The recipe for a perfect Christmas is simple. Add one Wall Street businesswoman who religiously wears pantsuits and quickly mix in a midlife crisis stemming from her workaholic fiance. Then, sprinkle in a montage of her recreating her life after having a quick mental breakdown, forcing her to realize that she has to get away from the hectic city life. After slowly blending in a series of mishaps, mix in a couple tablespoons of embarrassing meet-cutes with down-to-earth guy who doesn’t want anything to do with the city. Put the mixture in a saucepan and let it simmer on the stove for a few minutes before adding in a second love interest to spice things up a little. When the mixture has been thoroughly heated, the secondary love interest should have dissolved, leaving only the rugged guy and the corporate business lady who finds love after a snowfall-induced epiphany. While that cools, pour in the true meaning of Christmas, which is a common adage like not to judge a book by its cover. As previously mentioned, it’s a relatively easy recipe. And it’s one that works. It’s the reason why the Hallmark Christmas movies rake in millions annually and why Netflix decided to take a cut in on the profits, as well. Somehow, though, it’s a recipe that Holiday in the Wild disastrously ruins with lazy writing and a lack of focus.
The story begins simply enough. Doting housewife Kate (Kristin Davis) finds herself utterly lost when her husband leaves her after she announces that she scheduled a second honeymoon to an unknown country in Africa. Devastated, she decides to go by herself, thinking that it will give her time to think about her next steps. At the hotel bar, she meets the handsome hotel plane pilot Derek (Rob Lowe) and, after developing a quippy rapport, accidentally has an outburst at him. Their paths cross again –surprise, surprise– when Kate goes on a hotel plane ride with Derek. In the air, they spot an orphaned baby elephant whose mother was violently killed by a poacher. Derek breaks out from his aloof mask and jumps into action, comforting the elephant, and calling a conservationist society to take in the animal. Kate, recovering from the initial shock, weirdly reveals herself to be a certified veterinarian and takes care of the elephant herself at the elephant reservation. As her bond grows with the elephant, so does her relationship with Derek and Africa.
While I could criticize the movie’s acting and cinematography and score, none of it really matters. Christmas movies aren’t meant to be technically good. They’re meant to be quick and easy and heartfelt. The goal isn’t to be nominated for an Oscar, but to pull at the hearts of the audience. Usually, this is done with the director testing how much saccharine sweetness they can add within an hour-and-a-half time limit.
So while Davis’s acting is indeed uncomfortable to watch, it has no large effect on the movie. While director Ernie Barbarash’s work is the dictionary definition of conventional, it doesn’t take away from the cute shots of the baby elephants. While the name of the African country is never said aloud throughout the entire movie, it doesn’t distract from the romance. All the things that make other movies objectively bad don’t stop Christmas movies from succeeding. Nevertheless, Holiday in the Wild still falters due to easily avoidable mistakes.
While Christmas movies usually move at a lightning speed, Holiday in the Wild takes it to the extreme. Instead of letting the scene unfold naturally, the writers seem to add scenes in just to get to the next one and the one after that and the one after that. For example, not 30 seconds after Kate’s son leaves for college, her husband abruptly up and leaves, too. His bags are inexplicably pre-packed and his feet are inching towards the door when he explains that he’s fallen out of love with her. Doing the math, Kate’s son and husband leaves her within the same minute, which has to break some kind of record. Of course, Christmas movies can be left to a lower standard, but the rushed pacing distracts from heavy emotional moments. It’s like the movie is chock-full of missed opportunities to make the audience cry.
Even the focal point of the movie, the budding romance between Kate and Derek, is messily done through a montage of them laughing and petting elephants while a lilting piano song plays in the background. Private moments between the couple feel far and few between, forcing any chemistry between the actors to disappear. Because of this, the romance is barely believable, making it hard to even care about the couple. With the fast-pace of the movie, the writers barely leave room for the emotional scenes to even sink in before cutting to the next generic aerial shot of Manhattan or Africa.
Perhaps the most blatant mistake in the movie, however, is just how much it doesn’t include the holidays. Beginning in early December, a majority of Holiday in the Wild focuses on the filler weeks after Halloween and before the Christmas season really begins. While it’s difficult to imagine a Christmas movie without mittens and scarves, without hot chocolate and frosted cookies, without sledding and snowball fights, that’s not what stops it from being a holiday movie. The problem stems from there barely being any Christmas or holiday scenes in general. While I appreciate good-natured scenes of elephants grazing the grasslands, the sheer amount of them distracts from what a Christmas movie is supposed to be about: the holidays.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t any festive cheer in the movie. There is. But the scenes where the holidays are actually included seem like something Barbarash rushedly edited in, as if he had forgotten that the movie began with the word ‘holiday’. Without weaving in Christmas cheer steadily throughout like other movies of the same genre, Barbarash loses the strong emotional appeal which, despite their reliance on cliches, makes these movies so appealing.
Now that I’ve established the recipe for a conventional Christmas movie, let me do the same for Holiday in the Wild. Add in one wealthy housewife and swirl in a husband who divorces her at superhuman speed. After that, fold in a cup full of meaningless montages with a rugged man who wears too many cargo pants. Grease a baking tray with cute scenes of baby elephants, pour in the mixture, and bake for about an hour. Place the finished dish on a cooling rack and sprinkle on some Christmas scenes because it was supposed to be in the recipe earlier, but it’s easy to forget. Serve the dish with a mug full of awkward and unfinished storylines. Don’t actually eat it unless you want to be left confused and bewildered.
Ashita Wagh is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl