‘Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
A movie tried to be a musical for two scenes
About this, I will grouse
The time has come once again for my annual Christmas movie blog, and I didn’t think I could top Good Knight or Princess Switch. I mean they are just so hilariously bad. I did watch Princess Switch 3: The Vanessa Hudgens Christmas Cinematic Megaverse but I wanted something new, something fresh. And then, I feasted my eyeballs on A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish. A reimagining of a classic fairy tale set at Christmas? Sign me up. I knew it was a winner when, before the first act closed, my husband leaned over and whispered, “I hope you’re happy.” And indeed, I was. So, without further ado, A Cinderella Story: Is This a Musical?
Our story opens with a music video led by the heroine, who sings like a breathy, autotuned Instagram influencer who has never been told they aren’t the best at everything. The actress has several songs on YouTube and…oof. Real Rebecca Black vibes. Alas, her dream of stardom is all in her head because we snap back into the real life of oppressed
Cinderella Kat, carrying the haul from her cruel stepfamily’s holiday shopping spree. She’s accompanied by her wicked stepmother, with a cartoon villain vocal inflection and a Peggy Bundy aesthetic, a stepsister named Joy, who peaked in high school, and a stepsister named Grace who, to put it kindly, is at risk of drowning in the shower.
True to form, they are nasty to our girl Kat, verbally and publicly. There’s no real sense of place in our Christmas town. It isn’t a California sound stage or vague big city by way of Vancouver. Feels like a Myrtle Beach strip mall. But I digress. After getting Starbucks – not a generic coffee shop, meaning Starbucks paid for this ad placement – they spot our man Dominick hanging out with his friends. He’s sometimes called Dom and Nick, depending on who he’s talking to. Joy describes him as Kardashian but with more money. The leads in these movies always look like a Great Value brand celebrity, and our boy with the nice lips reminded me of Brendon Urie from Panic! At the Disco. And I was here for it.
Joy and Grace force their frappuccinos into Kat’s hands to, I guess, get hot boy’s attention, and Joy does a live video stream about kindness. Irony! All this weight sends Kat off-kilter and she falls backward, frozen coffee beverages soaking her face and hair. Everyone in the vicinity laughs uproariously, except hot boy Dominick, who helps her off the ground, because he’s actually a decent person and remains that way through the whole movie, which I found refreshing.
Joy uploads the video to the internet, and it goes viral. After this humiliating event, Kat runs off to her day job as an elf in a Christmas tree lot. Here, they take being in character and costume at all times very seriously. We’re told Mr. Wintergarden, the owner, insists on it. This will be critical for the plot to continue as intended, and it didn’t dawn on me until much later how convenient a plot convenience could be. Kat works with a friend whose name I can’t remember because it’s not important. She’s just there to proffer along Kat’s storyline. Kat and Friend are getting ready backstage when Santa comes in. He’s twenty-something, fit, and has Brendon Urie’s easily recognizable eyebrows and lips hidden behind a very poor wig and a mustache that looks like pillow stuffing. Dude needs some spirit gum because the beard is barely attached to his baby face. Geez, I wonder who it might be? Unpossible to know.
After trying to fatten him up under the suit, they relent and Santa goes out lookin’ all svelte and college-aged. I guess there can be a youthful Santa. It’s 2021. No rules. Kat’s song and dance act with Friend earns her 57 whole dollars in tips, which is immediately taxed by Peggy Bundy because Kat needs to help support her useless stepfamily, who appear to be living well on the deceased father’s dime. And then Peg drops a bomb. Kat has to pay up because she won’t get her inheritance until she’s eighteen. To which I went…
Wait. So. This character is not of legal age and she’s working during the day. Dancing and singing for tips. Opposite a guy who is definitely not in high school. And she’s not in school at any point, nor are her stepsisters. Suspend my disbelief all you want but if you’re going to operate in a contemporary setting, let’s age our girl up a little so it’s less weird. I suppose it’s so Kat can’t legally leave her stepfamily but there are other ways to achieve this without making her an adolescent. Guilt is a powerful weapon. So is psychological terror, which is pretty obviously happening here.
That night, Kat composes a Christmas song in her teeny closet of a bedroom on a keyboard that has perhaps 2.5 octaves, and I thought, okay this is a musical. Spoiler: It’s not. Peggy Bundy opens the door with a scowl and Kat goes silent. Sad and lonely, she picks up a snow globe and talks about how much she misses her dad. I have to say, snow globes hold real nostalgic value in all these movies. I don’t know that I’ve even seen, let alone held, a snow globe in at least 20 years. Is this something people other than me have as a Christmas keepsake? Let me know because I call BS.
The next day, Kat is back at the Santa ranch with hot boy definitely not Dominick/Dom/or Nick and they’re discussing their life plans. Kat wants to be a singer-songwriter, and Dominick, presently a music producer/manager, wants to go big time. Again, how old is this character supposed to be? Later, Dominick has an exchange about his managerial pursuits with his Very Busy Business Father, who is not listening, because he’s very busy at business. And you will not guess in a million, zillion years what his last name is. It’s definitely not not Wintergarden. This movie winks so hard at the audience it’s going to pull a muscle.
At the same time, a messenger arrives at the Cinderella estate with a long story about Peg’s late husband’s friendship with – are you ready? – Mr. Terrence Wintergarden. Ol’ Terry, widowed now too, wants to reunite with his buddy’s widow and daughter, since they haven’t seen each other in decades. You see, the men were philanthropists, adventurers, and conservationists together back in the day. The messenger presents Peg with two formal invites to his Christmas charity event. Peggy’s eyes turn into dollar signs. She’s about to slide into Terry’s DMs. For marriage, I guess. Sort of changes the whole focus of the story, but sure. Who cares. She negotiates for a third ticket by saying that her other daughter can’t be left home alone, which is probably accurate, and the evil plotting begins.
Peggy huddles with her two daughters to prepare them for the charity event with Joy as Kat’s stand-in. Their scheme begins with research, because apparently no one ever asked the late father any questions while he was alive. To prove it’s really Kat, they steal her snow globe and a photo album of Dad and Terry’s adventures in the arctic. The late father’s charity supported endangered animals. Should mention that the background of their living room is full of crap taxidermied animals, and they reiterate that they do not care about the animals. Just that sweet cash. And I suppose if Terry falls madly in love with Peg Bundy, they’ll just fake Joy’s real identity forever. Solid plan.
As all this is happening, Kat’s out there in an elf costume shaking it for tips. Dom asks her to sit on his lap and tell him what she wants for Christmas. Again, how old is he supposed to be here, friends?
After Kat comes home from a long day, she sees the pictures spread all over the table and notices that her snow globe is missing. She’s all, where is it? And they’re all, exaggerated shrugs with sinister grins. But the show must go on. Undeterred, precious Grace, who behaves like Forrest Gump, practices a British accent for the party, which Joy whines about because it’s not fair that she has one, while Peg Bundy tells Joy not to eat any carbs because she’ll get fat. Which happens twice in his movie. They also steal Kat’s song notebook because they are extra terrible. The steps, as Kat calls them, are in a different movie. They are just cartoonishly villainous. And for what reason? Why would Kat’s dad, legendary for his kindness, marry this woman? Kat’s mother died when she was eight. I’d love to get some insight into this family history. But we won’t. Because it doesn’t matter.
Seeking honesty, Dominick is eager for a big reveal of his own. He initiates a game of strip costume with Kat, a la I’ll take off a piece if you do. Remember, underage. He removes all his fake hair and, quelle surprise, it’s Dominick Kardashian. But he doesn’t know she’s the girl he helped off the ground, and he can’t know. Never fear, her pink wig, hat, and elf ears are a convincing costume. He does earn a point from me by telling Kat he wants to kiss her instead of forcing one on her (Consent! It matters!) They’re moments from kissing when they’re disrupted by Friend. Don’t you just hate how that always happens?
Later, Dominick invites Kat to his dad’s Christmas charity event. She can’t tell him the truth about herself because we have to keep this flimsy rouse together. But they’ve now fallen in love. And then comes a confounding scene. One hour into this movie, Kat and Dom sing. Together. Like a musical. They dance. She floats, for sure on a wire rig. It’s not a dream sequence, like the music video, which makes the music video also real. Or this scene not real. Movie, please decide what you are. Because you can’t do this. You can’t insert a singing scene here because it’s cute. It was so out of place it felt like an episode of Schmigadoon.
Kat comes home to find the stepmother reading her songwriting notebook. Mrs. Al Bundy tells Kat to give up because she’ll never amount to anything. Yeesh. Disheartened, Kat confides in Friend for advice on what to do, and wouldn’t you know it, Friend is helping with the big Christmas charity event show. As an employee. Kat must go, because of love. They browse for dresses Kat can’t afford because, remember, she’s not allowed to keep her own money. At home, the stepsiblings are trying on a pile of fancy 2005 Cloud9 prom dresses, and they’re like, aren’t you so jealous that you’re too poor and ugly to go to the event? Kat is hurt. But don’t you worry, Friend is the fairy godmother, the mice, and the birds, and she bippidy-boppidy-booed Kat a dress by hand because she has a lot of time and no personality.
Now, Kat has to hide this dress and invite because she’s not allowed to have nice things. Her dog suggests a hiding place under his doggy bed, and it’s not at all obvious. Wino Peg Bundy, who is always with drink, often with a glass of wine and the bottle, overhears Kat talking to her dog, and you just know she’s not going to be cool about it. Very sinister.
For reasons unclear, probably because they had to get Kat away from home and there was no other way to achieve it plot-wise, Dominick has Kat come over to his house the morning of the event. His friends have noticed that he’s all dreamy and lovestruck and they’re excited to meet this young lady who has stolen his heart. Is there a Bechdel Test for male characters? Because the only conversations these men have are about women. Kat shows up in full costume expecting just him, except all his friends are there, and his friends are mean to her too. Everyone in this movie is horrible. One of the friends tries to steal her elf hat, a tussle ensues, and Kat back flops, wigless, and reveals – gasp – she’s the viral coffee girl. Her secret out, Kat runs off and leaves her glass slipper behind. And by glass slipper I mean her songbook.
Arriving home, she discovers the stepfamily has found her very secret hiding place and she’s in big trouble, mister. Peggy Bundy, being the most evil, torches Kat’s invite in a candle flame for lying to them, as everyone knows you cannot enter homes without showing a paper invitation. Then Joy glides down the stairs in Kat’s dress. The horror! Joy’s bag falls open, and Kat sees the snow globe inside. She is shocked that these vile people would lie to her, in disbelief that with everything else they’d invade her personal boundaries too. Joy and Kat wrestle for possession of the globe and it falls and shatters on the floor. Peggy’s all, tut-tut how tragic. And they leave her in tears on the floor among the wreckage.
At this point writing this blog I can’t believe how much stuff is in an hour twenty-four movie, and I am tired. Onward. Desperate to get to the event, Kat calls her friend, who is more than willing to sneak her into the holiday performance. The steps strut in, loud and gauche, and sidle up to Mr. Wintergarden. Fake Kat malfunctions under the pressure and just starts naming animal facts. Sweet, stupid Grace almost outs them multiple times and you know what? Grace deserves better too. Well, Terry ain’t buying this schtick. He even remembers that Kat had brown eyes like her dad, which is impressive because I can’t remember anyone’s kid’s eye color.
Meanwhile, backstage, Kat blends in with the actors in her elf costume. They shove her out on stage and she stumbles her way through their elaborate choreography. Her clumsiness causes a serious accident and she crashes into someone and knocks her out. Poor thing is going to have a traumatic brain injury because she never regains consciousness. The steps see her, and they are FURIOUS. She’s about to ruin everything! And by everything, I mean horrid Peg Bundy marrying into another wealthy family. Scammy scammer.
Peg goes to put an end to Kat’s performance. But not before Dom(i)nick gets to her. He apologizes for his friends and returns her songbook. Since Kat left a performer in a vegetative state, she must step in as the ice princess for the next big number. And you are never, ever going to believe what happens next. Friend just so happened to sew a dress and it just so happens to fit Kat. Magic. Kat sings the final Christmas tune, mesmerizing everyone in the audience and revealing that she’s the real Kat. The scammers have been caught. Terry tells Peg and company to take a hike and St. Nick pops in to add, we have a billion with a B dollars.
With Kat in her rightful place as the brown eyed daughter, Mr. Wintergarden offers to pay for all of Kat’s schooling, an apartment to get away from those monstrous relatives of hers, and commands the stepfamily to leave the premises. Goodbye and good riddance. Kat and Dominick kiss, hooray, and dance in the center of the floor with no one watching or dancing. Happily ever after.
This movie wanted to be so many things and wasn’t any. It’s another one of those ”takes place during Christmas not because of it” movies Netflix churns out from their cheap idea factory. Honestly, wouldn’t recommend. Not bad enough to be good, not good enough to be bad. It’s straight down the middle mediocre, which makes it the quintessential movie for 2021. Not great, not horrible. Just is. It’s a movie. That’s all I can say about.
Cheers (tentatively) to 2022! 😘