“One Magic Christmas” delivers all of the feels

24 Dec

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Growing up in the Wittlif household, there were certain Christmas rules that were to be abided by every year. First, all Christmas songs and commercials get muted until after Santa passes by on his sleigh* during Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Second, mom makes her delightful teacakes for all of our friends and relatives (and Edward and I would steal many for ourselves, of course). Third, A Charlie Brown Christmas** would be watched live on TV when it was aired, It’s a Wonderful Life was for Christmas Eve, and One Magic Christmas had to be viewed at least once every Christmas season. This last part is likely unusual to just about everyone except our little family, because it’s not exactly the most well-known Christmas movie. It was a straight-to-Disney-channel TV movie, featuring a young Mary Steenburgen and Harry Dean Stanton as Gideon, the Christmas angel.

*Caitlin reacts to Santa’s arrival like I react to a buzzer beater Bulls win. A lot of build up and then an explosion of excitement when it’s a “good Santa.”

**We screened this Sunday night and it still 100% holds up.

I submit that it also features the best, most realistic portrayal of Santa Claus this world has ever known (not because he’s white, but because his beard! The accent! THAT COAT***! Had to throw this in here because I didn’t want y’all thinking I was on board with the, “Don’t worry kids, Santa is white” train.) Anyway, we have SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS GALORE in this here review, so I implore you, if you haven’t ever seen this film, watch it first**** and then read on. It’ll only take an hour and 30 minutes from your life, and Zack can attest it’s better for you to figure out the twists and turns on your own before they are revealed to you. You get more invested that way.

***THOSE EYEBROWS!

****It’s streaming on Netflix. Watch it. You won’t be disappointed. 

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Mary Steenburgen plays Ginny Grainger (once Ginny Hanks, prior to marrying Jack Grainger), and she’s kinda fed up with the whole Christmas thing. She works in a grocery store for a pretty awful boss named Herbie who doesn’t treat her that well and doesn’t give her much time off. Her husband Jack was recently laid off from his radio job, and so the family is being ousted from their house right around Christmas (because it is a company house). The family is hard pressed for money, and all of those things together are just making Ginny a bit of a grinch*. She never wishes anyone a “Merry Christmas,” and continues to needle her husband about finding a real job, when his dream is to open his own bike shop. All Ginny can think about is money, and it doesn’t help that her young kids, Cal and Abby, keep pestering her** about Santa.

*She’s pretty unlikable during the first act. She’s clearly going through a rough patch, but still, hold it together woman.

**I can’t blame the kids here. Pretty common to ask about Santa the week before Christmas. Grinchy Ginny.

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So, Santa tasks Gideon, the angel, with helping Ginny remember her Christmas spirit. Gideon enlists the help of young Abby, and asks Abby to get her mom to send her letter to Santa. Gideon promises this will help get her mom in the spirit of things. Abby tries and tries, but try though she might, Ginny just isn’t budging. She keeps the Santa letter in a cupboard, and keeps nagging Jack about money and their upcoming move. I feel like it’s worth mentioning that Abby recklessly runs into the street to mail her letter and should have gotten decimated by a car, but Gideon protects her. She continues to do this with zero fear of getting hit by a car countless times throughout the film.

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Contrasted with Ginny, Jack is shown to be a true believer in the Christmas Spirit ™, and he tells Abby that there are totally things like angels and magic in this world. You’re set up to root for him quite a bit in this film. By the way, as I’ve failed to mention it – I just finally realized, for the first time ever this year, that there are MAD parallels in this film to It’s a Wonderful Life. First of all, the family lives in Medford. Medford. Bedford. Bedford Falls. See what they did there? There are so many parallels, they practically name the dad “Beorge Gailey.” The opening scene is the voice of Santa/God (same thing? I don’t understand Christmas?) talking to Guardian Angel Gideon about needing to teach someone a Christmas lesson by making it appear like the man of the house died. Caitlin’s very insightful generally. I really can’t imagine how she saw both movies every year and didn’t see these obvious comparisons until now. 

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So since Momma Grainger isn’t budging on her whole “getting into the spirit” thing, Gideon decides it’s time to up the ante. He visits Abby in her room to break her glass globe that her great grandpa gave her, and then put it back together. He then assures Abby she shouldn’t worry about a thing for the next day, and that when she needs to find him, he’ll be by the tree with the angel on top. Abby says that sounds good*. Then shit gets real.

*(Cue Abby running into the street again.)

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As Ginny and Jack are out walking, they have a fight, Ginny sings Jack a song, and he runs off in a huff to take a walk around the block without her. Then Gideon shows up, asks Ginny why she doesn’t have Christmas spirit, and she says she doesn’t see what there is to be thankful for. Wrong answer, Ginn-o. Gideon says, “Jenny, you’ve got to believe. Will you believe?” Then he walks away, she turns around, and when she turns back to ask how he knew her name, Gideon is gone. That’s when all the Christmas lights go out…on the entire street. You thought that was menacing*? We’re just getting going.

*It makes me smile so wide to read that you love Christmas lights so hard that turning off Christmas lights can be described as “menacing.”

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The next day is Christmas Eve, and Ginny has to work. When Jack pleads that she ask for a day off*, Ginny insists she has to work a double shift because Herbie has threatened to fire her otherwise. She runs off to work, warning Jack not to touch the family’s only savings of $5,000 for the kids’ Christmas presents. Jack promptly ignores her and heads off to the bank to take out some present money. Meanwhile, Ginny sees the same man who was rude to her the day before at the store, begging a Texaco worker to buy his car off of him so he can have some money to get his son a present for Christmas and some food. There’s a lot of poverty in this film, if you couldn’t tell**. Anyway, the Texaco worker turns him down for the car and the camp stove he offers as a last-ditch effort. The guy gets in his car, looks at his kid, and tells the kid, “I have to drop you off at the bus station*** for a while. I have some…things to do.” Uh oh.

*The kids and dad asking her to get out of work minutes before she leaves for work isn’t fair. She’s the only one of you with a job! Thank her, don’t make her feel bad!

**Pretty early on I had an inkling that the film had the sad, poor desperation of Detroit stink all over it. Soon enough, a Detroit Lions sweatshirt and some Canadian accents gave away my suspicions. Oh, Detroit. You sad sack.

***Dropping the kid off at the bus station as a babysitting option. Oh, Detroit.

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I put a picture of the kids here because it’s too depressing to put real scenes in. While Jack is in the bank, the mean guy runs in and starts robbing it. Abby runs out of the car to the grocery store across the street to see Ginny, who promptly chews her out and gets fired as she leaves the store to chew Jack out. She puts Abby back in their car, which is double-parked next to the robber’s car, and goes in the bank. Right at that moment the robber grabs a girl next to him and shoots his gun in the air. Ginny stands back by the wall, aghast, and the evil guy (Harry) tells everyone to leave him alone while he heads out of the bank with the girl. Jack, being the stand-up guy he is, implores Harry to let the girl go because nobody will stop him, and as he’s trying to reason with him, steps closer to Harry*. This makes trigger-happy Harry shoot the gun right at Jack**…and Jack dies. Ginny goes up to him, feels for a pulse – nada. He’s dead***. Did we mention this was a kids’ Christmas movie?

*I’m all for bravery, but this was not a smooth way to stop a guy with a gun. 

**OK, he does not shoot right at Jack. It looked like he shot several feet to the side of him. At best it hit his arm. Terrible framing.

***WHAT?! The DAD DIES! WHAT IS THIS MOVIE!?

Anyway, then Harry runs out of the bank in the chaos, and since he can’t get to his car…he takes Ginny and Jack’s double-parked car. With the kids in the backseat. And drives off down the road. Ginny is told in whispers that the guy just jacked her car, and runs after him to get the kids. She takes his car as far as it will go, but it dies, so she gets out to just start running after the kids (one of the most moving gestures I’ve ever seen in a movie). The police catch up with her so she hitches a ride with them…just to catch up to Harry and the kids, driving off a bridge, into icy cold water below*. The next scene we see is Ginny at home in an empty house, sobbing in her bathroom**, her knees all wet from falling into the snow. Heartbreaking.

*Very shoddy “Car goes off a bridge into the water” effects on this one, but OMG! THEY DROWNED THE KIDS! WTF IS HAPPENING!?

**They killed her family. Now she knows to believe in Christmas…

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The movie wouldn’t just do us like that though, y’all, so the next thing we see is Gideon, saving Abby and Cal from the river*. (Coincidentally, we find out he became a Christmas angel because he saved a drowning young boy on Christmas day out west. Sound familiar, George Bailey**?) The kids are returned to Ginny, who has to then explain death to them*** (it’s not terribly successful, but she really tries). Then Abby, being the enterprising young thing she is, decides Gideon can help in the same way he “made my glass ball not broke anymore.” She sneaks out of the house (…again. I swear, this girl escapes from her house more than any other child I’ve ever seen****) and runs to the town’s big Christmas tree with the angel on top, and there is Gideon, who takes her to see Santa, who he says can help her. When she explains to Santa that she really wouldn’t need any other presents, if he could just “make my dad not dead,” he says he can’t help her…but her mom can! Sorry, every kid who watches this and loses a parent. You are going to be confused forever*****. Anyway, Santa takes Abby through his toy shop to find a letter that Ginny wrote to him when she was a little girl.

*They don’t even really show us how he did it. The kids just kind of show up again.

**Hee-Haw! Hee-Haw!

***I know it’s supposed to be touching, but I laughed SO HARD when the kid explains her not understanding by saying “Dad never died before.”

****Not once does the mom notice. This grade school child runs in and out of the house constantly, usually to go barreling into traffic. 

*****There are some terrible lessons being taught in this movie. 1. You can run into the street consequence free. 2. If you die, an angel can bring you back to life. 3. If you can’t be brought back to life, it’s your surviving parent’s fault. Good god!

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This toy shop, y’all. I can’t even. And look at that Santa beard! That red sweater!! It’s just so fantastic. The man’s eyebrows are a thing to be revered. Anyway, they get this letter that Ginny wrote Santa when she was a girl*, and Santa tells Abby she has to take the letter to Ginny and that will resolve everything. Then Santa goes off to take care of Christmas, and Abby goes home with the help of Gideon. She tells her mom about all of this, and ultimately tells her right as she’s falling asleep that she has a letter for her in her coat pocket.

*She spelled it GINNIE back then. 

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Ginny is, understandably, dumbfounded. She immediately goes and grabs Abby’s letter to Santa, mails that ish, Gideon shows up to watch her do it, wishes her a Merry Christmas, and even though she doesn’t say it back, she says, “Goodnight, Gideon,” and smiles in this knowing way, telling us she knows he’s the angel that saved her kids. Then – poof! – the Christmas lights all light back up…and JACK GRAINGER comes walking around the corner*, just as though he’d never been murdered ruthlessly in broad daylight!! Ginny runs to him, hugs him, and figures out the true meaning of Christmas and what is important in life, which is family, duh. We then have an homage to Groundhog Day**, in that we do-over Christmas Eve, but this time Ginny tells Herbie to go fly a kite and that she’s staying home with her family for Christmas, and he actually DOESN’T FIRE HER OMG so she kisses him on the cheek and he does the best mini-smile I’ve ever seen. She also goes to the Texaco and buys Harry’s camp stove for $50, thereby saving lives and a needless bank robbery. Harry thanks her profusely and wishes her a Merry Christmas, but she still doesn’t say it back***.

*The solution was to turn back time. Huh.

**If anything, Groundhog Day stole the idea from this movie, as it pre-dates the Bill Murray flick by eight years.

***I honestly might not have noticed her lack of saying “Merry Christmas” all movie long unless Caitlin alerted me to it.

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Ginny writes a check for $5,000 for “the Jack Grainger Bike Shop” for her husband*, which is a HUGE “awww” moment, and then, Santa shows up, and Ginny walks in on him doing his magic, and he wishes her a Merry Christmas…and she SAYS IT BACK! Cut to him smiling, cut back to her with a huge grin and a sparkle in her eyes**, boom. Best Christmas movie ever. I seriously am so filled with happiness and love that Zack sat down to watch this with me, it’s overwhelming. This movie sincerely means so much to me, and has been such a huge part of my life, and I’m excited to make it a yearly Wittbloom tradition. I enjoyed the movie way, way more than I thought I would. I’ll happily watch it every year during Christmas week. I would like to share it with our future kids at some point, but we need to make sure they’re old enough to understand how very very wrong the lessons of the film are and be able to explain that to them. Thanks for sharing this with me, Caitlin! Merry Christmas to all!

*I did love this, but worry for him. Oh, Detroit.

**The same could be said about Caitlin.

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3 Responses to ““One Magic Christmas” delivers all of the feels”

  1. tapeparade December 24, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    Sounds like a brilliant christmas film. And I LOVED hearing about all your family traditions!!! Merry christmas you guys, hope you have a wonderful day 🙂 XXXX

    • Caitlin December 25, 2013 at 12:51 am #

      Aww thanks so much for reading, so glad you liked the peek into our traditions:D Merry Christmas!! I hope you’re feeling 100% better soon!

  2. jessthetics January 2, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

    Christmas traditions are the best! We always watch the Tailor of Gloucester which is also a not very well known christmas film. I’ve never watched the Macy’s parade, but I bet it’s so much fun! I’m glad you had a good christmas Caitlin 🙂 xx

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