The Christmas Setup

The Christmas Setup (2020)

“Sometimes it’s good to see yourself through someone else’s eyes.” – Patrick

This holiday rom-com from Lifetime Movies exceeded my expectations for a holiday film. Having seen a few of these recently, I would say The Christmas Setup has been one of the better ones I’ve watched.

Hugo is a lawyer living in New York City who goes home to Milwaukee for the holidays. Holiday movie formula #1. Everyone who lives in a big city and is successful must go home for Christmas. While there he meets Patrick who he remembers having a crush on in high school.

Of course the meeting isn’t just plain chance – Hugo’s mom, Kate, might have something to do with it. But the two have an instant connection that is built upon as the story continues. The two characters seem to have a genuine chemistry, and the sparks that fly are believable. (This made more sense when I researched the film and discovered that the two actors are married in real life.) Each time they get together, they seem to grow more excited to see each other.

One of the noticeable things that happens to Hugo when Patrick is around is that he seems to grow as a character. He describes himself in his New York life as uptight, neurotic, and overworked. While he’s with Patrick in Milwaukee he is not those things. Patrick even gets him to sing Christmas carols when usually just mouths the words. Considering those things and how he feels about Patrick makes him wonder whether or not it could be home again.

I like that the plot of this film doesn’t involve the main characters being oblivious or overly melodramatic. In many of these rom-coms, it feels like the protagonists are idiots and can’t see what’s going on. If they were smart, I guess there might not be a story? But here, Hugo and Patrick know what is going on between them, and they also know the issues they are facing.

For instance, Patrick knows that Hugo might go back to New York, but wants to enjoy the time they have together. However, when he realizes Hugo might go farther away it makes him question just how long-distance they could go. And when Hugo makes it clear that he’s not yet all in exploring the new relationship, Patrick makes an adult decision about what direction he should go. Refreshing.

There are the typical holiday film themes here like follow your heart and take the leap. But I like that it makes you think about how other people can see things in you that you don’t see yourself. And sometimes those aspects of your personality can be enhanced or grown with the right people around you.

Granted, that’s not overly deep, but that’s not what these films are about. They’re meant to make you feel a certain way. I found it amusing on the Amazon page for this movie, it says, “Charming, Cheerful, Feel-good.” But in this film it’s also true. It makes you feel good without making you feel the pain of the holiday rom-com formula.

Patrick asks Hugo at one point, “Do you think we’re being set up?” It’s almost metacognizant of the film. Of course it’s cheesy and surface level, but when you’ve had some wine on Christmas, it’s one you will feel good after watching.

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