Just in time for the holiday season comes "Make the Yuletide Gay," a softer, lighter romantic comedy from a genre not known for its restraint. Eschewing heavy dramatics, "Yuletide" makes an admirable attempt to remain buoyant, sustaining the festive Christmas mood as far as humanly possible. However, the material eventually falls apart, caught between the mechanics of an out-of-the-closet farce and a tender story of personal and familial acceptance. The festivities kick off with a hearty ho-ho-ho. They end with a disconcerting no-no-no.
While free to life openly as a gay man at college, Olaf Gunnunderson (Keith Jordan) is reluctant to return home for the holidays, where his Midwestern parents Anya (Kelly Heaton) and Sven (Derek Long) are unaware of his sexual preference, pushing their son towards a spunky neighbor girl (Hallee Hirsch). Removing all traces of homosexuality from his person, Olaf takes the plunge, enjoying the insane festivities and decoration his mother employs to amplify Christmas. For Olaf's boyfriend Nathan (Adamo Ruggiero), the holidays are a nightmare thanks to his frosty parents (Gates McFadden and Ian Buchanan), inspiring him to make a surprise visit to see his lover. Freaked out, Olaf tries to conceal the true nature of his relationship with Nathan from his family, only to be confronted with the absurdity of hiding his love in front of those who care for him the most.
Joining a growing collection of coming out pictures, "Yuletide" is perhaps the softest of the bunch. Taking a benevolent Christmas cue, the feature is surprisingly mild when it comes to language and sexuality, preferring goofier routes of ribald comedy, spraying the screen with an extraordinary amount of double entendres, writer/director Rob Williams's ("3-Day Weekend") preferred weapon of choice. There's also a juicy slice of "ohhh yahhhhh" Minnesota/Wisconsin stereotyping going on to endear Olaf's parents to the audience. Turned into lovable boobs who adore Christmas, their son, and in Sven's case, chemical recreation, the Gunnundersons are broad creations intended to add some warmth to the picture, as well as create some sense of mystery as Olaf faces divulging crushing news to a pair of cheerily aware lovebirds. Brightly performed by Heaton and Long, the parents are the life of the "Yuletide" party, squeezing the best laughs in the film with their display of deafening Midwestern thoughtfulness, competitive spirit (a rival neighbor is played by Alison Arngrim), and again, those pesky double entendres.
Timing is a huge problem for Williams. Sluggish and unable to maintain a suitable rhythm, "Yuletide" reaches out as a farce, yet everything unfolds slowly, and actors lay on the jokes instead of nimbly working through the humor of the script. The lethargy smothers the viewing experience, making little sense when the plot is essentially a refurbished "Three's Company" episode. The lack of finger-snap movement frustrates quickly, and the comedy eventually washes away entirely, as Nathan watches Olaf bury his true nature to avoid any conflict with his parents. The sentiment is sincere, but the new rush of solemnity disrupts whatever little flow the picture was enjoying. The poignancy seems to emerge from another movie entirely, disorienting "Yuletide" completely.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio), "Yuletide" was shot on a limited budget and frankly looks it. The HD photography doesn't register with much life, though the Christmas imagery cuts through the drab visual scheme of the film. Skintones read hot throughout the feature and black levels are somewhat muddy.
A Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is suitably minimal to match the limited resources of the film itself. Dialogue is always accessible, easily picked out of the frontal sound movement of the feature. Soundtrack selections brighten up the DVD experience without overpowering the dramatics.
A feature-length audio commentary with director Rob Williams and actors Adamo Ruggiero and Keith Jordan is more conversational than educational, with the two young talents cracking wise throughout the track. It's Williams's job to keep the boys on task, and while contributing sporadic nuggets of BTS information, the discussion is mostly regulated to praise, spelling out motivations, and giggling.
"Deleted Scenes" (1:41) offer two brief scenes concerning the curious case of Sven's brother.
"Behind the Scenes" (28:16) take viewers to the set to observe the filming of three sequences: "Organizing a Holiday Party," "Rehearsing the Fight," and "Preparing for a Christmas Eve Visit." Laughs, filmmaking, and more laughs ensue.
"Extended Scenes" (13:09) offer fairly random scene additions, making room for more jokes and characterization.
"Outtakes" (4:21) is a standard routine of cast mix-em-ups, with the occasional canine intrusion.
"Cast and Crew Interviews" (9:22) sits down with production participants, peppering them with questions pertaining to the holiday season and on-set hilarity.
A Photo Gallery (1:15) is offered.
A Theatrical Trailer has been included.
It's difficult to take Olaf's dilemma seriously, and that's not the response "Yuletide" wants for its lead character. Careening back and forth between silliness and despondency tends to blur the messages of empowerment and trust instead of celebrating them. It's a well-intentioned picture, but "Make the Yuletide Gay" just doesn't have a clear enough focus to successfully manage a heavy workload of tonal changes.
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