Length: 90 minutes
Christmas is upon us once again, bringing in a period of time that encourages closeness with family (biological or otherwise), reflecting on the year that’s been and d***heads arguing about what is or isn’t a Christmas movie.
Scientifically proven* to be the third most boring topic of all time (right behind ‘someone trying to explain a dream’ and ‘literally anything that has ever happened in a gym’), this particular debate has been given unnatural life on social media, with endless ‘[X] is a Christmas movie LOL!’ memes.
Yes, Gary, Die Hard does take place at Christmas. Very good. But by that slender metric, Batman Returns would be a Christmas movie too. And Gremlins. And hell, what about Silent Night, Deadly Night: the 1984 slasher flick about a killer Santa Claus. Would that be a Christmas movie as well? Are you going to gather the family around the telly to celebrate with that little number playing? Singing carols during the decapitation scene?
Are you, GARY?!
Look, without wanting to sound too Grinchy, most films set on or around Christmas are not Christmas movies. Hell, even the American films that claim to be Christmas movies aren’t really relevant to the Australian Chrissy experience.
Where’s the stinking hot weather? The constant drone of cicada song? The half melted pudding being dive bombed by overeager blowflies?
However, that lack of relevant content for Australian audiences has now been addressed, with the shockingly delightful A Sunburnt Christmas on Stan.
A Sunburnt Christmas is the yuletide tale of petty crim, Darryl Dunn (Daniel Henshall), who has escaped from prison and is on the run from scary, dangerous nutjob, Dingo (Sullivan Stapleton). Darryl crashes into the shed of the rather grim-looking farm of the Raley family, where he is discovered by precocious youngster, Daisy Raley (Lena Nankivell) who - because of the Santa Claus outfit Darry flogged during his escape - believes the wounded bloke to be Saint Nick himself.
Darryl goes along with Daisy’s mistaken identity, roping in slightly older brother, Tom Raley (Eadan McGuinness) and eventually even garnering support from cluey 15-year-old, Hazel Raley (Tatiana Goode).
See, Darryl knows there’s something on the Raley farm, a bag of cash that was hidden some time ago, and if the kids and “Santa” can find it, it means an end to all their troubles. As long as Dingo doesn’t find them first…
A Sunburnt Christmas is, put simply, a bloody delight. Director Christiaan Van Vuuren (best known for his work as Dom, one half of the Bondi Hipsters) nails both the comedic timing and genuine pathos needed to make a flick like this work. Which is impressive when you realise Christmas is his directorial debut and even more so when you discover the entire production was shot on a very accelerated schedule.
The cast, also, are fantastic. Daniel Henshall delivers his most engaging performance since his chilling turn in Snowtown (2011), believably well-intentioned but also a bit hopeless. Extra special kudos must go to Tatiana Goode, as well, who is fantastic in her first major role and 100% a star on the rise. Not to mention Ling Cooper Tang who brings unexpected layers and nuance to the role of mourning mum, Fiona Raley.
There’s also a pleasing lack of American-style schmaltz, with the emotional moments ringing true rather than feeling cloying and manipulative. This is a sweet story about broken people doing their best in trying times, and it manages to earn its feel good moments.
Look, 2020 has been a ghastly mutant clown show for many of us, and it’s hard to remain optimistic about the next twelve months. So, a film like A Sunburnt Christmas is a rare treat, an unexpectedly beaut bit of Australian content that can hold its head high amongst other similarly-themed international movies.
Is it a Christmas movie? Of course, but who cares? That’s the least of what it is. Because A Sunburnt Christmas doesn’t require that qualification. It’s a damn fine, funny, heartfelt and utterly delightful romp that will put a smile on your mug as you melt into the couch and fall into a pudding coma.
Happy Christmas, everyone! Except Gary. He can get stuffed.
*not scientifically proven, per se, but I was wearing a lab coat when I wrote this
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