new Netflix film have done—and there is nothing we can do to stop them.
The movie’s title is, of course, a play on the kind of holiday that Jackie Jennings (the legendary Brandy Norwood) plans on having when her old friend Charlotte (Heather Graham) turns up at Jackie’s door unexpectedly just a few days before Christmas. Jackie’s over-the-top Christmas newsletters—which have been enraging Charlotte for years with their affected family updates—have always ended with Jackie encouraging her friends to “stop by anytime.” So, when Charlotte arrives at her house, her whole family in tow, Jackie simply assumes that someone finally took her up on her offer.
But Charlotte is just as surprised to see Jackie open the door, thinking that she is arriving at her sister’s new house for Christmas. This meet-cute is the result of a prank by Charlotte’s son, who put the incorrect address into the GPS. Before she knows it, Charlotte is roped into both Christmas with Jackie and an inescapable series of implausible plot points. (She drove across states for an entire day but never realized she wasn’t going to the right place… sure.)
Even by holiday movie standards, this is all a little too far-fetched. But the title of Best. Christmas. Ever! speaks to the film’s strange confidence, one that’s just compelling enough to keep watching, even if only to laugh at the events that unfold, and not with the film’s characters. And while that’s half the reason for these original low-budget holiday movies to exist, it’s not enough to shake the feeling that there’s a decent movie hidden in here, somewhere beneath all the precocious child actors, CGI hot air balloons, and title cards with ghastly typeface.
Perhaps if Best. Christmas. Ever! didn’t begin so oddly, it may be a more believable or ultimately tolerable affair. But when the film starts out with Graham talking to the camera, spoon-feeding all of the exposition to the viewer through disjointed character vignettes, it’s lost us from the jump. These kinds of decisions muddle integral plot details’ coherence, made all the more baffling because of their singularity; Graham never breaks the fourth wall again during the remainder of the film, leaving viewers to wonder why the hell she ever started talking to us in the first place. Combine that with Charlotte’s weirdly vehement distaste for holiday newsletters, and you may begin to theorize that every character in this movie is secretly losing their marbles.
That’s the exact thought I had when Charlotte finds herself at Jackie’s house, stupefied by her estranged friend’s cheerfulness. Norwood plays Jackie as though she is a woman mere seconds from catatonic mania. At times, you can almost see her holding back an eye twitch after delivering a particularly upbeat line of dialogue. Though Jackie has a reason for her relentless optimism, the truth behind her positive nature is revealed so late into the film that Best. Christmas. Ever! ends up painting Norwood as a kooky altruist, on the verge of abandoning her credo at the sight of one crooked piece of garland.
That unhinged feeling lurking just below the surface is what makes 97 percent of these low-budget Christmas films fun to watch. But Best. Christmas. Ever! has a screenplay that is almost too bogged down by its writers trying to make it a decent movie, instead of just a palatable plate of sludge covered in tinsel—which is what viewers want. That’s most noticeable in scenes between Charlotte, Jackie, and their respective husbands, Rob (Jason Biggs) and Valentino (Matt Cedeño), whose thinly sketched personalities and backgrounds seem like afterthoughts shoehorned into the script as a last-minute change on-set.
But that’s okay: The rest of the screenplay doesn’t make much more sense. Once Charlotte arrives at Jackie’s house, the writers plow through plot points so fast that I thought my screener had accidentally glitched and jumped closer to the end of the movie. It takes almost no time at all for Charlotte to accidentally reveal that she detests holiday newsletters and thinks that Jackie’s life must be one big lie. This revelation leaves the characters to putz around and twiddle their thumbs for the remaining runtime, viewers forced to conjure up more imaginative narratives that the film could easily inhabit with a few simple tweaks.
There are, however, some silly saving graces that manage to keep Best. Christmas. Ever! hovering above the bottom of the barrel. A moment of random, intense slapstick violence threw me for a loop and made me cackle harder each time I played it back. I laughed almost as hard when Graham showed up to dinner in one scene with her hair inexplicably curled and hairsprayed to a height not seen since 1987. As if that odd sight wasn’t enough, what appears to be a red dress—Graham’s first sartorial saving grace in a wardrobe of Old Navy’s finest from the 2014 holiday collection—is revealed to be a wide-legged red romper, paired with black hooved boots that leave Graham to literally clomp through a scene.
It’s these sorts of absurd sights that fans of low-budget holiday flicks come for. But any real lover of a cheesy Christmas movie (present company included) will tell you that it’s a delicate balance between silliness and straight-up poor filmmaking. At every turn in Best. Christmas. Ever!, there’s a production decision that feels more like a shortcut than a wacky aside. By the time audiences reach the finale, which takes place on a hot air balloon that mystifyingly operates like a literal plane, they too will be wishing that they could skip to the end and bypass the rest of the work. It turns out that this isn’t the best Christmas ever—it’s actually pretty forgettable.