Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage Review
Apparently one in four American households have a Thomas Kinkade painting in them, which makes this viewer of Kinkade's biopic think that the painter, like Santa Claus, is quietly tip-toeing through American living rooms hanging up prints of his work without being asked. Or, at very least, stopped before there's a Kinkade hanging in every household, after which he'll surely move on to the rest of the world. We may be a nation still inclined to hang pictures of the queen, religious iconography and flying ducks but we'll have a Kinkade hanging in our front rooms if we're not careful. Or perhaps the queen done Kinkade style, with her gown illuminated as if it were on fire, candles burning hazily behind her and a light dusting of snow on her shoulders.
There's something very creepy about Kinkade and not just in respect of what Joan Didion described as being, "...of such insistent cosiness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire" or, as Susan Orlean said in The New Yorker, "[They are] not quite real...as if painted by someone who hadn't been outside in a long time." Never mind warning Hansel and Gretel, what would concern this viewer more is that any children foolish enough to stray near to a Kinkade cottage might well find Kinkade himself inside. In spite of Kinkade portraying himself as a Christian, as a family man and as one only doing the bidding of the lord, the LA Times set about interviewing those who once worked alongside him and discovered that Kinkade is a man who once heckled Siegfried & Roy by shouting, "Codpiece! Codpiece!" during one of their shows, who groped a woman's breasts at a signing in Indiana and said, "This one’s for you, Walt" as he pissed on a statue of Winnie the Pooh. He also cursed a woman who tried to help him after he drunkenly fell off a barroom stool. To all this, Kinkade said, "[The] Book of Ecclesiastes says enjoy yourself, have a glass of wine, for this is God’s will for you." He also says that God has guided his brush throughout his professional life. However, I don't think God will claim much credit for the night that Kinkade pointed his penis in the direction of Winnie The Pooh that night in Disneyland.
So to this biopic of Thomas Kinkade, which affords the artist the freedom to indulge himself in as homespun a story of his life as any of his paintings. Originally titled Thomas Kinkade's Home for Christmas, which suggests a family living in festive fear of a drunken Kinkade pissing on their doorstep and shouting, "Giblets!" at the turkey, Christmas Cottage finds a shaggy-haired Thomas Kinkade (Jared Padalecki) leaving his fine arts course in Berkeley for his home in Placerville in the Californian mountains with his brother Pat (Aaron Ashmore), where their mother, Maryann (Marcia Gay Harden), is preparing for Christmas. That Christmas is a troubled one in Placerville. As the Christmas tree capital of the Americas, Placerville had hoped for more tourists than the season has brought them, leaving it in the doldrums. What Placerville needs is something to cheer its people, be it a Nativity play, the switching on of its lights...or perhaps a mural of the town and its people. It so happens that Placerville is in need of Kinkade's artistry to brighten up its main street. And, thanks to his reading of his mother's mail, Kinkade is in need of the money. The bank are threatening to foreclose and the Kinkade's must find $3000 before New Year.
Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage is a very traditional movie biopic. Not only does ever event matter but Kinkade's life and all those in it come together to set the painter on to a new direction. The characters in Placerville are part and parcel of this but never has there been a more cliched collection of small-town folk depicted on the screen. The feuding neighbours involved in a bout of oneupmanship over their Christmas lights, the beauty queen who pleads with the council to be allowed to switch on the town's decorations for just one more year, the hustling leader of Placerville's chamber of commerce and all the other souls, some of them rather lost, add to Kinkade's homecoming. Even Kinkade's father (Richard Burgi), a drifter who lives from one pay packet to the next, shows up to give his sons a gift of a box of girlie mags and the offer of a trip to Mexico. But amongst those whom he chances across on this trip home, the one who changes Kinkade's life the most and who sets him off painting the light, is Glen Wessler (Peter O'Toole), an artist living in Placerville who, his agent believes, has one more painting inside him. Wessler, though, suffers from dementia and can barely draw his hand so to hold a brush. Together, Wessler and Kinkade must master their art and their putting something of themselves onto canvas and onto the wall in Placerville on which Kinkade is painting his mural. O'Toole has the hardest time of it in Christmas Cottage. Not only must he play the part of Wessler struck low by dementia but must also be the one who inspires Kinkade to paint with light. "Paint the light! Thomas! Paint the light!" From O'Toole, we hear but a little of the memories that those with dementia dwell on. He has a short speech early in the film about Nicole, the girl who he loved during his years living in Paris, but, by the film's end, he is left singing Humpty Dumpty to himself before lapsing into silence.
The problems with Christmas Cottage are plentiful. Like most biopics, we're meant to believe that these five or six days were life-changing, not only for Kinkade but for all concerned. But these moments are as predictable as sunset. The men and women in the town like what they see of themselves in Kinkade's mural. Kinkade's father speaks up for his son and prepares to spend a Christmas with his family, the beauty queen gets to switch on the town's lights and Glenn Wessler comes up with his final painting, leaving it to the Kinkades to sort out their financial troubles. Even those feuding neighbours see that less is more and strip out all their lights in favour of a simple star. Perhaps hoping to be a Christmas classic of its own one day, Christmas Cottage even takes a cue from It's A Wonderful Life, with everyone in the town arriving at the Kinkade house on Christmas Day to patch it up in return for how much Maryann Kinkade gave of her time over the years. This might have seemed like a good idea at the time, perhaps Kinkade thought that the Frank Capra classic would reflect well on his own film, but its effect is akin to hanging a Kinkade alongside a Miro, a Picasso or a Caravaggio. And that wouldn't compare at all.
But it should be left to Kinkade to have the final word on this film. Before filming began, the painter distributed a memo of sixteen points to the production crew, which Vanity Fair got a hold of and printed under the title of Thomas Kinkade's 16 Guidelines for Making Stuff Suck. Amongst these points are guides to keeping a soft focus on the picture, of the use of atmospheric effects and of hiding personal details in the film, such as the names of his children and the letter N (for his wife Nanette), preferably thirty of them to commemorate the number of years between the events of the film and now. But the one I like best is the last and it is the most important of all. THE CONCEPT OF LOVE. Kinkade advises his crew to make large posters that simply say, "Love this movie!" and to post them about. If you can fully emulate our hero in this and write, "Love this movie!" in your own piss, then all the better.
Lion's Gate have done a good job with Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage, giving us a clean print of a film that does well by its seasonal setting. The film itself disappoints by having its first snow fall come too late but the DVD itself is fine. The picture is bright and colours are good but there's a slight softness (and cheapness) to the film, probably indicating its made-for-DVD status. The DD5.1 audio track is particularly good, mind you, with there being plenty of times when the rear channels spring to life such that one wonders where that sound of ringing cash registers, bar room pinball table or Christmas chimes is coming from. Not only does the film make good use of its soundtrack but it's also clear and sharp. Finally, there are English subtitles.
There are no extras on this DVD.
Last updated: 26/06/2018 08:47:04