Christmas With You Review: Freddie Prinze Jr. Returns To Rom-Coms

As sweet, gooey, and crunchy as a candy cane, “Your Christmas” offers a refreshing, sugar-sweet boost to any Netflix subscriber’s cinematic diet. Revolving around a burned-out pop star looking for creative inspiration and finding love, this Christmas offering welcomes his co-star Freddie Prinze Jr. back to rom-coms, a genre he’s been absent from for the past two decades. It also delivers unexpected seasonal delights with authentic, universal appeal. The ease with which it packs comedic hijinks and poignancy allows the idiosyncrasies of Latin American culture to shape and amplify its genuine emotional impact. And what a lovely gift it turns out to be.

Recording artist Angelina (Aimee Garcia) has been conquering the pop charts for decades, but finds herself at a creative crossroads. The industry at large and her record producer Barry (Lawrence J. Hughes) are determined to pit her against her labelmate/engineer Cheri (Nicolette Stephanie Templier), who has stronger songs, social media skills and a fresh look. Angelina’s struggle to stay relevant and her mother’s death a few years ago have taken a toll on her creative output. She’s also trying to get out of a bad romance with narcissistic telenovela star Ricardo (Gabriel Sloyer), whom she’s staying with just to improve her weak internet presence. Her insecurity is further shaken when Barry gives her an ultimatum: come up with a chart-topping Christmas tree in a few days or she’ll be fired.

Seeking solace and a renewal of their seasonal spirit, Angelina and her Firecracker assistant Monique (Zenzi Williams) head to upstate New York. Her plan is to surprise a young fan, 15-year-old Cristina (Deja Monique Cruz), whose cover of one of Angelina’s songs touched her heart. When they get there, a snowstorm breaks out, forcing them to stay at Cristina’s house with her widowed music teacher father, Miguel (Prinze, Jr.) and stuffy grandmother, Frida (Socorro Santiago). It turns out that Miguel is also a struggling songwriter. Angelina figures that if they can work together, she can get her career back and he can get some much-needed money. Only she didn’t expect to fall in love – and that complicates their career aspirations and the beautiful music they make.

Director Gabriela Tagliavini finds the strong rhythmic pulse of the tale almost immediately in the striking opening credits, which showcase her heroine’s vocal prowess and steadfastness. She even brings sparkle to the interstitials between scenes, taking advantage of New York’s landmarks all glowing and the cozy winter chill of small-town suburbs. The inclusion of cultural heritage – from scenes featuring food to those celebrating particular traditions – complements the rich, encouraging thematic foundations and character design.

Technical craftsmanship also finds its place as a stocking stuffer. Tagliavini and editor Michael Jablow have a keen understanding of the image’s energetic ups and downs, cut with comedic beats in mind and know exactly how long to hold onto the sentimental ones. Despite a noticeable flattening of image depth and dimension (an all-too-common quality in films of this nature on the streamer), Wing Lee’s production design bursts with life, where a teenage bedroom feels tactfully inhabited and family meals feel and living rooms are sparkling with decorated with illuminated Holly Jolly.

Screenwriters Paco Farias, Jennifer C. Stetson and Michael Varrati deftly incorporate burning feelings about legacy and longevity in business, shown through the prism of the evolving, supportive relationship between two artists. But they forget to develop Cristina and Miguel properly, instead they load their conflicts forward and backward and wrap these conflicts in a too neat arc. Cristina’s mysteries, especially asking a cute boy to her quinceañera, come up short. Also, in the first act, she is only affected by her mother’s death for about 5 minutes, in a tender but fleeting moment of bonding between her and Angelina. It’s not clear what Miguel’s obstacles are until Act III blurts them out in an awkward performance.

Garcia offers a humorous and heartfelt performance, evident in both the comedic styles and the more melodramatic chords played. There’s also a playful naturalism to her scenes with Williams, who is this film’s stealth MVP with her perfectly on point reactions and charisma. Although Miguel is sadly a bit monotonous as written, Prinze brings a warmth and likeable vulnerability to the character. Together, he and Garcia create good chemistry to sell the creative partnership and later love story.

“Christmas With You” is certainly a holiday trivia, but there’s enough to make you feel satiated – if only temporarily – with the festivities on display. The film marks a beautiful return to form for a star sorely missed in the genre it helped usher in the pop culture zeitgeist, and reveals a spirit and soul as infectious as a pop song. And while it’s heavily orchestrated, this little ditty is catchy. Christmas With You Review: Freddie Prinze Jr. Returns To Rom-Coms

Charles Jones

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