Not that we’re ever starved of Christmas content come mid-November, but this year the sleigh seems stacked higher than ever before. Emma Thompson is trying (and failing) to capture the spirit of Love Actually on the big screen with Last Christmas, the Lifetime channel has gone all out and decided to show its festive films 24/7 up until the 25th (including 28 new ones), the Hallmark channel is premiering a mammoth 40 new titles and, most noticeably for a wider audience, Netflix has increased its seasonal output with six new movies and four shows. Given how rare it is to find a Christmas film that doesn’t make you want to fast-forward to January, this might seem a little excessive, a tree surrounded by presents you don’t really want to open.
But as the glossy yet gormless Last Christmas crash-lands into cinemas, there’s a smaller yet far more entertaining alternative quietly arriving on Netflix, a film as festive as it is familiar – and also surprisingly hard to resist. Based on a book featuring three stories, written by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle, Let It Snow is a prime example of what happens when the Netflix algorithm machine spews out something that actually feels like a real movie. It ticks all the right buzzword boxes for the platform (YA, Christmas, romcom, cast filled with recognisable faces) but does so with such ebullience that you’ll fail to notice, or at least care about, the many strings being pulled throughout.
It’s an ensemble tale set on Christmas Eve in a small, snowy town filled with plenty of “Isn’t that the one from?” actors, all of whom are on hugely charming form. There’s Tobin (Mitchell Hope from Disney’s popular Descendants franchise) who is in love with his best friend Duke (Kiernan Shipka, of Mad Men and then Sabrina fame). There’s Keon (Jacob Batalon, Peter Parker’s BFF in the newest Spider-Man iteration), who is trying to organise a last-minute festive party. There’s Julie (Isabela Merced from Instant Family and Dora and the Lost City of Gold), who is struggling with a major decision as she bumps into famous singer Stuart (Shameik Moore of Dope and The Get-Down, who also voiced Miles Morales in Spider-verse), trying to shake off his bitchy publicist Kira (The Good Place’s D’Arcy Carden). Then there’s Dorrie (Liv Hewson from Santa Clarita Diet), who is trying to deal with a difficult crush while also fighting with her best friend Addie (Odeya Rush from Lady Bird and Dumplin’). Oh, and Joan Cusack is in it.
There’s no plot development or line of dialogue in Let It Snow that will come as a great surprise to anyone, but the script, from British comic Laura Solon, Finding Dory writer Victoria Strouse and 30 Rock alumna Kay Cannon, peppers the predictability with wit and warmth, doing the bare minimum but doing it rather well. The plotlines are well-balanced and our investment is evenly distributed thanks also to an exceptional cast of young actors. There’s chemistry between the various couples (Merced and Moore prove particularly charismatic) and the segues into more serious, sentimental territory are mostly smooth – although I’d argue there are a few too many scenes where one character storms away from another, the power of these dramatic exits diminishing by the end. There’s also a nicely handled queer subplot which feels refreshingly casual and lacking in cliche, a promising sign of a post-Love, Simon teen movie landscape that allows gay kids the same soaring highs and crushing lows of high-school romance.
British TV director Luke Snellin has figured out how to evoke just the right amount of festive spirit while avoiding overkill and also wisely picks a soundtrack that isn’t wall-to-wall Christmas, with some unusual and effective songs scattered throughout. He also knows how to frame a scene, which might sound like faint praise, but given some of the poorly directed Netflix originals of late, it makes a striking difference.
At a brief 93 minutes, Let It Snow comes and goes before you know it, and there’s every chance the memory of watching it will have melted by the time Christmas comes around. But with great surprise, it mustered up more festive cheer from me than I expected, and for those eager to get in the mood, it’ll probably do the same.