Among the tidal wave of Christmas-themed content that hits our screens every holiday season, there are a few perennial favourites that stand out. You have your Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, along with endless adaptions of the Dickens potboiler Christmas Carol. But there are just as many, if not more underrated holiday stories that often get overlooked. Case in point: ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS.
Brought to the screen by underrated BC director Phillip Borsos (The Grey Fox), the film focuses on the small American midwestern town of Medford (in fact played by Meaford, Ontario) where Christmas is in full swing despite a tough economy that has left many of the town’s residents with tightened purse-strings. This is especially evident with the Grainger family who are struggling to keep above the poverty line with patriarch Jack having been laid off and are now forced to move from the company-owned house by the new year. As the home’s sole breadwinner, Ginny (Mary Steenburgen) struggles to make ends meet while Jack attempts to keep spirits up by raising funds for the town Christmas tree while also trying to ensure presents for their children. Most of this is lost on Ginny who has lost all Christmas spirit seeing only the stress and expense it brings.
Enter Christmas Angel Gideon (Harry Dean Stanton) who has been dispatched from above to help warm Ginny’s heart to the spirit of the season. He can’t engage her directly, but seeks the help of her young daughter Abbie. But when an unexpected tragedy befalls the family, Abbie and Gideon must make a journey to the North Pole to seek the help of the one and only Santa Claus to help set things right and ensure that Ginny and her family have a Merry Christmas.
The film takes more than a page or two from Capra classic It’s a Wonderful Life by putting a character’s dire circumstances through a fresh perspective. The film is trim at 89 minutes but takes it’s time and never feels rushed. What really makes it work is it’s solid cast with excellent turns by Steenburgen and the late Stanton along with an outstanding showcase from then-five-year-old Elisabeth Harnois who is positively adorable in her acting debut. Supporting parts are filled out by reliable Canadian thespians Elias Koteas, Jan Rubes, Arthur Hill, a young Sarah Polley, and Red Green-regular Wayne Robson playing an effective against-type as a desperate bank robber.
The film takes more risks than the usual family fare showing a dark and gritty side of life that is absent from most holiday films much less ones aimed at children, but deftly balances it out with plenty of magic and wonder. It also presents a unique rendering of Santa Claus complete with seemingly eastern european roots and and angel-workforce replacing the elves!
In a genre that at times seems soaked in candy-coloured glitz and glamour, One Magic Christmas is a refreshingly down-to-earth tale that despite it’s fantastic storyline, never feels forced and will inspire joy and perhaps a little faith in those willing to give it a chance.