Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point (2024)

Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point Review

Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point

Director Tyler Taormina completes a candid representation of a joyful Italian-American family gathering in twinkling tissue paper, and leaves it under the tree.

It’s that time of the year when gaudy rainbow lights are hung from eaves. In living rooms warmed by fireplaces, old folks nod off in their chairs while middle-aged siblings bicker and booze around the dinner table. Little kids squirm in makeshift beds, desperate to stay awake for Santa, while surly teenagers sneak out into the suburban night to do secret teenager things. OK, there are no chestnuts roasting on an open fire; instead there’s a salad bowl full of red and green M&Ms but in almost every other respect, Tyler Taormina’s delightful stocking-stuffer “Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point” is as alive to the domesticated magic of the season as a classic carol. Taormina’s fondly multivalent, Millennial-Norman-Rockwellian perspective incorporates a child’s experience of the holiday overlaid with a teen’s and a parent’s and a grandparent’s et al.; all his Christmases have come at once.

It is sometime in the early 2000s and we meet four sprawling generations of the Italian-American Balsano family represented by one chattering ensemble loosely centered on one of its many tangled branches. Teenager Emily (Matilda Fleming) is at That Age and engaged in an unexplained war of sulky attrition with her mother Kathleen (Maria Dizzia), while her father (Ben Shenkman) drily steels himself for an evening surrounded by Kathleen’s family as they drive to Long Island. En route, they pass by a police cruiser in which two traffic cops played by Michael Cera and Gregg Turkington sit in loaded silence that we’ll later learn is quaintly fraught with unexpressed homoeroticism.

The scene repeats itself in the slightly standoffish greeting Kathleen gives her own aging mother. She knows she doesn’t visit as much as she should, but things get so busy, she explains to no one in particular. The thronging house soon splits along loosely generational lines, with the younger cohort gathering in the den where their cousin is playing videogames; Emily and her cousin Michelle (a delightful Francesca Scorsese) gossip over their flip phones and occasionally pay court to their doting grandparents. Later, she and Emily will encounter a disaffected local played by Sawyer Spielberg, but once again nepo-baby stunt casting is apt Who better than a Spielberg to turn up at a celebration of suburban American family life? Meanwhile, the grown-up siblings and their spouses the organizers, cooks, drinkers and squabblers-in-chief huddle in little groups over cigars in the garage or wine in the kitchen. This might be their last Christmas here.

In time-honored fashion, Emily and Michelle give them all the slip and go into town to hang out and score beers and couple up (Michelle with a waitress played by “Eighth Grade”’s Elsie Fisher), in a way that somewhat recalls Taormina’s lovely strange debut “Ham on Rye.” But where that film put a surreal, dreamily satirical twist on the American prom ritual, “Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point” plays its traditions straighter than a candy cane with sincerity so brazen it borders on the avant-garde.

While most of us have only a jumbled recollection of family Christmases, if anything, this is strangely comforting. Not so with Taormina (or his co-writer Eric Berger and certainly not his production designer Paris Peterson), who seem to have paid attention. Their pre-Christmas movie you could call it that, or maybe a holiday season-set film; really it’s like a tree ornament hanging on the tinsel between Vincente Minnelli’s “Meet Me In St. Louis” and some hokey late-’90s commercial is made in almost fetishistically fanatical detail.

Any and all surreality comes from putting this radically simple premise into a gloriously overstuffed aesthetic of suburban abundance: Everything sparkles and glows here, while tables groan under the weight of 100 different casserole dishes. Even those moments that look as if they’ll bring drama or conflict such as a manuscript left on a hall table or the disappearance of someone’s pet lizard resolve themselves benignly anticlimactic, every Chekov’s gun loaded with glitter and candy.

Sinatra-spackled soundtrack meets ’60s pop classics; hyper-romantic, gauzy visuals courtesy DP Carson Lund (whose directorial debut “Eephus,” which Taormina produces, is also in Directors’ Fortnight); an unquestioning embrace of weird family rituals as completely normal; no War on Christmas here, just surrender to its folksy kitsch pleasures.

Watch Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point For Free On Gomovies.

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