Film Festival: Christmas Fantasy
If You Believe (1999) takes place in a book publishing house. Susan (Ally Walker) has lost her joy in life and is in danger of losing her job.
At age 27 she is married to Peter, a tweed-wearing, pipe smoking class-conscious husband. By age 37, she is divorced and struggling in her book editing job.
“She’s just ashamed to bring her rich Vassar friends around here. –That is an absolute lie, Bobby. –Well, I certainly hope so, Suze. ‘Cuz you is what you is, and you ain’t what you ain’t!” –Bobby, Susan, and Dad
Her enthusiastic assistant, Robin, has found a new author. Tom Weller is a lawyer who has written a novel based on his family legends.
“He was a partner until about two years ago when his dead aunt Pru came to him in a dream and she told him to write this novel.” –Robin
Susan spends her evenings eating takeout food and sitting in her half-furnished apartment drinking 8 olive martinis while cruising a chat room. She just doesn’t have any joy.
She goes to Thanksgiving at her brother Bob’s. He is a happy person who lives in a modest house with 4 small children. He’s a widower and a high school teacher. Susan feels so sour having dinner with the family that she tells her 7-year-old niece, Alice (Hayden Panettiere), that Santa is a myth. Bob and Susan have a big fight. He tells Susan he doesn’t want her around his kids.
“Calm down, all I did is tell her the truth about Santa Claus. I didn’t kill anybody. – Yes you did, Suze. It’s what you do. It’s like you get some kind of sadistic pleasure out of spreading a little unhappiness here, a little disappointment over there…–Oh what? And so in order to protect her we should all pretend life is a bowl of cherries and never mention choking on the pits. Is that it?” –Bob and Susan
The day after Thanksgiving, Susan falls in the street and hits her head. A sidewalk Santa helps her up. When she gets back to her apartment, Suze (Hayden Panettiere) is waiting for her. She is Susan’s 7-year-old self, and very determined to get Susan to stop being so miserable. Susan is sure the little girl is her niece, Alice.
“What are you doing here? –I’m not going through another Christmas without celebrating.” –Susan and Suze
It takes Susan awhile to accept who Suze is and that she is constantly with her.
“Please, please go away! –I will go away, but not until you learn to be nice to me!” –Susan and Suze
Suze reminds Susan of things she used to love: bubble baths, laughing out loud, the opera. She reminds her that she used to believe in love and magic. She sings Libiamo from La Traviata to make her points.
The Monday after Thanksgiving, Robin brings Tom Weller (Tom Amandes) to the office to meet Susan. He’s brought his fantasy-history-reality novel with him. The 758-page book is called Phooey!
“See that, the world is just full of little Miss Uriah Heeps waiting to stab you in the back.” –Susan
Susan stays up all night to read the book and gets excited about an author for the first time in years. She goes to his small town in Connecticut to spend time with Tom editing the book. But she finds Christmas spirit and romance.
“Do you ever think life is shaped by the yeses and not the nos?” –Mmhmm. –Well, I said yes once and that was a complete disaster. –Mmm. Well my guess, is that you were just saying the word. What you were really doing was saying no to yourself.” –Susan and Tom
This is a very well done TV Christmas movie with a good script and appealing actors. The town in Connecticut is the Christmas village of my fantasies (it’s really in Canada). Inner child, redemption, and Christmas make a great combo in If You Believe.
Resource links for If You Believe
- If You Believe from IMDb
- Hayden Panettiere from Biography
- York-Durham Heritage Railway in Uxbridge, Ontario
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What are your thoughts?