The most ambitious holiday movie this year isn’t this Hallmark one or that animated one, a gay romance or a kiddie farce.
It’s “Just Another Christmas” and it comes from Brazil, where it’s titled “Tudo Bem No Natal Que Vem.”
Yes, it’s a comedy and the laughs are a bit broad — pratfalls, cakes in the face, mustache gags. And as is often the case, the giggles are too few in number.
But consider the themes and movies this mash-up is mashing up. There’s a little “It’s a Wonderful Life” and a lot of “Groundhog Day,” with just a hint of “Memento” without the violence and with (somewhat) less profanity.
Jorge (Leandro Hassum) is a middle class galoot who’s doing all right by himself, and by his family. Every year, all his wife’s relatives — and a couple of his — gather for Christmas dinner. Every year, he struggles to remember what his kids want, what wife Laura (Elisa Pinheiro) expects him to brave the mob scene at the stores to buy.
And he hates Christmas. He tolerates it for the sake of others, but just barely. Why? He’s told us in the opening narration.
He was born on Christmas Day. And “Everybody born on Christmas Day knows, we never get a decent birthday party,” as he notes (in Portuguese, with English subtitles — or if you choose, dubbed into English, German, etc.). For whatever reason, that blunts the “magic” of the day and leaves one an excuse to sour on it. When you hit your late teens, a lot of people “stop celebrating it.”
But when you get married and have kids, you have to go with the flow and at least pretend to enjoy it. And yes, this is totally a thing for many of us born on the same day as Jesus and Jimmy Buffett.
But on a typically raucous and dysfunctional Christmas eve, his brother (Rodrigo Fagundes) taps him for another cash “loan,” Uncle Victor’s insulted Laura’s sister for her “whorelike” cleavage and taken offense at being called a “senile jerk” and is taking the turkey he brought and leaving in a huff — again — and Jorge irks his mother-in-law — again.
Then Jorge suits up as Santa and takes a fall from the roof. He’s had enough of pretending. These people, young and old, are exhausting and it’s just not worth it.
That’s when catatonic grandpa Nhanhão (Levi Ferreira) speaks so that only Jorge will hear.
“You will find out what Christmas is good for,” he intones.
Sounds like a “curse?” That’s what Jorge figures, too, when he wakes up the next day, and it’s Christmas all over again. Only a whole year has passed. And he missed all of it.
That’s the gimmick here. Jorge, who hates Christmas, experiences nothing but a succession of Christmases. It’s “schizophrenia” or “amnesia” or what have you, but he even misses the brain scans and various diagnoses he’s gotten over the course of the year.
And what he misses multiplies each and every year, jumping ahead occasionally by several years at once, when he wakes up and discovers a kid who’s gotten taller, a mustache he can’t believe he’s grown or the open heart surgery scar from his “latest” bypass.
His family life is passing him by, the connection with them loosens and tears over his dismissal of the holiday. He misses funerals, doesn’t remember when the kids start dating, and who they’re dating now. Heck, there’s even a mistress (Danielle Winits) he doesn’t realize he’s decided he prefers to all this togetherness.
As somebody who figures a Christmas movie should be about something, and something to say about the holidays and family, etc., I have to say “Just Another Christmas” passes the test at least as well as “Happiest Season,” something “Jingle Jangle” failed completely.
Hassum is a pleasantly amusing lead, if entirely too prone to mugging. His reactions to his dilemma and what he’s supposed to learn from it are spot on. His “journey” takes him from “Whatever” to “Why me?” to “Why did you wake me up this year?” Jorge may not be a George Bailey in terms of jerking tears at the sentiment expressed. But he’s a step above Fred Claus and at least on a par with Tim Allen trapped in “The Santa Clause.”
The pacing is a bit pedestrian, even for an imitation “Groundhog Day” or (closer) “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The slapstick is “meh” and too many of the laugh lines are a blurt of profanity when you half-expect it.
And of all the Brazilian films I’ve seen over the years, “Just Another Christmas” is the least Brazilian — from the decor and “traditions” to many of the items on the Christmas meal menu. This picture has been totally Americanizado.
It’d be a candidate for a Hollywood or North American Netflix remake. But all they’d be changing was the actors and the language spoken. I wouldn’t mind the same crew taking another crack at this clever story, one with about twice as many jokes and sight gags to give it its due.
MPA Rating: TV-PG, profanity scattered throughout
Cast: Leandro Hassum, Elisa Pinheiro, Louise Cardoso, Danielle Winits, Rodrigo Fagundes, Lola Fanucchi
Credits: Directed by Roberto Santucci, script by Paulo Cursino. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:41