Years after falling off something of a metaphorical cliff, Lindsay Lohan is back in bright form in the better-than-average Christmas B-movie Falling for Christmas (Netflix, November 10). The film, from director Jane Campion (I’m kidding, it’s directed by the capable Janeen Damian), concerns a wealthy hotel heiress, Sierra, who takes a nasty tumble while backcountry skiing, bonks her head on a tree (in real life she would very much be dead), and wakes up with amnesia. When a kindly, struggling lodge owner, Jake (Daniel Day-Lewis—no, I’m joking, it’s Chord Overstreet) takes her in, Sierra, now called Sarah, learns the true meaning of love, family, career, and, of course, Christmas.
So it’s a story of reinvention for an actor trying to do the same. It mostly works a treat. Lohan’s performance is perky and agreeable, a shimmer of that old Mean Girls (or, hell, Parent Trap) charm dancing around her for the first time in a while. I’d happily watch her in more after this—though preferably in something a bit meatier than a Hallmark knock-off.
Were Falling for Christmas really committed to telling a fun story, pre-amnesia Sierra would be a total nightmare, mean and spoiled and abusive to staff. But in this version of things, she is instead just a little entitled and shallow. She dreams of becoming an influencer, rather than taking a role at her dad’s resort hotel conglomerate, which I guess is her major character conflict. (Other than the amnesia, of course.) It’s really her social climbing boyfriend, Tad (Ian McKellen—sorry, I’ll stop, it’s George Young) who’s the jerk. But even he’s not that bad, and he gets his own little arc that leads him somewhere interesting.
To the film’s credit, it only mimics the more amiable aspects of schlocky Christmas fare. Jake is the softly rugged archetype, he’s got a precocious daughter (Olivia Perez), a devoted old mother-in-law (Alejandra Flores), and a sad backstory involving a dead wife. That’s all acceptably standard-issue. As is the Christmas-obsessed town where these two resorts—Sierra’s family’s tony one, Jake’s homey but failing one—lay their scene. There’s the requisite cheer in the air, and an old potentially mystical man who looks a lot like the guy upstairs. (Meaning Santa, not God, but really, what’s the difference?)
What Falling for Christmas doesn’t ape are its genre’s gnarlier, more conservative trappings. So many of these movies are about brittle urban career women who get a lesson in small-town family values as a way to shake them out of the selfishness of their ambition. That’s a bad trope, and one that seems driven by a real political animus in this country. Falling for Christmas mostly inverts that—it’s about, in some ways, Sierra turning toward a career. Sure, she’s humbled by domestic labor, but all of her life changes get a lighter sell than some of the anti-coastal dreck you find teeming on basic cable during the holiday season. (Whatever you do, never watch Food Network’s Candy Coated Christmas—sorry, Ree Drummond.)
So, Lohan could have done a lot worse. Falling for Christmas even seems to have had something of a budget. There’s little sense that this is just some Vancouver suburb they’ve thrown fake snow all over, and the sight of Chord Overstreet madly driving a sleigh toward his beloved only looks like bad green screen, rather than awful green screen. Damian makes ample use of drones, which is something we all have to accept as part of the filmmaking craft at this point, and in so doing conjures up the cozy and yet awed feeling of being in a mountain town in the winter.
The film’s major flaw is a matter of plot. Early in the film, Sierra and Jake have a meet-messy when he bumps into her in the hotel lobby and spills his hot cocoa with whipped cream all over her designer jumpsuit. But when he finds her crumpled body in the snow and later talks to her in the hospital, he doesn’t remember her. Which doesn’t really make sense. Surely he’d recognize the woman he gooped all over just a few hours earlier. Maybe he has some kind of memory loss himself.
Oh well. That major narrative hole aside, Falling for Christmas is as dumbly winning as it’s trying to be. In a more profound sense, it is heartening to see Lohan looking and acting well. It’s been a bumpy road for her for the better part of two decades, and this little movie gives one the (perhaps naive, perhaps condescending, perhaps overly invested) hope that she is well and fully on the path to better. Watching the film, I remembered that Lohan once worked with the likes of Robert Altman and Paul Schrader, holding in her hands the potential for an interesting and varied career. Falling for Christmas finds her still near the bottom of a tall career mountain, but the chairlift may be on its way.