The words ‘Christmas’ and ‘Movie’ don’t typically command critical acclaim, but if they hit a positive note they can be played over and over again.
It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, National Lampoon Vacation, Home Alone, Love Actually -I’ll take it too Die Hard on a lazy Christmas night. Yippy-ki-yay….
In Australia, where snow replaces a heat wave or the beach, it comes to mind less…. Bush Christmas AND Small towards the beginning of a short list.
The last one is Christmas on the Farm, a Stan telemovie created by star Poppy Montgomery with US writers Ruthanne Secunda and Jennifer Notas Shapiro. Produced by Brisbane’s Hoodlum Entertainment with Montgomery’s Wild Poppy group, it is a love story / Mistaken Identity set primarily on a Queensland farm.
Montgomery plays US ghost writer Clementine ‘Emmy’ Jones who, prompted by her literary agent to pitch a new work, presents a manuscript from her late mother on farm life, recipes, wellness and more.
The book is highly sought after by publishers London & London, with playboy executive Jack (Darren McMullen) being pressured by his mother Ellison and CEO (Jeanette Cronin) to secure the job. He doesn’t realize that he had a one-night stand with his author himself, which is good because his mother wants them both to visit the Australian farm as part of the deal.
“I don’t do agriculture. I can’t cook. I can’t even boil an egg,” insists Emmy.
Now she has to pretend to be her mother, even with an ocher accent and dye her hair from blond to red.
The farm is run by his cousin David (Hugh Sheridan) who lives with his partner Miles (Nicholas Brown), with the latter volunteering to pose as Emmy’s fake husband, complete with Dundee crocodile akubra
When Jack and his mother arrive under Emmy is desperate to keep up her charade, aided by David and Miles, cows, horses, a rooster, a cockatoo, a huntsman spider and many reinforced stereotypes to impress the visiting Americans. But will true love get in the way?
The story directed by Australian Christopher Weekes (Bitter and twisted, Maya the Bee: The Honey Games) is a vehicle for the star, with detours and opportunities for her to tap into her comedic side, if she tries too hard, too often.
Darren McMullen seems the charming part again in a role that doesn’t ask for much else going from annoying to more sympathetic and suspending disbelief at the outlandish storyline – hey, it’s the silly season after all.
It’s good to see Hugh Sheridan finally take on an LGBTQI role and his own Beams years has prepared him well for light work here, aided by Nicholas Brown. The always reliable Jeanette Cronin is perfect in a supporting role as CEO of the company, joined by Asmara Feik and Demi Harmon in smaller roles.
But one of the problems is the general premise. I just didn’t believe that a powerful New York book publisher would insist on visiting an Australian farm to secure a book deal. The entire charade hinges on this set-up. It’s an excuse for its main star to turn on the Dundee hokey caper, when he’s not tumbling in the mud with McMullen. It scratches even more when Hugh Sheridan and Nicholas Brown are pushed into an unfunny campy schtick.
It leads me to wonder who is it really made for? Yes, Stan commissioned the work, Hoodlum co-produced it. But it aims no higher than broadly appealing Hallmark/Lifetime entertainment (you know the type), so its success likely hinges on its international future.
I know it’s “just” a Christmas movie, but can we have something a little more authentic next time, please?
Christmas on the Farm airs today on Stan.