We’ve had a long, rough year, so no one can blame us for prematurely gearing up for “the most wonderful time of the year”.
Christmas movies are my guilty pleasure. I say ‘guilty’, not because they’re mostly cheesy in the extreme, but because traditionally, Christmas movies depict women like airhead numpties.
So, in a bid to feel better about my life/viewing choices around this time of year, here’s a list of excellent, heartwarming Christmas films that won’t make you tear your hair out as a feminist.
LOVE HARD (2021)
In this refreshing, surprisingly tender rom-com, Nina Dobrev stars as Natalie, a young L.A dating columnist who has been on too many terrible dates. She’s sick of swiping (the term these days for dating) and just wants to find a nice guy to settle down with.
She’s working to a deadline, with her eccentric boss breathing down her neck, demanding she deliver a whopper story about yet another disastrous date (because apparently, readers like this). One night, she swipes right on a handsome young lad called Josh: he’s attractive, smart, funny, and has all the right lines to Natalie’s witty remarks.
There’s only one problem – he lives on the other side of the country. But Natalie is ready for an adventure (and needs to change her narrative of bad romance stories) so books a ticket to Lake Placid in upstate New York to surprise her man.
When she arrives though, she discovers that she’s been cat-fished. But she is then compelled to stick with the lie which she and the real Josh (played by the beautifully earnest and boyish Jimmy O. Yang) conjure up — Josh wants to convince his family that he has a girlfriend and Natalie needs a good story for her column.
When the fake Josh, called Tag (played by Darren Barnet, who you might remember from Never Have I Ever) shows up at a local bar, Natalie has a whole new mission — to get him to fall in love with her. Meanwhile, she’s speaking up about Tag’s favourite author, Henry David Thoreau, calling him “An asshole…a self-obsessed narcissist fanatical about self-control, not to mention a total hypocrite.”
And when she refuses to sing “Baby it’s Cold Outside” (an old ‘classic’ now more broadly understood to have undertones of sexual coercion) Josh, changes the lyrics to make it more feminist:
For instance: “Beautiful what’s your hurry?” is changed to “Here’s my phone, give her a call.”
“No cabs to be had out there” is changed to “I’ll call you an Uber, they’re close.”
“This evening has been…” ends with “totally consensual.”
It’s a delight also to finally see an Asian man cast in a male romantic lead — the end will really leave you weeping with joyful tears.
LAST CHRISTMAS (2019)
The cast alone in this charming feel good Christmas film is enough to convince you to sit down and watch: Emilia Clarke, Emma Thompson, Michelle Yeoh and Henry Golding.
There’s a huge twist at the end of the movie, which I won’t spoil, obviously – but the premise is pretty straight-forward. Emilia Clarke plays Kate, a young aspiring singer who is stuck in a dead-end job at a Christmas shop in London. She dresses up as an elf for her job, and she is kind of homeless.
Her parents are Yugoslavian immigrants, struggling to find their place in the English society and her mother, especially, is fighting depression. Kate has a lot on her plate. But then one day, she meets a dashing young man (as all these male rom-com leads are required to be) who inspires her to see the beauty in her world. Slowly, she begins to take small steps to improve her life, and see the grace that affords those who live with gratitude and love.
This one’s another tear jerker. What is it with Christmas and making us cry? Also, this film is directed by Paul Feig, the man who brought us Bridesmaids, so you’re guaranteed to laugh out loud.
HAPPIEST SEASON (2020)
Most Christmas movies are straight – as in, they’re about straight couples, doing very straight couple things (family gatherings, comparing each other’s real estate port-folios, competing amongst each other for who has the most successful offspring). Refreshing, then, to have a Christmas story about a gay couple, navigating the usual challenges of the mandatory annual Yuletide festivities.
Except with Abbey and Harper, played by Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis, one of them is openly out to their family while the other is not. Abbey (Kristen Stewart) finds herself spending Christmas with her girlfriend pretending that she is just a roommate – not her life-partner, because Harper, whose parents are deeply conservative, don’t know she is gay.
The criss-crossing story-lines and outrageous characters mark this film as a must-see. We watch Harper’s sisters navigate their own struggles within the family — Sloane, played by Alison Brie, who is trying very hard to maintain an image of her own perfect family: and Jane, played by Mary Holland, the forgotten middle-sister, who feels undervalued.
Abbey’s life-crisis is aided by her best friend John, played by Dan Levy (David from Schitts’ Creek) and the sparklingly new addition of Harper’s ex, Riley, played by the remarkably gorgeous and charming Aubrey Plaza.
Need I say the last scene will make you cry with joyful tears?
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING (1995)
Ah. This is a family classic. Less for its outwardly feminist leanings and more for its progressive absence of obscenely sexist tropes and tendencies which were markers for romantic films in the 90s.
Sandra Bullock plays Lucy, a young train-booth collector living in Chicago, single, and crushing on a man (Peter) who she sees every morning riding the trains. Her life changes suddenly when Peter is mugged and pushed onto the train tracks. Lucy saves his life, and at the hospital, pretends she is his fiancé to see him.
Enter, crush’s family. It’s another big bash of an American Christmas celebration, donned with eggnog, the quirky grandma, the fun-loving teenager (Peter’s younger sister, Beth), and — here it is — the real male lead; Jack – Peter’s brother, played by Bill Pullman.
As Peter remains in the hospital recovering, Lucy develops feelings for Jack.
Okay, so a pretty standard, romantic American story — but the script is hilarious, tight, and Sandra Bullock is so delightful to watch. My first viewing of this movie happened in 96’ a year after its cinematic release — while I was in primary school. I’ve since watched it over seven times, each time with my family. Most recently, I saw it few months ago, and found the ending to be a bit of a feminist let-down. Still, the charming story won’t make you rage against the way women are portrayed.
Here’s our last recommendation — and another brilliant love story that doesn’t lean on the ordinary monotony of the desires between a man and a woman.
Based on the 1952 Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt, this movie follows Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) a New York City wife and mother, struggling to keep her daughter as she goes through a messy divorce (remember, this is a story set in the 50s…)
One day, she meets Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), department store clerk selling children’s toys during the Christmas holidays. Therese is dealing with her own disillusioned romantic life, trying to be in love with a man who she’s really not that into.
Carol and Therese can’t deny the spark between them, and soon enough, they are embroiled in a passionate affair, going on a romantic cross-country trip between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
It’s the only book from Highsmith’s 22 novels where none of the lead characters die — and among the first gay stories where the two female lovers don’t perish.
What else is on your feminist Christmas watch list? Let us know!