We’ve all sat down for a family dinner for the holidays only to have some petty arguments break out between distant relatives. A passive aggressive comment here, a snide remark there, but usually it’s nothing too bad.
Now imagine a meal where that is literally all that happens, and you are imagining the Christmas dinner in the movie “Johnson Family Christmas Dinner.”
The entire premise of the film is that an extremely dysfunctional family is meeting up for Christmas dinner, and all of their individual grievances come to the surface, resulting in them just ending the meal early and going straight to bed.
Does it sound like I skipped a few steps? That’s because the movie did too.
See, this movie does that opening where they show us a glimpse of the climax of the film and then show us everything that led up to that moment. The problem? When they finally reach the moment shown in the beginning of the film, they just used the exact same footage as before, leading to an uncomfortable feeling of déjà vu. I had to turn and ask my friends if they were reusing footage because I genuinely forgot about the whole flashback thing.
Now this movie is most certainly a low-budget independent film, and it shows. The acting, while good in some places, is so bad in others that you can see people trip up on their lines, yet it gets left in.
The characters are all stereotypes to the extreme, although I feel that this actually works in the movie’s favor. Despite the large cast of supposed family members, I never had any trouble remembering each character and their unique personality. Some of the characters were genuinely fun to watch, and three characters in particular stood out as my favorite in the whole film.
First up is the brother to whom my friends and I bequeathed the name “Drunkle,” as his character consisted of being an uncle and being drunk all the time. He was the one hit hardest by the recession of 2008, so he was drowning his sorrows in a bottle throughout the entire movie.
I’m surprised that the house even had enough alcohol for this man, because, I swear, he was taking a huge swig almost every few minutes. We had a great time laughing as his character took a drink, yet the liquid in the glass was nowhere near the actor’s lips.
Next up is the girlfriend from the side plot of the couple that is running incredibly late. The entire movie shows the two of them just arguing in the car and making it really obvious that they aren’t working out as a couple. The girlfriend is the most over-the-top actor in the whole film, and every line from her was a masterpiece of bad writing.
It doesn’t help that she had the hardest time remembering her lines, with her script clearly visible in the reflections of the car window.
She also makes the second most offensive joke in this film, saying that their car is full of “terrorist oil” after her boyfriend purchased some from a Saudi Arabian guy referred by her brother. It is only made worse that that is the line she stutters over so badly that I can almost hear her heart beat out of her chest in stress.
The best character by far is a man known as “The Eagle.” He is one of the sisters’ boyfriends, and he is eccentric to the extreme. When he is first introduced, they immediately set up several joke Chekov’s guns that pay off much later in the film. He is raw vegan, only eating unprocessed veggies and fruits, leading to him just chomping on a raw tomato while the rest of the family eats their turkey.
He says he is a director, which leads to us learning about his film idea of space vampires who wear special suits to protect them from the sun — because somehow the vacuum of space wasn’t the biggest concern there.
Finally, my favorite is a slight mention that he won’t need a bed because he sleeps standing up. It’s a seemingly throwaway line that I thought nothing of until after the climax when everyone is sleeping, and they cut to him sleeping upright in the corner of the room with his hands crossed. We had to pause the movie, because we couldn’t see the film through our tears of laughter. I still can’t believe that such a minor line ended up with such a perfectly executed payoff.
Now despite all my praise, this is genuinely a bad movie, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the cinematography department.
The director of photography for this film consists of a tripod and auto-focus, which make up all of the work put into the shots of this film.
Scratch that, I mean three cameras on tripods all with auto-focus on, as during conversations they constantly switch between the three camera shots, one on both characters, and then a zoomed-in shot on each individual, seemingly at random. This can get really annoying because this film is literally just talking.
This film is a drama, but not some big dramatic event with consequences and much at stake. Instead, this is the drama one can see by looking at any dysfunctional family. Nothing exciting actually takes place.
The Eagle wants to move in with his girlfriend despite the family’s protest, Drunkle is drunk and the grandchild just wants a Blu-ray player but gets a photo album instead. Also one of the guys is smoking weed in the bathroom and then sweating profusely while doing “high” things like ordering pizza, all while supposedly one of the characters is having digestive issues, yet I only got that from the movie description on IMDB because I literally don’t remember that plot line.
It’s a boring, cheap and sloppy movie, and I think that’s why I love it. The resolution to the film is just everyone solving their issues magically the next morning, and I get a warm fuzzy feeling inside just thinking about the writer spending hours trying to come up with a way to resolve all the plot lines, only for him to give up and just have it all fixed by the magic of Christmas.
This is a genuinely fun-to-watch bad movie, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen one like this that just feels like people wanting to make a movie for fun. It’s silly, quirky, flawed but most of all a good time to watch.
I rate movies from 10 to -10, with negatives meaning it’s so bad it’s good. This movie is a -7, because even with all of its glaring flaws, I still had a lot of fun watching this movie. It’s a nice way to spend an hour and a half, and if you ever have the opportunity, I would heartily recommend watching it.
This week I want to shout out exactly what made this film possible: auto-focus. Focusing a camera is an art that takes a lot of practice to get down right, so auto-focus allows people without these skills to at least do the bare minimum for a film. It opens up many potential moviemakers to the art and lets them explore their creativity, even if they don’t have the budget or skills required to do manual focusing.
Sadly, it is a crutch that many filmmakers fall back on, even when they have the means to hire a real director of photography, as it does make a film feel amateur and unpolished.
This article was originally written for The University of Tennessee’s Daily Beacon’s Bad Movie Showcase.
Editing done by Evan Newell