Anna Condo’s Merry Christmas, an ensemble piece that hinges on contrived plot devices, spends its 80 minutes meandering toward a punchline that never quite materializes. A group of nine entitled, chatty New Yorkers spend the holiday at a quaint bed and breakfast in Pennsylvania, where they play a disco-themed murder-mystery role-playing game. The conceit has the potential to be amusing, and indeed it gives the characters an excuse to don fun afro wigs and sparkly clothes, but the role-playing is never as funny or immersive as it could be, and the characters’ repartee often feels more stilted than witty. The game is introduced too early, which effectively negates its potential to lend any insight into its players. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for the game to be played, other than adding quirk to an otherwise bland story and setting.
The game is overseen by the innkeeper, a matronly woman who, in one of the film’s many instances of caricaturing, was married four times, but became a born-again Christian after seeing The Passion of the Christ. Ted (Antony Langdon), the fey Englishman of the group, flirts with her in a way suggestive of a feeling of superiority over the country folk rather than any legitimate attraction. Worse still is the mute homeless man, Matthew (Martin Pfefferkorn), who mysteriously shows up at the inn midway through the film. “He’s kind of like how you imagine Jesus,” says Ted, striving mightily to attribute some sort of meaning to the man’s appearance beyond the rather offensive use of a homeless person as a prop.After serving as an object of contemplation for the guests, Matthew exits just as unexpectedly as he entered. The homeless man has conveniently gone back to where he came from, leaving behind the $40 given to him by Lily (Eleonore Condo), the group’s youngest member, in some sort of ambiguous, ultimately inconsequential gesture masquerading as a profound message.
Merry Christmas deserves some credit for being a holiday movie that doesn’t revel in typical sentimentality. The outcome of the murder-mystery game is also something of a surprise, though it has little impact, due to the game’s lack of creating any real stakes or illuminating its players. One imagines the satire Christopher Guest might have spun from this ensemble cast and silly premise. As it stands, the film is dull where it should be zippy, filled with characters who hint at clichés without fully exploiting their humorous potential. It does, though, capture one aspect of the holiday season rather well: that of being at an unpleasant holiday party surrounded by drunk friends and family while you remain sober, not in on any of their jokes.