If it's November, it must be Christmas. At least that's what it seems from the delivery of several new made-for-TV holiday films that have come my way. The three mentioned below are memorable not only because of the talent attached to them but also because of their uniqueness. Appealing to some and a bore to others, all are worth watching.
The Wool Cap: William H. Macy and writing partner Steven Schachter join forces again to pen this loose adaptation of Gigot. The original 1962 film, written by and starring Jackie Gleason and directed by Gene Kelly, was an enormously sweet tale (and one of my favorite films) about a simple-minded mute who befriends the young daughter of a streetwalker in post World War I Paris. However, Macy's Charles Gigot bears little resemblance to Gleason's Chaplin-esque performance. As the beleaguered super of a New York City apartment building, his life is filled with the disruptions that come with trying to prolong the life of an apartment building barely up to code. Gigot's life is disrupted further when a drug addict unexpectedly leaves her 10-year-old daughter, Lou (Keke Palmer), in his care. A series of unfortunate events interlock Gigot's and Lou's lives as they ultimately discover the meaning of family.
Macy gives a wise performance with exceptional depth, particularly in the film's denouement. In supporting roles, Don Rickles hits all the right notes as the feisty tenant Ira, while Catherine O'Hara is marvelously understated in a role that is largely unnecessary. And then there's the monkey. Got to love the monkey. The Wool Cap premieres Nov. 21 at 7pm on TNT. Encores throughout November; check local listings.
Noel: Finally, a holiday film for jaded adults. In a quartet of interrelated stories, several strangers unwittingly provide the spark that redirects four lives one Christmas Eve. Susan Sarandon is lovely as Rose, a middle-aged woman who begins to unravel after telling everyone she's fine to be alone on Christmas Eve. In reality, she's not alone. She cares for her mother, an Alzheimer's patient, whose absence exacerbates the loneliness Rose can no longer ignore. Through a chance encounter, she meets Nina (Penélope Cruz), who is despairing at her fiancé Mike's (Paul Walker) extreme jealousy, while Mike has his own chance encounter with Artie (Alan Arkin), an older man who mistakes him for someone else in a disturbing way. There's Jules (Marcus Thomas), in search of the happiest Christmas Eve of his childhood in the hospital emergency room. In an uncredited role, Robin Williams is divine.
Although some of the situations are starkly painful, there is light at the end of this dark Christmas Eve tale. Thankfully, the light is well earned and suitably fantastic without being gushy, making it all the more gratifying. Noel airs one night only on Nov. 28 at 7pm on TNT following a limited nationwide theatrical release last week.
Samantha: An American Girl Holiday: The WB network delves into the made-for-TV business with this new holiday movie featuring a character from the American Girl collection of books, dolls, and accessories. AnnaSophia Robb stars as 9-year-old Samantha Parkington, an orphan raised by her wealthy grandmother (Mia Farrow) in 1904 upstate New York. Precocious and inquisitive, Samantha ignores convention when she befriends Nellie and her sisters, the servant girls who move in next door. Although Samantha ends up living with her beloved uncle and his wife in New York City, she continues her friendship with Nellie and intervenes when she and her sisters also end up in New York City, under entirely different circumstances.
Launched in 1986, the American Girl franchise is designed to educate and entertain. All well and good, although the history lesson is sometimes at the expense of story and character (were exploited girls like Nellie really so cheery?). If you or your child can swallow the preciousness of the characters and the narrow world-view, this sweetened dose of American history will please. Samantha: An American Girl Holiday airs Nov. 23 and Nov. 25 at 7pm on the WB.
Other notable holiday fare: Kelly, Ruben and Fantasia: Home For Christmas, Nov. 24 at 8pm on Fox. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Nov. 25 at 7:30pm on ABC. A Christmas Carol starring Kelsey Grammar on Nov. 28 8pm on NBC.