One Magic Christmas (1985) – reviewed by George

One money-strapped family in Canada (the town is called Medford) is trying to get through Christmas. The dad Jack (Gary Basaraba) has lost his job, and the mother Ginny (Mary Steenburgen) is working at the local supermarket for a real jerk, Herbie (Timothy Webber). Herbie is much younger than Ginny and I think feels threatened by her – there’s no other reason I could see for why he picks on her so much. Except that maybe, because she needs the job so badly, he just likes to torture her with constant threats of losing it.
The kids are aware of the family troubles, but Cal (Robbie Magwood) and Abbie’s (Elizabeth Harnois) attitude is, sure we don’t have any money, but Santa has a skillion million dollars. And Jack is trying hard; he’s repairing bicycles in the basement and working on his idea for a bicycle shop, but they have been living in a company house, and since Jack was fired, they will have to move out in a very few days. You can understand Ginny’s worry and frustration, and you can see why she doesn’t want Jack to spend anything – anything at all – on presents for the children.
Santa calls on a Christmas angel, Gideon (Harry Dean Stanton), and says, “It’s Nicholas. Tonight I give the Christmas angels their assignments. I have a very difficult case for you this year. Her name is Ginny Grainger. She never even says Merry Christmas.” Gideon goes to the Medford mall and watches as Ginny tells Jack that they are there for socks and stuff. That’s all! Later Gideon talks to Abbie outside her house, and tells her that they (he and she) have to give Ginny back her Christmas spirit. Gideon takes Abbie to meet Santa (Jan Rubes), and Santa gives her a letter Ginny wrote to him years and years ago. “Give this to your mother”, Santa advises. Meanwhile Jack’s basic goodness sets in motion a double tragedy. Only Ginny can turn this around, but she has to believe, and the letter she hasn’t opened is the key.
This is a special movie because it skillfully combines issues of adult faith with childhood faith and gives you a happy ending that honors both. And it’s a completely secular take on Christmas, so it’s okay for everybody. My first thought after watching was that the dark parts are too dark, but then I decided that without that you wouldn’t have the degree of joy that you get at the end.
The film was directed by Phillip Borsos, from a script by Thomas Meehan, with early career appearances by Sarah Polley as Molly Monaghan and Elias Koteas as Eddie.
It’s an obscure title, but seek it out; I think you’ll like the payoff.

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