How to Ruin the Holidays, directed by Arlen Konopaki, serves as a fresh, unapologetic take on the usual Christmas movie. But screenwriter Kevin Gillese still delivers a few of the classic genre tropes that keep us coming back to films like this year after year. At its core, the story presents deeply resonant themes of choice and change, pitting them against the struggles we all face when returning home for Christmas.
Michelle (Amber Nash) is a struggling comedian and actress looking for work in L.A. and limping through her career. After a chaotic afternoon, she explains to her roommate, Suzy (Aisha Tyler), that she won’t be going home for the holidays because of her eccentric family. But then Michelle receives a call from her sister Andrea (Kate Lambert).
Their Dad (Colin Mochrie) has taken a fall, and Michelle rushes home to Atlanta to see that he’s okay. Once there, she discovers that Andrea lied about their father’s poor health. Nonetheless, their developmentally disabled brother Mark (Luke Davis) is happy to see Michelle, and the entire family attempts to make the best of the holiday in spite of their battling egos. What could go wrong?
How to Ruin the Holidays encourages its comedically trained cast to lean into drama, cutting laugh-out-loud moments against the melancholy of life. It’s clear that everyone had an absolute blast in doing so. Each performer shines so brightly that I’m just sad there wasn’t more movie to sink my teeth into. It proves that layered character work can be best done in the hands of a comedian. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cry laughing. It’s inspired.
“…the entire family attempts to make the best of the holiday in spite of their battling egos.”
Also inspired is how Gillese presents the duality of comedy and drama as two sides of the same screwed-up, imperfect coin. Everything works beautifully. Konopaki also taps into that dichotomy and allows his actors to go wild, imbuing each scene with a colorful sense of style. Hats off to all.
However, there are instances where a few of the larger threads in How to Ruin the Holidays begin to unravel. Certain storylines lack the satisfying conclusions an audience expects. But life often doesn’t give us what we expect, and I’ll let most of that slide in a film that zooms in on that complexity. That’s what Christmas is all about, after all.
The heart and soul of this film are best summed up through a conversation Michelle has with her Dad in his shed. The two discuss what choices were made to make sure Mark wasn’t “terminated” in utero for his disability. We find that the realities of making significant life decisions don’t have to be that hard. Sometimes, the choice is there was never a choice, and you pivot to make peace.
How to Ruin the Holidays reminds us that change, for better or worse, is what makes life worth living. Well, that and a little bit of eggnog. It reveals that to rip a gag from the film, family is much more than a six-letter word for trauma. And we all could use a bit more of it in our lives these days. Family, I mean. Not trauma. I could do without that this holiday.
Is How to Ruin the Holidays an instant classic? Who’s to say? But it captures the spirit of Christmas in two towns that aren’t necessarily known for their snow and ice. This is worth rewatching next year, and in the Christmas movie world, that’s all that matters.
"…reminds us that change, for better or worse, is what makes life worth living"