Christmas Present
directed by Will Tully
(Jingle Ltd., 1999)

Christmas Present is in many ways the Irish version of Christmas Vacation -- and it's a perfect example of a movie that does everything right!

Peg and Seamus Fitzgerald (Annette Hunt and Pete Barker) have moved to a new house and are preparing for the family Christmas. Peg decides that they are going to have a real family Christmas instead of watching television the whole time, so she hides the TV.

The kids begin arriving on Dec. 23. Brian (Robert J. Hamilton), whose education in drama has landed him a restaurant job, and Meghan (Heidi Hecker), a kindergarten teacher whose husband left because she had an affair, are the first to arrive.

Kate (Ramona Floyd), a hardcore feminist attorney, is having a transportation nightmare with her boyfriend, Scott (Stuart Zagnit), the atheist who cannot drive a stick shift. They are fighting their way to Peg's house. Sean (James Brennan), a pediatric oncologist, and Jeanne (Lisa Gunn), a stay-at-home mom who cannot cook and who is planning to go back to teaching next year, arrive with their daughters, Jackie (Kirsten Peyton) and Sarah (Noelle Peyton). David (Ezra Barnes), Meghan's husband, accepts the family's invitation, but he is still hurt and not speaking to Meghan.

Just when you think this crew could not possibly get any worse, Shannon (Lisa Raymond) arrives. She is the family's problem child -- the baby of the bunch, the high school dropout who ran away after her pregnancy scare. The boyfriend she left behind, Kurt (Erik Hiu), has been watching for her to return and is at the door before her bag hits the floor. With stars in his eyes, love in his heart and bats in his belfry, Kurt pursues the cold, aloof Shannon.

Everybody needs something. Brian needs to convince Seamus that once your family has been in America for three generations, you are no longer Irish; you are American. Sean needs advice from Seamus on his own mid-life crisis, while Shannon needs the oldest and wisest of her brothers to give her some advice ... just as soon as he explains why he hates her.

Meghan needs a Valium. David needs to get away. Sarah needs an appointment to talk to Sean because Jackie told her there's no Santa Claus. Peg needs grandchildren ... and lots of them. Scott needs somebody to explain why he has to go to midnight Mass at 8 p.m. when he is an atheist. Poor Seamus just needs to find the television so he can watch the football games.

I laughed out loud several times during this movie. You actually feel sorry for these folks having to spend time with each other ... but you still have to laugh.

This is superb writing to the maximum level. It cannot get any better than this. The character development is so expansive. Layer by layer, they allow you to see inside them, and by the end of the movie you feel as if you are a member of this dysfunctional family unit. The storyline flows smoothly to the satisfying conclusion and the segues are nice and easy. Nothing abrupt here.

What acting! There is no way to single out any one member of this cast as doing a better job than the others. They each gave it 100 percent, and that results in the most believable family you can encounter in a movie.

Christmas Present is a splendid choice for any time of the year. I would love to see a series of sequels so I could spend more time with this family. It is the next best thing to being home with my own folks.

review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

6 December 2008

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