“Christmas, Again,” Charles Poekel’s feature-length directorial debut, is almost whispercore, full of blinking Christmas lights and the strange calm that descends on the streets of New York City in the midst of a December night. Every year, Noel (Kentucker Audley) comes down from upstate New York to sell Christmas trees to residents, and we hear from the folks who recognise him that he used to come with a girlfriend who is no longer with us.
Review of the film Christmas, Again
Noel keeps his melancholy to himself for the most part; he works the night shift and sleeps in a trailer parked next to the trees during the day, bickering with the people who work the day shift. He goes to the local Y for a swim and a shower on occasion. And, perhaps most crucially, every night he meticulously removes one medication from an Advent calendar. His contacts with other people are often lacklustre, until one night when he discovers a stunning young woman passed out on a park seat. He recovers her phone from the inebriated homeless man next to her and takes her to his trailer to sleep it off. This starts a drab back-and-forth between Noel and Lydia (Hannah Gross) who has her own issues but falls short of the insane heights of your standard magical female catalyst Of course, Lydia’s entrance causes a succession of little adjustments in Noel’s life, but she’s ultimately too elusive for both Noel and the spectator to understand.
Gross isn’t allowed much to do besides show up every now and then and stir up some low-key drama. With his beard, beanie, and puffy coat, Audley passes like an outdoorsy working dude, the kind you’d pass on the street without giving it a second glance. Audley’s adaptability works in his favour; it’s hard to believe he’s the same guy who starred in “The Sacrament” as a suave hipster on his way to a spooky Jamestown-style commune. His face is expressive and readable as Noel; he’s perpetually patient with even the most obstinate clients, and when he smiles, it’s genuine and infectious. There isn’t much that happens in the movie, and there isn’t much that is supposed to happen. Poekel and cinematographer Sean Price Williams (“Listen Up Philip,” “The Color Wheel”) do an excellent job of conveying the sleepy atmosphere of the film.
The foggy sensation of being the sole person left in New York City late at night. The film’s wistfulness is enhanced by the usage of vintage Christmas tunes and the occasional theremin. Noel has to bring trees to a home for senior residents, a cheerful family, and a crowded house party in Brooklyn, and it’s an interesting depiction of the various ways people celebrate. “Christmas, Again” avoids being maudlin or attempting to make the viewer feel sorry for Noel, who may be a jerk at times. “Christmas sucks,” as one character puts it bluntly. Christmas isn’t so much a drag for Noel as it is another yearly gig when he sells trees to customers who ask him silly questions and engage in obnoxious Bluetooth conversations while asking him to pose with the trees for size reference. The title is a moan, and we can all identify to it. The film’s pacing, on the other hand, feels more like a trudge, less purposeful than merely uneasy. “Christmas, Again” is a calm film, but one that could benefit from a little more festive cheer.
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