The Holiday Calendar tries to bring a more magical approach to the standard rom-com fare. In line with the Christmas Miracle magic that pervades most holiday movies, it manages to create an interesting premise but loses in delivery.
Abby, an aspiring photographer whose dreams are thwarted by the everyday necessity of getting by, is given an antique Advent calendar that used to belong to her grandma. The trinket, though, isn’t just like any other. In fact, it seems to be able to predict Abby’s future, including a budding romance.
Another holiday romcom, another known face
The Holiday Calendar is another one of Netflix’s attempts at bottling and selling the holiday spirit in movie form from 2018. It stars Kat Graham – who you might be familiar with if you watched The Vampire Diaries, I didn’t, let’s not rehash this – in the role of Abby Sutton, an aspiring photographer whose photography dreams can’t quite seem to take off.
As far as premises go, the magical Advent calendar idea is certainly on the more interesting side of stories. Magic is no stranger to holiday romcoms, after all, the message they all seem to share is that anything can happen at Christmastime but in this one, the magic takes a real, tangible shape in the form of the actual object that is the source of it.
How does it work?
How does this Advent calendar magic work exactly? Simply enough, each day it graces Abby as its latest owner with an object that is a reference to something that will be happening to her that same day. However, because all of these objects have a somewhat Christmassy quality to them, it’s really Abby’s own interpretation of them that explains the correlation.
All the objects the calendar gives her seem to be pointing at a budding romance stemming from a chance encounter with a dashing doctor but, at the end of the movie, Abby will realise that all the events the calendar was referring to also had another person in common: her childhood best friend, come back home for the holidays from his photography work around the world.
Right from the first scene the two share, Abby and Josh (played by Quincy Brown) immediately appear to the audience to be made for each other. They have history, they share a passion for photography that fuels each other’s passion too, and he’s so unbelievably obviously head over heels for her.
Abby is, predictably, the only one who doesn’t see it.
For a movie that really wants its fated protagonists to end up together, we don’t get such a good idea of the affection that runs between them. Sure, Abby is happy to have a dear friend back for the holidays but when creating its inevitable conflict, the movie goes a little too hard to make it believable.
You see, Abby’s photography dreams are not that easy to achieve – as any struggling artist will confirm – and when her chance finally arrives, Josh ends up ruining it by accident in a very big way, resulting in Abby not only losing the one possibility of achieving her dream but also running out the clock on it.
The Big Gesture™
Of course, most rom-coms need a central conflict from which its characters can learn and grow better, but The Holiday Calendar is certainly the first that tries so hard to make someone else’s mistake look like the fault of its main character.
When Abby gets reasonably enraged at Josh’s mistake, her anger is made to look exaggerated and out of place. Even worse than that, the Big Gesture™ that would usually follow the argument isn’t that big at all and mostly happens off-screen. We’re made to believe that these two were made for each other, but their relationship is mild and just barely warm. It’s almost impossible to believe that anything other than friendship could bloom between them.
Mild love, mild story
The thing is, the relationship comes across as mild because the rest of the movie is not much better.
With a promising premise that could have been delved into with a vibrant family history – who made the calendar? How did Abby’s family come into its possession? Why did Abby’s grandma leave it to her specifically and why did we not get anything more than a suggestion of their supposedly close relationship? – one would expect the rest of the movie to be just as unexpected.
But, sadly, it’s not. The Holiday Calendar ends up being exactly what it seems to be. There’s no surprise, there’s no especially romantic anything to it. You know how it begins, and you’ll end up knowing exactly how it’s gonna end. It’s a bit like a gingerbread cookie: everyone can make one and you might even enjoy the taste when you eat it but as soon as you’ve swallowed the last piece, you’ll forget about it in search of a better one.
I feel like the initial description of this movie I gave makes it sound a lot more interesting than it actually is. To be quite honest, I keep forgetting what I want to say about it because I keep forgetting the movie. There isn’t much that jumped out to me while watching, which is a shame because I had high hopes due to the interesting premise.
In the end, The Holiday Calendar makes exactly zero variations on the theme and might even perform lower than other movies of the same genre. It is a frustratingly forgettable movie and a forgettably frustrating one: you hope for better and you end up disappointed, but you almost immediately forget being disappointed because that’s how much of a mark this movie manages to leave.
Have you seen The Holiday Calendar? If you have, let me know what you thought in the comments! If you haven’t, did this review make you want to watch it just to see if it really is as bad as I make it out to be? Either way, leave a comment below and make sure to follow our social media channels to keep up with us!