‘Falling For Christmas’ is a Formulaic Holiday Comedy But Marks the First Step In the Welcome Return of Lindsay Lohan

CHRISTMAS IN WONDERLAND – Credit: Scott Everett White/Netflix

It feels good to root for Lindsay Lohan these days. Some people never stopped, of course. For everyone else, the wake-up call arrived earlier this year, during the Superbowl, when Lohan starred in a winking Planet Fitness commercial to which the seemingly universal response, uttered across the internet, was, She looks great! That was the punchline: our surprise. “What’s happening to Lindsay?” asks a room full of gym goers at the top of the ad, as a sweaty but glowing Lohan toils away on an elliptical like a road runner stuck in place. She’s been “trading DUIs for DIY,” we’re advised. She has hobbies now, which means she has time for hobbies, now: She has the luxury of idle time. She has healthy habits. We see her win Jeopardy! with a question about Dennis Rodman, another complicated celebrity given the circus freak treatment by the media of his heyday. A weeping paparazzo posted outside of a nightclub cries out that he misses Lindsay. She isn’t giving him much material nowadays; he can’t cash in on the disaster. No more memeable train wrecking in court or dishy tales from Hollywood sets detailing the misfortunes that once made her a no-go for movies’ insurance policies. Those days are apparently far enough in the past that we can now laugh at them. Lohan’s in on the joke, which is part of why it works. It works even more so because the once-unstoppable star genuinely seems restored. Even the glowing aura that trails her by the end of the ad, a bit of special effects garnish meant to inspire a knowing chuckle, can’t distract from the sincerity — and, for anyone who remembers the darker years, implausibility — of the actual glow up

Lohan’s new Netflix holiday movie, Falling for Christmas, isn’t as rich as that commercial. It isn’t destined to become some towering work in her canon — who cares. When the movie tips its hat to Mean Girls, by way of “Jingle Bell Rock,” it seems to acknowledge as much; how could it not? This healthy dollop of Christmas camp, which is a little batty by even Netflix holiday movie standards, is eager to give Lohan something to do. That’s the point, and that’s what the movie pleasantly accomplishes. Falling for Christmas is a holiday romance, a silly mix of fish-out-of-water comedy and amnesia. (Not for nothing, the movie also doubles as a subtextually crude warning to women who clearly lack gaydar.) The title, per the genre, is cute wordplay. A hell-on-wheels hotel heiress gets proposed to on a snowy peak by her prim, richie-rich boyfriend; falls off the cliff, which she probably deserves; loses her memory; and winds up in the home (if not the bed) of a rosy cheeked man-cherub, who happens to be a widower, and who additionally happens to have a young daughter who’s desperately in need of a mother figure and is about to gain a very , very rich one.

This is why we love movies. Lohan stars as the heiress, obviously, in a role that plays a little like Mean Girls‘ Cady Heron in reverse: from mean girl to nice girl, rather than the other way around. Her new beau (played by Chord Overstreet) is in the hospitality business, too, but on far humbler terms than the heiress’s family, making this a story about a rich girl’s redemption, on top of it all. We push her off the cliff so that she can forget that she’s rich, learn how to do laundry, and fall in love when she’s finally earned it. Only then can she get her identity (and money) back, and by then, we want her to have it more than she even wants it for herself, because she’s proven that she deserves it.

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It’s a role that suits Lohan because the most unlikeable version of this star onscreen is never really unlikeable — that’s the joke, the quality through which Lohan so often became the glue that held a genre’s contrivances together. No one ever expected Cady Heron to remain a mean girl or completely jump the shark by the end of that movie — she seems too good, too genuinely good, for that. You know better because you know that comedies like Mean Girls aren’t designed to deny us an ending we can feel good about. But really you know it because Lohan’s most distinguished quality as a star is that glowing goodness, a real, unshakeable joy that can only barely be imitated, let alone replicated, and which feels perfectly at home in the bright, buoyant, only glancingly ironic realm of happy-go-lucky comedy. It was there in The Parent Trap: I’m thinking of the moment that the twin Lindsays, separated by birth and upbringing, meet each other for the first time, and the entire movie seemingly slows down to dwell in Lohan’s contagious delight in herself. Just My Luck saw her starring opposite Chris Pine in a plot that shares Falling for Christmas‘rom-com flair for the ridiculous, with its twist-of-fate torturing of a blissfully lucky New York publicist whose good fortune tanks like Enron stock. Again, pure Lohan: a character whose effortless luck makes you begrudgingly admiring, rather than annoyed, who inspires jealousy rather than rejection, whose happy outcomes you root for from the start. This is the nice girl who’s winning enough to appeal to the most boringly nice guys in movies but could not be any less at risk of becoming boring, herself.

Maybe this is what made her public spirals over the years so shocking: they couldn’t have felt any more out of place. Many a star’s pained inner life is perfectly apparent in their performances, even if it’s subtle, even if everything the actor is doing is a wily, spectacular distraction from all the darkness we’re not meant to see. Lohan’s was not. The public struggles, beginning with the leak of a letter about her behavior on the set of Georgia Rule (2007), in which she was deemed a “spoiled brat” and accused of costing the movie “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” initially felt inconsistent with her image. Then they became her image. Movies still tried to give her an out. 2012’s Liz & Dick (a Lifetime biopic of Elizabeth Taylor) and 2013’s The Canyons (a notorious direct-to-video thriller that director Paul Schrader used Kickstarter to fund) both arrived when her career downslide was well on its way and were marred by the usual stories about her behavior (The Canyons spectacularly so, thanks to a surreal New York Times feature about the making of the movie and leaked audio of her berating a co-star). And yet when I rewatched The Canyons recently, I was taken aback by how out of place Lohan seems amid the sleaze of it all, how abrasively vulnerable she is beneath the wreckage of the movie’s unflattering surfaces, which is more to the movie’s point than it seems to have gotten credit for. There’s something about seeing a parted-out, post-nadir Lohan get her soul sucked dry by a predatory Los Angeles, a willful participant in her own destruction who’s also helplessly beholden to that destruction, that feels uncomfortably apt. Even in the role of a not-so-good girl, she serves something harder to put a finger on, something awkwardly tragic, and disappointingly human, a sense of failure that can only be earned by falling from the greatest heights.

It comes back to what we value in Lindsay Lohan as a star, which is what Falling for Christmas, a Netflix comeback story, strives to understand, to its credit. Here, as in the Planet Fitness ad, as throughout her career, Lohan gets to glow. It’s an adequate first step — more valuable for what it means (Lindsay in the public eye again, doing late night and hyping her podcast, being a known quantity again, for the right reasons) than for what it is. The movie is part of a multi-picture deal with Netflix; the followup is set to be released next year. Making this, with any luck, the beginning of a new phase. That would be nice. Lohan deserves a second chance.

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