So much of Christmas is about tradition: eating the same foods we eat every year, singing the same songs, watching the same movies, and waiting for the inevitable point where Aunt Margie gets so wasted that she stops making sense and starts slurring absolute nonsense. Some might call it ritual, while some might call it tedium to be stuck in the same continuous loop year after year without anything changing or improving.
That’s exactly what happens in Netflix’s newest Christmas movie, the Brazilian feature Just Another Christmas (or Tudo Bem No Natal Que Vem in Portuguese). Jorge (Leandro Hassum) has always hated Christmas because it’s the same day as his birthday, and he was always cheated out of a double celebration. Middle-aged and sick of having to dress up as Santa for his kids, he yells at his catatonic father-in-law (Levi Ferreira) for not being mentally there for the holiday. Grandpa Nhanhão places a curse on Jorge, who then falls off the roof while trying to convince his children he’s “Natal Papai,” as they call Father Christmas in Brazil.
When Jorge wakes up the next day, it isn’t December 26th — it’s Christmas again, but a year has passed. He can’t remember anything that happened in the intervening 365 days, even though he got a promotion and a new car. Every year, he wakes up on Christmas, and “Christmas Jorge” can only remember the things that happened on Christmases past, not what happened in between. It’s a concept higher than the employees at a Denver weed dispensary.
At first, Just Another Christmas seems like just another rip-off of Groundhog Day, as Jorge starts to anticipate every beat of the days ahead. But that isn’t because the same day is literally repeating, it’s because Christmas is built around repetition. When every day is Christmas, Jorge can anticipate the rhythms better than most. But the film quickly diverges from the familiar mold. Once Jorge tells his long-suffering wife Laura (Elisa Pinheiro) about his “condition,” she informs the family, and they all start to account for it, so it isn’t some secret time loop he has to navigate alone.
Over time, things start to slowly shift. Jorge’s kids grow older, his relationship with Laura frays, and he wakes up one Christmas with a short haircut and a mustache, which “regular Jorge” loves, but “Christmas Jorge” says makes him look like a Mario brother. It’s all delivered to comedic effect, with Hassum’s performance giving the character a sort of manic everyman quality. He never stops complaining or talking, but he also dutifully does whatever his wife says. Kevin Hart or Ray Romano would be perfectly cast in the English-language remake. (And it’d be good business for some studio to grab it — this is one of the best and most imaginative Christmas movies out there.)
Just Another Christmas isn’t just a comedic examination of Jorge, it’s inevitably an examination of the holiday itself. At first, Jorge is exhausted by the way every Christmas is the same, but gradually, he realizes the importance of tradition. He starts to see the day as a chance to reflect, a way to get in touch with the ideal version of himself that only pops up once a year, and isn’t corrupted by the other 364 days per year of working hard, struggling with family, and the indignities of modern life. He also accepts that the holidays are different experiences for people in different phases of life, as he goes from getting the kids hyped for Santa to not having any kids home for Christmas.
As the film spans decades over the course of 100 minutes, it eventually becomes less of an examination of Christmas, and becomes an examination of life, and how people determine what’s important and what’s worth saving. It’s startlingly philosophical for a Christmas movie, but that’s all balanced out by the great verbal and physical comedy, including a hilarious ongoing gag about Jorge’s contentious mustache.
The story and the performances — including an excellent turn by Danielle Winits as Jorge’s secretary Marcia — are the real draw rather than the style, which is competent but conventional. The film looks more like an expensive TV movie than a theatrical release, but it proves that great characters and an inventive (though belabored) concept can take a project far.
Many Americans probably haven’t been to Brazil for Christmas, where it’s held in the summer, and they’re more likely to eat panettone than figgy pudding. But they’ll certainly recognize the feelings that surround the holidays, whether it’s the anxiety of shopping at a crowded mall, the dread of dealing with unruly family members, or the healing power of the Christmas spirit, when we finally decide to embrace it. Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also a pain in the ass, and it can be incredibly depressing for some people. Finally, there’s a movie that fully recognizes both, and is all the better for it.
Just Another Christmas is streaming on Netflix now.