Montreal gets the Christmas movie treatment

Our series exploring Montreal-shot films continues with The Christmas Choir.

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The Christmas Choir


Alex Rose’s Made in MTL is a series profiling films from the vaults that were shot and sometimes set in Montreal.

The Film: The Christmas Choir (2008)

Does Montreal play itself? It’s never stated, but since one character spends a mid-December night sleeping outside in an overcoat and doesn’t die, I’d say it probably isn’t. It’s loosely based on the story of the Accueil Bonneau choir, but that’s about the only clue you get.

Notable local talent: Jason Gedrick and Rhea Perlman are the only American actors in an otherwise all-local cast. The nature of the film skews towards roles for middle-aged male character actors (including a sizeable role for the ubiquitous Tyrone Benskin, more prominent here than in any of the other Made in MTL films he’s appeared in), but it also features the second-to-last performance of Michael Sarrazin, a Montreal-born actor who found some measure of fame in Hollywood in the ‘60s and ‘70s (On the Road, his final film, was released posthumously).

Most egregious local landmark: Considering its relatively narrow scope and budget, The Christmas Choir really milks the hell out of the city’s locations. Gedrick’s office is located in 1000 de la Gauchetière, his love interest works in Place-des-Arts metro (clumsily renamed ARTS CENTRE), Gedrick’s father lives in one of those typically Pointe St-Charles duplexes with a colourful awning and various scenes take place on St-Viateur, in Place Bonaventure, Place St-Henri metro and in front of Christ Church cathedral on Ste-Catherine. It’s not much of a Christmas movie, but in terms of showcasing locations beyond the Sun Life building (which does make an obligatory appearance), The Christmas Choir delivers.


Given Montreal’s propensity for being covered in snow half the year and our solid annual output of TV movies, there’s a surprising lack of Christmas movies that have been shot in and around the icy cobblestone streets of Montreal. Our wintry landscapes, it seems, are more likely to conjure post-apocalyptic (Altman’s Quintet or The Day After Tomorrow come to mind) or Arctic (the 2009 bomb Whiteout) images than spread Christmas cheer. Hallmark Channel original The Christmas Choir is one of the few explicitly Yuletide-themed movies made here, and boy is it ever a movie about Christmas. It’s one snot-nosed urchin away from being the perfect distillation of everything we’ve come to expect from whatever we’re too lazy to change the channel from on the morning of the 26th.

dvdAfter workaholic accountant Pete (Jason Gedrick) is dumped by his fiancee (Cindy Sampson), he finds himself drowning his sorrows in soda at a hotel bar where Bob (Tyrone Benskin) is playing Christmas songs on the piano. A failed musician and Christmas buff himself, Pete befriends Bob and follows him “home” to meet the “family” only to discover that Bob is homeless and lives in a shelter run by a plucky nun (Rhea Perlman).

Inspired to make something of himself and give back to the world after having been the type of selfish, capitalist suit that usually populates a film like this one, Pete decides to form a Christmas choir comprised of men from the shelter. The men are a motley crew of troubled sorts that include a befuddled former English prof (John Dunn-Hill), grumpy alcoholic former prizefighter (Roc Lafortune) and silent street kid (Luis Oliva). They test straight-and-narrow teetotaler Pete’s mettle and teach him some valuable life lessons on their way to a gig in the metro set up by the world’s nicest STM agent (Marianne Farley), who also happens to be Pete’s new-found love interest.

If The Christmas Choir wasn’t so set on being the type of generic, vaguely Christian TV movie that crops up on the Hallmark Channel, it could actually have been pretty good. Fill the roles with a murderer’s row of character actors  (hell, even the ones they have are pretty good) and allow them to actually act like a bunch of men beaten down by life would (rather than weirdly elfin, cherubic manchildren out to teach valuable life lessons) and you’d have the recipe for a pretty good underdog story in the Bad News Bears vein. Instead, the film eschews developed characters in order to fill its scant 84 minutes with every possible Christmas-related subplot (including Pete reuniting with his alcoholic father, played by the great Michael Sarrazin in a thankless old-man role) and its pat, quickly-arriving resolution.

Christmas movies have to be heartwarming and they have to have somewhat likeable characters (or else you’re left with something like the Affleck boondoggle Surviving Christmas) but they don’t have to be this aseptic. The best moments in The Christmas Choir are the ones that suggest characters with more depth to them than just losing sight of what’s important in life. The film’s implicit depiction of alcoholism as a choice made by impetuous and stubborn individuals places it firmly in the realm of slightly delusional tinsel-covered pap. The actors are fine, but the characters are never allowed to be more than holiday whimsy delivery systems.  It’s the “Wonderful Christmastime” of Christmas TV movies, ticking boxes half-heartedly and hoping that it will elicit a reaction based on the comforting presence of tinsel and mistletoe. ■


Alex Rose explores the worst of cinema on his podcast and blog, Why Does It Exist? @whydoesitblog on Twitter


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