leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
An independent drama about the true meaning of Christmas, this faith-based film is awkwardly paced, relies heavily on expository voice-over and suffers from an excess of portentous flashbacks and dream sequences, but actually finds its footing when it takes a giant step into the realm of the miraculous. Successful Cleveland-area wine merchant Andrew Austin (Andrew May) appears to have everything: A beautiful, loving wife, Suzie (Jack Hourigan), who abandoned a singing career for motherhood; two lovely children (Charlie May, Julia May); a handsome home and a thriving business. But as Christmas approaches, his faith is tested to its limits — Suzie has cancer, and no treatment is working. They've decided to spend the holidays at Maxwell House, their summer home, which belonged to Suzie's parents, and Andrew and Suzie both know it may be their last Christmas together. Worse, Andrew is haunted by the fact that though he and Suzie were high-school sweethearts, they drifted apart as young adults and had other relationships before getting married. Suzie was pregnant at their wedding (the father of her unborn child died in a motorcycle accident), and the stress nearly tore their relationship apart. Andrew is so preoccupied with his unhappiness that he's unable to give Suzie the emotional support she so desperately needs, instead haranguing her doctors to find a cure. But vacationing at Maxwell's helps them heal: Suzie's friend Rachel (Helen Welch) is a source of strength, and they enjoy the company of such eccentric locals as Colonel Pickering (Robert Hawkes), Christmas-tree seller Tootsie (Tracie Field) and Father Johnston (William Laufer). Most surprising is the influence of Gus Carpenter (Angus May), an elderly man they take in at the request of a friend associated with a local social-services agency. Something about the chipper old gent enchants the children, comforts Suzie and even wins over the skeptical Andrew. First-time writer/director/coproducer Laufer turned to filmmaking after a career in manufacturing, while his daughter Tiffany — the film's coproducer and cinematographer — studied at AFI. The cast draws heavily from Cleveland-area talent and ranges from passable to polished. Rough around the edges and aimed explicitly at Christian audiences, it's a rare example of truly independent filmmaking, not only because of the way it was produced, but because it makes no effort to mimic the attitudes and style of contemporary mainstream Hollywood films.