Christmas In The Clouds Movie Review

The success of independent films like March of the Penguins, Whale Rider, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding makes you wonder why Hollywood bigshots don't greenlight more projects like them -- modestly budgeted, impassioned movies without all the hubbub and fanfare of celebrity actors and niche marketing strategies. But the ugly truth is, Hollywood bigshots get it right more often than they get it wrong. Most independent films don't merit an audience wider than the festival circuit and the director's living room. They simply aren't good enough. Christmas in the Clouds is such a movie.

Watching it one can't shake a familiar, unpleasant feeling, a sense memory tied to bad TV. Perhaps if you combined the absolute worst episodes of the classic shows Newhart and Northern Exposure, extracted the talent of both ensemble casts, and stretched out the running time to that of a feature-length movie, the remaining dregs would be something like Christmas in the Clouds, a film that commits nearly every sin in the storyteller's handbook. From absurd plot contrivances to long stretches of tedium to a predictable resolution, Christmas in the Clouds nails them all.

Here's the premise. Ray Clouds on Fire is the manager of a ski resort owned and operated by an American Indian nation. One day Ray receives a letter informing him that a representative from a famous travel guide will soon be making an anonymous visit to the resort to write a review. Ray sees this as a golden opportunity to build the resort's reputation, so he rallies the quirky resort staff to be on their best behavior during the upcoming week. At the same time, Ray's father, Joe Clouds on Fire, has been corresponding with a young widow from New York, Tina Little Hawk, who has also decided to visit the resort anonymously. Tina wants to meet her pen pal face to face to determine whether or not their connection is real, but without the pressure of a formally planned meeting. The hijinks that follow are built on awesomely improbable mistaken identity scenarios. Suffice it to say that Ray mistakes Tina for the travel writer, Tina mistakes Ray for her pen pal, and a romance sparks between them.

In the spirit of fairness, Christmas in the Clouds deserves credit for its few virtues. Filmed on location at the Sundance Resort in Utah, writer-director Kate Montgomery makes good use of the natural landscape to add texture to the movie's high and low emotional moments. In all, the movie is handsomely shot. And the film's two "big name" stars, the terrific character actors Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves, The Green Mile) and M. Emmet Walsh (The Jerk, Blood Simple, Raising Arizona), both deliver entertaining performances and are worth whatever they were paid. Their turns, Greene as a preening temperamental chef and Walsh as a cantankerous travel writer, actually manage to camouflage the story's weaknesses as long as they're on-screen. However, they aren't even close to enough to carry the day.

Christmas in the Clouds debuted more than four years ago at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. It has since gone on to win numerous awards at other film festivals around the country. But that's where the ride should have ended. Christmas in the Clouds is not a movie the viewing public should pay to see at a local theater. It's the type of independent film that makes you long for the market-tested pleasures of Hollywood.

Editor's Note: The producers are donating 100% of the film's box office profits from the first month of release to California public schools.

Cast & Crew

Director : Kate Montgomery

Producer : Kate Montgomery, Mitchell Stein, Sarah Wasserman

Starring : , Timothy Vahle, MariAna Tosca, , , ,


Christmas In The Clouds Rating

" Terrible "

Rating: PG, 2001


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