by Maria Lattila
You know those Christmas films that play on Channel 5 every weekend from mid-November all the way to the big day itself? They’re always ridiculously cheesy and stupidly adorable but hold very little cinematic nutritional value at their tinsel-covered core. Cup Of Cheer smartly tries to avoid this by being hyperaware of its narrative direction, but ultimately, doesn’t do enough to truly subvert expectations and ultimately becomes just like those disposable Sunday afternoon films.
Cup Of Cheer’s oh-so-Christmassy narrative revolves around Mary (Storm Steenson), a journalist assigned to travel to her small hometown of Snowy Heights for some hardcore seasonal reporting. Mary quite literally runs into Chris (Alexander Oliver), who owns a hot cocoa shop, the titular Cup Of Cheer, which suddenly faces potential closure and Mary wants to help. Throw in a time-travelling English chap, some baked goods and an arsenal of goofy characters delivering so-bad-they’re-good one-liners, and you have Cup Of Cheer.
Director Jake Horowitz, who also co-wrote the script with Andy Lewis, knows exactly what he’s doing here. The pair have taken every single Christmas movie cliché and thrown them into a blender, hoping for the best. While Cup Of Cheer has plenty of Christmas charm, it never transcends those clichés it’s so desperate to mock. By playing out exactly how you expect it to, while calling out silly and convenient plot points, Cup Of Cheer trips over its own feet, falling into the exact trap it set out to avoid.
The script is littered with obvious, on-the-nose lines about Christmas and the films made about Christmas. It sounds refreshing and hilarious, but unfortunately Horowitz and Lewis never make anything of it. They’re also partial to more than a few jokes about bowel movements and while we all enjoy those jokes here and there, they somewhat sour Cup Of Cheer’s otherwise sweet and silly narrative. It’s like being handed a Christmas cupcake and finding Marmite in the middle; intriguing but also very wrong.
That’s not to say there isn’t anything to enjoy in Cup Of Cheer. It’s constantly amusing and Horowitz’s capable cast is constantly game for anything and everything thrown their way. Steenson is delightful and energetic as Mary, but it’s Oliver as Chris that seems most comfortable in the film. All the performances are purposely over the top, but Oliver also manages to inject Chris with a little bit of warmth and real humanity, something the rest of the characters and the entire film could have used more of.
Perhaps that is ultimately Cup Of Cheer’s biggest failure. While it’s perfectly entertaining and silly, it’s hard to be invested in such a manufactured narrative where everything is a set up for another joke. But it’s also equally possible this is exactly what we need in a year where Christmas is set to look a whole lot different than normal.
So, get yourself a hot chocolate, sit back, relax and travel to Snowy Heights for some Christmas cheer!
Cup of Cheer is out 4th December