Christmastime is looking swell for pretty, unassuming real-estate-agent Suzanne Barrington: she just sold a house to a nice swinger couple; her weatherman husband Jeff scored a sweet new job; and her favourite holiday is quickly approaching. After a sudden tragedy takes Jeff away, Suzanne is left lost and lonely. Even worse, a friend of his confesses a secret: there's another woman. Her name's Fantasia and she works at the "girl club". In their grief, the two women form an awkward but meaningful friendship. Pushing away the ghosts of Christmas present, Suzanne falls into Fantasia's world of dance parties, shoplifting and substances. But maybe that's not what Suzanne's looking for either.
In the spirit of Bad Santa and It’s a Wonderful Life, Zach Clark’s White Reindeer is a film that likes to kick a character down a Christmas themed hole where they can’t climb out of so easily. They make it a few feet by grasping on to the sticky candy canes, but eventually slip down further for which we laugh at the tragedy. But with White Reindeer our protagonist is kicked so far down the hole with even less to work with. How can it be made funny when so dark? Just throw in some silly scenarios while the character wallows in depressions and refuses to seek help.
Suzanne is a happy-go-lucky Christmas girl who adores the holiday from her suburban home. And with her husband recently landing a new job in Hawaii, life could not be better. So naturally it all has to come tumbling down and does so rather hard when her husband is murdered in their own home by burglars. The attackers are never found or addressed all that much by the police as that’s not the center of our story. We observe the aftermath of her ordeal in which too much is dumped on to her at once. She discovers her husband watched a lot of porn and had relations with stripper Fantasia. Curiously, she watches the pornographic videos and connects with Fantasia. She ultimately forms an unlikely friendship and joins in with Fantasia’s friends while they steal from shops, get drunk and do drugs.
That right there would be enough to see her descent from the commercialism that comforted her, but the movie piles on much more. Suzanne goes on an online shopping spree where she buys $5,000 worth of clothing. She ventures next store to take part in her neighbors swinger orgy, but feels incredibly awkward. Her parents visit to argue about the family and talk of divorce right in front of their daughter. I’d also like to point out that director Zach Clark felt the need for Suzanne to sleep on a couch and fart. This is a dark comedy that may be unexpected, but also baffling in its own progression.
For this reason, the film comes across very uneven and never really took off. It’d build one particular segment for awhile that started to get me smiling and then cuts away to another absurdity before we have a chance to indulge in the first one. Every other piece also comes off too awkward and amateur for its own good. This is partially due to Suzanne surrounding herself with some characters that are cartoonishly oblivious to her plight. Who visits their grieving daughter to tell her you’re getting a divorce? Who takes a depressed widow out for a night of drinking and cocaine? These are areas that would warrant a telling tale of depression, but it’s all kept internal as Suzanne struggles to find something during the Christmas season besides stutter and loaf about the house.
Perhaps we’re supposed to identify with Suzanne’s plight and laugh at her stone-faced ability to approach these ridiculous situations. But the tragedy was just too much for me to find humor in a bizarre orgy, a drunk night of partying and the last resort of bodily function gags. Even with all this, the whole direction just comes off as flat and the only thing I could find to laugh at was the premise of how much it sucks losing a loved one in December. It wants to be that darkly comedic jab at how ineffectual and hollow Christmas can be in the grieving process. To its credit, the film achieves this goal, but not exactly in the comedic fashion that was intended. This is a movie that I could only recommend to those with extreme vitriol for the Christmas season as a sort of twisted nicotine patch to hold them over until they find something more positive to focus on.