For the past couple of decades, the rom-com has been sorely missing one crucial element: the genre’s golden child. Indeed, 1990s favorite comedic leading lady, Lindsay Lohan, hasn’t appeared in one in almost a decade. So when it was announced that she was officially on board for Janeen Damian’s feature directorial debut, Netflix’s newest holiday jaunt Falling for Christmas, fans young and old naturally erupted with excitement.
Falling for Christmas stars Lohan as Sierra Belmont, a spoiled, wealthy heiress to a hotel empire. Things are going well in her dazzling world until her vain influencer beau, Tad (George Young), takes her on a snowboarding soirèe and the two get into an accident. Next thing Sierra knows, she is at the bottom of a snowy hill with a big bump on her head and no memory of how she got there, or who she is.
Luckily for her, an earnest, salt-of-the-earth ski-lodge owner named Jake (Chord Overstreet) spots Sierra out in the wilderness and takes her back to his place to recover. But as the young millionaire recoups, she discovers that figuring out who she is is much more than simply gaining her memory back. Cue: lessons in family values, mistletoes, and a whole lot of Christmas spirit.
To be perfectly blunt, there isn’t a whole lot about Falling for Christmas that sets it apart from other Christmas rom-coms. There’s the emotionally wounded male protagonist who isn’t ready to be hurt again, a moralistic Santa character, a village coming together for Christmas, and, of course, the good ol’ “family is the most important thing” epiphany. Not to mention, Falling for Christmas more or less replicates the plot of A Castle for Christmas with a couple of tweaks here and there.
But to its credit, Falling for Christmas’s lack of originality can likely be attributed to the fact that the art of the Christmas rom-com has already been perfected, and Damian and writers Jeff Bonnett and Ron Oliver know better than to tamper with perfection. With this in mind, I dare assert that Falling for Christmas works exquisitely as a Christmas movie.
Much of the film’s success comes down to its story. Falling for Christmas is delightfully high-concept, which has become a staple of the 21st-century Christmas movie, (think the hilariously devious catfishing plot of Love Hard, or The Christmas Switch, otherwise known as The Parent Trap for royalty). If these recent holiday films tell us anything, it’s that a surefire way to pull off a well-executed high-concept plot is to tangle your protagonist up in an impossibly sticky situation. And in Falling for Christmas, the stickiness is abundant.
Indeed, Damian shrewdly crafts a thoughtful tale with stakes that are almost on par with life and death: will our heroine ever find out who she really is? But even with a heavy, potentially-bleak premise, the director doesn’t allow any lightness to escape the film. Instead, she constructs it in a way that lets laughs easily abound. Watching a wealthy heiress struggle to execute basic household chores is easy comedy fodder, for example (and previously mined in Garry Marshall’s Overboard), and Lohan excels at landing her characters’ bountiful moments of physical humor. (Try to watch Sierra attempt to crack two eggs by throwing them onto a pan without laughing – I dare you.)
Another important rom-com feature that naturally emerges out of Falling for Christmas’s high-concept plot is the romance of it all, (after all, what is Christmas without a handsome stranger?). In introducing a protagonist with memory loss, Damian possesses an endless playground for a juicy will-they-won’t-they plot. Not only is Jake the only person that Sierra really has until she recovers, but he also has the unique opportunity to teach the heiress the real meaning of family – which, spoiler alert, is a little different from what she has learned from the cold, snooty millionaires back home.
With all the potential lovers’ hurdles in mind, Damian teases out the will-they-won’t-they-ness of it all to its most agonizing limits, nimbly employing sneaky shared glances and tactfully-placed mistletoes that will have even the grinchiest of grinches rooting for them to get together.
Given this, it brings me some displeasure to say that the chemistry between Sierra and Jake is slightly lacking. While Lohan delivers an animated, exhilarating, hilarious performance that offers up notes of Freaky Friday and Mean Girls and proves that, after her hiatus, she’s definitely still got it, Overstreet sadly doesn’t bring much to the table. Most of this has to do with his underwritten character: a hapless, quiet single dad whose only personality traits are: A.) he loves his inn, and B.) he lost his wife. On top of this, Overstreet remains pretty low energy for the majority of the film, making it pretty difficult to believe that Jake is as passionate about anything as the film wants you to think he is.
But no character in Falling for Christmas falls flatter than Tad. The undeniable weak point of the film, he amounts to nothing more than a lazy influencer stereotype, whose vanity and obsession with gaining followers is far too hyperbolic to be at all believable. He is clearly intended to be the film’s chief comic relief, but his jokes are nothing more than stale cheap shots against social media that we’ve all heard a thousand times before.
Which isn’t to say that we haven’t seen most elements of Falling for Christmas before. However, most of the film – its romance, faux pas, physical humor, Christmas spirit – comprises tried and true staples of the holiday film that are more or less guaranteed to crack a smile. One admittedly shouldn’t venture into this viewing experience expecting anything groundbreaking – but if you’re looking for a well-executed, warm-hearted rom-com romp, you’ve come to the right place.