Stream or skip? +2023

HBO Max lays claim to the holiday romance genre A Hollywood Christmas, a metafilm about the making of an intentionally formulaic Christmas romance. But is A Hollywood Christmas too confident for its own good, or does it know exactly what it is doing?

The essentials: Jessica Van (paper girl) stars as Jessica, a director who has just started production on her seventh Christmas novel. Enter: Christopher (A California Christmas Josh Swickard), a new type of number who was hired (by someone he knows, of course) as part of a major restructuring of the network. Holiday movies are out and thrillers are in! This will be Jessica’s final vacation romance for this unnamed network unless she knocks this one out of the park. That’s when Jess’ assistant Reena (This is us’ Anissa Borrego) realizes something magical is happening: Jess has gone from directing a vacation romance to starring in a real one. All Jess has to do is follow the formula she knows and loves from 100 of these kinds of movies and not only will her career be saved but it will end up with Christopher too.

A Hollywood Christmas - Jess and Chris
Photo: HBO Max

Well, that will happen if Jess actually believes Reena’s theory… and if she can keep her really weak stars (Riley Dandy and Zak Steiner) from clashing… and if she can raise enough money to finish the movie… and if she it can fix this mediocre script without also breaking the formula… and — you see what Jessica is dealing with.

Which movies will it remind you of?: you could compare A Hollywood Christmas to any film in which the characters are calling out the genre tropes of the genre film they are currently starring in, like Scream or Galaxy Quest. This is also the second holiday comedy to play around with the formula in this way, following Hallmarks Lights, Camera, Christmas.

Notable performance: It would be a crime if this movie didn’t put Anissa Borrego on the radar of every single casting director for every single comedy series in Hollywood. She’s just the right amount of bold, quirky, and confident – and her uniquely high-pitched voice further showcases her innate comedic talent.

A Hollywood Christmas - Reena
Photo: HBO Max

I also hope the same happens for Riley Dandy, who plays romcom lead Ashley with a spacey energy that conveys how smart the not-so-bright Ashley thinks she is. An early exchange between Ashley and director Jess provides one of the film’s biggest laughs: “How do I know what she’s saying when Zoe barks? … I don’t speak dog language.”

Memorable dialogue: This film knows the landscape of the Christmas film genre, as Christopher Jess explains: “The market is dominated by the two Christmas channels. It’s not financially fortunate for us to compete, so we’re trying a whole new direction for programming.”

A holiday tradition: Jess makes vacation movies. Each year. She does and she wants to do it!

Two lovebirds: As mentioned above, watch Lights, Camera, Christmas to see one of the two dominant Christmas channels (Hallmark) attempt something similar.

Does the title make sense?: The film is very much a Hollywood Christmas, especially since it’s set in the heat of the summer when most of these movies are filmed. Still, it would help if the film had a title that conveyed the film-within-a-film/meta nature of everything. Reena and Jess extol the virtues of the vacation movie formula, so maybe something like A very formulaic holiday film or Festive Formula la La La. … As the season progresses, I get worse and worse at it.

A Hollywood Christmas - Actors in the Film in the Film
Photo: HBO Max

Our opinion: We’ve reached the point of TV/streaming holiday romance/holiday comedy pop culture ubiquity where parody and self-referential movies are truly viable. We have two Naked Gun-style parodies last year (The bitch who stole Christmas and A Cluster Funke Christmas), and this year we’re getting meta-movie-within-a-movie movies. And different Lights, Camera, Christmasthe Hallmark movie I keep referring to, A Hollywood Christmas actually has some teeth – in a good way.

I appreciate that A Hollywood Christmas In fact, Jess uses his genuine love of the genre to underscore an important point that haters overlook: the formula is a feature, not a bug. And in that Jess loves these films – Jess, by all accounts, is both a good filmmaker and a very cool and professional adult person – the film lends a little artistic weight to the entire genre. Yes, these films are fluffy, but it takes real skill from real professionals to get that fluff comfortably fluffy.

Other than that, it feels like it A Hollywood Christmas spends much of its standard 90-minute running time confused about what kind of movie it is. It starts unbelievable strong with many incisive, laugh-out-loud jokes about how these films are made – like a shot of Ashley and Michael removing their winter coats to reveal a thick and sleeveless shirt so they don’t die in the summer heat. Swickard and Van also have a great dynamic, with Swickard playing a clueless brother and Van a disgruntled pro.

A Hollywood Christmas - Chris and Jess
Photo: HBO Max

But the film loses a lot of that energy over time, especially as Swickard’s and Van’s characters soften through the rules of romance movies. It even becomes unclear if it is Jess actually stuck in a Christmas movie, and if so, shouldn’t things get a lot weirder? And shouldn’t the pace be much tighter? And shouldn’t Jess and Chris remain a little skeptical? You start asking more questions to fill the space of jokes.

That’s a pity too, because A Hollywood Christmas The premise is interesting and the performances are fantastic throughout. It just feels like it needs a little more Christmas/movie magic to make it all come together.

Our appeal: A very, very shy SKIP IT – because the performances and the idea are fun here, even if the execution is a bit boring.

Leave a Comment