Amid the usual cascade of Christmas-themed movies, CBS delivers this decidedly sour addition to Santa’s sack, which seems to have been made for people who dislike the holidays almost as much as they dislike their families. Filled with marital discord and bratty kids, “A Very Married Christmas” is billed as being whimsical, but the only evidence of that lies in an ill-suited musical score seemingly composed for a caper comedy. Given a choice between this and a lump of coal in one’s stocking, opt for the lump.
Even the production notes betray the movie’s schizophrenia, describing it as a “lighthearted holiday story” as well as a “drama about a man whose orderly life begins to fall apart when he learns … his wife is having an affair.” It’s as if CBS thought it was greenlighting “It’s a Wonderful Life” and only later realized it had ordered “Unfaithful.”
More than anything, this incongruously titled pic has the pervasive feel of a deal-driven showcase for two network stars, Joe Mantegna (“Joan of Arcadia”) and Jean Smart (“Center of the Universe”). Or maybe I’m just becoming as cynical as Joyce Eliason’s script, based on the novel “Say When.”
Mantegna plays Frank, a regular guy who discovers his wife Ellen (Smart) is cheating on him with a younger man. She wants him to leave, but Frank insists on staying in the house for the benefit of their young daughter Zoe (Jordy Benattar), who doesn’t need to be gifted to tell that something is amiss.
Bored, boring and living under the same roof with a woman who is cuckolding him, Frank decides to become a shopping mall Santa mostly to meet the pretty photographer (Kari Matchett) staffing the booth, whose tale of marital woe is almost as depressing as his is. He also indulges in little Walter Mitty-like fantasies, though as constituted here they never add up to much.
For all of that, Mantegna turns in a credible performance, while Smart’s character lacks enough back-story to help viewers empathize with her in any way. Moreover, they’re all fighting a decidedly uphill battle against that ever-present Mader soundtrack, which sounds as if it were plucked from “Home Alone 3.” If nothing else, consider this proof it’s not always possible to fix things in post.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of holiday fare on tap this month, providing enough merriment to keep viewers snugly nestled on the couch if so inclined. As for “A Very Married Christmas,” it’s a reminder that snow and a Santa Claus suit do not a Christmas movie make.