Wednesday, 20 December 2017

A Wonderful Christmas Time (2014)

Sara Pascoe ought to recreate the role of Laura, the daffy heart surgeon that she plays here as a regular for Holby City. J'adore Sara Pascoe ❤ 

Having watched Black Mountain Poets earlier this year I seem to be watching writer/director Jamie Adams' semi-improvised, loose trilogy of Welsh romcoms in reverse order. A Wonderful Christmas Time (available to purchase on Amazon video) seemed like an apt film to watch in the run up to the festivities and it concerns unlucky in love Noel (the Freewheelin' Dylan Edwards - seriously, he looks like a young version of his namesake - who most recently played the adorable Roisin Conaty's addict brother in her splendid sitcom Game Face) whose long term girlfriend (played by an all too briefly seen Holli Dempsey) has just left him for another man. Faced with the prospect of a solitary Christmas in sleepy Porthcawl, Noel enters therapy to mend his broken heart, but a chance encounter with disillusioned actress Cherie (Laura Haddock of The Inbetweeners Movie fame) seems like a surer bet for happiness. There's just one slight hitch: Cherie has also just come out of a long term relationship with soap star Gary (Rob Wilfort from Gavin and Stacey) and, as neither of them want to be anyone's rebound, she comes up with the plan of arranging a series of dates for Noel to undertake first in the run up to Christmas, with the implication that she will be waiting for him come the big day.

As ideas for films go, this isn't a bad one. I imagine Adams really wanted to make 'The Twelve Dates of Christmas', with Noel having to take out twelve women in the days before Christmas, but the shoestring budget really wouldn't stretch to that and so instead he has to endure just three disastrous dates (and the return of Gary, star of 'The Boroughs', an EastEnders style soap) before getting together with Cherie. That's OK, the film could still work, except the central conceit really isn't very believable. Following his initial encounter with Cherie, Noel and his feckless friend Steve (Ian Smith) just happen to see her and her friend Mandi (Mandeep Dhillon) walking down the quiet, residential street that Noel lives on the next morning and invite the girls in to spend the day there, which obviously turns into them spending the whole of Christmas there. I didn't really buy such a convenience, but when you add the fact that Noel's useless therapist Simon (Oliver Maltman) also becomes a housemate when he's evicted from his flat, then you're really into corny, far-fetched sitcom territory -  and that's before Sara Pascoe's Laura, one of Noel's dates, arrives only to immediately fall in love with Simon instead and takes up residence there too!

I also had an issue with the whole dating thing. Adams establishes his romantic leads rather well with their shared love of music and '80s movies like The Karate Kid and Weird Science but, with Cherie not only arranging but also appearing on Noel's subsequent dates, something is lost in their likeability and this viewer's sympathy: the implication is immediately that they perceive themselves to be better than the unfortunate date (after all, these dates are supposed to be epic failures just to mark time until they get together) and it leaves a sour taste in the mouth as we watch these two unabashed hipsters snigger and run out on each successive girl. Granted Noel's middle date is comedically successful and suitably cringeworthy (she takes him to a performance poetry/feminist lecture in which Noel is essentially chastised via a loudhailer for possessing a penis in an audience full of vaginas) but his first girl's only crime seems to be that she's way too eager, somewhat vain, and that her decision to go on a bike ride for their date was a bad choice, whilst his third and final date with Laura feels the most unfair: he immediately invites her back to his place only for everyone to gatecrash when the poor deluded girl's trying her best (and somewhat eccentrically) to seduce him. Quite how these dates are arranged is never adequately explained either - if Cherie doesn't already know these girls (which she doesn't seem to) then how does she know they are so wildly inappropriate for Dylan, a man she has literally only just met herself? Again, it's not very believable. It's about as believable as any of the protagonists actually hailing from Porthcawl, though they are meant to. 

Not wholly unsuccessful, A Wonderful Christmas Time just about gets by on both the rom and the com front (Mandeep Dhillon gets some good moments as our heroine's best mate, a would be traveller from Kingston-Upon-Thames who reveals that this trip to Wales is the furthest she's been thus far and that she wants to try Scotland and Ireland next) and the festivities are only ever used as the flimsiest of backdrops, like a piece of well worn, frayed tinsel hanging from your tree. It's just a shame that the on-the-hoof semi-improvised status of the production is so obviously apparent in the story itself, making it barely credible and feel somewhat lazy. Still, I was always going to be more or less on board with a film that has so many pretty young actresses in. The guys are lookers too I guess, so it's a film that's very easy on the eye, but not an awful lot more.

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