On the way to work this morning, the people on the talk show I listen to were lamenting the awfulness of “The Christmas Shoes” (the song, in this case). This always happens: The radio people take my side on an issue, but then they defend it with such dreadful reasoning that I panic that someone will think, “Huh, none of these arguments make any sense. Therefore, it must be an excellent song.” Because it’s not: the song blows. They just couldn’t articulate why it blows.
Case in point: A caller who, agreeing with the team, argued that she hates it “because every time I hear it, it makes me cry.”
INCORRECT. Only acceptable if you are crying tears of laughter.
They were onto it, a little bit, sometimes: They wrestled with “it was written to make you sad” as a reason it sucks. Yes, the word you are looking for is “cloying.” I might also venture “manipulative” and “cynical,” but I’m pretty grumpy sometimes.
(And even though their argument that “It’s not even a real story” misses the point entirely, bonus points to the contributing texter who offered them, “Why are you standing in line when your mother is dying? GO BE WITH HER.”)
But my complicated relationship with The Christmas Shoes actually centers on the movie. Which was based on the book. Which was based on the song. Which sucks.
The only reason I bothered watching at all was shadenfreude directed at Rob Lowe. Lowe had just quit The West Wing, reportedly over dissatisfaction with his screen time and general issues with writer Aaron Sorkin. (Years later, I’m not even sure how much of that is true, but it worked well for these purposes.) I was, of course, annoyed that he would deign to be so petty toward my beloved show, so when Lowe’s very next project turned out to be this Hallmark H.O.F. P.O.S., I was delighted.
This recap goes into it, really, better than I can. (And, amusingly, also references “the smugness” of Aaron Sorkin’s writing, so…what’re ya gonna do?) (Edited 12/22 to add: This Patton Oswalt routine is even better. Just listen; don’t watch the cartoon.)
The Christmas Shoes is a story scrubbed and bleached and stripped of all nuance and launched off of a cliff of maudlin extremes—whose mangled corpse is then paraded in front of you like the filmmakers found a unicorn. It’s a smug parable espousing things we already know: “It’s not about presents, people! Look! Christmas is about love!” Even an ounce of nuance would be redeeming, but no: Everything Rob Lowe does is obnoxious and heartless; everything the family does is good and pure. Because if they’re not perfect and martyrs, how will people be able to love them?
Anyone who didn’t have at least this much empathy at birth has already seen How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Stoppard’s The Real Thing, when the main character is describing a wannabe playwright who believes he’s made profound philosophical discoveries (which are actually instead widely known concepts): “…announcing every stale revelation of the newly enlightened, like stout Cortez coming upon the Pacific—war is profits, politicians are puppets, Parliament is a farce, justice is a fraud, property is theft…It’s all here: the Stock Exchange, the arms dealers, the press barons…you can’t fool Brodie—patriotism is propaganda, religion is a con trick, royalty is an anachronism…pages and pages of it. It’s like being run over very slowly by a traveling freak show of favourite simpletons.”
The Christmas Shoes feels like it was made by people who are publicly patting themselves on the back for their pure and generous spirit—as though having sympathy for a dying woman’s family at Christmastime is a triumph of humanitarianism. As though giving $20 to a kid is an act of sainthood. It’s a tee-ball homerun on a shortened field; it’s not the kind of thing that should get soaring, self-satisfied music and a background chorus of cherubic children. (Or, as I like to shout in that part of the song, “SING IT, CANCER KIDS!”)
I’m sorry. Not to stomp (…repeatedly) on what was probably, at some point, a well-intentioned story of love. And I’m sure it’s valuable for the kiddos developing a sense of grown-up consideration for other people. But for most of us, there’s really nowhere to go with this but sarcasm; this movie eats up every ounce of earnestness available.
Which, if you’re a drunk, sharp-tongued, bitter old lady like me, makes it pretty fun to watch.