It’s officially upon us–Christmas Eve. Depending on the number of consecutive hours you have spent with your family at this point, you might be ready for a reminder as to why people put themselves through the enormous output of physical, emotional, and financial resources in order to be together for the holidays. These two final films in my non-required viewing series (see part 1 and 2 if you’re in the mood for a marathon) will remind you.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: 4 cups of eggnog and a butterbeer chaser
The first film in this juggernaut of cinematic adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series isn’t my favorite. Director Chris “Home Alone” Columbus tends to go for cloying and obvious rather than clever and dark in his take on the first leg of Harry’s hero journey, where he discovers his powers, starts wizarding boarding school at Hogwarts, and has his second memorable encounter with the evil Lord Voldemort. However, the Christmas scene nicely encapsulates everything that makes this part of the story, and really the series as a whole, so poignant and emotionally resonant, whether you’re into fantasy YA lit or not.
Focus on the family? Indeed. Harry and new best friend Ron are staying at Hogwarts for the holiday because Ron has such a close family (they’ve gone abroad to visit his elder brother) and Harry, ahem, doesn’t. He lost his parents in Voldemort’s attack (the first memorable encounter) and his Muggle aunt and uncle aren’t exactly brimming over with friendly feeling towards him. However, the first film documents not only Harry finding his new home and family (Hogwarts and the wizards who inhabit it, particularly Ron and the Weasleys, Hermione, Hagrid, and patriarch Dumbledore), but also rediscovering his original one. For Christmas, Dumbledore (we later learn) passes along an invisibility cloak to Harry that once belonged to his father as a gift. This object, along with its history of familial inheritance, will be, to put it mildly, rather important as the series progresses.
Stress and tension? Though the movie downplays it (which makes this film a good choice if you’re spending the holidays with the young and impressionable), the book includes some quite distressing moments, not the least of which is Harry being orphaned at the age of one. The encounter with Voldemort is also rather unpleasant, what with him being parasitically attached to a trusted professor’s head that Harry must burn off with his bare hands.
Hope and joy? You bet your wand. The film concludes with Harry being presented with another gift–an album of photographs of his parents–from Hagrid. He has found his place in the world, and though it is a world that remains dangerous and a bit cruel, now he has the support of good-hearted people who love him to see him through. Can’t ask for much more than that at the holidays.
Rated PG for the presence of a figure of unadulterated evil; available on Netflix
About a Boy: 4 cups of eggnog and a loaf of stale bread to lob at a duck as an appetizer
This dramedy adaptation of Nick Hornsby’s novel might not immediately come to mind as a Christmas movie, but the holiday is a crucial framing and pacing device throughout. Will is an adult “boy” whose father wrote a contemporary carol that he loathes but keeps him rolling in royalties, giving him the financial freedom to do “nothing” aside from chase vulnerable women. Through said ladding about, he meets Marcus, an actual “boy” with some grown-up issues, and reluctantly forms a friendship that ends up saving them both.
Focus on family? Indubitably. Will begins the film estranged from even the memory of his father, happy to star in the “Will Show,” and uninterested in appearing in an ensemble drama. Marcus’s justified concern for his depressed mom leads him in just the opposite direction, realizing that “two isn’t enough . . . you need back-up.” Though the romance between Will and Marcus’s mom doesn’t take, the real love story is about the two boys. Their affection for each other leads them both, and everyone around them, to form the kind of emotionally simpatico patchwork “framily” that is familiar to anyone who has spent time in graduate school. The laughter-filled Christmas party at the end shows you how far Will has come from the year previous, and how right Marcus is about “back-up.”
Stress and tension? Spoiler alert: there’s a suicide attempt. Not that Christmas-y, but hang in there.
Hope and joy? I mentioned the Christmas party, right? Each of the characters are more hopeful and joyful just for knowing each other, and there’s a lot of love in the room–of all kinds: maternal, paternal, fraternal, romantic and platonic.
Rated PG-13 for adult situations and childish protagonists; available on Netflix
In his closing voiceover narration, Marcus remarks, “I don’t think couples are the future. The way I see it, we both got back-up now. It’s like that thing Jon Bon Jovi said: ‘No man is an island.'” I’m lucky enough to have a whole team of back-up comprising my island chain. Thanks to Mom, Rah, Natalie, Nicole, Adele, Rachel, Alisa, Jenn, and Eme for having my back with these articles, and you know, with life in general. I’ll awkwardly sing at your talent show competition any day of the week. Merry Christmas!