Film Torments: Christmas Wedding Planner (2017)

THIS TIME on Torments, Dan sees off 2018 with a Yuletide log.

Christmas has come and gone. Whether you’ll be pleased or not about this fact will suggest something about your character, but it goes without saying that the season of giving is prime time for hunkering down on the sofa and flicking through the box for a suitably festive glob of celluloid guff. My personal preference is a mixture of Jingle All the Way, Home Alone 2 and a gallon of whiskey, largely as a coping mechanism for Marv’s tenderised skull.

Others will favour Die Hard or It’s a Wonderful Life; others yet, Iron Man 3 or Die Hard 2. Despairingly, some will even plump for Love Actually and the batshit lunacy of Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas. While there’s no accounting for taste, I’m willing to bet the proverbial farm that no one, at least no one in their right mind, would willingly choose Christmas Wedding Planner, a nihilistic trudge through the depravity of Hallmark meekness.

It is a film so coated in self-satisfaction, yet its true ambition is to appease only the lowest common denominator, celebrating its mediocrity with a sucrose simper. Seeming to take its cue from 2017’s The Christmas Prince – another nauseating bucket of mouldy fart – Christmas Wedding Planner (the title of which maddeningly lacks the definite article) is a rom-com with neither romance nor comedy. It’s also barely a movie, only just limping past the 80 minute mark, leaving a trail of dismal misery behind it.

Adapted from a Harlequin Romance novel of the same name, the film follows the titular Kelsey (Jocelyn Hudon) as she attempts to navigate the treacherous pitfalls of planning a wedding for her immaculate cousin Emily (Rebecca Dalton). Along the way, she contends with her icy Aunt Olivia (Kelly Rutherford) and locks horns with Connor (Stephen Huszar), a smouldering lump of man-meat who is not only Emily’s ex but – gasp! – a private investigator hell-bent on uncovering some murky truth about Emily’s current beau, Todd (Eric Hicks).

To say that Kelsey and Connor fall for each other in a courtship initiated by blueberry scones isn’t worth elaboration – it happens, it’s awful, etc – but what differentiates Christmas Wedding Planner from its mawkish ilk is how bizarre the narrative becomes by the end. The already absurd premise quickly becomes cluttered with a host of baffling motivations and nonsensical decisions, most of which are reserved for a final act that’s so astoundingly misjudged it defies explanation.

Much of this debacle is relayed through Kelsey’s unnecessary narration, which frequently chimes in to blithely reiterate clear visual information. It may as well begin on a record scratch, as Kelsey tumbles into frame with the kind of manufactured clumsiness that can only exist in Hollywood. “That’s me,” she chirps, an observation that anyone with eyes could determine, as the frame freezes. It is as asinine as it sounds.

Similar freezes occur for almost every character introduction, each as cloying as the last. My favourites involve the bridesmaids, all of whom are bestowed with an adjective like “Bitter” or “Jealous” and are quite literally defined by this single aspect. They are not afforded the luxury of having names that humans use. One is even called “Clumsy”, which seems like an ill-advised overlap with Kelsey’s defining character trait.

Kelsey, however, has the luxury of being the romantic lead in a rom-com. Unfortunately, this doesn’t extend to sharing any sort of chemistry with anyone she shares the screen with. Hudon’s performance is predicated on wildly flapping her arms and tensing the muscles in her neck, so when she’s forced to communicate with other living beings it’s akin to an aggravated windmill yelling at clouds. The desperately flat direction hardly helps matters; the over-exposure is excruciating, and the compositions are almost exclusively shot/reverse-shot, resulting in a film that’s bereft of both energy and imagination.

This lack of ambition extends to a screenplay that’s been torn out of the driest sit-com imaginable, with groan-inducing one-liners and exchanges. You half-expect the laugh track to appear whenever they speak, especially when it’s Kelsey and Connor chatting innocuous shit to each other in a van. Lines are either given too much time to breathe or not enough.

The comic timing is two beats off at all times. The most obvious answer to any given scene is exactly what happens. Everything plays out as the audience predicts it will (until the ending). You don’t so much suffer through the film as endure it, but it’s a challenge in the ice bucket sense: you achieve nothing and you’re worse off afterwards.

Only in moments when the incompetence truly shines through does the film splutter into life. This manifests most vividly during the ending where, besides the implausible events contained therein, the green screen effect is so astonishingly terrible it makes The Room seem immaculate by comparison. It makes the two leads look like they’re talking at each other from across the gulf of a dimensional rift, and when other characters teleport into frame it’s even funnier.

But the real tragedy is that, quite simply, Christmas Wedding Planner achieves exactly what it wants to achieve: bland, tepid mediocrity, with nary a whit of charm, inventiveness or warmth to justify itself. It is just another entry in the glut of low-budget Christmas-themed humdingers shat on to Netflix to draw a quick view, and that’s all it ever wants to be. Far from the worst thing on the platform, it will be forgotten as quickly as any other artless, made-by-committee nothing would be. No one will mourn the loss.

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