Director: Kirk D’Amico
Cast: Bailee Madison, Jennifer Robertson, Sandy Jobin-Bevans
Watch Holiday Joy online in the UK: Netflix UK
We unwrap a different Christmas film from Netflix’s dubious seasonal selection every day. For 12 days. It’s the 12 Days of Netflix.
Ah, Christmas. A time for taking your privilege for granted, complaining about your first world problems and using seasonal goodwill to your own advantage. That’s the way Joy (Bailee Madison) approaches the holiday, anyway.
Ever since her mum passed away, the teenager has had to shoulder a number of burdens and responsibilities to keep her family supported and running, helping her dad (French Stewart) and brother, Zack (Luke Bilyk), while essentially mothering her younger brother, Miles (Ethan Pugiotto). Even with that harder-than-average childhood, though, she’s doing well, living in a nice neighbourhood, going to a decent school and having a loving family. Nonetheless, she’s unhappy with her lot and wishes she lived with the seemingly perfect family next door instead.
The problem with wishes? At Christmas, they can come true. And when Joy wakes up the next day, she finds herself in her dream life. And, inevitably, it’s all gone horribly wrong. Her grades have slipped, and her passion for the clarinet has been replaced by a gruelling netball regime. She’s dating the hottest guy in school, but he turns out to be insecure and possessive. And she’s no longer friends with the nice young man she grew up with whom isn’t insecure and possessive – you may see where this is headed.
Effectively It’s a Wonderful Life for teenagers, Holiday Joy does a decent job of capturing the bittersweet results of getting what you wish for, while downplaying the notion of suicide. But by sanitising that classic festive formula, the script loses a lot of its potential emotional weight – and while Bailee Madison delivers a charismatic enough performance in the lead, it’s difficult to sympathise with Joy’s supposedly difficult life. Compare the weights of an adult life on George Bailey’s shoulders to a teenager’s perspective and priorities and it’s simply harder to care – put next to something like Edge of Seventeen and there’s a lack of raw, gritty understanding of what teen concerns really are.
The result is a Christmas movie that refreshingly doesn’t overplay its Christmas themes, but remains a disappointingly shallow affair; the only really convincing part of the film is Joy’s relationship with her younger brother and dog. And even a nifty use of Joy to the World as a plot device (and timely pun on the lead character’s name) can’t create the illusion of substance.
Holiday Joy is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.