Director: Shaun Paul Piccinino
Writer: Lauren Swickard
Cast: Lauren Swickard, Josh Swickard, Amanda Detmer
Streaming Platform: Netflix
Callie and Joseph, the reel life lovers in A California Christmas are played by real life lovers, the married couple, Lorynn Swickard and Josh Swickard. The first we see of Josh Swickard are his rather skeletal toes, before we are introduced to the casanova caricature in one fell swoop, with legacy money running through his veins, and his vanity.
Joseph is sent by his mother, a real estate baroness, on an assignment to the Californian vineyards to convince Callie, an obstinate debt ridden ranch owner, to sell her property. When Callie and Joseph first meet, she mistakes him for a ranch-hand, and Joseph keeps the charade hoping to charm her into the sale, but instead gets charmed himself- by a new way of life, and a new way to love, and be loved.
The tropes are in lock-step with the caricature. Callie is strong-headed but weak-hearted, and follows in the vein of most inadequately sketched movies, where the only way to show that she is sensitive is to have her parents dead (father) or dying (mother).
Perhaps the distinctiveness of this film is the imposition of Christmas- the deadline by which Joseph needs to make the sale. This is a bit odd because it never snows here in wine country California, so the snow is axed for languorous sun. To "save Christmas" becomes an act of saving Joseph's inheritance- his job which he isn't good at- his own mother tells him that his only strength is his capacity to charm (read: sleep with) women. He is charming in that cavalier way, a shadow of Scott Eastwood can be seen, but really, watching him milk cows and fix engines shirtless is barely more satisfying than scrolling through a well-curated Instagram feed of unveiled abs and veiled personality.
The film's journey hits the familiar rocks– Callie will find out the truth, feel betrayed, Joseph will overcompensate, and there's that. This progression is so well-etched, I wonder if characters in a rom-com are aware of the rom-com trope, where a lover lies, but not to hurt, at least not initially.
This goes to say that there is something radically ordinary about this movie- the hotness is adequate, the storytelling is adequate, the sex is adequate, the humour is adequate. Nothing to remember having watched it, and nothing to remember having enjoyed it even.