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Storm Steenson, left, stars in Cup of Cheer, Jake Horowitz's parody of Hallmark Christmas films.Sideways Dog Productions

  • Cup of Cheer
  • Directed by Jake Horowitz
  • Written by Jake Horowitz and Andy Lewis
  • Starring Storm Steenson, Alexander Oliver and Jacob Horgan
  • Classification N/A; 94 minutes


2.5 out of 4 stars

There are easy targets and then there are Hallmark Christmas movies. The TV-flick subgenre, with its easy romances, hard life lessons and titles like A Bride for Christmas, Catch a Christmas Star and the un-ironically monikered A Cookie Cutter Christmas, have reached such a point of cultural ubiquity that their so-bad-they’re-good formulas are beyond parody. Well, almost.

To spoof a seemingly spoof-proof enterprise, Canadian filmmaker Jake Horowitz’s new comedy Cup of Cheer combines two leading cinematic schools of parodic thought: the throw-everything-at-the-screen Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker model pioneered in such classics as Airplane! and The Naked Gun, and the tongue-in-cheek absurdism of David Wain, which propelled your-mileage-may-vary alt-comedy masterpieces They Came Together and Wet Hot American Summer. The result is messy, zippy and smart-alecky. But never boring, and occasionally funny enough to warrant a spit-take or three.

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Horowitz and his co-writer Andy Lewis pile on gag after gag.Sideways Dog Productions

Horowitz’s sensibilities are slap-your-face clear from the get-go, in which a journalist named Mary Lady (Storm Steenson) is assigned to visit her hometown for a story on ... something. “But whatever you do,” warns her editor, “don’t fall in love with some small-town, eight-out-of-10 stranger and find the true meaning of Christmas! I’ve lost too many reporters that way.” Naturally, Mary quickly falls into a will-they-or-won’t-they romance with local coffee shop owner Chris (Alexander Oliver), but will she be able to file her story by her Dec. 24 deadline? Or, as Mary says of her impending assignment: “Christmas Eve? That’s the day before Christmas!”

You get it. But just in case you don’t, Horowitz and co-writer Andy Lewis continue to stack gag upon gag until the film nearly collapses under the weight of its deadpan heaviness. Some bits are inspired, including the arrival of an unstuck-in-time hunk in the vein of Kate & Leopold and The Time Traveler’s Wife, while others are merely annoying, like the local bullies (including one character who bears a striking resemblance to Wain collaborator Michael Showalter) which the filmmakers lean on too often and too hard for ostensibly easy laughs that never quite arrive.

Steenson and Oliver, though, are welcome and exceptionally game players, walking the film’s uneasy line separating farce and folly just right. The two are so charming and well-matched that they could headline a genuine Hallmark Christmas movie of their own. Surely, you ask, I can’t be serious. But I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.

Cup of Cheer premieres at select Ontario drive-ins starting Nov. 5, and will be available to stream for free on Tubi starting Nov. 6

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