So much of Christmas has to do with tradition: eating the same foods every year, singing the same songs, watching the same movies, and waiting for the inevitable point where Aunt Margie becomes so wasted that she stops making sense and starts to blur absolute nonsense. Some might call it ritual, while others might call it boredom, being stuck in the same infinite loop year after year without anything changing or improving.
That’s exactly what happens in Netflix’s newest Christmas movie, the Brazilian Feature Just another Christmas (or Okay for christmas in Portuguese). Jorge (Leandro Hassum) has always hated Christmas because it is the same day as his birthday and he was always cheated out of a double celebration. He is middle-aged and tired of dressing up as Santa Claus for his children. He yells at his catatonic father-in-law (Levi Ferreira) for mentally not there for the vacation. Grandpa Nhanhão curses Jorge, who then falls from the roof to convince his children that he is “Natal Papai”, as they call Santa Claus in Brazil.
When Jorge wakes up the next day, it won’t be December 26th – it’s Christmas again, but a year has passed. He can’t remember anything that happened in the past 365 days, despite getting a promotion and a new car. Every year he wakes up on Christmas and “Christmas Jorge” can only remember the things that passed on Christmas, not what happened in between. It’s a higher concept than a Denver weed dispenser.
First, Just another Christmas just seems like another rip off from Groundhog Daywhen Jorge begins to anticipate every beat of the coming days. But that’s not because the same day is literally repeating itself, it’s because Christmas is based on repetition. When every day is Christmas, Jorge can foresee the rhythms better than most. However, the film quickly deviates from the familiar shape. As soon as Jorge tells his suffering wife Laura (Elisa Pinheiro) about his “condition”, she informs the family and everyone begins to explain this so that it is not a secret time loop that he has to navigate alone.
Over time, things slowly begin to shift. Jorge’s children are getting older, his relationship with Laura is frayed and he wakes up one Christmas with a short haircut and mustache that “normal Jorge” loves but “Christmas Jorge” says he looks like a Mario brother. Everything is done in a comedic way, with Hassum’s performance giving the character a kind of manic quality for everyone. He never stops complaining or talking, but he also dutifully does what his wife says. Kevin Hart or Ray Romano would be perfectly cast in the English-language remake. (And it would be good business for a studio to snag that – this is one of the best and most imaginative Christmas movies out there.)
Just another Christmas is not just a comedic test of Jorge, but inevitably a test of the holiday itself. At first Jorge is exhausted from the way every Christmas is the same, but gradually he realizes the importance of tradition. He begins to see the day as a chance to reflect, a way to connect with the ideal version of himself that only shows up once a year and is not corrupted by the other 364 days a year that he works hard and with whom he has to contend family and the indignation of modern life. He also accepts that the holidays are different experiences for people at different stages of life, as he hyped the children for Santa and no longer has any children at home for Christmas.
As the film spans decades, spanning 100 minutes, it eventually becomes less an investigation of Christmas than an investigation of life and how people determine what is important and what is worth saving. It’s amazingly philosophical for a Christmas movie, but all of that is balanced out by the great verbal and physical comedy, including a fun, lingering gag about Jorge’s controversial mustache.
The story and the performances – including an excellent twist from Danielle Winits as Jorge’s secretary Marcia – are more of the actual draw than the style, which is competent but conventional. The movie looks more like an expensive TV movie than a theatrical release, but it proves that great characters and an inventive (if elaborate) concept can take a project far.
Many Americans probably haven’t been to Brazil for Christmas, which is the summer, and they tend to eat panettone rather than fig pudding. But they will surely realize the feelings that surround the holidays, be it the fear of shopping in a crowded mall, the fear of dealing with unruly family members, or the healing power of the Christmas spirit when we finally decide to embrace it. Christmas is the best time of the year, but it’s also a pain in the ass, and it can be incredibly depressing for some people. After all, there is a film that fully recognizes both and is all the better.
Just another Christmas is now streamed on Netflix.