Lindsay Lohan enters the office in "Falling for Christmas".

Jokes Hide Shadows and It’s Quiet Outside — “Falling for Christmas”

“Falling for Christmas”, you’ll be shocked to know, is a Christmas movie. The first in Lindsay Lohan’s multi-picture deal with Netflix, it perfectly captures the streaming platform’s ability to churn out movies you’ve seen before, but this time with that one person who makes you go, “I haven’t seen this movie I’ve seen before with that one person in it”. Why did I watch it? Pretty much the thing I just said.

Lohan plays Sierra Belmont, spoiled daughter of a ski resort mogul. When her even more spoiled influencer boyfriend Tad Fairchild proposes to her, Santa hurls her off a cliff because a little girl wants her dad to meet someone. I…wait, what?

Jake Russell is a dad who doesn’t want to meet someone because he mourns his wife and his bed-and-breakfast/ski resort is struggling in the face of clearly buying tens of thousands of dollars of Christmas decorations. He probably could’ve just gotten away with a nice tree and some of those icicle lights.

Russell is played by Chord Overstreet, which would have been a much better name for this character. His plan to avoid meeting anyone is helped by a charm that’s conveyed by smirking and leering at inopportune times like a serial killer.

His daughter Avy makes a wish for him to meet someone, and a nearby Santa who gets some weirdly discomfiting close-ups taps his nose like he’s playing charades with a more kindly Santa from another film who doesn’t hurl women off cliffs.

This nose-tapping unveils Santa’s control of the weather, conjuring a great wind that sends Sierra hurtling down the mountainside. Ultimately, she is concussed. Jake finds her and Sierra wakes up in the hospital without her memory. She has suffered amnesia because we live in a fatalistic world where a deterministic Santa does not mark down who’s naughty or nice, but rather declares it on a whim, trapping us each in a cage where our decisions mean nothing in the face of a capricious god.

I’ve got to say, it’s a breath of fresh air. I’ve always been a fan of Old Testament Santa.

What follows is “Overboard”-lite, except Russell doesn’t actually know who Sierra is. Russell’s defining characteristics are taking advantage of the situation to make Sierra work as an unpaid maid, and having a daughter with way more personality than him. Thankfully, other people keep telling Sierra how great he is.

Meanwhile, fiance Tad is lost in the wilderness with an ice fisher, an increasing number of stereotypical jokes suggesting that Tad is gay. These are the worst jokes in “Falling for Christmas”, but it seems like the film eventually realizes this (a lot of bloopers during the credits are scenes involving him that didn’t make the cut). The movie quickly forgets that Tad exists until he’s needed for the climax.

“Falling for Christmas” is exactly the movie you expect it to be. Quite weirdly, that’s exactly what I wanted. You got me again, Netflix, and just in case I didn’t know it, they sneak in an ad for last year’s Brooke Shields Christmas retread, “A Castle for Christmas”.

Now, I don’t want to cast aspersions on an ensemble that really doesn’t have much to work with, but “Falling for Christmas” is carried by Lohan solo. Millennials like myself will recognize that in the early 2000s, Lohan was poised to be an absolute star. Her work in “Freaky Friday” and “Mean Girls” was more than just being a good comedy lead. As Roger Ebert wrote in his “Freaky Friday” review, Lohan possessed “that Jodie Foster sort of seriousness and intent focus”.

That may seem ridiculous to read in 2022, but it was accurate. Lohan had serious comedy chops and an underlying intensity that elevated the consequences of otherwise wacky premises. That focus took center stage with more dramatic work in smaller films like “A Prairie Home Companion”, “Bobby”, and “Chapter 27”. Addiction, DUIs, and disappearing from set derailed that. The burgeoning online celebrity gossip industry of the 2000s also chewed up young actresses while praising men for courageous fights where they did the exact same thing; there wasn’t a more complex or useful conversation to be found. It’s hard to say where Lohan could’ve gone if she’d been able to corral her demons and build on her best work.

Maybe she could’ve been a star, won awards, had an MCU role, who knows…but those concerns feel less consequential than the simple idea that she could’ve enjoyed the opportunity to continue delivering performances that were uniquely hers. Her last film role before this was in 2013’s “The Canyons”, a massively overlooked performance of tolerating obsession and abuse in a film that really should be overlooked – the behavior of the other names involved since (James Deen, Paul Schrader, Bret Easton Ellis) make it an utterly garbage assembly of human beings before any judgments on Lohan.

Of course, as I researched this article, I realized Lohan has waffled terribly in the last few years between opposing Brexit and authoritarian types, then defending fascist leaders like Putin, Erdogan, and Trump, then trolling them, and that’s without talking about her initial defense of Harvey Weinstein. This last is complicated by Lohan’s stated anger at the press’s lack of coverage when she suffered domestic abuse. She was nearly killed by her former fiance, evidence including police phone calls and domestic abuse documented in two videos that collectively point to at least two years of suffering life-threatening violence. Ultimately, the news saw a public dismissal borne from how the 2000s gossip industry trained us to view her. A domestic violence survivor was treated as just Lohan being Lohan, as if it was her fault. There was no public response of empathy, and she connected this in follow-up statements to her anger that others were receiving the empathy and action she’d sought. It doesn’t justify or legitimize her response in any way, but on a human level I can grasp the desperation that shaped it.

That’s no reason to justify any of Lohan’s harmful statements across the board. What it may do is contextualize the role she assumes in defending that harm. Many victims are trained to do just that: defend the harm of others. They seek to legitimize that harm because failing to do so once threatened their own survival. Spend enough time surviving that way and you stop thinking there’s any other.

Rose McGowan, who survived a Weinstein assault, suggested, “Please go easy on Lindsay Lohan. Being a child actor turned sex symbol twists the brain in ways you can’t comprehend.” This too, is both complicated and demonstrated by McGowan’s long history of homophobia and transphobia, and going full QAnon in the last few years.

Part of me wonders if Lohan’s experience as a child actor plays into her gravitation toward abusive, toxic, harmful male figures. We’ve been told again and again how bad things are for many child actors, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, labor violations, wage theft, drugging, the list goes on and on.

As far as I can tell from limited research, these red flags don’t crop up in Lohan’s story directly, though she has a complicated history with her family. Nor does every survivor wish to talk about what they’ve endured. It’s tempting to think the shape of what’s missing from a story – or what’s similar to so many other stories – can be evidence, but conjecture would be irresponsible and uninformed.

I didn’t watch “Falling for Christmas” because I thought it would be good. It held up its end of the bargain there. I watched it because I wanted to see if Lohan still flashed that talent that’s gone so unfulfilled, and I figured either way I’d get a review with some good jokes. The talent’s there in spades, showing through briefly despite the material and direction. The jokes are there – not in the film, but if you want to talk about an angry, vengeful Santa, absolutely. But think about it too long and something else is there, too – some shadow of who we become in the face of repeated cycles of abuse, of what’s lost – forget talent-wise, but in our humanness.

None of this is on the screen. This is exactly that movie you can start and not pay attention to, turn on in the background, glance at only once or twice and know precisely what’s happening. Look too long at the shadows it casts, though, and the shape of things change.

You look at someone who’s suffered abuse and turns around to justify others’ abusers and…criticism and empathy both are owed, right? It’s just…how do you tell when? How do you tell what measure of each? Many moments are apparent. You stand against somebody supporting a dictator or a rapist, or as we see among other celebrities right now, espousing hate. That’s the uncomplicated side of the equation.

We’re talking about a celebrity, but we know this in our own lives, too – especially over these last several years. It’s complex to oppose someone for whom you still feel empathy, whose lashing out from pain you might be able to understand. It might be the only way they know to survive. Criticism of harmful stances is warranted, necessary, and needs to be seen and repeated, even if somewhere in there you know it might induce the same panic in the criticized as abuse once did. But ease off too much and empathy for one enables them to continue defending abusers and systems that target many. The world isn’t built in a way where we can always offer both, and we’re not built in ways where we can sustain offering empathy to both without becoming hypocrites and making each job harder. It’s often a good judgment not to offer both. It’s often our own survival mechanism. A community can’t sacrifice itself for one person to feel comfortable.

The reality of empathy is that we can’t act on it everywhere. We have to prioritize by who needs it most, or by how many need it – our empathy for someone causing harm, even when caused by pain or panic, can get in the way of our empathy for someone being harmed. After the damage passes, maybe we can go back and offer what we can, but sometimes that moment’s passed, too. There’s no regret to that. Empathy has to help those who are being punched down furthest first. It’s the right decision, it’s the kind decision. In the quieter moments though, I wonder if the empathy we couldn’t offer or could only offer too late, is still worth mourning. Just as a recognition for the way the world is. Just to remember that we saw it, that we witnessed the need and aren’t training ourselves to ignore it. Just to yearn for kindness. Who knows what Lohan’s story is, but hers reminds me of so many others I do know, and it carries an eerie similarity to a world that’s all too eager to think everything’s a fight for survival that requires harm. What we live in breaks my heart sometimes; that’s why I opened with jokes.

You can watch “Falling for Christmas” on Netflix.

If you want to see articles like this, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to write more.

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