'Falling For Christmas' And Why Rom-Coms Keep Using Amnesia
Netflix has officially unleashed the sappy holiday movie season on us with Lindsay Lohan's Falling for Christmas, about a pampered heiress who loses her memory and ends up under the care of a handsome working-class single father. Everything about this movie feels like a fake trailer made for a 10-second cutaway joke on 30 Rock, down to the name of Lohan's co-star -- sorry, there's no way "Chord Overstreet" is a real person and not a Tina Fey creation.
Speaking of Fey, note that the trailer cleverly uses "Jingle Bell Rock" in order to remind you of Mean Girls and the fact that Lindsay Lohan movies can get more than 80% on Rotten Tomatoes (this one definitely won't, but still).
But there's something else this movie should remind you of; isn't what we just described the same basic plot of the Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell '80s comedy Overboard? The main difference is that the handsome working-class single father in that movie knows who the pampered woman really is and intentionally makes her think she's his wife because every '80s comedy was legally required to include at least 17 sex crimes.
Overboard's basic plot is also shared by ... Overboard, the 2018 remake starring Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez. This time, in accordance with the sensibilities of our more enlightened times, the woman is the one who lies to the amnesiac character and turns him into her slave. Progress!
There's a good chance that Netflix only funded Falling for Christmas because they noticed there's already a ton of rom-coms about amnesia, and they wanted to add one more to fill out a category. According to Hollywood, there's nothing wackier or more romantic than some light brain damage. One of the most famous examples is 50 First Dates (2004), about a woman blessed with a brain that refuses to remember Adam Sandler but cursed with having to meet him anew every day.
While not exactly a rom-com, that same "memory resets every day" condition appears in 1994's Clean Slate, where Dana Carvey plays a memory-impaired detective who gets involved with a femme fatale. While this movie was a critical and financial bomb, it did much better when Christopher Nolan took out the jokes and remade it as Memento.
Sandra Bullock's While You Were Sleeping technically belongs to this category, too. In it, Bullock's character accidentally convinces a coma patient's family that she's his fiancee. When he wakes up and doesn't remember her, everyone (including the patient) assumes he must have amnesia, and Bullock initially plays along with it as they go through with the wedding. She does come clean at the last moment, but it's mostly because she has the hots for his brother now.
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) also involves a character using amnesia to escape her monotonous life, this time unwittingly: the protagonist, a bored housewife, hits her head and assumes she must be Madonna based on the clothes she's wearing, which leads to her hooking up with some guy who's nothing like her dull husband. The inverse situation, this time with talking animals, played out a year earlier in The Muppets Take Manhattan. Kermit, who already lives an exciting life, loses his memory and becomes an office worker. Eventually, he regains his memory via the power of love, by which we mean "Miss Piggy karate-chopping him."
Of course, the Muppets were only parodying what was already a very old cliche by then -- this trope is literally over a hundred years old. The oldest amnesia rom-com might be Double Trouble, a 1915 silent film about an "effeminate, mincing" banker who hits his head and becomes a dashing ladykiller (a Chad, as the kids say). Something similar happens in the 1930 film The Matrimonial Bed, in which a woman finds out her supposedly dead and fully heterosexual husband has been living as a "dandified" hairdresser after being in a train wreck and losing his memory. This was before medical science determined that, no, being hit in the head doesn't make you gay.
The "man finds out he had another life he forgot about, romantic shenanigans ensue" plot was a favorite of 1940s screwball comedies like I Love You Again (1940), Kisses for Breakfast (1941), and Lost Honeymoon (1947). All of these movies are about men inadvertently cheating on their significant others (and sometimes even becoming accidental polygamists) due to their memory issues, and perhaps therein lies the key to this genre's popularity.
See, most of the tension in rom-coms comes from adult characters acting like horny teenagers: stubborn, irresponsible, unfaithful, and generally pretty dumb. Amnesia, or Hollywood's not terribly accurate version of it, provides a convenient excuse for that type of behavior. Those characters didn't mean to be unfaithful; they just tripped one day, and the next thing they knew, they were dating two hot women (or a rich guy and a handsome working-class single dad) at once. Don't you hate it when that happens?
At the same time, the memory problems can make some of the creepier aspects of the rom-com genre more palatable. How can Adam Sandler justify spending a whole movie pursuing a woman who keeps turning him down? Because she loves him, she just doesn't remember it. When you think about it, the entire rom-com genre revolves around finding excuses to allow sympathetic characters to act like dangerous stalkers. See: Sandra Bullock stumbling upon a whimsical case of identity theft.
Now, we're not the first to make this observation. In fact, there was a whole movie about how forgetfulness can make the ugly realities of romance more bearable.
So Falling for Christmas is actually part of a century-old effort to give terrible people a pass for being terrible, as if their hotness didn't already serve the same purpose. Still, best of luck to Lindsay, and may this be the start of the Lohanaissance.