So you wanna make a big fat C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S movie that will appeal to everybody and nobody? Say no more. Here are all the time-honored tropes in one convenient checklist:
(Opening credits over Johnny Mathis’s It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas)
1. Establishing house shot
Lavish but homey late Colonial, Victorian, or McMansion. Remember, there’s a big cast and crew, excuse me, I mean “family” crammed under that roof and ample shenanigan space is a must. New England setting is ideal (snow! Thomas Kinkade towns! liberal academic types!). Interior decor should look like a Nancy Meyers adaptation of Little Women with craft services by Harry & David. Make sure every window is illuminated at all times; energy conservation is for plebs.
2. Black sheep protagonist, female of still-castable age
She has missed multiple holiday gatherings and is generally on iffy terms with everyone. A cosmopolitan workaholic serving under an Anna Wintour prototype who calls nonstop and eventually brings about the celebratory cell-phone-chucked-in-the-snow act of liberation. Relatable quirks include perfectionism, trust issues, and eating ice cream out of the carton for dinner.
3. Phonecall exposition
Black Sheep hurry-striding through the airport while supplying necessary familial exposition via unspecified mobile recipient.
4. Black Sheep’s Family
-Matriarch, female over 40. Backbone of the family. Possesses an abundance of acceptable eccentricities and/or is discreetly expiring from some Hollywood lady sickness.
-Patriarch, male over 70. Reserved and unassuming, wears cardigans with elbow pads, occasionally peeks out from behind his ubiquitous book to drop some recap commentary.
-Eldest sibling, female of indeterminate middle age. Huffily defends her life choices. A mom.
-Fun sibling brother and designated audience favorite. Sexually ambiguous. Gets all the best lines.
5. Black Sheep’s estranged partner and romantic interest
A male between 25-50, whom the matriarch inexplicably invites and who inexplicably accepts because the Christmas spirit is in your pants y’all. He shall descend the staircase to Wham!’s Last Christmas. As chill and charming as the Black Sheep is neurotic and maladjusted; an overall decent guy except for that one thing he did to piss her off that time. (Keep in mind we need to comfortably root for this couple, so don’t throw anything too heavy at them. Make him a secret agent or something and she just couldn’t handle another missed date even though the last time was actually him shopping for an engagement ring after accomplishing a death-defying-life-affirming mission in Paris and oh man am I an anthropologist of basic™ culture or what?)
6. Additional cast/ family:
-Non-PC aunts and uncles werking those tacky Christmas sweaters. Think of them as a modern day Greek chorus.
-Little kids, maybe belonging to the eldest sibling, maybe not, it’s all about tiny tots with their eyes all aglow. Just make sure one has Coke bottle glasses, cuz that shit’s adorable AF.
-Token POC. Black Sheep’s friend? Eldest sibling’s partner, if this is a progressive film? Can’t be the leading man because Hollywood doth not tamper with the formula. Just make sure they’re not white and remain absolutely innocuous at all times.
-Jack Russell terrier in reindeer antlers.
-Big ol’ eggnog bowl that presides over the foyer and never seems to go back in the fridge, but booze kills dairy bacteria, right?
8. Department store shopping scene
Preferably Macy’s in Herald Square, geographic approximation be damned. Apropos soundtrack tunes: Jingle Bell Rock, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, or Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Santa Baby’s way too obvious. Actually no, use that.
9. Climactic fallout from a misunderstanding
It could have been cleared up with a few words but nah, gotta use that Nutcracker Russian Dance song, so let the chaos commence. To be featured in no particular order: frantic running around (see? told you that house would come in handy), overturned tables, a toppled Christmas tree, the Jack Russell lapping up spilled eggnog, a screeching car taking down the front yard snowman. This is movie trailer material, so go big or go home.
Black Sheep speeds to the airport to catch her man before his plane takes off (it is a truth universally acknowledged that Christmas and airports go together like NPR and Volvos). Pile as many family members as possible into the car to cheer her on and hinder driver/passenger safety. Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas or nothing, bitches.
Homeless man who looks like an emaciated Santa to impart some wisdom on what the holidays are truly about. He won’t be invited back to the palatial family compound for a meal or shower or bed for the night, but his philanthropy will be the toast of Christmases yet to come.
(End credits over Christmas cover by pop star in the throes of existential ambivalence.)
Emily Linstrom is an American writer and artist residing in Italy. Her work has been featured in a number of publications including Three Rooms Press, Nailed Magazine, A Women’s Thing, The Wisdom Daily, CLASH Media, and Carve Magazine. She was the first prize recipient of Pulp Literature Press‘s 2015 The Raven short story contest, and is a regular contributor for Sabat Magazine. You can view her work at: www.emilylinstrom.com and follow her adventures on Instagram at betterlatethan_em