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REVIEW – Christmas, Again

Directed by: Charles Poekel
Produced by: Charles Poekel
Written by: Charles Poekel
Edited by: Robert Greene
Cinematography by: Sean Price Williams
Starring: Kentucker Audley, Hannah Gross, Caitlin Mehner, Andrea Suarez Paz, Jason Shelton, Sam Stillman
Year: 2015

Christmas is almost synonymous with happiness in most everyone’s mind. Songs foretell of all the cheer and glad tidings the season will bring the masses as we all presumably dream about gathering together with family and friends and exchanging gifts and gathering by the fireplace and all that. But, man… Christmas can also be kind of a bummer. Should one thing not be perfect, it’s easy to find yourself worrying about whether you’ve ruined the holiday for everyone. Consider also the fact that missing someone on Christmas can be all sorts of depressing, whether it be due to distance, a break-up… or even worse, as my family this year is currently experiencing (which is also the reason for the shortened and belated Christmas reviewing season on this blog). There are countless Christmas films that embrace the joys of the season, of course, but very few that not only acknowledge but embrace exploring the feelings of loneliness and sadness that can come about when you’re surrounded by people who are seemingly way more happy than you are and don’t know why you can’t just support them in their merriment. Christmas, Again, however, is one such rare film, right down to its matter-of-fact title.

The film is focused on a Christmas tree salesman who is appropriately, albeit also ironically, named Noel. Noel is basically a Christmas equivalent to the sad clown, in that you would think a man who’s responsible for helping you pick out the centerpiece of your holiday season décor would be one of the jollier people you meet all year. Not so. This year, Noel’s basically going through the motions, working his chilly nightshift alone while alternating between apathy and barely contained contempt for the sort of clientele the shift attracts before retiring to his bed when the dayshift crew arrives, where he can then attempt to ignore all the bustle of the big city outside and catch a few minutes of sleep. He is dedicated and meticulous, however, suggesting that this is really all he’s got going on these days, though a picture on the wall of a pretty girl who’s never around anymore more gives you a major hint as to why Noel’s not exactly in the Christmas spirit.

A thin storyline does form, as Noel happens upon a drunk woman, passed out on a park bench in the middle of the night and, not knowing what else to do, takes her back to his trailer, where he respectfully leaves her alone until she slips out without notice, only to come back at a later point. Her story is almost equally melancholy, and though it’s unclear just what kind of direction either of them expects this connection to take them in, it sure seems as though they’re at least enjoying each other’s company, nonetheless. Christmas, Again is thus sort of a kindred spirit to Lost in Translation, where two sullen characters are united in their isolation by chance and become each other’s best friend, and even if it’s just for the time being, it may also be at just the right time. It’s a nice sentiment, and yet also a very pragmatic one in that it makes no promises of permanence for either party. It’s beautiful, in its own way, as is the film itself.

Largely composed of close-up shots of Noel’s face as characters speak from just off camera, Christmas, Again also conveys its dreary atmosphere with a seemingly ever present haze (probably due to the use of actual film), aggressive shadows, and minimal lighting – the excess of of Christmas lights and a garish, orange streetlamp often providing much of what was needed. The score for the film also features a strange, old-timey-sounding theremin (or something sounding like one) which actually captures the spirit of Noel’s malaisical funk pretty well. Kentucker Audley, as Noel, is also adept at making Noel a sympathetic figure throughout the film. There’s nothing remarkable about Noel beyond probably his name, but it’s that every day, normal quality that makes him so understatedly compelling, and Audley’s performance is full of little details and subtle expressions that make Noel feel real. I recognize this guy, and I recognize times when I’ve felt the same way as him, too: Aimless, lonely, and frustrated, but also self-aware enough to try fighting through it or avoid people for their own sake.

Christmas, Again first came to my attention while reading about the best films of 2015, many of which either included the film on the list or featured one or two people bringing the film up as deserving of a spot. Reviews on Amazon seem to suggest that the film has proven to be pretty divisive among those who attempt to watch it, however, and those who are not only expecting but demanding something akin to Hallmark and Lifetime TV movies and a concrete, happy ending with everything resolved will almost certainly find themselves disappointed by this slow, intimate, and seemingly banal story about a depressed and unremarkable man going through something he perhaps should be over by now. However, those who can muster through it may find themselves rewarded with a film that doesn’t provide cheap comfort and fantastical affirmations of wellbeing in what is supposed to be the happiest time of year. Consider it, instead, to be like a welcome hug from someone who genuinely gets it, ‘cause they’re with you, too.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4.5 / 5

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