The Christmas season, for those that celebrate, has officially begun and with it comes the annual presentation and viewing of Christmas movies and specials. Of course, with so many being produced and made, there are always some productions that happen to fall through the cracks during the years. Most are good for not much else but background viewing while doing random errands, but a few are worth a rewatch or even first time viewing that will become part of an annual rotation. Truth be told, I am not fully sure where My Dad’s Christmas Date falls in that spectrum, but I am leaning far more toward the latter than the former. And I really was not expecting it to be when randomly coming across it on Netflix. As always SPOILERS below.
My Dad’s Christmas Date stars Olivia-Mai Barrett as Jules, a British teenager who decides to secretly set up her widowed father David, played by Jeremy Piven, on a series of dates in time for Christmas. It goes about as well as you would imagine. Like most new Christmas movies, this one does not have the traditional Christmas classic elements and takes its position as a holiday movie mostly from the narrative taking place during Christmas. So, the holiday is more window dressing than direct impact, but manages to blend those details with the scenery, music, and setting.
Instead of a whirlwind romance, as would be expected from the title, the movie actually focuses on the relationship between daughter and father. Both Jules and David are still mourning the sudden passing of Claire, the deceased mother and wife. Neither have allowed themselves to come to terms with what Claire’s passing means for them and the impact the loss has actually had. David, unsurprisingly, has thrown himself fully into his law firm working to both support his daughter and distract himself from the void of his wife. Jules, as well, has mostly avoided her feelings by dating a boy from school, failing her coursework, and meddling in her father’s life. As expected, these coping mechanisms have not proven fruitful and have caused a riff in their relationship.
The narrative focus on the daughter and father dynamic is what separates this particular film from the vast array of available Christmas movies. Had it been just another romantic comedy or drama in which David goes on a series of horrible dates to simply find love in a long term friend or something similar, I would have most likely forgotten about this movie an hour after it ended. And the movie does have the setup for such a conclusion twice over, but instead chooses to use those characters and plot points as character development for David in place of an easy third act conclusion. Ultimately, the story finds its resolution in the reconciliation between father and daughter after David realizes that the pain and loss he is feeling is shared by his daughter and that her acting out was a direct result of her inability to deal with her mother’s passing.
While that is an obvious consideration, both Piven and Barrett sell their performances and dynamics. Genuinely, she was a natural talent. Normally, I find teenage characters annoying, even more so when they are snarky, sarcastic, world weary types, but Barrett does a good job of walking the fine line between playing such a character but keeping her sympathetic and audiences engaged with her character. Also, Jeremy Piven can act. Perhaps, I still had a certain perspective of his talent based on his more notable roles, but just like Barrett, Piven manages to make David a fully realized character. We understand his choices and actions even when they irritate and anger because Piven makes all the right decisions of when to take center stage and allow his cast to take precedence.
This movie ended up being a surprise feel good film. It was heartwarming without being saccharine. Melancholy without being depressing. And just hits all the right emotional and narrative spots while still feeling grounded in its world and characters. And that is due to the talent and chemistry of the leading duo. If you have time, highly recommend watching this one at any time but especially for the Christmas season.