The story of Operation Christmas Drop is a familiar one: a fish out of water, who is a relative scrooge, has their heart changed by a good-natured person they encounter and learn to love Christmas. And if it isn't a Christmas movie, just substitute any other holiday, industry, or town and the plot is still the same.
What might surprise some to learn is that in this case the premise of the film is actually based on a real event. The Christmas Drop is an annual humanitarian mission carried out by the US military since 1952.
The movie barely addresses this, mentioning it in a throwaway line in order that the stakes remain high: the 70-year tradition is genuinely on the line! (Of course, it isn't and more importantly, we know it isn't, which is both the fault of the subject material itself and the movie) with congressional aide Erica there to report back on whether the base is a candidate for closure.
But Army captain Andrew, a Santa Claus of sorts, is there to prove otherwise and save the base and the Christmas Drop. We're thrust into a Hollywood-sanitised version of US military life in Guam, one of the islands in the Federated States of Micronesia.
People sceptical of the movie's America-washing of life on a military base in FSM will be proven correct, in part because it's true. The relationship between the USA and the FSM allows citizens of both to live, work, and study in either country without a visa. (Which maybe explains why the mayor in the movie is white? Honestly.)
However, military recruitment is the main option presented as a way to leave FSM, which is particularly jarring given FSM citizens are disproportionately recruited and killed (at five times the national average) in the USA's military activity (via Time).
You wouldn't know any of this watching The Christmas Drop. Instead, we get a tourist's view of Guam which oscillates between idyllic beauty and abject poverty.
The latter is an observation always made by the outsiders and makes for uncomfortable watching. Not because it makes you question our own privilege, but because the film seems so deeply unaware of the very message it's giving: that without the US military, the people of FSM would have nothing.
In one particularly cringe scene, well-meaning Erica gives all the contents of her purse to some kids, finally handing over the bag itself with the line: "You can put your seashells in it."
It's a striking commentary on Western-saviourism that seems to go entirely over the movie's head, as if the writers were unaware of the very real world the movie represents. And yes, it was filmed in Guam – and takes the mantle of the first scripted film ever to do so.
There's a tension, therefore, in the movie – the magical romance that it wants to present and where they chose to set it. The movie isn't even jingoistic, it simply presents all these disparate pieces without any real-world commentary and doesn't bother to ask you to make up your mind.
Two better movies could have been made: one about the history of the FSM and its relationship to US military recruiting, and another about a pretty scrooge whose heart is warmed by a handsome Christmas lover. Why these two stories were shoe-horned together, however, is beyond our understanding.
Operation Christmas Drop is now available on Netflix.
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