Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 20, 2019)
With 2019’s A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish, we get a Yuletide update on the classic fairy tale. Here we meet Kat Decker (Laura Marano), a young woman who dreams of fame as a singer-songwriter.
Alas, reality makes these goals difficult to achieve. Kat finds herself stuck in a gig as a singing elf at a “Santa Land” operated by wealthy business tycoon Terence Wintergarden (Barclay Hope).
One perk emerges, as Kat finds herself smitten with sexy Santa Nick Wintergarden (Gregg Sulkin), Terence’s son. She hopes to really connect with Nick at Terence’s upcoming gala.
However, Kat’s vindictive stepmother Deirdre (Johannah Newmarch) and pushy stepsisters Grace (Chanelle Peloso) and Joy (Lillian Doucet-Roche) seek to put the kibosh on our hero’s dreams. It’ll take some serious holiday magic to overcome the odds.
Let’s make it clear: Wish exists as light fare for tween girls, not middle-aged men like me. But let’s make this clear as well: neither the 1950 animated Disney flick or that studio’s 2015 live-action update aimed for middle-aged men either, and I liked those.
As such, I don’t think that my age and/or gender should ensure that I find no charm in Wish. Sure, it becomes less likely I’ll embrace the film due my distance from its target audience, but a well-made movie is a well-made movie, whatever its intended demographic.
Wish isn’t a well-made movie.
Oh, the movie enjoys occasional moments of mirth, mainly via the over the top comedic performances by Newmarch, Peloso and Doucet-Roche. Though we’ve seen these roles done a billion times, these actors bring a 21st century twist and contribute the film’s sporadic spots of entertainment value.
As our lead, Marano looks gorgeous, but she fails to bring much personality to the part, and the same goes for Sulkin as our Generic Hot Guy. It also seems odd and creepy that the film decides to make Kat underaged.
As far as I can tell, Wish gives us a jailbait Kat solely to keep her under the thumb of her stepmother. As explained here, Kat should inherit her dead dad’s fortune, but she doesn’t get the money until she turns 18, so she remains beholden to Deirdre until then.
This seems like a tenuous link at best. With only four months until she hits 18, I can’t imagine Kat couldn’t find a way to gain independence from all her stepmom’s degradations for such a short period of time.
And why isn’t Kat in high school? Granted, people do graduate early, but this nonetheless seems like a weird choice, especially because the story consistently treats Kat as an older person.
Nothing about Kat’s depiction allows her to feel 17. I get the feeling the original script made her a few years older but then someone threw in the expository note to explain why her stepmom still controls her.
Abundant other stretches of logic appear as well. Why does wealthy Nick need to act as a Santa? We’re told it’s a “family tradition”, but like Kat’s underage status, that reeks of cheap exposition.
This seems especially odd because the film treats “Santa Land” as a Big Deal. There’s no way a company’s major holiday attraction would bring in such an unconvincing Santa – they’d want Miracle on 34th Street-level staff!
Why do we get musical performances at Santa Land? Who thinks sexy elves make a lot of sense?
And on and on. Even by the low standards of bargain-basement tween entertainment, Wish suffers from a lazy script that barely bothers logic and natural development.
When Wish finds a way to keep the leads apart, it picks one of the dumbest twists ever committed to film, an “obstacle” so lame that my eyes might have permanently rolled. Everything here smacks of insane laziness.
Also, for a holiday effort, Wish comes with a surprising amount of racy dialogue. No, we don’t get substantial profanity, but these lines seem inappropriate for fare of this sort.
Would it have killed the producers to offer some vocals that sounded at least vaguely natural? We get a couple of tunes sung in fairly natural voices, but usually the movie uses enough Autotune to gag a cat, and this becomes a real distraction.
Admittedly, you can find worse holiday entertainment of this sort, but that remains a low bar. Wish feels like product intended to exploit a market and nothing more.