'A California Christmas' Review: Charm trumps forced storytelling tropes in this adequate festive offering
While the film is filled with awkward structuring, the natural chemistry between its characters makes the whole thing work
There's a lot of awkwardness to 'A California Christmas'. There's the "posh" valet Leo (Ali Afshar), who never quite sells it aside from his constant mentioning that he loves wine. Lauren Swickard's attempts at portraying a tough-as-nails rancher lady while looking like she's about to break into a smile in every scene. Her jealous, possessive friend Connor (Gunnar Anderson), whom the makers of the movie don't seem to quite know what to really do with. Even the premise of the film falls apart when you look at it too closely - the lifelong city boy seems to adjust to life on a ranch rather easily in the twelve days he's there. Once the awkwardness is out of the way and the film allows its characters to just breathe and spend some time with each other, however, there's a lot of charm to be found - and that's all you really want from a Netflix Christmas romantic comedy.
The film is a passion project for Lauren Swickard, who created, wrote, and co-produced the film, in addition to starring in it as the lead character, Callie, alongside her real-life husband Josh Swickard, who plays Joseph. Callie is a woman drowning in debt, trying to save her ranch while beating away a large business offering to buy her land off of her. Enter Joseph, a young womanizer born with a silver spoon in his mouth, who is commanded by the woman who is both his mother and boss to get Callie to sell her ranch, no matter what it takes. A simple misunderstanding leads Callie to assume that Joseph is her new ranch hand, Manny, convincing Joseph to go undercover for a week to try and convince her to sell. As the city boy learns the ins and outs of dairy farming, he and Callie slowly but surely fall for each other.
Be warned, despite the title, the movie has very little to actually do with Christmas, aside from its closing scene and the fact that it's set in the middle of December - definitely a lot more romcom than it is Christmas film. As a romantic comedy, it achieves exactly what it sets out to do - provide about an hour and a half of sweetness, as Joseph and Callie have great chemistry. It's not just their relationship that makes it work, though. Joseph's valet, Leo, and the original Manny (David Del Rio) have a casual friendliness to them that's a joy to watch, one that's well duplicated on the ranch between Callie and her familly.
The movie cherry picks tropes from a number of romantic comedies - the montage, the shallow man who only truly finds himself in the love of a good woman, the arbitrary deadline and awkwardly forced stakes and pathos. The structure of the story is weak, and it's a relief when the movie gets past the points where it has to try and establish that, and to the parts where characters are just allow to breathe. Nothing stands out about 'A California Christmas' besides, perhaps, its gorgeous setting, but that doesn't mean that it's not an enjoyable watch. There are worse ways to spend a lazy night in.
'A California Christmas' is now available to stream on Netflix.