Miranda (Gemma Whelan) and her husband Dan (Julian Ovenden) agree to host Christmas at their country house, which belonged to Miranda’s late parents, and invites her sister Lyla (Joely Richardson) and extended family over. Frantically trying to get everything ready in time, things quickly go from bad to worse once the family members arrive and old tensions and secrets start to surface. Can they make it through the Christmas season and still remain on speaking terms?
Surviving Christmas With the Relatives has all the makings of a Christmas classic. There’s an all-star cast, a collection of familiar holiday tropes and of course the backdrop of Christmas to make us feel all warm and fuzzy. Unfortunately that’s all its got going for it and the film ends up being an incredibly bland, predictable and quite boring watch. With a film like this you need to lean into the comedy of the situation or make the audience want to go along on a journey with the characters. Surviving Christmas With the Relatives does neither.
The first issue is that all of the characters are horrible. There’s not a single one you feel any sympathy with and that’s hugely problematic. You should be on the side of Dan and Miranda but they spend so much time sniping at each other, you don’t feel anything other than the fleeting idea that maybe a divorce would work well for them. Lyla is a stone-cold drama queen while her husband Trent (Michael Landes) is trying to have a fling with another member of Lyla’s family. As for the kids, they are thinly drawn characterisations ranging from naughty twins to stoner teenagers.
It’s obvious from the title that Surviving Christmas With the Relatives is going to be a series of mishaps and drama, but what writer/director James Dearden never manages to do is draw the absurdity or the comedy out of the situations. Had this been an episode of Modern Family, a show that expertly explores the crazy dynamics in a family, it would have been a laugh a minute but in the hands of Dearden, it’s just a bit of a slog. That’s even more surprising given that Dearden was the man behind the classic Fatal Attraction, which while being a thriller had more humour than this film does.
It’s hard to fault the cast. They pull together well with Joely Richardson and Michael Landes being the standouts. Richardson loves to play this type of aloof character while Landes plays against type as a ladies’ man with a heart. The characters are so two dimensional though that the actors don’t get to really show off their talents.
You get the impression that Surviving Christmas With the Relatives was aiming to be the next Love Actually, or something in that vein, but unfortunately it’s a half-cooked turkey. It’s not a film I’d be eager to watch again, which is such a shame because it could have been so much fun. This is a missed opportunity and I’d recommend looking elsewhere for your festive joy.
Cast: Julian Ovenden, Gemma Whelan, Joely Richardson, Michael Landes, Sally Phillips, Patricia Hodge, Ronni Ancona, James Fox Director: James Dearden Writer: James Dearden Certificate: 15 Duration: 101 mins Released by: Studio Soho Release date: 11th November 2019 Buy Surviving Christmas With the Relatives