It’s pretty amusing (at least to me) that I wound up watching this fecal coil of a Hallmark holiday film mere days after its star, Billy Ray Cyrus, discovered, along with the rest of us, his daughter Miley’s appreciation for psychedelic herb. And while watching the phone camera video of her going all Cypress Hill on her career as a tween star was more than a little awkward, it was infinitely more entertaining than slogging through 90 minutes of her old man’s earnest slow-motion attempt at being the next Andy Griffith. I’m not certain who provided Miley with a bongful of salvia, but I know I can thank my editor, Jeff Giles (y’all), for sending this southern-fried, vanilla-scented dump my way.
So here’s the plot (based, oddly enough, on a book co-written by Kenny Rogers): Cyrus is a poor farmer named Daniel, who lives in Canaan, TX in 1964 with his three kids and his father-in-law’s reanimated corpse (played convincingly by real-life representative of the undead, Tom Heaton), having lost his wife after the birth of their third child. Oldest boy DJ (Zak Ludwig), a fifth-grader, gets into a fight with bookish black kid Rodney (Jaishon Fisher) and, to punish his son and make him more sympathetic to “coloreds,” Daniel arranges for the boys to spend a week staying over at each other’s houses. Of course, they detest each other, until they find a dog that’d been shot by crazy, shotgun-toting neighbor Carl Hammer (the squirrelly lookin’ Tom McBeath), nurse it back to health, and become BFFs.
Seven years go by, with DJ and Rodney (now played by Jacob Blair and Matt Ward, respectively) maintaining their just-shy-of-gay biracial friendship, deep in the heart of a clearly disapproving Texas. When Rodney’s grandmother dies, Daniel brings Rodney home to live with him and DJ and their siblings and grandcorpse. They have a special Christmas in which Daniel hands out pictures of presents (cuz, you know, they can’t afford real ones) in a “celebration not of things, but of hope.”
Shortly thereafter, civil rights meets white supremacy, shit gets set on fire, the youngest boy ends up in a wheelchair, Rodney’s estranged mother (played like a crackhead with the DTs by Rukiya Bernard) comes back for him, he goes on to be a great writer with an Afro wig, blah blah blah, they have Christmas again in Canaan, and everyone ends up happy and well-filled. Except for the grandcorpse, who eventually goes back into the dirt from whence he came.
It’s a Hallmark movie, so one tends to expect a predictable story with weak but earnest acting, little in the way of any real suspense (in spite of a late attempt at a plot twist, like when Rodney’s mom shows up with 20 minutes left in the film), and characters straight out of the annual Stereotypes-R-Us catalog. The last is particularly funny (however unintentionally)—Christmas in Canaan has the crusty grandpa; the nurturing black grandmother; the sweet kid-turned-housewife daughter (played by hot little number Emily Tennant); even the grumpy bus driver.
Once all the players are in place, you can pretty much guess the plot without even watching the thing (since I can’t say no, though, I sat through it all). The movie seems tailor-made for several key Hallmark demographic groups: those who need something on in the background while wrapping gifts, those whose cable systems do not show syndicated reruns of The Waltons, catatonic head trauma patients, Billy Ray Cyrus fans, and evil editors-in-chief.
So if you fall into any one of those categories, or you just want to get an innocuous stocking-stuffer, Christmas in Canaan is available at many fine retailers, and probably several lousy ones. Ho ho ho and all that shit.
Many thanks to all of you who read this column regularly, send your suggestions, and leave comments. I’m shutting ‘er down until January, so I’ll take this opportunity to wish all of you a safe and happy holiday season.
And because the holidays can sometimes make us feel … irregular, I give you the following Billy Ray Cyrus video, to help you with any bout of constipation you may have in the next few weeks. Peace out.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/E48mgQvmDqU" width="600" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]