Alex: Oops, sorry, wrong image there. That is from Black Pete’s Christmas, a traditional character in Dutch folklore, with Black Pete originally being the demonic companion/slave of Santa. I can see why he never quite caught on over here in the states. But anyway, here is the correct image for the Hallmark Christmas movie, Pete’s Christmas.
That’s better. So non-black Pete’s Christmas is about that exacerbated kid above, Pete, who has to relive the same day over and over again but instead of it being Groundhog Day, it’s Christmas. While Groundhog Day is certainly a better movie, this is kind of a better situation for Pete. Reliving Christmas over and over sounds like a dream. At least for a while. Except that Pete’s family really, really sucks. He’s the middle kid so we all know what that means (I don’t, actually). His little brother is super obnoxious, his older, meathead brother is super obnoxious in a different way, his parents are oblivious, and his cantankerous grandfather is Bruce Dern, who is now impossible to imagine in any other context other than the character he played on Big Love.
So Pete’s first go-around with Christmas day is not good. He has to sleep with his little brother because Grampa shows up unexpectedly and little brother pisses the bed. Then he doesn’t get any presents. His parents say they forgot to ask Santa. Which is odd because both of his brothers got presents. So if they were asking Santa for presents for them, how could they not remember they had another son? Then older brother blows a fuse and knocks over the Christmas tree by trying to play Skylanders, which he immediately blames on Pete. This apparently happens a lot. Pete getting blamed for stuff he didn’t do. NOT Skylanders blowing fuses and ruining Christmases. Skylanders is a wonderful video game and toy franchise who has no unique nor potentially dangerous power requirements and will make any Christmas magic. Please buy it for the ones you love this holiday season.
Later that day, Pete and his family play football with some other jerks outside somewhere. I don’t know if these jerks are another rival type of family, it’s never explained. We just get the sense that this is a tradition. Playing football against jerks you aren’t friends with on Christmas day. As if we all have that tradition. And you know what’s even stranger, random members of the public attend this game and actually bet serious money on the outcome. What kind of a degenerate gambler do you have to be to bet money on some football game between a family and some jerks they seemingly have no relationship with? On Christmas day? Pete is apparently not good at football and after he gets tackled by two of the jerks at the end, the game is over and Pete’s family lost. Both the brother and the dad act like Pete really let them down. It wasn’t even like he dropped a wide open touchdown or anything. His brother threw it to him in the field of play and the jerks sandwiched him immediately. If anything, I blame the brother. But also, who cares? Oh yeah, and the Grampa bet against them anyway. I told you, this family sucks.
Then they get home and the Beef Wellington they thought was cooking in the oven for Christmas dinner was not at all. When they blew the fuse earlier, they needed to re-light the pilot light for the oven but didn’t so there was no heat. Pete gets blamed for this too. Because if he hadn’t blown the fuse in the first place, the Wellington would have cooked and everybody would be eating. Except Pete didn’t blow the fuse, his brother did. And even if he had, once again, that still isn’t his fault. Rule #1 when cooking something is to verify that it is actually cooking. You should probably pre-heat an oven too before popping in the Wellington and if you notice that the oven won’t get pre-heated because there is, in fact, no heat, then you have a problem. So they’re all mad and have to go out to some crappy bar to eat their Christmas dinner where the food is gross and ends up making them really sick. Because there was no other food in that house. Just a Wellington and…nothing. Yet 5 people live there, including 3 boys.
Not only that, everybody complains and argues during the dinner, Grampa and Pete’s dad totally hate each other, the little brother vomits on Pete, and Grampa eventually takes off in the middle of the night, but not before giving Pete a present from his Uncle Charlie, which is a small box with nothing in it. This is the day Pete is going to have live over and over again with his family who does not have one redeeming feature, as far as I can tell.
So what is he going to do once he starts re-living Christmas? All the usual stuff, I guess. First he can’t believe it, then he’s in denial, then he figures out how he can exploit it, then exploiting it loses its luster, then he focuses on making himself better, then he focuses on making the lives of his family better, all the while romancing the neighbor girl who has just moved in. Like just now, on Christmas day. But the problem I have, at least in terms of becoming as emotionally invested in this movie as I can be, is that Pete’s family is not worth saving. Think this is the third time I’ve said it: they suck. They are not good. And Pete may be far from perfect but he’s a decent enough fellow. He doesn’t deserve this existence. Nor should it be incumbent on him to fix his family’s many problems, revealing that maybe they aren’t all that bad. They just act the way they do for some reason I am supposed to let excuse their behavior, but I don’t.
For what it’s worth, there is a scene I should point out because I found it very strange. Normally, I wouldn’t go anywhere near here but the movie seemed to want to call it out. Pete’s little brother, the one I mentioned as being extremely obnoxious, also kind of acts somewhat flamboyantly gay. He’s a young kid, like maybe 9 or 10, but it seems pretty clear. No negative judgment there at all, I am just reporting what I see. Then later, towards the end, Pete is talking to this brother and asks him how he can be so perfect and happy. Except it is NEVER established anywhere in the movie that his brother is either of those things. He’s whiny and egotistical and like I said, kind of gay-acting, if I’m being honest. But that’s all we really know about him. Then the brother replies something like, “I don’t know. I was just…born this way” and I swear he kind of smirks and looks up when he says “born this way”, almost like it’s a shout out to the song by Lady Gaga, which has become a gay anthem. Then he goes on to say that it brings up the age-old question about nurture vs. nature. I could be crazy but I feel like the movie is trying to tell me that this little brother is in fact, a homosexual. And I find that a really odd, inappropriate choice, given that the kid is so young and probably wouldn’t be anything yet. If you’re reading this and thinking that I am the one being inappropriate and totally over-reacting here but you might feel differently if you saw the scene. There’s at least something odd about the execution here and even its mere existence feels crow bar’d into the movie.
Where does this all leave us? I don’t know. The movie is definitely watchable, I’ll give it that. The Groundhog Day concept is pretty genius and will always be interesting in just about any form. And despite any plot holes I might point out (did I mention how during the football clash, both Pete and his father change jersey numbers several times mid-game?), I also watched the new Superman (Hopeman) film as well this weekend and despite having a bigger budget and just being a bigger deal than every Hallmark Christmas movie combined times a lot, it actually has significantly more story problems than any of these flicks. I think the big stumbling block for me, as if you couldn’t guess by now, is just how irredeemable the family is. I didn’t have to love them all but I at least had to think a couple of them were decent. Instead, I just end up feeling bad for Pete and thinking he should have used one of his repeated, inconsequential Christmases to have murdered them. Hell, that could have even been the lesson at the end, the one which finally causes time to move forward again. Karmic forces just wanted Pete to learn the true meaning of having an awful family and that it’s not up to him to fix their problems, he just needs to rid themselves from his life forever, one way or another. Perhaps Pete’s Christmas isn’t all that different than some of the darker, Dutch legends surrounding Black Pete after all?