Estranged from her family, Kristin (Shiri Appleby) has stubbornly spent the past 17 years avoiding Christmas back home by spending it with her best friend Jamie (Will Kemp). After her company’s holiday party and an argument with Jamie,
she passes out on her couch Christmas Eve in the present and wakes up Christmas morning 1996, forced to relive the horrible holiday that divided her from her family. She decides to do whatever it takes to fix all the problems of that day in hopes of transforming her future.
A magic bottle of champagne may be a hard one to swallow but Appleby has a knack making something preposterous on paper so very appealing on screen. It’s not her first time; she broke out on the old WB series Roswell as a girl who falls in love with an alien. Not only is Appleby a delight but they managed to find a gem of an actress to play her younger self. I’m only familiar with Hannah Marks’ work on the recently cancelled USA series Necessary Roughness as the bratty daughter who grows into a character with a lot more depth. She deftly plays the teenage version of Kristin or rather Krys, going from one extreme to the next, just as many girls of that age seem to act.
Playing the “evil” mother is Elizabeth Mitchell. The older version of Kristin tries desperately to bond and fix the problems between the two before they start. She gets a better understanding of her mother having her best interests at heart while also being afraid of letting her go off to college. Mitchell’s Barbara may have a little ice queen in her but it’s a brave façade put on because she’s at a crossroad in life. Not only does her daughter want to leave home and go to college on the other side of the country but her sister Debby (A.J. Langer) may be celebrating her last Christmas due to cancer. Langer infuses a bit of her My So-Called Life spunk into Debby and it was a delightful surprise to see her.
Knowing that this Christmas is a turning point for her entire life, Kristin does what she can to repair the damage Krys causes before it can be done while also bonding with her family as an adult. Watching her mother, she gets a better understanding of her mom and why she seemed like a bit of a hard-ass when Kristin was younger.
‘80s icon Judd Nelson plays the dad but has very little to do. Besides one nice monologue that pushes forward the plot, he really just sits in a chair, reading a newspaper, and agreeing with Mitchell’s Barbara. If you are looking for the much-touted Disney starlet Debby Ryan, she has one brief appearance. Nothing too notable to comment on except for the fact that it was unnecessary to taut her being key cast member.
What’s a little hard to wrap your head around is that part of Barbara’s issue with Krys is that she wants to move across country to follow her boyfriend yet doesn’t seem to think it’s a horrible idea for Jamie (Michael-James Olsen as the younger version) to do the same by following Krys. Everyone except clueless Krys knows Jamie has harbored feelings for her and as Kristin, she gets a better understanding of her best friend through her family.
There are some great timely callbacks like dial-up AOL and Krys’ wardrobe but it doesn’t come off as something that will be dated a couple years down the road. The film can be viewed and enjoyed now and in five or ten years from now.
If you are someone that nit-picks time-space continuum rifts, you won’t get any satisfaction here as the issue is completely ignored since it may have been all a dream rather than an actual time-jump.
Kristin’s Christmas Past is a delightful film for the whole family to watch. Put Kristin’s Christmas Past into your future viewing plans.
Cast: Shiri Appleby, Hannah Marks, Elizabeth Mitchell, Judd Nelson, A.J. Langer, Will Kemp, Michael-James Olsen, Debby Ryan
Bottom-line: Check it out.