Remember those family gatherings when someone at the dinner table would caution everyone not to discuss politics and religion? Well the 2008 film A Jersey Christmas obviously didn’t heed that warning because its abundant racial and moral commentary spoils this festivus for the rest of us.
My intention is always to give credit to indie filmmakers, not to needlessly rip them like some a-hole critics who know nothing about films anyway. Making an actual film that doesn’t look like it was slapped together accidentally by a 3 year old on his parents iPhone is a huge undertaking, and even if the movie sucks, most young directors and cast deserve an A for effort at the very least. If I was only judging it on effort, A Jersey Christmas would receive and A+ with a possible induction to the National Honor Society. Unfortunately, it boils down to one question for me: Will I ever want to watch it again? The answer is no, although, if some tweaks were made I’d make it part of my annual Christmas viewing tradition.
Clerks influence on indie filmmakers based in New Jersey is apparent since the story centers around a group of Christmas store employees. Kevin Smith would have a field day writing a film about this place because it’s way more diverse than the local Quick Stop. Coincidentally, mostly all of The Xmas-O-Rama employees don’t celebrate Christmas because of their various religious backgrounds. There’s a Jewish guy, a reformed Jewish girl, an Indian girl, an Arab, and a former Christian gay male who graduated from Rutgers with a masters in American Literature because he “likes to read.” The gist of the story focuses on how Christmas is viewed in the eyes of non-Christian twentysomethings. The group discovers that even though they express jealousy and frustration about the holiday, they are all brought together by the Christmas spirit.
As described on IMDB, “degenerate gambler” Mike Malcolm (James Villemaire) is in deep debt (or shit as we say here in Jersey) and owes a couple of thugs a lot of money. He runs a Christmas store to try to recoup some cash to pay his debts, but winds up screwing his employees out of several weeks pay. The action takes place on Christmas Eve when he demands that the store stay open until midnight to intercept last minute shoppers. Malcolm escapes to a poker game to try to win back some of his losses while the diverse crew at the Christmas store works late and hashes out their differences in religion, thoughts on Christmas, and even share some romantic moments.
I guess I was expecting something with a little more wacky hijinks. Often, the film teetered on the verge of being fun, but never officially made the jump. Sadly, the dialogue is so dumbed down and the characters refer to being Jewish and Arabic excessively. A Jersey Christmas would’ve benefited from making the racial/religious differences a minor theme instead of the main attraction. Regardless of these flaws, the cast is surprisingly natural and talented for a bunch of predominantly unknown actors. Anitha Gandhi and James Villemaire’s performances resonated with me.
Villemaire, who seems to be attempting to channel a young Mickey Rourke or Bruce Willis in this film, also co-directs with Eric Weber. Weber wrote the film, but I think it should’ve stayed on paper rather than been brought to life as a movie. This is the type of film that could be shown in college classes studying religious or racial tolerance; not so much the light hearted Christmas movie based in Jersey that I was hoping for. Ultimately, there really aren’t any similarities to Kevin Smith’s Clerks, but there should’ve been. I for one wouldn’t mind seeing a Christmas styled knockoff of Clerks. In that case the racial and religious references would be welcome. Snoogans.
What keeps me from ripping A Jersey Christmas is the fact that the film isn’t necessarily funny, but it’s not heart wrenching or dramatic either. Being middle of the road is it’s best attribute, since it would’ve totally lost my attention if it got bogged down in too much drama. This is one film you should only sink your time into if you just dig indie movies, or you have a serious obsession for all things Jersey like The Sexy Armpit does.
Since the production company, Tenafly Films, is named after a city in New Jersey, they not only filmed on location in Bergen County, NJ but they also infused plenty of Jersey shout-outs into the movie. Among others there were mentions of Garden State Plaza Mall, Kearny, Hackensack, and the Elmwood Park Diner.