Lifetime Theater: On Strike for Christmas

A lot of the time, especially with Yakmala films, the question that arises is “who is this supposed to be made for?” Ostensible kid’s movies with extended digressions into stygian darkness and kinky sex. A hilarious descent into crushing depression with some amateur ventriloquism. Whatever the fuck After Last Season was supposed to be. In my continuing journey into Very Special Television, that question is hardly ever asked, since the proposed market is right there in the concept. With today’s entry, the 2010 Lifetime movie On Strike for Christmas, I know the answer. Sadly, it’s not what the poor, misguided creative team thought.

Based on the book by Sheila Roberts (I’d say “Holy shit, there’s a book?” except that both of my readers will recall that every single one of the 26 ABC Afterschool Specials I reviewed was based on a book, as was the first Lifetime Theater), On Strike for Christmas is the story of the Robertson clan, a family of liberal, white, upper-middle class twits living in a huge house in beautiful Santa Cruz, British Columbia. Joy (Daphne Zuniga, you remember her as Princess Vespa in Spaceballs), is one of those Type A moms whose idea of Christmas is some unholy combination of whatever madness has spilled from the twin diseased minds of Martha Stewart and Gwyneth Paltrow. She wants Christmas to be PERFECT so she has to do a ton of STUFF and HOW DARE YOU NOT APPRECIATE IT?! She’s upset with her noticeably Canadian husband and sons for not appreciating all these self-inflicted trials she’s subjecting herself to.

It’s okay… I’ll hang the stockings myself right next to me…

Not that I blame her for being frustrated with these dipshits. Other than their thick Canadian accents (the two boys in particular, sound like they just got off a dogsled from Ontario. That’s what Canadians have instead of cars, right? Dogsleds?), teenagers Mark and Jeremy are a couple of insensitive clods who not only take their mother for granted, they seem utterly incapable of feeding themselves. They are either twins or Irish twins, as a consistent theme of the movie is that this is their last Christmas before going off to college (where, presumably, they won’t be allowed home over the Christmas holidays without some work-release permit). Joy’s husband Stephen is a professor at a local college (likely UC Santa Cruz, though I can’t recall it being mentioned by name), who is trying to forge a career as a novelist, which is one of the most selfish things a man can do to a hardworking wife. Joy assigns them errands to help her create the Hallmark Reich Christmas of her dreams, and assumes they can handle basic tasks. As someone who struggles to maintain a proper tree-buying engagement, I can understand both the frustration and the difficulty in so doing. Still, these chuckleheads can’t manage the simplest errands, so it’s pretty understandable when Joy flips her lid. Granted, she could be high strung from the eating disorder implied in the early going, but since this isn’t a Very Special Lesson on that, it’s quietly swept under the rug.

Spying a picket line outside of her local grocery store (a line she refuses to cross, in a bit of welcome conscience), Joy decides to take the title of the movie to heart, and goes on strike. Her demands are threefold: appreciate what she does, acknowledge the need to do their share, and do it. It seems like demands two and three are the same, but whatever. Joy’s strike touches a nerve, and soon every woman in town has joined her. Soon, with a timely assist from a local newspaper article and the internet, it’s nationwide. The strike eventually ends when Joy finally remembers something her grandmother (Julia Duffy) said to the group of griping ladies before the thing began, “Maybe you should all do a little less this year and not expect so much.” It’s the correct lesson to learn, but the path the movie takes to get there is lined with the bones of those slain in passive aggressive fury.

It is abundantly clear from the word go how much this film hates people. In my own family, it is my mother who Makes Christmas Happen, and truth be told, she does a lot of work for little appreciation. Hell, just cooking the dinner for us is a huge undertaking. So I saw what they were doing here. However, the contempt the filmmakers have for people stepping outside their prescribed gender roles permeates every frame. Joy can’t possibly hang the lights on the house without falling off a ladder, and the men can’t bake cookies without setting the kitchen on fire. Everyone, with only the exception of sensible grandma, is shrill, doltish, and unpleasant at all times. I didn’t want these people to have a Merry Christmas. I wanted one of those Axe-Murderers dressed as Santa to pay them a visit.

The director, Robert Iscove, is chiefly famous for She’s All That, a teen movie that seems to grow more bizarre with each passing year, and previous Yakmala entry From Justin to Kelly. On Strike for Christmas actually showed first at a Yulemala program, making it something of a crossover phenomenon, and its director an All-Star. While She’s All That remains watchable (RLC is awesome, shut up), I wouldn’t want to speculate on what Iscove thinks of humanity based on these three selections. However, they have one connection worth mentioning. From Justin to Kelly is ostensibly a musical, albeit one without any good songs. She’s All That features a bizarre dance interlude that makes no sense dramatically and even less sense in context. On Strike for Christmas places a song at the center, using the Christmas Carol “Up on the Housetop” as a symbol for family unity. At the end, there is an extended, and extremely uncomfortable scene, of the family singing it together. Say what you want about Iscove, the man loves his terrible musical scenes.

The Lifetime network believed they were making a lighthearted comedy that the family could watch together: the mothers would learn to maybe tone it down a notch, and the men would learn to maybe do like one thing to help out. Instead, they crafted a movie that will only appeal to people who not only hate the holidays, but hate humanity as well. They can watch this, a grin quirking reptilian lips, feeling justified at the batch of ebola home-brewing in the other room. Thanks a lot, Lifetime.

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