Christmas Eve Eve

By Suzanne Lenz and Tom Bean | Drama
A woman goes home for the holidays, where she must confront a family trauma.

Morgan is headed home to Kentucky for the holidays after a long while. Her parents are divorced, but she reconnects with both -- first with her mother Beverly and her new partner Jeff, who are packing up Morgan's old family home and moving to a new place.

On the way to one of her father Phil's family traditions -- a Christmas Eve Eve party -- she stops by his place. Phil lives alone, which worries his family because many of Phil's family have committed suicide around the holidays. Morgan finds her father embittered and angry, and they get into a fight -- one that forces them to confront her father's deep grief and sadness around the holidays.

Directed and written by Tom Bean and Suzanne Lenz (who also plays the lead role of Morgan), this warmhearted, sharply observed dramedy about the complexity of familial bonds, and how the evolution of relationships between parents and children, even as grown-ups, can pass on unresolved trauma.

Shot with a poised naturalism that focuses on performance, the film's great strength is rich, textured writing, with storytelling that gracefully weaves complex family histories, character detail and compelling dialogue. It packs a feature's worth of emotion and history into a short runtime. But rather than feeling unwieldy, the narrative captures how families subconsciously carry sometimes heavy legacies of psychological damage, which shape the everyday attitudes and interactions of the present day. There's humor to leaven the pain, but even the jokes illuminate the tumult of the parents' past.

The legacy of Morgan's particular family is especially rocky, filled with suicide, alcoholism, abuse and contentious divorce. Going home is a fraught matter for Morgan, and Lenz's nuanced, excellent performance captures both how much she loves her family, but how she braces for tension and emotional disaster, particularly in her own self-harm. Lenz has excellent scene partners, particularly with actor David Dean Bottrell as Morgan's father. He's able to drill down to the sadness, shame and gnawing grief that fuels his alcoholism, and captures how his troubled family history haunts him. It's a moving performance as well, and when the father-daughter pair manage to come to a momentary peace to share a small, human moment, we know how immense it is.

The full title of this short film is "Christmas Eve Eve Or: the Things I Can't Remember," and by the story's conclusion, the subtitle has a haunting implication, pointing to how we obliterate our memories in certain ways to dull their continuing impact. But no one can truly escape their suffering, and the wisdom of the film is its refusal to offer tidy answers to the enormous psychological complexity it portrays. Instead, it sits alongside sadness, bringing to the surface and looking at it clearly. And, finally, it offers a profound appreciation of sharing a simple moment with a loved one -- an idyll of love to be treasured in an ongoing history of grief and pain.

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