By Dana Schwartz
December 20, 2017 at 02:40 PM EST
Everett Collection

Cheesy Christmas movies are best when everyone involved is on the same page. Ideally, the tone is unrepentantly cheesy. If everyone has complete faith that the cheesiness will work, it will. It’s as simple as that.

But doubt can be a pernicious enemy. If anyone involved in the production sets their ambitions higher than “fun nonsense,” even just for a moment, the entire delicate operation no longer functions. Concern about making the movie “good” negates any chance it has. Every cheesy Christmas movie is Orpheus walking out of the underworld without looking back at Eurydice. It requires a complete conviction.

It’s a paradox also explicated by the SNL song, “The Christmas Candle,” about everyone’s favorite gift to re-gift. “But here’s a warning,” Aidy Bryant belts in the bridge, “When you give the candle that is all that you need / Don’t pair it with a lotion or some lame little cream / A lot of people think two gifts are better than one / but that just makes each gift seem smaller and dumb.” Any attempt at “good” elements in a cheesy Christmas movie just provide context to make the entire thing look lame.

That is the biggest problem with Christmas Inheritance, the latest made-for-Netflix holiday offering. Unlike A Christmas Prince, my favorite movie of 2017, it seems to have a self-satisfied earnestness that makes you want to sit it down and go, “Hey Christmas Inheritance. What exactly do you think you’re doing here?”

Christmas Inheritance tells the story of Ellen Langford (Eliza Taylor), a New York party girl and heiress to a gift company fortune (?) who wants to take over as CEO. But first her dad needs to make sure she’s responsible, so he sends her to his hometown of Snow Falls with only $100 and a box of Christmas letters to deliver to his partner. Ellen also isn’t allowed to tell anyone who she is so people don’t treat her differently. And so Ellen kisses her jerky fiancé goodbye and takes the bus up to a nondescript tiny town where she pretends to be a baker and learns about what Fox News might call “Real America” while falling in love with the cute manager at the local inn.

I had some questions about Christmas Inheritance, like:

Why is someone saying “mazel tov” at a Christmas party?

The movie opens at a fancy party Ellen is throwing, and while everyone is clinking glasses and going, “Cheers!” one person audibly says, “Mazel tov!”

Who is saying that and why? That’s not what Jewish people say when we say cheers. Haven’t you seen Fiddler on the Roof? It’s L’Chaim. To life. And it’s not like “mazel tov” is how you say “Happy Hannukkah” either. It means congratulations and there is no reason I can think of that a Jewish person would be saying it without context while clinking glasses at a holiday party.

What is a “gifts company”?

Is it like Spencer’s Gifts? Do they have physical stores? What do they sell that has made them a multi-million dollar company? We never figure that out.

How is the $100 budget a good challenge?

Part of Ellen’s dad’s assignment is that Ellen has to go up to Snow Falls and deliver the letters to Zeke with only $100. But her father paid for her roundtrip bus ticket, and Zeke owns the inn where Ellen would be staying, so ostensibly she wouldn’t need to pay for that. And Ellen makes clear she was only planning an overnight trip. So that’s maybe lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next morning she would need to pay for, and that’s assuming that her close family friend Zeke wouldn’t take her out to dinner when she arrives in town and that he wouldn’t give her free breakfast at the inn he owns. So even if she had to pay for every single meal herself, that’s still $33 each. How is that supposed to be a challenge? That is a generous budget.

Even so, it’s insane that her father doesn’t let her bring along a credit card for emergencies. She is traveling alone by bus to an unfamiliar town where no one is reachable by cell phone because reception is so bad and apparently Wi-Fi doesn’t exist. She absolutely should have a credit card with her, even if by the rules of the challenge she isn’t “allowed” to use it.

How much does the inn cost per night?

As misfortune would have it, when Ellen gets to the inn, Zeke isn’t there, and so she needs to pay for her own room. But alas, after paying for one night, and for dinner, she finds she doesn’t have enough cash left to pay for the second night, which means we get some shenanigans where she tries to be a maid. But… how did Ellen even afford a single night at the inn?

According to Heavy, Christmas Inheritance was filmed in North Bay Ontario and Niagara-on-the-Lake, with The Grand Victorian bed and breakfast as the “inn” Ellen stays at. A single room at the Grand Victorian costs $187. And even though the fictional inn isn’t the same hotel, it’s incredibly improbable that a room would cost less than $100, which we know it does, because Ellen gets change when she pays for her room, and then buys dinner that night.

And Jake (Jake Lacy), the manager, makes a big, smirking, deal about how she paid with a $100 bill, and how he needed to go to the safe for change. What? In what universe does a hotel with multiple guests think $100 is an outrageous and comical amount of money? This is a beautiful inn. Ellen’s bedroom has a separate sitting room with a couch. Breakfast includes clotted cream. That is specifically mentioned. The movie makes it very clear that this isn’t just a cheap motel, and so it seems incredibly strange that it would be in Ellen’s budget, even for one night.

Why did Ellen need three suitcases for an overnight trip?

I know, I know, movie shorthand is that rich girls love clothes and don’t know how to dress or pack appropriately. But she is taking a bus to an inn overnight to deliver some letters, and then coming back. Why would she ever need three suitcases? And everything we’ve learned about Ellen thus far is that her spoiled “Party Heiress” reputation is ill-deserved. We see that her party shenanigans were just a fun way to raise lots of money for charity, and when she gets to her dad’s office, she’s committed and work oriented, brainstorming new stationary and taglines. The movie can’t seem to decide whether Ellen is a spoiled princess or misunderstood and already likable, with no need to go through any major character development. She never complains about her dad’s mission or its limited budget; she seems excited to prove herself. The movie never gives us any reason to believe she’s not down-to-earth and smart. Her three suitcases just make no sense.

Same goes for the gag about how she “doesn’t know how to dress for the weather.” Jake, the innkeeper who is supposed to be hunky but just comes across as judgmental, makes numerous jabs about her Ellen doesn’t know how to dress for the cold, even though a) she’s from New York, so of course she would know how to dress for the cold and b) she’s dressed completely fine. The first time they comment on it, she’s in her pajamas, a slip and a robe, which is more than adequate to sleep in, because indoor rooms are heated, and the next time both he and Andie MacDowell’s character, Debbie, comment on it, and she’s in a wool peacoat and scarf! Why do they not think a jacket and scarf are appropriate? What is with this ill-conceived and inconsistent attempt to turn her into a different sort of stereotype?

Like, this is presumably a college graduate. She’s organized a major fundraising benefit and she’s about to become the CEO of a massive multi-million dollar corporation. How does she not know that that there is no button to get an attendant to bring you wine while you’re on the bus? Rich is not necessarily the same thing as “very dumb.”

In many ways, it feels like this movie is a celebration of the right-leaning narrative that “coastal elites” are out of touch with “real America.” Ellen, an embodiment of that idea, is supposed to learn how to be human from the citizens of Snow Falls, as though they’ll convey their goodness and folksy wisdom via osmosis. (Of note here: Most people who live in New York City are not multimillionaires. Except in this film, where — according to Jake — all New Yorkers are just like Ellen.)

Why is Ellen clumsy?

By some ancient and unbreakable law, all cheesy Christmas movie heroines need to be clumsy. In the course of this movie, Ellen knocks over a Christmas tree, breaks a vase, and causes a vacuum to explode. But again, all of that is completely inconsistent with the rest of her character. We’re told Ellen is a snobby New York sophisticate and a lifelong gymnast. How does “clumsy” factor in?

Ellen’s dad is having an affair with his beautiful, age-appropriate secretary, Alice, right?

I mean, look at all of those familiar knowing glances. His wife has been dead for 10 years, the man is entitled allowed to find love again. I am certain an earlier, expanded version of the script had him arriving with her to the Santa Dinner in Snow Falls, hand in hand.

Why does a girl tripping into a Christmas tree merit a cover story and two-page newspaper spread?

Is there really nothing else important going on in New York City, or is the heiress of a “gift company” that famous? The latter doesn’t make sense because no one on the bus or in Snow Falls recognizes her (even though in Snow Falls, her family’s gift company is their pride and joy and it seems incredibly strange that no one would know what she looks like).

So imagine how wonderful the world must be if the cover story of the New York Post was “Random Upper East Side Girl Trips at Party.”

Why isn’t Ellen spending Christmas with her family?

Ellen and her business-y fiancé (who we know is bad because we meet him while he’s texting on his cellphone, and also he drinks a martini not brown liquor like a real man) have plans to spend Christmas in Maui. But by everything we’ve seen, Ellen is incredibly close with her single father — her mother died, and she’s an only child. Her dad seems to be crazy about Christmas and family traditions; it’s the hallmark of their entire company. Why wouldn’t she spend Christmas with him? Or with terrible fiancé’s family?

Why does no one care that Ellen is engaged?

That guy is Ellen’s fiancé. Which means they dated for a not inconsiderable amount of time, he asked her to marry him, and she said yes. For a movie that’s supposed to be all about tradition and commitment and family, why does no one seem to care about that? Literally, within a day of meeting Jake in Snow Falls, she’s flirting and almost kissing him even though he is not that nice or fun or cool.

It’s even weirder when Debbie, Jake’s aunt, asks him why he’s not opening up to Ellen or making a move on her. Jake is just like, “I’m not interested. She’s a guest at the inn, also I’m emotionally unavailable,” instead of saying “Oh, yeah, I know she’s really cute, but actually she’s engaged.” SHE IS OFF THE MARKET. WHY DOES NO ONE ACKNOWLEDGE THAT? Never once does this famous party girl who’s known for throwing lavish events mention an upcoming wedding, and when she dumps her fiancé, it’s almost like an afterthought. She gives him his ring and runs away. How does that not require a longer conversation? Especially when it seems like they live together? I know that we’re presented with a fiancé who is selfish and non-Christmassy, but there has to be something good and redeemable about him that made Ellen want to get engaged to him in the first place. Does she really value her relationships that little?

Why doesn’t Ellen notice that the final letter is missing when she’s reading them in her hotel room?

This might seem like a small point, but the crux of the movie comes when Ellen is driving back to New York with her fiancé Gray, and realizes that the final Christmas letter, the one she was supposed to deliver to her Uncle Zeke, is missing from the box. She wants Gray to turn around to get it, but he doesn’t want to because it’s just a letter and they have a plane to catch and they have, one assumes, expensive and non-exchangeable plane tickets. (This moment is supposed to make Gray look callous, but to be honest, it just makes Ellen look more spoiled and wasteful than ever. Plane tickets to Hawaii are expensive; not all of us can treat them like reservations at a restaurant that you didn’t really want to go to in the first place.)

But anyway, Ellen takes the bus back to Snow Falls and it turns out that there was never a final letter anyway — her dad had sent it to Zeke directly. It would be a sweet, if nonsensical, plot twist, except for the fact that Ellen read through all the letters in the box the night before. How did she not realize that this year’s letter, the primary object of her mission wasn’t there?

Why would Jake exchange whipped cream for clotted cream?

This might be a small point, but every time I think about it, I’m infuriated anew. One of the customers at the inn is upset because instead of the clotted cream he asked for at breakfast, he received whipped cream. Jake, the manager, goes over practically rolling his eyes and can barely muster enough sincerity to comp him for the clotted cream. But… of course he shouldn’t have to pay for the clotted cream. Whipped cream is not the same as clotted cream. A closer replacement would have been butter. If you’re eating a scone, you don’t want a dish of whipped cream to attempt to spread over your pastry. That would be soggy and terrible. The movie portrays this guest as crotchety and demanding when he’s the one dealing with ludicrously incompetent service.

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