[“The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls” is the fourth film of my “5 Queer Holiday Films for 2022” post. To read the next review, “Single All The Way”, click HERE. To read the previous review, “The Christmas House“, click HERE.]
After their release of “The Christmas House” in 2020, Hallmark decided to give us a sequel for Christmas 2021. However while we knew a decent amount about the first film, they kept a lot of the details surrounding “The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls” under wraps until this TV movie aired. Unfortunately after watching the premier last year, I can understand why! Despite an interesting story twist, the end result had a messy script, more melodrama than a soap opera, and a finished look that felt more like a behind-the-scenes documentary than a finished film. Sequels typically don’t fare as well as the original film and for this queer holiday film, this bodes true. But was there anything good about “The Christmas House 2”? Let’s find out!
Synopsis of “The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls”
“Hollywood television star Mike Mitchell heads home to the Hudson Valley in upstate New York for the Christmas hiatus, planning for a quiet holiday, especially as he contemplates popping the question to his childhood friend, divorced travel agent Andi Cruz. In the thought of proposing to Andi, he is also trying to be more of a parental figure to Andi’s son Noah, especially as Noah’s father, Ryan Zane, who has a history of being in and out of his life, has once again re-entered his son’s life with a bang. This Christmas would be unlike the near fiasco of last Christmas, the final year of the Mitchell family’s “Christmas house”: his parents Bill and Phylis Mitchell’s long-held tradition to transform completely their family home for Christmas, the last year as Bill and Phylis have since retired and want to focus on other things in life. The other people involved, Mike’s older brother, bakery owner Brandon Mitchell, his architect husband Jake, and their two infant children, are coming from Denver also wanting to eke out their own family Christmas traditions between the four of them, they staying in Andi’s mother’s otherwise empty house next door. Things take a turn when Mike’s publicist Kathleen has arranged for Mike to be on “Deck Those Halls”, a head-to-head annual house Christmas decorating competition show between two celebrities, Mike reluctantly agreeing in succumbing to the pressure to do so from all sides, including Andi, Noah and his family, meaning the last minute resurrection of the Christmas house. But when the other celebrity has to bow out, Kathleen, in seeing the rivalry between the two of them, has what she thinks is even a better idea: for Mike’s competitor to be Brandon, the second house to be Andi’s mother’s. As Ryan unexpectedly arrives on the scene to add to the complications, the question becomes whether the Mitchell family as a collective and the three individual pods – Mike, Andi and Noah in one, Brandon, Jake and their two children in a second, and Bill and Phylis in the third – will be able to survive the proceedings.” — Huggo (from IDMb)
When I reviewed “The Christmas House”, it didn’t fare too well. The script, while full of the typical cheesy and poor quality dialogue that Hallmark Christmas films are known for, was made worse because it pushed the entire gay sub-plot further into the background – even after Hallmark promised us a gay storyline. I equally called out the obvious breaks for commercials that, while understanding for a TV movie, made it difficult to watch as a film. Unfortunately, “The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls” was even worse!
I’ll quickly gloss over the script. As I noted, we all know exactly what quality writing Hallmark films are known for – they aren’t likely to win any awards and that’s unlikely to change. But the overall plot for this sequel is frankly uninteresting; mere fluff in order to pop out a sequel to appease audiences. Two brothers end up battling it out over house Christmas decorations for a live TV show, thrown amid multiple side plots that end up distracting what could have been a decent idea. However it’s the actual execution of the script and how it’s all edited together that made “The Christmas House 2” actually confusing to watch.
Right away, we are subjected to interviews that break the fourth wall and talk about last year’s disaster while alluding to this year’s debacle, as if the interviews are happing after the fact. Except we have no idea what they’re talking about for longer than it should take to reach the crux of the story. We eventually are clued in, but then these interviews keep happening which end up distracting us from the actual story unfolding. Sure, the brothers competing on a TV competition provides drama that gets everyone involved. Yet I think it was a cop out by the writers so that they can shoot the film quickly and not have to worry about camera and crewmen being seen. In fact, they go so far as to show cameras and support workers filming the TV show that if pulled me out of story even more; I felt like I was watching a behind-the-scenes featurette rather than an actual film!
Don’t worry – there are some areas that “The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls” actually did better that the first film. For starters, the overall balance of the storylines is improved. This film’s story is less about their parents, but focuses instead on the sibling rivalry between Mike and Brandon. The queer part of the story isn’t buried underneath the heterosexual plots! Sure, part of Mike’s share of the film deals with him proposing to Andi, however there’s a scene where Mike actually asks Jake, his brother-in-law, about how he and Brandon got engaged. Jake explains that he actually proposed on their anniversary. It was a heartfelt moment that also brought focus towards queer marriage as being normal. And surprisingly, this wasn’t the only queer-centric aspect of the story! Brandon and Jake make a major decision regarding their own family, as the craziness of the Christmas decorating competition creates some interrelationship drama itself.
Another script aspect I enjoyed were all of the tender moments. The one that stands out the most is the heartfelt talk that Mike and Brandon have after they’re quibbling gets them kicked out of their parent’s play. Admitting that they’ve been treating their folks and each other horribly because of the contest, they are forced to sit down and talk. I found it quite touching when Brandon opens up about how hard it was growing up, and that he doesn’t want his kids to feel the same way as they grow up. But it’s when Mike confesses that Brandon is the one he looks up to that surprised me the most. To see such a tender scene unfold in a Hallmark film – wow!
Another pleasant element I enjoyed was that the entire main cast from the first film reprised their roles for “The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls”, along with a couple of new additions. However while the first film had issues with poor character development, this sequel has actually done better! Although I have to wonder, is it better writing – or the fact that we had an entire first film to get to know everyone so now they’re family? While I honestly think it’s the latter, the familiarity with all of the Mitchells makes it easier to be drawn back into their story for this sequel, both the ups and the downs.
Overall, I did not enjoy “The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls” as much as the first film. I found the main plot for this sequel quite cheesy – even for a Hallmark film! However it was the horrible inclusion of the interviews that was most jarring and distracted me from the actual script, along with all of the camera men filming the TV show within a film. Thankfully some of the other elements were great and helped offset the cons. I truly loved that they included some tender family moments and discussions, especially as we got more queer representation in this film. So despite that I did not like “The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls” as much as the first, it still is a decent queer Christmas film to watch. So long as you can look past the wacky interviews!
Queer Relevance of “The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls”
Given that “The Christmas House” was certainly a queer Christmas film and since everyone returned for this sequel, there’s no question that “The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls” is also a queer film! Thankfully, the writers balanced the straight story of Mike & Andi with the gay story of Brandon & Jake. Additional, as I noted above in my review, they included a couple of heartfelt moments where queer-specific aspects were discussed including Brandon’s struggle growing up gay and worrying about the same for his own kids along with Mike & Jake’s discussion of marriage proposals. Remembering that this is a Hallmark film, a channel that fought for years against any LGBTQ character let alone a film, it’s quite refreshing to watch all of this unfold within a queer Christmas film under the Hallmark brand.