Merry Christmas: Film Review

This improvised, would-be comedy might have benefited from an actual script.

A group of well-heeled New Yorkers take part in a murder-mystery game in Anna Condo's improvised feature.

Sometimes a film’s press release tells you more than you want to know. Such is the case with the one for Anna Condo’s debut feature Merry Christmas. Announcing that the film is a "clever ensemble satire with roots in Commedia dell’Arte," it goes on to inform us that it was shot in two-and-a-half days and that it "launches an ambitious film trilogy by the director." After watching this interminable exercise in self-indulgence, the latter statement seems like a threat.

The filmmaker apparently declined to write a script, instead letting her large cast fully improvise their dialogue in this tale of nine upscale New Yorkers who spend Christmas participating in a murder-mystery game at a modest Pennsylvania B&B. The results won’t have Christopher Guest losing any sleep.

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Presided over by the B&B’s proprietress who became a born-again Christian after seeing Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the decidedly unlikeable group includes an officious Park Avenue matron (Alexandra Stewart, no doubt longing for her days working for Francois Truffaut on Day for Night) and an obnoxious Brit who announces his plans for opening a "caviar bar" even while the economy is in the deep recession.

Clad in tacky disco-era outfits and Afro wigs—director Condo also designed the costumes—the group tediously engages in argumentative banter while attempting to solve the game’s mystery of who killed a nightclub owner. Interrupting their tired interactions is the arrival of a mute homeless man whose resemblance to Jesus does not go unnoticed.

Although the actors strain mightily to inject some comic energy into the proceedings, they don’t display much flair for improvisation, with the result that their characterizations simply go from broad to broader. The herky-jerky camerawork frequently has trouble capturing the action, such as it is, although viewers are unlikely to feel that they’ve missed very much.

Production company: Fern Films
Cast: Alexandra Stewart, Antony Langdon, Tibor Feldman, Wally Dunn, Elizabeth Jasicki, Angelique Cinelu, Eleonore Condo, Nadia Dassouki, David Michael Homes, Martin Pfefferkorn
Director/editor/costume designer: Anna Condo
Producer: Alex Charpentier
Director of photography: Matthew Santo
Production designer: Elizabeth J. Jones
Composer: Antony Langdon
Not rated, 83 min.