A Holiday Romcom More Sticky Than Sweet
Jan 30, 2023
Home Movie Reviews Christmas With The Campbells Review: A Holiday Romcom More Sticky Than Sweet
In the case of Christmas with the Campbells, this is a holiday movie that doesn’t have a great deal of charm despite its intriguing premise.
Brittany Snow and Justin Long in Christmas with the Campbells
It’s that time of year again: Christmas movies are everywhere. The Hallmark brand of Christmas stories have become a subgenre all on their own, and they’ve begun to spread to Netflix and other platforms. Now AMC+ is getting in on the game with Christmas with the Campbells, a syrupy, awkward twist on some of the brand’s most common tropes. A sweetly earnest Brittany Snow works to elevate the material, but there are a few eyebrow-raising elements that are hard to get past (but perhaps make more sense once one realizes Vince Vaughn helped write the screenplay). It might be easy to brush aside holiday-themed fare like this due to its predictability or cheesiness. However, in the case of Christmas with the Campbells, this is a holiday movie that doesn’t have a great deal of charm despite its intriguing premise.
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Amateur photographer Jesse (Snow) is someone who loves the simple things in life, much to the chagrin of her hotshot jerk of a boyfriend, Shawn (Alex Moffat). With Christmas fast approaching, Jesse is eagerly gearing up to spend the holidays with Shawn and his family in their picturesque small down when Shawn abruptly breaks up with her. Despite this, though, Shawn’s mother Liz (Julia Duffy) still insists that Jesse come stay with her and husband Robert (George Wendt). As Shawn has decided not to come home for Christmas, it seems like the perfect scenario. However, Jesse soon finds herself questioning the decision to spend time with the Campbells, especially once Shawn’s charming cousin, David (Justin Long), turns up and sweeps her off her feet.
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Brittany Snow in Christmas with the Campbells
While some might recoil at the idea of voluntarily spending time with their in-laws, there’s something compelling about Christmas with the Campbells’ set-up. Jesse feels a genuine kinship with Liz and Robert, likely spurred by some past family issues on her side that are never really fleshed out. It isn’t too unbelievable that someone like Jesse, innocent and uncomplicated, would be okay visiting her ex-boyfriend’s parents. What’s more difficult to comprehend, though, is why Jesse and Shawn lasted so long at all. As written by Vaughn, Dan Lagana, and Barbara Kymlicka, Shawn is a one-note character who seems primarily concerned with sex and money, in that order. Moffat nails his sleaziness, but Shawn’s incredible lack of depth puts him at odds with the wholesome tale Christmas with the Campbells is trying to tell. The same is true for the sexual humor injected throughout; though nothing ever comes of it onscreen, there are many crude lines throughout Christmas with the Campbells. The profane humor doesn’t mesh well with the sentimental side of things, and neither do the quips David makes about kissing his aunt.
Director Clare Niedepruem keeps things moving at a decent pace, ensuring Christmas with the Campbells doesn’t overstay its welcome. The movie is also helped by Snow, whose bright-eyed portrayal of Jesse goes a long way in keeping viewers on board for the journey. She shines here, and her chemistry with Long makes the connection between Jesse and David far more believable than the one between her and Shawn. Long’s accent runs the risk of getting a bit too silly at times, but he plays David’s charming sense of honor quite well. The rest of the Christmas with the Campbells ensemble is reliably solid. In addition to Moffat, Duffy and Wendt make for a nice (and surprisingly raunchy) onscreen couple, and JoAnna Garcia Swisher does well despite being gifted some truly cringeworthy innuendos disguised as normal dialogue.
Justin Long and George Wendt in Christmas with the Campbells
If the romance between Jesse and David doesn’t quite make one swoon, it will draw some smiles. The journey isn’t the most exciting romance to hit screens this year, as Niedepruem instead stages their courtship with a steady, straightforward approach. There isn’t a lot of tension here, but there is some sweet contentment. Unfortunately, Jesse and David’s love story takes an all-too-familiar turn late in Christmas with the Campbells as the screenwriters fall back on one of the most common and frustrating obstacles in the romance genre. This makes the climax a bit maddening, but viewers won’t be surprised with how Christmas with the Campbells ends. After all, this is the type of movie that has its conclusion telegraphed from the beginning, not that there is anything wrong with such an end. There is a comfort that comes from knowing things well end up happy and okay.
Christmas with the Campbells tries to take some big swings toward shaking up the conventional holiday movie mold, but it ultimately ends up being more of the same, just with some sticky moments. The earnestness of its cast, especially Snow, makes up for some of the other elements that are lacking. However, this is a romance that likely won’t stick with audiences beyond the initial viewing. There are plenty of other offerings this holiday season that provide more cheer.
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Christmas with the Campbells will be in theaters and streaming on AMC+ Friday, December 2. The film is 88 minutes long and unrated.
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