An Evergreen Christmas
by Phil Boatwright

Robert Loggia, Charleene Closshey, Booboo Stewart, Naomi Judd. Written by Jeremy Culver, Morgen Culver. Directed by Jeremy Culver. Available on DVD: November 4th, 2014. Rated: PG

FILM SYNOPSIS: Leaving her seemingly glamorous Hollywood life on hold, Evie Lee is forced to return to her small home town of Balsam Falls, Tennessee and her family's once thriving Christmas tree farm to attend her father’s unexpected funeral. As the eldest sibling, she finds herself executor of an estate that owes a massive inheritance tax, much to her younger brother's dismay. Torn between pursuing her music career and saving her family's legacy, she must decide what it really means to find her place in the world. 
  
PREVIEW REVIEW: It’s generally difficult for me to dissect a well-intentioned film. Those involved are usually trying their best to make a good product and I come along and rip their efforts. Don’t like doing that. However, occasionally I view a film like An Evergreen Christmas, a film that has nearly sucked the life out of me, and decide to review it not with my compassionate keyboard, but with a “goose quill dipped in venom.”*

For those of you who hate to see Phil Boatwright go all Addison DeWitt (the acerbic critic in All About Eve), then read no further. We’ll just leave it at this - I found this new DVD disappointing. For my reasons, press on.

A rip-off of countless “going-home” stories where the protagonist has left down home kith and kin in order to grab a piece of the big city, An Evergreen Christmas copies, but fails to go beyond, the cinematic version of paint-by-numbers. Within the first scene, the main character’s papa drops dead in his grove of Christmas trees and the will stipulates that she must run the place. Seen that in many a film as well. Of course, the family is in debt and there’s some resentment from the brother, who thought he should be in charge rather than the prodigal daughter. They need an evergreen miracle.

The dramatic structure is thrown when we spend much of the first act at the funeral of this man we don’t know. Friends and church folk bring goodies to the wake and tell the film’s protagonist how much they’ve missed her. During this time, she cries a lot. The problem with this is that if the story were well written, we would gradually be introduced to her pain and frustration, not have it thrust upon us all at once or have the entire plot revealed just shortly after the opening credits.

One mistake some filmmakers make is that when the lead does all the crying, we don’t. The challenge should always be for the actor to get us to do the crying. In the film Islands in the Stream, George C. Scott’s character learns that his son has been killed while off fighting the war. As Scott looks out at the ocean, we can see the pain in his eyes. He holds back his emotion, for crying is often so private a matter, some even hide it from themselves. The result of his holding back the tears: we cry for him. We aren’t just looking at someone facing sorrow. We are feeling that sorrow. We are emotionally involved. In An Evergreen Christmas, the execution of the death scenes and the lead’s inner turmoil are callow, ineffective, leaving us unmoved.

This filmmaker wants us to feel something, but cinematically he is unable to generate any true emotion. What he does is the same as many a low-budget filmmaker - he jams in one message-laden song after another throughout the production. And when the composers run out of words, they leave it to the key musician to fill in the score with endless piano tinkling. I picture the composer sitting behind his electric piano kind of like the church organist who backs the pastor at the end of his sermon.

Here we have country folk from Tennessee (yeah, right, like any of these actors are from Tennessee - okay, maybe Ms. Judd; everyone else sports the same accent found in the Golden State) hosting the protagonist’s snobbish actor boyfriend from L.A. I assume the goal of the writer was to make this character the comic relief, for he is cartoonish, outlandish and as far away from being a human being as one of those pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Unfortunately, his broad buffoonish antics could only be amusing to those loaded with festive holiday eggnog, sans the eggnog.

The acting overall is perfunctory, not inspiring, even from veteran Robert Loggia, who seems more obliged to play infirm than wise. Out of respect for Naomi Judd, I won’t dwell on her acting ability, or her Goth-red hair choice, or the inability to make any expression, due presumably to one too many cosmetic surgeries. Hey, if you’re going to make fun of the phoniness of Hollywood dwellers, then don’t be too plastic yourself (so to speak).

The story’s people are more caricature than human, the script more network TV sitcom than motion picture dimensional, and the message as deep as one finds in a fortune cookie. “Your dreams can be found in your own backyard”…I guess that’s the theme.

I could go on, but does a mediocre Christmas DVD really deserve this much attention?

Each year we DVD consumers are bombarded with “Christmas” movies. My rule of thumb is to pass on anything with Christmas in the title. There are exceptions, I know, but not that many. Buyer beware.

* From the movie Laura, given by pompous columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb).