Got Issues? Avoid These Seemingly Innocuous Movies This Holiday Season
We’ve all been there: you’re going through a rough patch in life and trying not to think about it. Your family is gathered together for the holidays and looking for a break between all the eating, so you all file into a movie theater or gather around the TV to watch a holiday classic. You thought you signed up to see something light or entertaining that has nothing to do with reality, and then out of nowhere, a depressing theme pops up. You find yourself bawling in your seat at the too-close-to-home scenario playing out onscreen. How did this happen!? The movie poster looked so cheerful! Now the rest of your day and maybe even the rest of your Christmas vacation are ruined. To help you escape this fate, I’ve put together a list of a few box office hits and annual holiday classics to avoid like the plague this season, grimly grouped by whatever tough spot you may be facing. Just stick with “Elf” and the Griswolds, friends! SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to tell you exactly what happens in every movie, so if you don’t want to know, don’t click!
Lost A Parent:
“The Family Stone”
This movie starts as your run-of-the-mill bittersweet family drama and then bam, the matriarch passes away and the gang has to get through the following Christmas without her.
This theme is pretty blatant in the movie’s advertising, but in case you thought it was just a feel-good adventure story, make no mistake, it’s about the main character’s journey to heal from her mother’s death. She screams aloud in the wilderness hoping her dead mom will hear, laments her mom’s role as the glue holding her family together, and proclaims her the love of her life that she now has to live without. As expected, she comes out on the other side of the story a more whole, healed person, but not without the sad acknowledgement that she will always live with the void left by her mom’s passing.
You remember the song of the same name, right? Yeah, don’t even go there with this one.
You walk in thinking you’re going to see a nifty film about space, but instead you’re treated to three hours about parental abandonment, kids raising themselves, and teary close-ups with a quote about how “once you’re a parent, you’re the ghost your children’s future.” Seriously. Lest you get caught up in the fun special effects and actually forget about your personal drama, the characters continue to beat this subject to death throughout the film until all you can think about is the parent you don’t have anymore. FUN.
“A Christmas Tale”
Yet another cinema mom battles cancer amid clashing family dynamics.
All the reasons that this film emotionally triggers people whose parents have died also make it perfect for churning out those old familiar daddy issues. As if the loss angle wasn’t traumatizing enough, the biggest focus of the whole damn film is father-daughter relationships. It features a child screaming and crying for her dad as he drives away to ditch her and play space hero, not to be seen again for almost a lifetime. When he finally returns to his daughter’s life, she rubs it in everyone’s face even more by telling him she always knew he’d come back “because my dad promised me.” Try not to jump off a cliff on your way out of the theater.
A tale as old as time about an aging white dude struggling with his sense of self seems pretty fail-proof if you’re trying to avoid mushy-gushy holiday cheer, right? WRONG. This movie is actually a tale of a whiny half-assed dad who ruined his marriage and family in the process of trying to make himself feel more special. Now that his life is slowing down he attempts to pick his daughter back up off the shelf and “bond” with her, but unfortunately, his idea of “bonding” involves shoving all emotional responsibility for his personal bullshit onto her. Oh, and the movie concludes with an open-to-interpretation final scene of him finding inner peace by once again abandoning his family, only this time his daughter is so desensitized to his bullshit that she actually thinks it’s poetic.
A grown man who can’t even function as an adult or admit his failures? A dude who is a total screw-up but tries to pass it off as charming while repeatedly ignoring/taking advantage of a young kid who looks up to him? Nope, no thanks.
Child of Divorce:
This comedy is meant to be all fun and games, but when your own holidays are a frantic dash between multiple families and households, there’s not much to laugh about.
“Home Alone” & “Home Alone 2: Lost In New York”
These two are classics for a reason, but the ability of Kevin’s family to simply forget about him can be pretty bleak if you’ve actually experienced abandonment or separation from your parents growing up. Extra tearjerker points for the scene in “Lost In New York” when Kevin’s mom wanders around Rockefeller Center wishing she could find her son.
If it’s Grandma or Grandpa’s last Christmas, put this film away. The movie is mostly cheerful, but it begins with a montage of a happy couple experiencing life’s many ups and downs, persevering all the while, until the couple grows old and the wife dies, leaving her hubby all alone to face his own mortality. So much nope.
“The Polar Express”
Watch a bunch of kids experience the Best Christmas Ever that you never had. Watch them regain the childlike innocence and belief in Santa that you’ll never, ever get back. Also take note of the lone impoverished child named Billy who comes along for the ride and gets a brief taste of just how good life can be – unfortunately, when the night ends, he has to go back to his less-than-happy home. I really do love this movie, but it’s a total bummer if you’re not in the mood for holiday cheer.
“A Christmas Story”
When Ralphie’s idyllic childhood is presented as the average American kid’s life while other young people face such difficult and stressful upbringings, the movie’s oh-so-charming moments just kind of fuel bitterness.
“It’s A Wonderful Life”
It’s the most legendary Christmas movie of all, but that’s because we have a tendency to gloss over most of it and remember only the happy parts. Let’s get real though, it’s about a man who no longer wants to be alive. Things get extremely dark before that warm, fuzzy pay-off in the film’s last few minutes.
All the feel-good subplots in this movie are not nearly enough to make up for the utter anguish of watching Emma Thompson’s sweet, loving character discover her husband is interested in another woman. For an extra gut punch, she then tearfully reflects on his infidelity as Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” plays in the background before pulling herself together and hustling back out to the family celebration so her kids don’t suspect anything’s wrong. It will crush you and potentially remind of your horrible ex and/or cheating husband who you’re currently trying to work things out with.
In case the press for this movie wasn’t clear enough, “Gone Girl” is basically a walking warning not to marry horrible people. Or really, not to marry anyone ever, because you can’t tell until it’s too late whether you’re chained to someone who will manipulate and enact elaborate evil stunts just to keep you in their clutches. If you are currently second guessing your partner, this movie is the worst idea ever.