12 Dates of Christmas (2011) — Yule be stuck in a time loop

“Reputations are just history in rumor form. You can change it.”

Justin’s rating: I blame the evil turtledoves

Justin’s review: “Oh hey,” I said, walking into the living room where we were decorating for the season. “Culty Christmas is starting up again on Mutant Reviewers. You know, where we spend two weeks focusing on odd holiday movies and all that.”

“That’s nice dear,” my wife said absently, trying to decide if the gingerbread man could perch on top of the TV without the ornery cat knocking it off.

“Yeah,” I continued. “And the first one I’m doing is 12 Dates of Christmas.”

“WHAT? Nooooo!” my beloved wailed. “I love that movie! You can’t review it! You’ll ruin it! You’ll make fun of it!”

I swept her into my arms, absorbing her increasingly frantic tears on my ugly sweater. “Shh shh, it’ll be OK.”

Anyway, how could I not do this semi-famous Christmas TV movie, which slams together Mark-Paul Gosselaar from Saved By the Bell and the time loop concept from Groundhog Day? I mean, Zack was already messing with time when he’d freeze things on the show, so my theory going into this flick was that his meddling ended up breaking the space-time continuum in an epic, universe-ending cinematic event. Just, y’know, with smooches and snowmen.

On Christmas Eve, Kate (Amy Smart, Just Friends) gets spritzed in the face with what I’m going to assume is magic perfume. It must’ve been full of chronotons or TARDIS sauce or something, because it triggers a limited-duration time loop in which she ends up reliving the same day — and same blind date — 12 times in a row with Miles (Gosselaar).

Hey, like the song! What a coincidence!

While Miles seems like a nice guy and all, Kate is still stuck on her ex-boyfriend Jack (who’s engaged and clearly not interested in Kate any longer), so that’s the dumb obstacle she must overcome. Kate also ostracizes her father’s new girlfriend and is rude toward her sweet neighbor. After a botched evening, Kate’s day resets, and she gets successive chances to learn more about all of these people and start making some more informed decisions.

The only way this sort of setup works is if Kate is the most obstinate and oblivious person in the world, because the only thing that’s really getting in the way of having a good date with Miles is her own willful ignorance. Sure, I can see her trying to chase her ex until she finds out he’s engaged. But then to keep doing that for a successive three identical days after finding out how devoted he is to his new flame? That’s the very definition of “stupidity.”

With 12 days (dates) to get through and a 90 minute runtime, this TV movie almost has to move at a frantic pace. This is mirrored in Kate’s speech and behavior; she’s like a little dog with the zoomies who can’t settle down and have a normal conversation that isn’t in 1.5x speed.

Still, it’s hard to go wrong with likable leads, a cheery Christmas overlay, and the time loop format. The way I look at it, the loop is the cosmos’ way of slapping a bit of sense and maturity into this manic dream pixie of a woman. Kate’s gradual discovery of the people around her may be a bit rushed but it’s no less touching (for example, when she spends an evening baking with her neighbor).

Yes, 12 Dates of Christmas is maybe overloaded with syrupy sweet human connections, unbelievable coincidences, and eyerolling declarations of “fate,” but Smart and Gosselaar carry the film just fine. And I kind of respected the movie’s determination to show us each and every one of the 12 repeating days without succumbing to a montage.

Didja notice?

  • The subtle Shawshank Redemption reference (hint: it’s a certain town in Mexico)
  • Kate’s clock is the same as the one in Groundhog Day
  • You can spot items from all of the 12 days of Christmas song at the mall
  • Nicholas Sparks as a present — “Fav book, totes!”
  • “I like jam!”
  • That’s one tangled ball of lights
  • “You smell nice, like honey.” “Honey doesn’t have a smell.”
  • Hope you enjoyed having that coat for those 15 seconds!
  • His wife fell off a ladder and died while he was at the store? That’s gruesome!
  • “Not at home in the kitchen, are we?”
  • “The inner you is marking your body.”
  • Oh, of course he coaches orphans
  • Kate’s growing baking obsession
  • “What are you, the engagement police?”
  • “Nothing says Merry Christmas like rat feces!”

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