FILMS

Finding the spirit of Christmas past

LAWRENCE O’TOOLE December 9 1985
FILMS

Finding the spirit of Christmas past

LAWRENCE O’TOOLE December 9 1985

Finding the spirit of Christmas past

FILMS

ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS Directed by Phillip Borsos

The joyful absence of cynicism in One Magic Christmas, an unabashed holiday fantasy, is completely refreshing. The story, which director Phillip Borsos conceived himself, has a directness and touching simplicity. The movie is the kind that Hollywood has all but forgotten. At its centre is Ginnie Grainger (Mary Steenburgen), a woman who, for good reason, is lacking in Christmas spirit. Her husband, Jack (Gary Basaraba), has lost his job, and the Graingers must move out of their house by the new year. With Christmas just a few days away, the children, Abbie (Elizabeth Harnois) and Cal (Robbie Magwood), expect much more in their stockings and under the tree than their parents can afford. Ginnie, who works as a supermarket cashier, sticks to her pragmatic attitude: it is a time for belt-tightening in the Grainger family, and she has no intention of succumbing to the Christmas spirit.

One Magic Christmas is about both the joy and the necessity of succumbing to the season’s sentiments. Ginnie, who seems to have forgotten she was once a little girl, meets an angel who is sent down from heaven to help her. Perched in a tree and playing his harmonica, the grizzled Gideon (Harry

Dean Stanton) is the first movie angel who seems constantly in need of a shave. But it is part of the movie’s charm that magic comes from the least expected places. Gideon makes the adorable Abbie his confidante, and it is delightful to see a little girl become the most important character in a children’s fantasy.

While the movie is extremely realistic on one level, it is still largely a flight of fancy. The plotting requires a considerable suspension of disbelief: there is a trip to the North Pole to visit Santa Claus, and one character is raised from the dead. But director Borsos (The Grey Fox, The Mean Season) is a gifted imagist who seems at home in any genre. The street on which the Graingers live, twinkling with Christmas lights and blanketed by snow, is far more bewitching than anything in the current $50-million extravaganza Santa Claus: The Movie. And the scene in which Abbie visits the North Pole will widen the eyes of any child or adult. Borsos sees beneath the surface of everyday images, such as a snowy street in a small town or children with their eyes glued to a street-hockey game, and reminds the viewer of how special such situations can be.

One Magic Christmas confirms Borsos’s status as Canada’s finest working director. The movie creates an intimacy between its characters and the au-

dience. And those characters, completely devoid of any glamor, seldom make it to the big screen the way they once did. The viewer becomes drawn into the minutiae of their lives. Their dreams, whether they are the visions of sugarplums dancing in the children’s heads or Jack’s unfulfilled hope of one day owning his own small business, are all too familiar.

The movie never strikes a wrong note, largely due to the quality of the acting: Steenburgen, Basaraba, Harnois and Magwood are entirely convincing as a family. But a special word should be saved for Steenburgen’s performance. Whether she is belting out a Suprêmes song in the shower or sitting at the table with her face creased in worry, she is a recognizable workingclass mother whose apparent ordinariness belies reserves of inner strength. Ginnie’s reawakening to the spirit of Christmas as she is brought back to her own past is a model of subtlety. Few actresses could manage the look of absolute wonderment that comes over Steenburgen’s face when she finally confronts Santa Claus himself. One Magic Christmas is more than just a story about believing in magic: it is a welcome reminder that the act of believing makes magic happen.

-LAWRENCE O’TOOLE