Christmas as Usual 2023 Movie Review
Indian expat Jashan (Kanan Gill) and his Norwegian girlfriend Thea Evjen (Ida Ursin-Holm) recently moved into an apartment together in California. They’ve been dating for less than a year, but Jashan doesn’t let that stop him from proposing to Thea. Sure, he doesn’t know her middle name and he’s never met her family, but “when you know, you know.” Thea says yes and decides to bring him home to Norway for Christmas to meet her mom Anne-Lise (Marit Andreassen), brother Simen (Erik Follestad), sister-in-law Hildegunn (Veslemøy Mørkrid), and niece Ronja (Matilde Hovdegard).
The problem, however, is that Thea has never told her family that Jashan is Indian. In fact, she has been referring to him as “Josh,” so when they arrive at her rural and very homogenous hometown, both Jashan and Thea’s family are pretty blindsided. While Jashan takes it all in stride and tries his best to get the Evjens to like him by earnestly trying all of the local Norwegian Christmas traditions, Thea’s family is anything but welcoming or accepting. Anne-Lise in particular is extremely passive-aggressive and still wants Thea to get back with her ex, Jørgen (Mads Sjøgård Pettersen), who of course just happens to live next door. With that much to deal with, how the heck are Thea and Jashan supposed to break the news of their engagement?
Christmas as Usual definitely stirs up some conflicting feelings and thoughts for me. On the positive side, the food, sets, and Norwegian landscapes are utterly gorgeous as captured through some truly beautiful feats of cinematography. When things were good between Thea and Jashan, they really did seem like a great and happy couple. And the overall impression of a Norwegian Christmas (sans hostility and awkwardness) was a warm and comfortable one.
But while at its best, Norwegian Christmas looked very cozy, the more sinister underbelly was that at its worst it seemed outright racist (case in point: Anne-Lise’s spice cabinet). I don’t know if it’s because this movie takes place in a small town that’s probably totally lacking in diversity but man it doesn’t exactly paint the country in the best light if you’re anything but white and hoping to visit. Also because there were some genuinely cute and heartfelt moments between Jashan and Thea, it made the rough parts that much more jarring and disappointing.
So while Christmas as Usual has a sweet beginning and ending for its central couple, the very long in-between period where Jashan is being treated like crap by Thea’s family and ex while she essentially just lets it happen is too much to forgive or forget. Like we never even heard Anne-Lise directly apologize to Jashan, and boy was there a lot she had to be sorry for. She was so racially insensitive that even her dog started replicating the behavior and was immediately hostile towards Jashan. She kept getting Jashan’s name wrong on purpose (she fricking called him “Shazam”). And her pushing smarmy Jørgen onto Thea all these years later to the point where there’s even still a picture of the two of them hanging up in the house? It just doesn’t sit right at all.
Anne-Lise was a literal villain throughout this entire movie, there’s definitely no denying that (and no “one year later” happy dancing epilogue is enough to absolve her of her sins, in my opinion). But Thea’s behavior, namely her lack of understanding and communication towards Jashan, was really saddening to see. Not only did she let Jashan walk unprepared into an uncomfortable situation, but she also never informed him about her five year (!!!) relationship with “the boy next door” Jørgen (who is obviously still into her), and she continues to feel embarrassed by him at his every little faux-pas.
Look, I get that trying to blend very different cultures and people has to be very stressful, especially during the first holiday season for her family without her dad alive. Jashan also admittedly does do a few things that make for some uncomfy moments, like getting wasted during Christmas Eve dinner or interrupting Ronja’s big choir solo with a loud phone call. And perhaps they may have rushed in their relationship a bit too quickly. But in the end, Thea still chose to say yes, and the fact that she felt like she had to hide Jashan’s race and even his full name from her loved ones says a lot about both her family and herself. Is Norway really that behind right now in the Year of Our Lord 2023? Or maybe Christmas as Usual is just a bit too behind the times.