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[“The Christmas Setup” is the third film of my “5 Queer Christmas Films for 2021” post. To read the next review, “City of Trees”, click HERE. To read the previous review, “Too Cool for Christmas“, click HERE.]

Of all the Queer Christmas films, I truly think “The Christmas Setup” has become my favourite! There’s something magical about how Hugo’s mother plays matchmaker bringing Hugo together with his high school crush – who happens to like Hugo right back. It’s nearly a perfect match, until Hugo has to decide between Patrick or a promotion to London. Naturally, everything works out in the end – for everyone. Throw in all the Christmas spirit. cheer, all the stunning decorations, and a hidden queer romance connected to the train station’s history – it’s simply perfect! But what truly makes the film wonderful is that Hugo and Patrick are played by real-life couple, Ben & Blake. They are still acting, but it’s that extra oomph that makes it special.

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Synopsis of “The Christmas Setup”

Detailed synopsis… to be written…

As they enjoy the local holidays together, Hugo and Patrick’s attraction to each other is undeniable but as Hugo receives word of a big promotion requiring a move to London, he must decide what is most important to him.

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The Not-So-Good

Given that I have rated “The Christmas Setup” with a full 5.0 / 5.0 stars, there couldn’t be anything wrong with this queer Christmas film, right? Well… that’s not entirely true. There are two facets that I must concede to what many have called out the film for.

The first is being TOO safe. Yes, this film is Lifetime’s first film to feature a same-sex, gay couple at the centre in their Christmas Holiday lineup. That alone is quite an achievement (and one they did much better than Hallmark’s poor attempt at the same with “The Christmas House”…). But if you take that part away, we are left with a very G-rated gay romance. The most affection between Hugo and Patrick are two kisses – that’s it. Now, I’m not saying that we need to have shirtless guys, nudity, or even sex scenes, but it feels like Lifetime knew they were pushing boundaries and intentionally played it safe with “The Christmas Setup”.

The other reason folks are having an issue with this queer Christmas film is that, other than featuring two guys at the heart of the Christmas romance, fits every other Christmas & holiday cliche. The successful man/woman comes back from the big city, falls in love with someone from their past, has to decide between love and work… yup. It checks all the typical boxes. But you know what? Frankly, I don’t care! I actually feel that this was a smart move on Lifetime. Again, they knew they were pushing boundaries and risked potential alienation of their usual fan base by even including a gay film. By keeping to the usual tropes and just switching in gay characters instead of straight ones, it was a way to bring more folks on board because they already knew the format. Yet some aren’t a fan. Their loss, I say!

The Good

Normally when I start with, where do I begin… it’s not a good thing. However, with “The Christmas Setup” I really do not know where to begin – because I love it all! As noted above, some feel that the typical Christmas plot tropes are done to death. But you know what I think? If it works, why change it! And sometimes we need the fluffy, feel-good romance films. Not every film has to be groundbreaking and fresh with new plots. Yet, even though “The Christmas Setup” uses many of the familiar storylines, writer Michael J. Murray brings in a sub-plot twist that adds something extra special. Yes, the town is on the verge of losing its history train station where they have held the annual Christmas festivities started by Mr Carroll the century prior. But this plot adds a bit of mystery and an extra dash of queerness when it’s discovered by Hugo that Mr Carroll himself may have been gay! While we don’t get the full saving grace wrap up by the end, he’s learned enough to try and save the train station – and perhaps give us room for a sequel. Hint hint producers!

However it’s the romance between our two leads that take centre stage in this cute romance. Ben Lewis portrays Hugo while Blake Lee portrays Patrick. Yet it’s actually what happens offscreen that truly makes their on screen romance extra-special – they’re married to each other! In fact, Ben stated in an interview that one of the trickiest things about making this film was having to go back and pretend to fall in love with him all over again. Many could portray a similar convincing relationship onscreen with a stranger, however it’s the small little gestures and eye glances between these two that really add something special to their on-screen romance. Even during the scene when Patrick calls it off with Hugo has extra depth.

But let’s not forget the rest of the incredible cast. Fran Drescher plays Hugo and Aiden’s over-the-top mother perfectly. While I have never been a huge fan of Fran’s voice, she adds something fun as the conniving mother working to get both of her kids hooked up and hopefully married. Speaking of Hugo’s brother, Aiden, the little surprise romance budding between him and Hugo’s BFF Madelyn is just an added bonus to wrap up the cheer and joy jam-packed into this queer Christmas romance. The balance between everyone in the film works well, even the small heart to heart talk that Aiden and Hugo share about their dad growing up.

And last but not least, “The Christmas Setup” is visually stunning! Every scene is full of colourful decorations that simply pop. The pace is quick moving but you never feel lost or boggled down. And let’s not overlook the fabulous drag Christmas cabaret they all hang out at – which includes Hugo singing a beautiful yet sad version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. When it’s all added together, it’s simply wonderful!

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Have I sold you on “The Christmas Setup” yet? I certainly hope so, because this gem of a queer Christmas film is certainly worth watching. Not only is it a cute rom-com, but it stars a fabulous cast that really help bring the story to life. It’s the perfect film to cuddle up and watch with your own special loved one. Or if you’re single, like myself, then “The Christmas Setup” is great film to watch on your own too. It’ll have you asking Santa for someone just as special as Hugo or Patrick.

Queer Relevance of “The Christmas Setup”

Both Hugo and Patrick are gay, and the film centres around the two of them falling in love. You really cannot get any more queer than that! But oh, we can! As mentioned above, Ben Lewis and Blake Lee are married in real life. And if that isn’t enough, the actor who plays Aiden, Chad Connell, is also gay himself! Throw in that “The Christmas Setup” is Lifetime’s first queer holiday film, it’s most certainly a queer film!