"With a lead performance from Bailee Madison that is honestly rather sweet and endearing and an overall well-intended story"
It’s the most wonderful time of the year again, yes it’s Christmas time and as we get ready to stuff ourselves full of turkey and assorted goods that leave us resembling a sentient human beanbag, we’ll often find ourselves digging out our favourite festive films to watch with our loved ones. Or if you’re me, you’ll be digging out your copy of Die Hard to ring in the holidays with Bruce Willis and his bloodied feet.
This helpfully brings me to today’s review, the festive life swap comedy Holiday Joy, a film about the importance of appreciating the life you have and not taking your family for granted. But will it be another addition to everyone’s list of favourite holiday classics, or will it simply be another lump of coal in your DVD player?
Overworked high school student Joy wishes her difficult life was much more like that of her seemingly perfect neighbours the Wellmans. After a strange accident, Joy awakes to find her wish has come true, with her now living a life she always dreamed of but also finding that sometimes having your dreams come true is not everything that it’s cracked up to be.
Bailee Madison gives a charming and endearing lead performance as heroine Joy, with her caring attitude and relatable plight making her a likeable and sympathetic lead that you can’t help but root for. Although largely decent throughout, Madison does have a slight habit of overacting some of the film’s more comic scenes with it often feeling very forced and unnatural.
The supporting cast is on decent form, with 3rd Rock from the Sun star French Stewart making a welcome appearance as Joy’s stressed out dad, with his rather subdued turn offering a welcome change of pace from the rest of the casts rather over the top performances. To say that some of the comic performances are a bit larger than life is putting it mildly, with some of them being so loud and obnoxious that it often makes the film a bit of a slog to fight through.
The film is ostensibly a family-friendly comedy, but much of the humour on display is about as funny as the kind of jokes you find in a Christmas cracker, with it being full of corny jokes and physical shenanigans of the broadest possible kind. The actors to their credit really try their best with the material and sometimes they can raise a smirk or two (Joy’s rather overly enthusiastic volleyball coach did make me chuckle slightly) but they are let down by the frankly poor writing and pedestrian direction.
The humour also veers suddenly from family friendly into slightly questionable territory at times, such as a rather sudden reference to Oliver Stone’s controversial Natural Born Killers. Or perhaps weirdest of all, Joy’s rather obsessive and downright crazy alternate universe boyfriend who seems like he’s escaped from a stalker drama that's being filmed next door. Also, his act of grabbing Joy’s behind as a means of greeting her feels a tad ill-timed in these scandal ridden times.
While I am tempted to tear this film to pieces and pour horrific amounts of bile and rage upon it, its inoffensive nature and the overall positive message it presents, do give it an oddly charming and quaint quality that saves it from being utterly worthless.
What does work against it though is the comparisons to It’s A Wonderful Life, with this film essentially being a retread of Frank Capra’s beloved classic, only nowhere near as good.
Whereas Jimmy Stewart’s vision of what the world would be like without him is a genuinely heartwarming tale that makes you feel good about life, this film just leaves you feeling bored and eager for the end to come, with Joy’s vision of an alternate life being really uninteresting and rather generic. And despite being only 85 minutes long, Holiday Joy feels a whole lot longer than It’s A Wonderful Life.
With a lead performance from Bailee Madison that is honestly rather sweet and endearing and an overall well-intended story about the importance of appreciating our lot in life, Holiday Joy is really just another inoffensive and harmless little Christmas film. If you’re looking for something simple to watch this Christmas then check this one out, but honestly just skip it and go watch It’s A Wonderful Life instead.