Oh, boy! Here we go. The Christmas season can already be felt in the air, and with it comes an avalanche of Christmas movies and shows ready to saturate all streaming services during the months of November and December. It is part of the season, there is no doubt about it. Christmas starts early and ends late, but that is what people do. We extend the good times as much as we can. Catfish Christmas is one of the first movies that will open this year’s Christmas season, and it is ready to get you in the mood for love, gifts, and family drama.
Catfish Christmas is directed by Victoria Rowell and stars Leigh-Ann Rose, Tony Todd, Ella Joyce, Charlotte Evelyn Williams, Anthony Riggins, and Devin Laster. The film tells the story of Leslie, a successful woman who, sadly, has not had that much luck with love. After surviving a very hurtful breakup, Leslie goes back home to spend Christmas with her family. What Leslie doesn’t know is that her family’s push to get involved in her love life will send her on a goose chase and then into finding a new chance for love.
The catfishing phenomenon has been a very interesting one. As the movie itself points out, nowadays more than 40% of couples meet online, which is great, as the internet allows people who would have never met to find themselves, share their interests, and even fall in love. However, more often than not, the internet can also be used as a tool of deception. People passing for other people and hurting some other people seem to be the order of the day. So going online and opening yourself to love seems to be even harder than doing it in an old-fashioned way.
Catfish Christmas isn’t a particularly good movie, the performances are flat, the visual design screams low budget, and the chemistry between the leads is almost nonexistent, and yet, it isn’t a terrible watch either. If the movie does something right, it is bringing the Christmas mood back. The movie’s premise will bring many people’s memories of what it is like to go back home and get together with the family and then try to live up to their expectations for a couple of days.
Some of these situations are very well executed, and they will feel very consistent and familiar to those who have had to suffer through them in real life. The result is a movie that can end up being funny on occasion, but that sadly wastes its actors on a bad script full of clichés poorly executed. At least the family drama feels real, and the same can be said for the feeling of being out of your depth in today’s current dating market. Leslie is a nice protagonist, and you can feel her despair at being partially content with her life, but also knowing that there is something missing.
Exploring these elements would have been fantastic, but the movie descends into being a collection of bad jokes and romantic scenes that don’t really work at all. As we said before, Leigh Ann-Rose is a good protagonist. She feels very genuine, and Devin Laster seems like a good guy, but they really have zero chemistry. Every time the movie tries to sell them as a couple, the scenes fall flat, and there is this cloud of cringe that moves through the scene, covering everything it touches.
In terms of visuals, the movie feels very flat, not only in its use of color but also in the way shots are framed, and the scenes are composed. The blocking seems to be extremely simple, and sometimes you can’t be blamed if you think the movie is trying to replicate the feeling of a two-dimensional space. It is weird. It is clear that the movie doesn’t have a lot of resources, but this type of visual care can be done by actually thinking about it, instead of just pointing the camera at the actors and calling action. It might sound harsh, but visual care can take your movie a long way.
The presence of Ella Joyce and Tony Todd is very welcome, but not even their best scenes can raise the bar for a story that feels very undercooked. The catfish concept could have been the source of much drama, but the premise never goes beyond being an embarrassing moment for some characters. In its climax, the movie tries to sell the entire situation as very dramatic, but nothing that came before sells you on this idea. The script definitely needed a couple more drafts to explore the premise to its fullest and create a movie that could stand out.
In the end, Catfish Christmas feels quite generic. It is understandable that the movie cannot do things that movies with a lot more resources can, but going into production with a story like this feels rushed. Also, not being able to find two actors that have chemistry, and setting the expectation that your movie will have romance as a central element, seems to be a recipe for disaster.