To say that Saving Christmas is a terrible movie is to say nothing at all. I can’t imagine that anyone who reads Uproxx or who lives within a 250-mile radius of reality could’ve thought that CamFam’s latest would be anything but insufferable Bible Belt fare. So it might seem a little cruel to make fun of a movie that only pulled in $1 million opening weekend. And it might seem a little easy to mock Kirk Cameron, easily this planet’s most mockable man. Still, I think it’s okay to wage war (aka, write blogpost) against a movie that is so deeply angry towards the very people it’s trying to convince and the very country it pretends to defend. For all its claims to brotherly love (or as Kirk Cameron would call it, “bro” love), Saving Christmas isn’t ultimately a defense of the holiday or even of Christianity. It’s a well-disguised, carefully constructed, feature-length attack on empathy. It is boring it is cruel it is dated it is smug and yes, it is terrible.
Before I get into the politics of Saving Christmas, I’d like to take a moment to discuss the “story’s” “structure,” which deserves all the ironic quotes this world can offer. One of the first things you learn in freshman year English/kindergarten is that good storytellers don’t tell, they show. But Kirk Cameron, being oh god, Kirk Cameron – tells, then tells some more, then, oh god, keeps telling. Watching a CamFam story is sort of like being on a date where the other person thinks the key to success is to keep talking, at full volume, about nothing and/or themselves, for the next ninety minutes/two hours/seventy-three years of your life.
The parallel is easy to see: Saving Christmas doesn’t know how to talk to audiences because it’s too busy listening to itself. Kirk Cameron spends most of the movie preaching to Christian, his disgruntled brother-in-law who hides in his car during a Christmas party because he loves Jesus/hates materialism. Over the course of ninety minutes, Cameron corrects each of Christian’s doubts about the holiday with a ponderous, aka outrageously boring, biblical anecdote. There’s no plot, no climax, no beginning, middle, or end. There’s just the doubter’s doubt, followed by the believer’s belief, followed by me, falling asleep in the aisle. An average scene looks something like this:
Christian: I don’t like Christmas because of [totally legitimate reason]
Cameron: I totally [don’t] hear you! But I disagree because [I am a cult leader]. Would you like to hear a story from the Bible that confirms [that I am great]?
Christian: I’d love that!
Cameron: Yeah, bro! [Proceeds to tell unrelated story about rocks for the next thirty minutes].
Christian: God you’re great.
Cameron: Haha, no you are [er actually wait I meant MEEEEE!]
But just because a movie lacks structure, or because its director suffers from a personality disorder, doesn’t make it a bad movie. We can measure a story’s strength in the same way we can measure a person’s character: by judging their content. And Saving Christmas, for all its singing and clapping and black people dancing, isn’t a feel-good movie after all. It’s an angry story, grounded in insularity and narcissism and a pervasively cynical attitude towards the very people it pretends to love.
At one point Christian complains to Cameron that one of the main reasons he doesn’t like Christmas is how “unfair” it all feels. Christian’s not sure why it’s ok for his rich family enjoy “fancy dinners” and “big presents” when so many people in his town aren’t wealthy/fortunate enough to celebrate the holiday. GREAT QUESTION, CHRISTIAN. Seriously, guilt doesn’t get enough credit sometimes. But Kirk, instead of taking the moment to critique the holiday’s materialism, actually goes ahead and defends it like the birth of our Lord is somehow supposed to include Groupons and it’s a-f*(&ing-ok that some people starve while other people go to Best Buy. Because you know, that’s what Jesus would’ve wanted.
Ultimately, Saving Christmas isn’t so much a critique of secularism as it a defense of class power. Sound familiar? Cameron’s family, both here in the movie and in real life, is unrepentantly affluent. What they lack in taste (think an exurban McMansion designed by the Property Brothers), they make up for in excess: life-size nutcrackers, twenty-foot-tall Christmas trees, presents from Nordstrom. And somehow, magically, at multiple points during the story, Cameron is able to justify his family’s class privilege through connecting it to actual Bible stories. Christmas trees are mysteriously linked to the Garden’s tree, presents are associated with charity, and nutcrackers are related to something boring I don’t remember sorry.
Towards the end of Saving Christmas, Cameron enjoins us all to “get the biggest ham” and “the richest butter” this holiday season. First of all, ham? It’s all about the pot roast, asshole. Also, I can imagine it’s pretty hard for most of Cameron’s audience to go get “the biggest ham” when his favorite political party just eliminated nearly $9 million dollars from the food stamp budget. By ham does he mean spam? By rich butter does he mean – what does he mean? When thousands of Americans fly to hospitals at the end of every month because their food stamps have run out and they are literally starving, it seems a little cynical to encourage them to “Go eat a big ham!” – especially if you’re the one who took it off the table.
The final scene of the movie (actually there are like seventeen final scenes but whatever) features rich Cameron and his rich family sitting around their dining table eating said ham and butter. The scene only lasts a minute, but it’s emblematic of both a movie and culture founded on the fantasy of uplift. Cameron and his family have been rewarded for their good deeds on earth with good furniture in their living room. Viewers who follow their path (preferably, with a donation to their favorite PAC) will be rewarded for their work either here on this earth or there in the afterlife. Cameron has been criticized for his right-wing politics, but his worldview is deeply American. In Saving Christmas, class mobility is grounded in Christian morality which is grounded in medievalism which is grounded in nutcrackers. Or something.
I’d like to say the butter scene was the movie’s worst, but lo and behold, there was one moment that steals every single piece of every single cake that ever existed. At one point, Cameron defends Santa Claus by referencing Saint Nick, a famous saint and medieval power player who was notoriously generous to the poor. One day, Nick’s at a church council meeting when one of his fellow leaders says something really heretical about Christ. So Nick, who Cameron describes as “a bad guy in a good way,” and “an enemy of political correctness,” butchers the leader. To clarify: the line “an enemy of political correctness” is said gleefully as Nick slices the non-believers dissenting little neck. Hilarious? Or hilarious?! You decide.
To be fair, there’s very little that’s funny in Saving Christmas, although that didn’t stop the woman sitting in front of me from laughing the full ninety minutes of the film (she also laughed at all the pre-show Sprite commercials, so honestly who’s counting that vote). Cameron’s movie is a PSA dressed up as a comedy marketed as a movie. And frankly, it resonates. For a period of time when I was a teenager, I too was a member of my school’s Christian Fellowship (it’s cool, I’m clean now), where I met a lot of families who resembled the Camerons. They were rich they were friendly they pretty they were happy and none of them ever fought at the dinner table. Sure, everyone under-salted their meats and absolutely 0.0% of them were funny. But there’s something so seductive – and dangerous – about their worldview and Cameron’s Saving Christmas. Niceness without kindness. Sympathy without empathy. Anger disguised as righteousness. Watching Saving Christmas, part of you wants to sit at their huge holiday dinner table, even as you tear it down.
Heather Dockray is a comedian and storyteller living in Brooklyn, NY. You can see more of Heather’s work at www.heatherdockray.com, follow her on twitter @Wear_a_helmet, and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you aren’t from Moveon.org.