Who needs a film about "The War on Christmas?" Who needs a Christmas film from PureFlix, especially after a gander at Jerusalem Meltdown? Who needs yet another look at Daniel Baldwin this late in his career?
Well, maybe you do. I can tell you that I was pleasantly surprised by Christmas With a Capital C when I got a chance to screen the film last winter.
The setting of the story is a fictional small town in Alaska. Dan Reed, the embattled town's mayor, is already finding his leadership questioned as another Christmas approaches, when who should come back to town but his old high school nemesis Mitch Bright? And what could be worse than finding out that ol' Mitch is now an atheist activist angling for Dan's job as mayor... using the constitutionality of town-sponsored Christmas celebrations as a wedge with voters? For personal reasons alone, Dan would love to knock Mitch's teeth out, and the added religious and political challenges grate heavily on Dan's already strained nerves.
The surprisingly tight script also weaves in a teen-romance subplot between Dan's son Cody and a cross-county ski teammate who encourages him to enter the annual town race, plus a storyline that showcases the appeal of young actress Francesca Derosa as the Reeds' young daughter Makayla—who ends up playing a key role in helping the Reed family (and the town as a whole) remember why Christmas is capitalized in the first place.
Ted McGinley—who first made a splash as the frat-boy villain in Revenge of the Nerds, and followed that up with a chain of memorable TV roles like the photographer in Love Boat—turns in a deft and likable performance here as Dan. He is aided immensely—and I can't emphasize that enough—by Nancy Stafford (another able TV vet) as Dan's wife Kristen. With the story's Alaska setting and beautiful scenery—the film was shot in Seward—it's important that the interior sequences (and the Reeds' home life) glow with warmth, and Stafford is at the center of that warmth. Without being smarmy or Donna Reedish in her glow, Stafford really conveys a care and sensibility that we all think of when we conjure the ideal mom.
Brad Stine also makes a memorable supporting appearance as Dan's roguishly belligerent brother (and pal) Greg. The comedian has seemed a little awkward in past films, but (essentially) first-time feature-film director Helmut Schleppi finds a way, I think, to really let Stine be Stine and sort of let a film happen around him. It's a much better approach than trying to find a way to shoehorn Stine into a role.
A word about Baldwin. Daniel has always sort of been "the other Baldwin," with Alec as the headliner, Stephen most well-known for his rather stunning turn in The Usual Suspects, and William as an early headliner in Backdraft and Sliver. As Daniel has aged, however, he's started to look a good deal more like Alec, which makes you kind of forget (a little) about the "other" title. I've never really been a fan of Daniel's, but he's pretty craftily cast in this role, with the baggage of his history, connections, and personality well used in the role of Mitch Bright.
If you read my reviews regularly, you may notice how much I'm talking about performances here. Well, there'sa good reason. The story itself—which, I must say, very very responsibly deals with the politics (and faith) of the season—is exceedingly well rendered; but these characters really bring it to life.
I haven't (yet) screened the film a second time, as Jenn and I are waiting to re-watch it sometime after Thanksgiving—but I remember this film in great detail many months after having screened it.
That's a very good sign.
Christmas With a Capital C is unrated, but I think you can call it Good With a Capital G. Courtesy of the film's producers, Greg screened a promotional copy of Christmas With a Capital C.