Christmas with a Capital C (2011)
Plot: Liberal, big city lawyer/God-hating atheistic monster, Mitch Bright (Daniel Baldwin), returns to the small town in Alaska where he grew up, and upsets the mayor, his former high school rival, Dan Reed (Ted McGinley), when he demands that the town’s Nativity scene be removed from City Hall’s front lawn. There’s also a useless B-plot in which the mayor’s son is absurdly unaware of how desperately a girl in his class wants to "go steady" him even though she makes it achingly obvious in every single scene they share. Based on a song by a band called Go Fish. Seriously.
Parts of Christmas with a Capital C made me mad. Other parts enraged me to the point that I had the pause the film and passionately explain to an empty room why the movie was wrong and stupid and completely ignorant to how the real world operates. Still other parts of the movie filled me with such red hot vitriol that I blacked out and woke up hours later to find myself bruised and bleeding amongst the wreckage of an outdoor shopping mall holiday display in the middle of the night, wearing only my boxer shorts, tennis shoes and a blue hoodie. That only happened twice, by the way, and no charges were filed.
To be honest, Christmas with a Capital C is pretty bipolar. It is a movie primarily for Christians—both the breed of Christians who are under the mistaken impression that there is a full-on war raging against Christmas and the friendly neighborhood Christians you meet every day who will, in private conversation, reveal a semi-shocking attitude towards homosexual marriage or spousal abuse statistics among professional football players, but are mostly normal and think Santa Claus is “fun.” The movie tries to appeal to both groups and mostly pulls it off. What the movie gets wrong is the same thing that most of these types of movies get wrong, and that is in its portrayal of atheists, agnostics and/or the non-religious.
Mitch Bright, Christmas with a Captial C’s Grinch, hates God. He says it himself. He bases his desire to see the town tear down its hand-carved Nativity display on the law, but he makes no secret of his hatred for God, Conservatives, small town values and Conservatives with small town values who also love God. He is a simpleton’s (at best) or dangerous rabble rouser’s (at worst) idea of what an atheist/agnostic/secular humanist looks like, and it is simply not true. Presenting non-Christian characters like this is akin to the fear-mongering my third grade Sunday school teacher practiced when she broke my brain squawking about Hell and the Devil. Scare tactics like this are childish and potentially dangerous, and are one of the main reasons I’ve rejected religion wholesale. Then again, I’m also fascinated with this stuff, and not just in that I like to bash people’s beliefs and make fun of them. I don’t like to do that at all, that isn’t my passion. I know too many wonderful Christian people to ever want to do that. Doesn’t mean a weird movie full of unfair portrayals and dumb fanatical ideas can’t piss me off.
My favorite character in Christmas with a Capital C is the town minister (Note: There are only Christians in this small Alaskan town. And one black lady.). At one point during a city council meeting, the good reverend is asked what he thinks about taking down the Nativity. He ponders the question for a moment and responds, “They’re just wooden figures. We’re turning them into idols.” I actually paused the movie at this point, and instead of raging, pointed at the paused image of the pastor and said, “Finally!”
Oddly, from that point forward, Christmas with a Captial C mostly stops being annoying. It actually starts to get kind of nice. Everybody in town who matters (i.e. the overtly Christian) gets into the true Christmas spirit, helping people and committing random acts of kindness. Even the mayor’s whack-o brother gets into the act.
There is a last minute reveal of why Mitch Bright has returned to his hometown, his life now in utter shambles following a bad investment, but it’s nothing a handful of cookies and a Christmas carol sing-a-long can’t solve. In the end, Mitch, while not rediscovering religion, which was both surprising and commendable, stops being a huge dick, and Mayor Reed and the rest of the town’s Christian citizens learn there is enough room at the holiday table for everyone, even well-educated, well-traveled, gravely-voiced, expertly-coiffed, non-Christian Baldwin brothers.
Christmas Classic, Fine Holiday Fare or Lump o' Coal: Depends on who you are really? For most readers of this blog, Christmas with a Capital C will angry up the blood early and often, but then even out said blood somewhere around the middle, returning it to a simmer during Uncle Greg’s “hilarious” retelling of the Christmas Story, and then leaving it at an indifferent room temperature in the home stretch. Other folks, might find the film charming and faith-affirming, perhaps agreeing with Uncle Greg’s crazy-eyed coffee shop rant about how Christmas is the best and all other holidays can suck it. It all depends on how you feel about Uncle Greg, which is why, for me, Christmas with a Capital C is a big ol’ Lump o’ Coal.