Holiday Joy


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Holiday Joy
"Madison brings a sweetness to the central role that keeps the film watchable."

Being a teenager is never easy. Joy (Bailee Madison) has had a tougher time than most in that her mother has died and she's ended up taking on a lot of responsibility for caring for and organising her two brothers, father and dog. On the other hand, she has a lot of advantages that she's not really aware of. She lives in the kind of neighbourhood where she can ditch her bag when running without fear of anyone stealing it, and school bullying extends no further than dismissive looks and the occasonal snarky remark. Still, she wishes her circumstances were different. More than anything, she wishes she were a member of the seemingly perfect family next door. And one day - call it the magic of Christmas - that's exactly what happens.

The fact that this teen spin on It's A Wonderful Life avoids the subject of suicide is an indicator of its cultivated inoffensiveness. It's a lightweight, effusive tale that touches on social problems in a well meaning but clueless way that suggests the scriptwriters are no more familiar with them on a personal level than our teenage heroine. This will be fine for younger viewers, of course, and it's probably best suited to the nine to 12 age bracket, imagining what it's like to be at high school. This is very much by the book except where it touches on the subject of possessiveness and unhealthy relationships, something which is well handled and communicates an important message in an age-appropriate way.

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Joy had a school life she enjoyed on some levels. She played clarinet in the orchestra and was fond of her friends. In her new life she's too cool for music class and plays sport instead, which has given her the kind of body she always wanted; her old friends won't talk to her, taking her for a bully, whilst she's now adored by the cool girls, in their superficial way. She's dating the school sports hero whom she always had a crush on, she has a sister like she always wanted to, and most poignantly, she has a mother again. But this isn't her mother, and watching her old family from across the street makes her realise how much she loves them. Only the dog, with that special power animals often seem to possess in such tales, remembers her and misses her back. Her new family considers him a public nuisance and wants to have him put down.

Holiday Joy effectively blends elements showing us how much our heroine was needed in her old life with those emphasising that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. It's formulaic stuff and scenes designed to be exciting - like the one where Joy has fun trying on the clothes in her new wardrobe - never quite take off the way they should. There's also an unnecessary scene in which two rats are held up by their tails, something which is impossible to do without causing pain. Madison, however, brings a sweetness to the central role that keeps the film watchable and has good chemistry with Ethan Pugiotto, who plays her younger brother - as well as with the dog. The film fits in a Christmas theme without going overboard on the trimmings, and as seasonal fare goes, you could do a lot worse.

Reviewed on: 24 Nov 2017
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Holiday Joy packshot
A shy high school student's Christmas wish comes true only it isn't exactly as wonderful as she'd hoped.

Director: Kirk D'Amico

Writer: Holly Goldberg Sloan

Starring: Bailee Madison, Jennifer Robertson, Sandy Jobin-Bevans

Year: 2016

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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