The Christmas Cottage has more heart than a Christmas fruitcake has cherries. This gentle biographical chapter from Thomas Kinkade’s youth in 1977 is what inspired him to paint. The contemporary artist boasts a collection of architectural landscape works depicting quiet pastoral and urban settings, characterised by their soft lighting. The light eminates from city windows and fantasy castles to cottages nestled in the country. Thomas Kinkade’s The Christmas Cottage attempts to bridge his influences of small community life and his inspiration, Glen Westerman. This is done in a folksy time capsule from 1977, in which a young Kinkade and his brother return home to visit his mother for Christmas. The characters are what drive this overly sentimental story, and it’s sustained through melodrama and light situational humour. The whole movie has a made-for-TV austere and there’s no escaping the chocolate box memories, which are intermittently interupted by tears and dashed hopes. Perhaps this style is an attempt to capture the spirit in Kinkade’s work. His art is extraordinary, but it treds a thin line between brilliance and kitsch. This is where The Christmas Cottage finds itself… trapped between melodrama and folksy charm.
It’s difficult to compose a story that is set at Christmas in a sleepy town with a few melancholic characters thrown in. Some will appreciate the nostalgic trip that is significant for Kinkade. The film may even tug at a few heart strings for those few, who identify with its themes. Dementia, acceptance, pride, inspiration and camaraderie are a few threads to the piece. However, these motiffs are clustered in a soap box. The principal characters are scattered by an array of eccentric add-ons that enter and exit quite frequently. The performances are competent, but not outstanding… Peter ‘O Toole and Marcia Gay Harden are the credibility to this piece, but neither have enough of a focus. The relationship between Glen and Thomas could have taken centrestage. Instead Kinkade played by Jared Padalecki, tends to meander amongst the townsfolk picking up on hurt and trying to offer upliftment through his mural.
The local characters translate into atmosphere and besides some Christmas relationship miracles, there’s not much to fall back on. Michael Campus returns to direct after a 20-something year hiatus, and this casting choice helped retain a soft ’70s family feel, since he directed his last film in 1976. While Ken LeZebnik’s past writing experience lends itself to the spiritual undertones from Touched by an Angel and Providence. This also explains the script’s TV quality, which regularly resorts to melodrama. The Christmas Cottage is a movie that will resonate with some, but it’s sentimentality will just irritate others. If you’re not feeling the warm glow of Christmas spirit, you’d better avoid this one.
The bottom line: Maudlin.