I have a confession to make: I love truly awful films. I don’t mean awful in a Sharknado 2 kind of way, or even in a Cats remake way (shudder). No, I’m specifically talking about cheesy rom-coms, the sillier the better. If I was to ever go on Mastermind, I reckon they’d be my specialist subject.
Now, there are all kinds of categories of cheesy films. Major categories include: the high-school ones (To All The Boys I Loved Before, where were you when I was 15?); the wedding ones (2019’s Plus One is such an underrated gem); the dance ones (Work It is the Step Up for our times); and the shiny, set-in-New-York-skyscrapers ones (Set It Up is genuinely hilarious and Lucy Liu needs more air time); to name just a few.
But at this time of year, the genre really comes into its own, and there’s an absolute bumper crop available on Netflix. We’re talking low-budget, plot-light Christmas specials, sometimes featuring D-list stars, that flood the platform at this time of year. Some come and go, never to be streamed again; some, like A Christmas Prince, reach a kind of cult cheese status and resurface year after year. See also, A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding and the third instalment, where – you’ll never guess! – there’s a Royal Baby.
There’s The Princess Switch, with queen of the cheese Vanessa Hudgens starring opposite Vanessa Hudgens (there’s even a Princess Switch 2, plot twist, this time there’s a third Vanessa Hudgens). And the unexpectedly filthy Holidate (an excellent example if ever there was one, of an entire movie created to support a pun – but hey, this is a judgement free zone).
While we’re on the subject of films created on the back of puns, who could forget (or remember) 2019’s The Knight Before Christmas? Time travelling, festive romance and another appearance from Vanessa Hudgens, absolute winner for me. Or Holiday In The Wild, with Kristin Davis, Rob Lowe and some very cute elephants, how can you not be charmed by it?
Yes, the Festive Romance category features very high up on my Netflix homepage (right up there with Dramas With A Strong Female Lead), and a quick scroll serves up a whole world of escapist joy.
In lockdown, flicking on a cheesy Christmas film has become the ultimate antidote to C-word doom and gloom. It’s been a social outlet too. When Zoom quiz fatigue hit early on in lockdown 1, my friends and I started semi regular watch-alongs of the cheesiest films we could find. We’d get in the snacks, set up a splinter WhatsApp group to shield the more discerning members of our group from our inane chat, and text and LOL our way through whatever ridiculous film we’d selected.
We watched Love, Wedding, Repeat (how could we resist a name like that?), The Lovebirds (great premise, but some genuinely bizarre scenes); Centre Stage and Honey (both totally joyous Noughties throwback dance films). And this lockdown round, we’re going hard on the Christmas films. It’s the ideal lockdown activity, especially if you can’t face another second on Zoom – and if it makes you laugh as much as Operation Christmas Drop did.
What’s so great about cheesy films, in this insanely uncertain world that feels like it’s lurching from one unexpected disaster to the next, is that when you sit down to watch one, you know that’s 90 minutes of your life when you know exactly what’s going to happen, from beginning to neatly tied up happy ending. It’s a simple formula:
- Girl meets Boy. Yes, gender norms do still dominate, although this year’s Happiest Season, about a woman spending Christmas with her girlfriend’s family who don’t yet know she’s gay, signals more inclusive times ahead.
- Girl will be quirky and have impossibly good hair and an improbably large apartment relative to her creative job – always something cutesy and/or creative, think cupcake baker, pre-school teacher or dog lead designer. Without fail there’ll be an early scene where she drinks wine/works out/goes shopping with her sassy best friend and laments her love life.
- Boy (sticking with the gender norms here) is probably a handsome architect, sports writer or paediatrician. Girl takes an instant disliking to Boy and is completely oblivious to his very obvious handsomeness.
- Girl and Boy get tangled up in a series of unlikely misunderstandings and coincidences that reveal Boy’s good heart (and, crucially, handsomeness), and force them to realise their love for each other.
- Girl and Boy live happily ever after. You’ll be left in absolutely no doubt of this thanks to the outro montage likely to include holiday snaps of the couple against green-screen backgrounds of the Eiffel Tower or a tropical beach.
Call it the Emily in Paris effect – you know it’s rubbish but it’s deliciously addictive rubbish that takes you out of the doom and gloom of 2020 and lands you into a simpler, happier world with great outfits and zero peril.
And yes, I am well aware that there’s never been more absolutely brilliant TV and films to watch than we have on demand right now. We’re lucky that lockdown came in an age of Netflix, Amazon Prime, smart TVs and decent broadband, and we’re not stuck watching one grainy channel in black and white.
But sometimes, I want a break from the gripping political intrigues, high-brow social-commentary dramas and gruesome true crime documentaries. The world throws enough drama at me every day to spend my evenings stressed out by the TV too. Settling down for Netflix & cheese is like a comfort blanket where nothing really bad ever happens, because nothing resembling real life ever happens. These films exist in a low-jeopardy bubble of moderately attractively people having a moderately interesting time. There’s really no brain power required, and that’s the absolutely blissful appeal.