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This is a baffling movie. The TV just happened to be on when it
started, but I only took attention when I heard Joe Mantegna's voice.
Now there is one actor who can always be relied on not to phone in his
performance. Then I saw Jean Smart, who had impressed me as the First
Lady of USA in '24' as one of the most believable characters in a show
that was full of nonsense entertaining nonsense, but nonsense
nonetheless. The iconic Charles Durning, still with us at the time of
writing, gave me one more reason to watch. And when the severely
underrated Kari Matchett appeared, I knew I had to sit this one
through, though I had, based on program information, beforehand
dismissed this movie as "Yet Another
13-in-a-Dozen-American-Xmas-Movie". Matchett had managed to fly 6 years
under my radar until she appeared as the only good thing in the
miserable Cube 2: Hypercube. Thankfully she's received plenty of roles
after that movie, appearing as a guest star in many high profile series
such as '24', 'ER', 'Ugly Betty' and 'Criminal Minds', but ironically
all her proper star roles were in series that were short-lived: she was
superb in 'Invasion', great in 'Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip', did
what she could in the doomed 'Heartland' and delighted in 'Crash'. I'm
looking forward to see her in 'Covert Affairs', which predictably
lasted only 27 episodes in USA.
But I digress. 'A Very Married Christmas' surprised me positively at the start. The scenes of Joe Mantegna's character Frank imagining his wife's "hobbies" were hilarious and his narration was witty. Also, Mantegna reminded us with his facial expressions and timing that he is also a great comedian. The writer and director seemed to be on fire as well, surprising us with office comedy, well-placed match cuts plus rare iris-ins and iris-outs. Scenes and shots had imagination: the mall bench scene, the doorstep shot, the pie shot, the bed shot, the "carried away" scene, the "incident" scene and "the office meeting" scene. But then something happened.
At around three fifths into the movie, at the "closing time" scene, the movie suddenly fell flat on its face. It seemed that from that point on, a team of replacement writer & director took over, despite not having the talent that had delivered what we had seen so far. We had seen some quality dramedy (which is a really hard genre), but the replacements could not even decide whether to do "serious" drama or "plain" comedy, let alone provide either. Worse still, one character spoils the ending for the audience, the writer treating us like dummies, and another character is not even given an exit scene they just vanish from the movie! And then there are the mandatory "life lessons" and American-Xmas-Movie clichés, which seemed so blessedly absent over half of the movie.
In all senses, the first three fifths are an entertaining 8/10 movie, but then there is an abrupt collapse into a dreary 2/10 waste of time and you can tell from the actors' performances that they too have lost the joy. It's hard to rate such a schizophrenic movie, so an indifferent 5/10 that's just below the IMDb average of 5.5 (at the time of writing) seems appropriate. *Now* I understand why it took *seven* years for this movie to get a premiere in Finland. I wonder if the original novel is better
At the movie's start, Griffin (Joe Mantegna) is training to be a Santa
Claus. He starts talking to another prospective Santa, and through
flashbacks we see how his marriage started falling apart. His wife
Ellen (Jean Smart) is seeing someone else. Because neither one wants to
give up their daughter Zoe (Jordy Benattar), Griffin and Ellen try to
continue living together. One day Frank sees an attractive woman
signing people up to be Santas. Donna (Kari Matchett), who has a son
Gabe and has split up with her husband, sells cosmetics but takes
children's pictures with Santa at Christmas. Frank keeps busy at his
job designing databases, but he tries this job to make himself feel
Once the movie returns to the present, Griffin's experiences as Santa turn out to be ... interesting. Some kids are holy terrors. But there are touching scenes of nice kids getting their picture taken by Donna. Griffin's first meeting with Gabe doesn't turn out very well. Gabe doesn't believe in Santa and makes his opinions about Griffin very clear.
Griffin attempts to keep his family together, and also tries to help Donna, but of course he gets a little too close to Donna, even though he claims they are not dating.
This is somewhat risqué to be called a family movie. Two lesbians (one pretty, one goth) sit on Griffin's lap and announce they are getting married. Griffin says some very un-Santa like things while wearing the costume. One Santa is a lesbian. Griffin has fantasies and nightmares, some of which get quite naughty. In his nightmare about Ellen's relationship, there are even subtitles.
Charles Durning, playing Ozzie, the teacher of the Santa class, makes a wonderful Santa himself, and you could almost believe he is the real thing. Kari Matchett is quite charming as Donna, and Zoe is adorable if rebellious.
The other major actors were good too.
Overall, I enjoyed it.
I really enjoyed this movie. The acting was great by Jean Smart and Joe
Mantegna. I have looked up both of these actors on their internet site.
I was unaware of all the movies that Jean Smart acted in. I did
remember her from the TV series "Designing Women". The theme of the
movie is appropriate for the times we are living in at the present
where very few couple tend to stay together. The way the movie ended
was some what typical of most of the Christmas Movies which is very
uplifting. The young daughter did a great acting job also.
Now can someone tell me where I can purchase this movie either on Tape or DVD. I have tried the internet and called video stores with no results.
Of the Movies starring Joe Montegna, this may be my Favorite. Jessica Beitchman is cute, sexy, and hilarious as Montegna's assistant "Bambi". Where on earth did this girl come from? What else can I see her in? I should check out IMDb... oh... right (heh heh). Beitchman is Lucille Ball reincarnated with the ability to make you both laugh and cry and the cry and then laugh some more! Her performance tugs at the Heart strings. I would love to see another movie where Beitchman and Montegna work together again. They are a charming comic man-woman team that keeps the audience begging for more. Can you say: SEQUEL! Sure, I enjoy Joe on the Simpsons (who doesn't), and he's been involved in such notable movies as the Godfather trilogy, but this movie really shows us that he has the acting chops to pull off both comedy and Drama. Truly an actor's actor!
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