In the spirit of the holiday season, Pittsburgh City Paper presents a holiday movie advent calendar. One holiday movie review, every day 'til Christmas (probably).
After six years of marriage, Caroline (Katrina Begin), a successful woman with an event planning business, is ready to call it quits with her husband Jack (Tilky Jones), an unemployed illustrator who can’t be bothered to get off the couch. After tricking Jack into signing divorce papers, she runs out the door and promptly gets hit by a truck. Caroline wakes up in the hospital with retrograde amnesia, a selective condition that causes her to forget her husband, family, friends, and important life events. So of course, Jack and Caroline’s parents concoct a scheme to manipulate her back into Jack’s arms and away from her job.
To call Second Chance Christmas problematic would be putting it lightly. This is basically Gaslighting: The Movie, in which a poor, sick, vulnerable woman falls prisoner to a slob of a husband and a mother with a gross, backward view of gender roles. (Yes, I know there's already a movie called Gaslight and that it inspired the term - just give me this.) To keep Caroline ignorant and dependent on them, they hide her phone and laptop and freak if she goes out on her own. This is literally what abusers do.
But Jack and Caroline’s mom have very different ideas of what they want from their hostage. Jack wants to mold her into his perfect woman, not an equal partner, but a roommate with benefits who likes to play video games, go to trivia nights, and clean after him without complaint. Meanwhile, her mom wants her to give up her job and become a Stepford Wife churning out grandkids and throwing parties for her family.
At one point, the mom insists to Caroline that, “There’s nothing you love more than taking care of the home,” and I’m pretty sure I momentarily blacked out from pure rage.
As if to make a case against reclaiming her autonomy, when Caroline does regain her memories, she does so with hilarious results. “Why didn’t you tell me I can cook really, really well?” she says to Jack, revealing a Jell-O mold covered in mini marshmallows.
But surely, Caroline finds out what’s really going on and flees for her life, forcing the parents and Jack to realize how truly psychotic they all are? Nope! Instead, we get Caroline’s dad lecturing her on how her devotion to her job made her irritable and distant and no fun at holiday parties. And she relents because she doesn’t remember that the reason she was irritable, distant, and no fun at holiday parties was because her husband sucks.
Even when Jack does try to convince Caroline he’s changed, the results are beyond weak and reek of a grown man who expects a Good Boy Sticker for doing the bare minimum. Early on, he tells Caroline that he’s bad at cleaning when she asks him to pick up after himself. He never cooks and lives on pizza and takeout. He never walks the dog.
But what’s this? He cleaned and decorated the house once. He cooked one meal. He walks the dog sometimes. Oh look, a montage of them doing precious holiday pastimes, like making snow angels.
All of this might mean something if Jack didn’t continually blame Caroline for his shortcomings, implying that her success is what led him to fail as an illustrator and human being. Jack begins as a dim-witted man-baby and ends a dim-witted man-baby.
But at least her mom likes him. “He never gives up,” she says to Caroline at one point. “And that’s a great quality to have in a spouse.”
You know what else is a great quality? Not being a whiny pile of red flags.
But Caroline, who by this point has been thoroughly manipulated by her devious family and spouse, does fall back in love with Jack and the two live happily ever after. (By the way, this all happens over the course of one week. One week!)
This movie was enough to make me wish I had amnesia so I could forget I ever watched it.