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Christmas Jars

Movie review by
Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media
Christmas Jars Movie Poster Image
Book-based film has mature themes, inspiring messages.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 110 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

"You can fix just about anything if you apply enough love and elbow grease." True friends forgive each other's mistakes. Honesty and integrity should be valued above professional success. The holidays are about giving, even anonymously. When you help a person in need, you can potentially affect not just their circumstances, but also their faith in humanity. "Kindness is contagious."

Positive Role Models & Representations

A mother gives up her daughter in hopes she'll have a better life. A kind waitress finds the abandoned baby and raises her lovingly. Hope compromises her integrity to get a good story and further her professional career. The Maxwells take Hope in as if she were family, and they give their spare savings away anonymously every year to a person in need.

Violence

A character falls ill and dies. Hope comes home to find her apartment has been robbed. The policeman who responds to her call tells her not to trust people. A woman with a black eye later reveals she was the victim of domestic violence. The patriarch of the Maxwell family is said to have been rescued from a workshop fire and in critical condition at the hospital.

Sex

Hope's coworker discusses "cute guys" and potential dates she coordinates through a Tinder-like app. Women joke about cyberstalking. Hope and Ian share a kiss after they are engaged.

Language
Consumerism

Brands mentioned or glimpsed in scenes include Ikea, Premium paint, iPhone, Ohio State University.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Christmas Jars touches on some heavy and mature themes for a holiday movie, including domestic violence, abandoned kids, and the loss of loved ones. There's also quite a bit of light humor about dating and careers, and there are plenty of inspirational messages about hope, giving, and kindness. Among the characters played for comedy is Hope's coworker Brandi, who actively seeks a male companion through a Tinder-like phone app, overlooking the coworker with an obvious crush on her. There's a single kiss between Hope and her fiancé. A character falls ill and dies. Hope comes home to find her apartment has been robbed.

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What's the story?

Hope (Jeni Ross) has just lost her adoptive mother to illness and finds herself scared and alone in the world when an anonymous person leaves a CHRISTMAS JAR full of money outside her apartment door. Inspired by the kind act, she discovers other people online who have received similar anonymous jars at difficult times in their lives. She pitches a story to her editor, looking for a break to make the career switch from newsroom assistant to writer. In her reporting, she discovers the identity of the family who started the jar-giving movement and works her way into their lives under the pretense of being a college student writing a paper about their furniture restoration business. But when Hope finds in this family a new home as well as a possible love interest, she's torn between publishing the story and furthering her career or telling them the truth about who she is.

Is it any good?

Based on a best-selling novel and real-life movement of anonymous gift-givers, Christmas Jars has at its heart a proven inspirational story of kindness and generosity. Where it works best is when it's telling that story, revealing how selfless acts of humanity can affect people's lives in deep and unexpected ways. The character of Hope, played by Jeni Ross with the right combination of world-weary vulnerability and youthful optimism, offers a perfect vessel for this tale.

But the film also struggles to maintain a coherent tone throughout. We're introduced to Hope as an abandoned baby, then watch her grow up and lose her adoptive mother, all in a 5-minute introductory sequence. This sets a seriously dramatic tone for what's to come, making it confusing when we fast-forward to her life today and are bombarded with a series of awkward characters meant to be funny in Hope's workplace, the editorial room of a Buzzfeed-like news site, and the implausibly-perfect Maxwells, the family that started the Christmas Jars movement. There are some plot points that may offend working journalists. But if they, and other viewers, can look past the inconsistencies, the film's emotional ending delivers its promised holiday message.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the "real spirit of giving," which a character in Christmas Jars suggests happens when nobody knows who gave the gift. Do you agree? Why or why not?

  • Do you think this film was more of a drama or a comedy? Why?

  • Hope lies and misrepresents herself to the Maxwells in order to get their story and advance her journalistic career. She's torn between publishing the piece, which will be her big break, or telling the Maxwells the truth. What would you have done in her situation?

  • What do the holidays mean to you?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love the holidays

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