I'll be home for Christmas - Road Trips, Love Triangles and Jonathan Taylor Thomas 🎄
So it's been a tough 2020 for most of us so as the year comes to it's end what better way to get into the festive spirit than a good old Chrissy movie. And there's a plethora to choose from. I was actually stumped for choice as to what to pick for our last blog of the year that would truly reflect the 2020 Christmas spirit.
Should it be something recent like Holidate or Happiest Season?
Perhaps a Lacey Charbert Hallmark Christmas trainwreck?
Or a holidays classic like Love, Actually or Home Alone?
However, as you'll have seen from some of our previous blog choices, I'm ever enticed to a throwback and as I was perusing the long list of titles it hit me - the perfect Christmas movie for 2020: I'll be Home for Christmas.
It's got the sentiment of 2020 all wrapped up - the desire to get back home to family, at any cost, especially when a lot of us can't this year. Thanks Covid-19.
But just like 2020 this film is full of bittersweet ... disappointments.
So grab a bowl of popcorn and some eggnog (trust me you'll need it) and join us as we TBT with JTT and explore this classic Christmassy, love-triangley, disaster of a holiday romance flick. It'll have you ringing in the new year in no time!
OK - so before we crack on there may be another reason why I'll be Home for Christmas was initially so appealing.
The cast folks, the cast.
The film centres around a High School couple Jake (Home Improvement's teenage heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas, here forth affectionately referred to as JTT) and Allie (7th Heaven allumni Jessica Biel) in somewhat of a love triangle, of sorts, with Eddie, aka "The Ed-Man" ... oh dear ... (Adam LaVorgna - who also went on to appear in 7th Heaven and date Jessica Biel on and off screen ... neither worked out ... awkward).
(2020 summed up right here)
It's safe to say that, just like Troye Sivan in his song with Charlie XCX 1999, I too:
... know those days are over but a boy can fantasize
'Bout JTT on MTV and when I close my eye-eye-eyes
And I'm right there, right there
And he's right there, right there
And we're right there, right there
Ah, ah, ah
Now I know it's confusing - Troye is dessed like Justin Timberlake in this musical film clip ... but he clearly says JTT in the song and any good 90's kid will know that JTT = Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Why you gotta confuse us this way Troye? 🤷♂️
Fun fact about JTT.
He and I share the same birthday.
And, naturally, 90's me inferred that this meant we were soulmates destined for eternal love and ecstasy on a desert island in the ....
... I digress ...
JTT was very influential in the selection criteria for this film choice.
SO the story goes a little like this.
We're introduced to Jake and Allie who are planning their Christmas breaks.
Allie wants to go home for a traditional Christmas.
Jake wants to avoid his family for Christmas for some respectable reasons:
- Mum's dead
- Dad (THE timeless Gary Cole) married Carolyn (Eve Gordon) 10 months after said mum's death
- Jake's not on board with that and, frankly, fair enough Jake.
So Jake tries to convince Allie to head away with him until, that is, Dad sweetens the home trip with a little deal that if Jake is home by 6PM Christmas Eve he will receive Dad's 1957 Porsche.
Dreaming of driving into the sunset with the top down Jake tries to wrangle both Allie and the Porsche plans together but comes unstuck when Eddie and classmates, annoyed that Jake's exam cheating ring has come unstuck, dump Jake in the middle of the Californian desert in a Santa suit ... with hat and beard glued to his head and face.
The resulting shenanigans follow Jake cross country, chasing Allie (who has assumed she's been stood up by the 'abandoned-in-the-desert' Jake) now shacked up with Eddie for a lift home. Numerous bizarre and coincidental tom-foolery unfolds until finally Jake steals a sleigh, Eddie's off to juvenile detention, and Allie's convinced by Jake's change of tune (RE spending Christmas with the family) and decides he's the guy for her.
They literally sleigh away with the family down the town's main street in the middle of the parade and that's the end of the story. I mean the Turkey dinner's on the table you guys but never mind ...
I remembered this film fondly and had such high hopes when it started. It was giving me some classic 90's gear. It sets the premise really well:
- Christmas carol musical intro over credits above a road map of the USA with some cheesy CGI animated Santa hat gear. So we already know we're in for some Christmas road trip goodness
- 90's high school locker shenanigans ... did kids really use to fit inside lockers because that seems to happen A LOT in 90's American cinema ???
- 90's JTT with a white shirt under an open buttoned collar shirt - the height of 90's fashion - and we know pretty early on that we're supposed to like and root for Jake, that he's facing a dilemma between Allie and the Porsche, and that despite the complications along the way he'll probably get the girl in the end ... and we're supposed to be on board with this.
But here's the thing - I wasn't on board. I found myself not really rooting for Jake. Jake's kind of a jerk in the film and I sort of wanted him to fail.
Could my 90's crush for JTT be over? ... *Insert existential crisis here*
Let's explore some of the tropes of the film and see if we can salvage some of that lost 90's luster for our JTT.
This film is not short of a prop aka Theatrical Property. Props are intended to add meaning to the story line in useful ways and in this film they do in the sense that they aid and abet Jake during his road trip calamities. BUT I found the use of props sloppy in the film. They tended to just appear out of nowhere, like the elf hat in Nolan's car - which set the wheels in motion for the hospital visit and cop story line but it's initiation seemed, like most prop appearances in this film, lazy.
Whilst a lot of movie props can be big ticket collectors items for fans post production of films it's unlikely that the tumbleweed, liver organ donation box or Poinsettia that made appearances in the film will be making their way to prop auctions anytime soon.
Road Trips are a timeless cinematic tradition. And there's been some great ones. But I'll be Home for Christmas is no Thelma and Louise.
Road trips in the cinematic world are traditionally symbolic of the journey and character development along the way. We see this a little bit with Jake ... but not quite enough. Sure he goes to the hospital as Santa to hand out gifts (if you can call stolen microwaves and vacuum cleaners gifts) and he does hand back the prize money to the mayor after the Santa race but all in all we see little meaningful change in Jake along the way.
The biggest change of tune is towards his step-mum and dad at the end of the film. The exchange between him and Carolyn about sweater sizes is probably the most genuine Jake that we see and a modest attempt at kindling a relationship with step-mum ... albeit undone by Eve Gordon's mediocre performance. She seems just as surprised as the audience that Jake isn't being such a tool.
Jake does make it back in time to win the car but even then it seems like he only sacrifices it to impress Allie - which works - feeding back into the manipulation we've seen in Jake throughout the entire film.
Jake really needs to take a good hard look at himself in the mirror ... because the exterior JTT may be gorgeous, but on the inside that boy needs some work.
At first I wondered how I would tease out anything sex related from this film but thankfully I didn't have to look far. There's a love triangle and misunderstandings throughout which gives us plenty to explore.
Is there anything worse than a love triangle?
Most of us have been there at some point.
Person A's into Person B, but B's into Person C, and C's into A who isn't interested in C because of their interest in B.
Messy alphabet soup!
They rarely end well for at least one or more involved.
In I'll be Home for Christmas we begin with more of an obtuse triangle, if you will, with Jake and Allie pretty much into each other with Eddie expressing un-reciprocated interest in Allie.
Initially repelled by him we see a slight shift from Allie as she spends more time with him on the road against the valiant efforts of Jake to catch up to them and 'reclaim' his lady.
There's some questionable sexual autonomy and sexism in this film which tends to happen in the love triangle genre. The desired person (usually female) becomes the competitive object between two competing opponents (typically males). The focus of the storytelling centres on their attempts at courting her and less on her selection capacity.
(Thanky-you Miss Piggy)
I was left wondering "Why does Allie want either of these fellas?"
She seems like a catch. And they seemed more and more similar to each other, and frankly unappealing, as the movie progressed.
But that's the thing with triangles. When you're in one it can be difficult to look outside and consider your options beyond what's in front of you.
So if you find yourself in a triangular dilemma consider
- if that situation is meeting your needs
- is there an alternative (and yes being single is a reasonable alternative)
- are you communicating your needs
- and, are you listening to what the other parties are telling you.
Often miscommunication and misunderstandings lead to relationship disagreements, arguments and ultimately break-ups. One person sees or hears something and interprets it in a way that it may not have been intended.
In the film we see this when Jake sees Allie and Eddie kiss under the mistletoe on TV and again when he rocks up to their hotel room as Eddie walks out of the shower in nothing but a towel - oh the abs and innuendo.
It's all relatively innocent of course, and we the viewer know this, but Jake only sees what he sees and, from his already skewed viewpoint, is quick to jump to conclusions and confrontation with Allie.
So how could Jake have handled this situation differently? And what can you do if faced with a relational misunderstanding?
Short of communicating better here's a great strategy by the Gottman Institute for dealing with the fallout of a not-so-good misunderstanding with your partner.
Start with the following:
- Soften Startup (state gently what you need in a positive, respectful, appreciative way)
- Accept Influence from your partner
- Make effective repairs during and after conflict
- Practice self soothing and allow time for your partner to practice the same
If you still haven't gotten to the crux of the misunderstanding - which is often lost in the emotional response and argumentative nature of these situations - than the "Aftermath of a Fight" tool can be really helpful.
- take turns expressing how you both felt during the incident
- discuss and validate each other's perspectives on the incident. You both have your own perspective about what happened and neither is wrong, it's just the way you saw it. It's important to attempt to understand and accept where your partner is coming from
- and finally, accept responsibility for your part in the disagreement. Arguments go both ways and even if we're not responsible for instigating it we're probably culpable for at least our response.
Summary and Ratings
Overall it was fun to revisit this flick but it did not meet my (questionably) high expectations that my memory of it had instilled in me.
If you're looking for some nostalgic 90's goodness this might be a fun trip down memory lane but the entertainment value stopped there for me. The acting was sub par, the moralistic undertone of any good Chrissy film was poorly executed, and the humour levels fell flat.
For me, a Grinch-worthy 1/5.
Love triangles, misunderstandings and a manipulative protagonist - basically a film showing us how not to behave in our intimate relationships. Jake might have swooned Allie with the works of E.E. Cummings but if you're looking for romantic advice you'd be better off reading some of that gear than watching this movie.
A lonely 1/5.
Sources and additional reading
The Gottman Institute
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Disclaimer: All material posted is the author's opinion and should not take the place of tailored advice, unique to your situation, from a medical or healthcare professional. Where information is sourced elsewhere it is referenced in the source list. All images and gifs are sourced through wix.com, Canva, and the author's private photo collection unless otherwise stated.