Sunday, March 29, 2015

“Christmas Again”– Movie Review



During the final weekend of The Film Society Of Lincoln Center’s New Directors/New Films series, I attended a screening of the new drama “Christmas, Again”. 


When a lovelorn Christmas tree salesman returns for a new season, will he be able to continue despite the loss of his girlfriend?


Year after year, Noel (Kentucker Audley) makes the long trek down to Brooklyn from his home in upstate New York to sell Christmas trees during the holiday season.  With his usual work in the construction business on hold during the long winter months, he tries to make a few extra dollars selling and delivering trees each Christmas.  This year, however, will be different – not too long ago, Noel and his girlfriend broke up and he’s had a rather difficult time getting beyond that.  As a constant reminder of his heartache, Noel still has photographs of her hanging on the wall inside the trailer where he sleeps. 

One night during his shift, Noel spots Lydia (Hannah Gross) passed out cold on a park bench.  Chasing away a homeless man who tries to steal her cell phone, Noel takes her back to his trailer and lets Lydia sleep it off; the next morning, despite missing one shoe and her wallet, an embarrassed Lydia sneaks out of the trailer while Noel is otherwise engaged with a customer.  The next day, Lydia returns, apologizing for her sudden disappearance and thanking Noel for his kindness; in order to show her appreciation, she gives him a home-baked pie. 

For the next few days, Noel goes about his business making sales and deliveries while simultaneously training a couple of new hires who take over the day shift.  During one sale, a mysterious man sneaks up on Noel and sucker-punches him; the next day, Lydia returns, requesting her pie pan be returned.  She informs Noel that she had a fight with her boyfriend who thinks she slept with Noel; he immediately does the math and realizes that’s who punched him the night before.  With Lydia realizing she’s increasingly drawn to Noel, will she ultimately leave her boyfriend for him?


Despite being relatively short for a feature film (it clocks in at under an hour and a half), “Christmas, Again” feels much longer than its actual running time.  Perhaps the reason for this is due to the fact that it has a very slow pace at the beginning of the movie.  This results in the first act dragging along considerably and fails to give the audience a sense of forward momentum in the story; you keep waiting for the story to start and it never quite feels as though it does, primarily because it’s so episodic.  As customer after customer goes by in what seems to be an extended montage, you are left to wonder where the story is supposed to be and ask yourself if it already began and you simply missed it. 

The background behind the making of “Christmas, Again” is interesting and perhaps explains why it doesn’t quite work.  Writer/director Charles Poekel spent three years actually selling Christmas trees on the streets of Brooklyn.  Normally, such research would be commendable as it informs your story with a sense of authenticity.  In this case, however, it may have resulted in the downfall of the movie because Poekel is so close to the subject matter that he seems to have lost the objectivity needed to tell a coherent story.  While the film may possess a number of interesting visual images, you don’t really get a sense that its director has an idea for how to properly convey a narrative.

Following the screening, there was an interview with writer/director Charles Poekel, actor Kentucker Audley and cinematographer Sean Price Williams.  Poekel said that the shoot took a total of 15 days – that is to say, three five-day weeks.  Although he would not comment as to exactly how low the budget was, he did admit a portion of it was somewhat crowd-sourced.  Shooting in the trailer was one of the most challenging parts of making “Christmas, Again”, Poekel added; the space was very cramped and at times, he had to kick out non-essential members of the crew in order to film a scene. 

Christmas, Again (2014) on IMDb

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