Everything wrong with new Bay Area-set Netflix film ‘A California Christmas’

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Lauren and Josh Swickard star in the new Netflix film “A California Christmas.” The holiday romance film was filmed in Petaluma. Photo: Netflix

Petaluma is a teeny, tiny Podunk town in the rural hills of California, far from the skyscrapers and silver Ferraris of highfalutin San Francisco. At least, this is how the city is portrayed in Netflix’s new holiday movie, “A California Christmas,” a romantic tale of a real estate tycoon’s spoiled son — and his abs — who changes his philandering ways after meeting a breathtakingly beautiful farmer in short-shorts.

There are a myriad of minor issues with “A California Christmas,” which I suspect Netflix already knew about, given how the film was barely promoted before its Monday, Dec. 14, premiere. But I’m not here to review what amounts to a perfectly passable romantic comedy in the vein of your classic Hallmark/Lifetime Christmas trope. Humanity is blessed with a fresh abundance of these guilty-pleasure movies every year, and this particular “masterpiece” has sat at No. 1 of Netflix’s top 10 offerings in the U.S. since Tuesday, Dec. 15, so there’s certainly an appreciative audience for them.

Instead, I’m here to offer a San Franciscan’s perspective on a television movie set and filmed in the Bay Area, because if there’s one thing we enjoy around these parts, it’s pointing out inaccuracies in national media depictions of our backyard. And “A California Christmas” has a whole bunch of fun ones.

The new film stars Lauren and Josh Swickard, a real-life married couple who met while filming another movie in Petaluma. Lauren also penned the script for “California Christmas,” which follows Joseph Van Aston (Josh), a trust fund baby and womanizer whom we first meet in a San Francisco hotel following a short dalliance with a nameless woman, and who later addresses a boardroom full of male executives at his mother’s company with, “Good morning, ladies.”

Did we really start things off with the old “emasculating men by referring to them as women” energy? That shouldn’t have flown past the 1980s teen movies from which this supposed dig gained popularity, but in a present-day San Francisco workplace? No way.

Joseph is tasked with making the trip to Petaluma to talk Callie Bernet (Lauren) into selling her Sonoma County farm to Van Aston Enterprises before the big company’s Christmas party.

One of the film’s producers is Ali Afshar, an actor and race car driver who was raised in Petaluma and plays Joseph’s dutiful chauffeur, Leo. Presumably Afshar knows our geographical basics. Petaluma is a city of approximately 62,000 people, and most San Franciscans, just an hour south, are aware of its existence. But Joseph isn’t most San Franciscans. He lives in the Van Aston Hotel, which appears to be in Pacific Heights (but is actually a Petaluma building), and he wears a business suit while riding his motorcycle to work.

“A California Christmas” was one of the first films to begin production in the Bay Area after the coronavirus pandemic shut down most of the planet. This could explain how Van Aston’s downtown San Francisco office exterior shows street parking as far as the eye can see. I didn’t just notice one open parking space (of which none exist in real life); every meter was open and every space was big enough to fit a bus.

Tied to a strict deadline to close the real estate deal, Joseph makes his way across the Golden Gate Bridge (15 minutes away from his office) and immediately finds himself in the uncharted wilds of the southernmost portion of Wine Country — a place rich San Franciscans visit all the time. Your aunt in Houston knows all about California Wine Country. Why doesn’t Joseph Van Aston, who is literally there to buy land?

Callie’s farm is charming — scenes were apparently filmed at a real-life Petaluma ranch owned by Afshar’s family. And there’s no way she’s selling her multigenerational homestead to anyone, much less some rich guy from the city. Seeing the impossibility of his task, Joseph decides to take advantage of a misunderstanding and pretends he’s a ranch hand named Manny, while sending his chauffeur to a car wash where wine and cheese are served to customers.
I couldn’t tell if the car wash wine was supposed to be a joke about the snooty chauffeur’s high-end snacks or Sonoma County’s culinary pretension, but aren’t we pretending we’re in the sticks, anyway? How is there wine at this car wash?

Throughout the movie, announcements written in italicized typography let us know that we’re getting closer to Christmas Day. Therefore, it’s got to be December, right? Still, Callie tends to her cows and 19th century grapevines wearing Daisy Duke-style shorts and tank tops. Petaluma’s winter climate, while mild compared to other regions, certainly doesn’t allow for summer clothing — and even less for romantic sex scenes under the stars.

Does love conquer all in this sweet and cheesy holiday romp through the vineyards of Sonoma County? You can probably guess how the story ends. But geographic realism, at least from a cynical North Bay perspective, is located about a thousand miles away.

Afshar hails from Petaluma and the Swickards met in the region. Couldn’t the “California Christmas” team get these small details right? Maybe they tried and Netflix shut them down. The streaming giant’s lackluster promotion for this holiday romance is fishier than a shirtless ranch hand with a dusty real estate contract in his back pocket.

Lucky for Petaluma and the many, many viewers who’ve enjoyed “A California Christmas” so far, only the Bay Area will care about how wrong this movie got us.

“A California Christmas”: Romance. Streaming on Netflix.



Article source: https://datebook.sfchronicle.com/movies-tv/everything-wrong-with-new-bay-area-set-netflix-film-a-california-christmas

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