Hannah Strong


Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point – first-look review

A large Italian-American family gather for the holidays in Tyler Taormina's freewheeling festive feature.

The holidays are a time for tenderness, togetherness, and falling asleep on the sofa after your third round of mince pies and sweet sherry. Most Christmas films reflect the pressure cooker atmosphere of the period, usually with some sort of disaster inevitably causing festive friction, but Tyler Taormina takes a slightly different approach, as the members of a large Italian-American family cram into their matriarch’s suburban home for dinner on Christmas Eve. Rather than following a traditional narrative structure, Taormina’s film is more observational, focusing on snippets of conversation and exquisite visual details over the course of the evening. While the younger members of the family plot to sneak out with their friends, the adults discuss the matter of their ailing mother, and whether or not it’s time to consider a nursing home.

It’s tempting to ascribe the term ‘cinéma vérité’ to Taormina’s film, and there is absolutely a fly-on-the-wall quality to the intimate camerawork and lack of any major dramatic thrust. But Carson Lund’s vibrant cinematography – utilising coloured gels, light sources such as fairy lights and lamps and intricate close-ups of toy trains and plates piled high – gives Christmas at Miller’s Point a nostalgic, dream-like quality, at once authentic but as artificial as a fake fir tree or snow in a can.

This artificiality is the point, though – Taormina’s film reflects on the rituals that develop within family, and the tiresome notion of tradition for tradition’s sake. Although the family attempts to slap on smiles and keep things all perfectly pleasant, it’s only natural that tensions rise to the surface, and there’s an undercurrent of melancholy beneath the gaudy decorations and loud 1960s pop music which plays on an almost constant loop.

As the evening’s festivities progress, the teenage cousins Michelle (Francesca Scorsese) and Emily (Matilda Fleming) make a bid for freedom, congregating with their friends at a local bagel shop. It’s in the second half that the film loses focus a little bit, as the expansion out of the family home brings a direct divide between the adults and the teenagers. Michael Cera and Gregg Turkington have small roles as a pair of late-shift cops bored of their minds (and possibly harbouring secret feelings for each other) and Sawyer “son of Steven” Spielberg cameos as a local stoner named Splint, but the most compelling scenes are between the adult members of the family, as it’s revealed this is their last Christmas in the family home. Other smaller details come out in snippets and soundbites – occasionally we come into a conversation midway through – and in that manner, the film replicates the often disorienting experience of spending the holidays with family.

The vibes-based approach that Taormina takes likely won’t land with everyone, and the film’s meandering rhythms take a little while to adjust to. But Christmas Eve at Miller’s Point is perhaps the closest a holiday film has come to truly capturing the experience of coming together for the festive season – often there are no high theatrics, just petty squabbles, hushed gossip, and more food than anyone knows what to do with. To this end, there’s a timelessness to the setting, which is realistically somewhere in the mid-00s (flip phones and Call of Duty give it away) but could be much earlier judging by the decor and vibrant, fuzzy film stock. It’s a film with an affection for the past, but one that also acknowledges you can never go back to how things were when you were younger – and that while everything about the holidays seems perfectly exciting and straightforward as a kid, the older you get, the more the fault lines start to appear.

Published 19 May 2024

Tags: Christmas Eve in Miller's Point Tyler Taormina

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.