Holiday Joy

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
Holiday Joy TV Poster Image
Predictable life-swap story has strong themes of gratitude.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Joy discovers that even with its flaws, her life is just right for her and that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Popularity also isn't all it's cracked up to be, and people aren't always what they seem on the surface. She and her family continue to cope with the loss of her mother, which leaves a void for all of them and forces them to band together to get through. Some sibling spats, but also heartwarming moments between them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Joy begins the story as a self-conscious, shy teen with low self-esteem and a belief that changing her circumstances will change her attitude toward life. By the end, she comes to see that appreciating what (and who) you have in your life leads to greater fulfillment. The parents with whom she spends most of the story focus more on developing her athletic talent than they do on helping her grow as a person.


Two teens hold up a convenience store with a BB gun, but no one is hurt. Joy is hit by a car to start the life-swap story.


Teens kiss, and a boy tells a girl she has a hot body. A doctor asks a teen if her boyfriend is pressuring her to have sex, and a mom questions whether her daughter might be pregnant. When she's in a relationship, Joy's boyfriend gets swoony over her.


Rarely "hell" and "sucks." Also "bite me."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

It's said that a teen is a recovering drug addict.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Holiday Joy follows a teen who wishes for a different life, but when her wish comes true, things aren't as she expected. The story is easy to follow (though very young kids might not understand how she swapped families) and has some decent messages about being thankful for family even when it isn't perfect. Expect to see some sibling spats, hear some marginal language ("hell," "sucks," and "bite me") and a reference to teens having sex, and know that a supporting character has a history of drug abuse. There's also a scene that involves a BB gun and two teens seeming to hold up a store with it. This isn't destined to be a classic, but it's a good reminder that things (and people) aren't always what they seem.

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What's the story?

In HOLIDAY JOY, ever since her mom's death, Joy Hockstatter (Bailee Madison) has had to take over a lot of new responsibilities for her family, including keeping her dad (French Stewart) and older brother, Zack (Luke Bilyk), on track and mothering her younger brother, Miles (Ethan Pugiotto). Feeling frustrated and unappreciated, she daydreams about the kind of charmed life she sees next door at the Wellmans' house. After an accident, she finds herself in just that life as Joy Wellman, daughter to Rod (Sandy Jobin-Bevans) and Marcie (Jennifer Robertson) and younger sister to Eve (Natalie Ganzhorn). She's also one half of the school's cutest couple, a star volleyball player, and more popular than she could have imagined. But as Joy settles into this new reality, she discovers that for all its glamour, it's not quite the dream she built it up to be.

Is it any good?

This holiday movie's themes about contentedness and appreciation are familiar ground in life-swapping stories, making the story predictable from nearly the first scene. It's also mundanely written and lacking any pizzazz, always feeling like it's building to something significant but ultimately falling short. It's an unfortunate plight for the likes of Bailee Madison and French Stewart, who can't quite work enough magic to overcome the story's flaws.

Even so, Holiday Joy is mostly devoid of iffy content, and the reminders about appreciating the blessings you have rather than pining for those you don't are worth hearing again, especially during the Christmas season. And while the story glosses over the loss of Joy's mother, it shows the lingering effects of her death on everyone in the family, which can inspire worthwhile discussions with your kids about loss, grief, and healing.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether they can understand how Joy feels at the beginning of Holiday Joy. Have you ever wished for a different life or situation? Do you think that it would solve all your problems to swap?

  • What kinds of things are easy to take for granted? Why is it important to show appreciation even for the simplest things or gestures?

  • Is it possible to "walk a mile in someone else's shoes"? How does looking at something from a different perspective help us to be kinder and more compassionate toward others?

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love holiday movies

Themes & Topics

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