Jones Family Christmas is a gift of family dynamics, bushfire drama and Aussie holiday spirit

What’s better than a Christmas movie on Christmas Eve? An early gift, of course. A new movie delivers exactly that, with the very Aussie Jones Family Christmasstreaming on Stan from November 23rd. Cat Woods takes an early peek at Stan’s present.

Packed with talent both established and emerging, this is a family-friendly movie that dares to explore some vulnerable territory. After all, the world is only a skip-and-jump away from the last pandemic lockdowns and many of us—individually and as a community—are still healing from the emotional impact of job loss, housing insecurity and loss of social engagements.

It is in this framework of strained mental health and the heavy weight of everyday obligations that Heather and her extended family come together to try to enjoy (or at least, endure) Christmas. The inimitable screen veteran Heather Mitchell is in her element as the vibrant, somewhat overbearing Heather Jones. She is thrilled, understandably, to have cajoled her children and grandchildren into joining her festive celebration and to have the opportunity to interrogate each member of her family about every uncomfortable aspect of their lives.

Before Heather’s unwelcome meddling really gets going though, proceedings are interrupted by an urgent fire evacuation order and the Jones clan must unite—despite their many rifts and grievances—to get to safety as the clock ticks.

Mitchell, much like the traditional rum-soaked Christmas cake we all adore, is very welcome at all times of year. Having won us over in TV and film for decades, her presence in a Christmas film seems like a no-brainer. Accompanying her are Home and Away star Ella Scott Lynch, The Doctor Blake Mysteries‘ Max McKenna, Nicholas Denton and The Gloaming‘s Dushan Philips.

Adapted from Tegan Higginbotham’s audio play, Jones Family Christmas is Stef Smith’s feature directorial debut. She seems to be having a whole lot of fun with the passive-aggressive one-liners and cringeworthy mother-daughter moments.

Heather and Brian (Neil Melville) are living out back and beyond in a relatively isolated old weatherboard home, typical of rural towns and thoroughly, wonderfully Australian. It’s hot, it’s dry, and there’s more likely to be snakes and toads than reindeer on the roof.

As soon as Heather’s daughter Christina (Scott Lynch), her partner Mishan Kandaratnam (Philips), and their son, William, arrive in a taxi, the awkward family politics go into overdrive.

“Why is everything so dead?” asks Mishan as he surveys the house and their surrounds.

“It’s not dead,” corrects Christina, “it’s dying.”

Between the dead grass, the screech of crickets, Heather’s casual warning about redbacks under toilet seats and talk of dying, it seems inevitable that something is going to go drastically awry.

Things are already drastically awry for young Alex (McKenna), Heather’s youngest daughter. The grief of her first major heartbreak has left her feeling alienated from her family, either locking herself in the bathroom (with Santa-themed toilet paper, to boot) or traipsing through the empty paddocks to escape family conversations.

The emergency evacuation is a welcome intervention for Heather’s children and their partners. Her strangely inedible Christmas dinner and invasive questioning are overbearing, but likely to be recognisable to most viewers who have had to endure extended families every festive season.

Will Heather, Brian, her daughters, son Danny (Nicholas Denton) and their extended clan escape the fires unscathed? And, more pointedly, will they escape together—unscathed by one another?

The brush with disaster brings revelations for each of the family. Christina has to confront the loneliness she’s been feeling in London, and whether Mishal is ready to accept that it isn’t working out. Danny’s assessing whether he wants to take on the responsibility of inheriting and running Heather and Brian’s farm, and Alex and Felicity have to weigh up whether their parents’ expectations should continue to drive a wedge into their burgeoning romance.

Jones Family Christmas is a gift of culture clashes, intergenerational misunderstandings, kangaroos, cricket and whisky. It’s a movie that straddles the relics of old Australia and the hyper-connected urbanites who flee regional towns for Melbourne, Sydney and London as soon as they strike 18. This is a movie as Australian as Paul Kelly’s tune How To Make Gravy ( “They say it’s gonna be a hundred degrees, even more maybe, but that won’t stop the roast…”)

For those of us who are sceptical of Santa Claus, fake snow, and novelty Christmas albums on repeat, this is the movie that allows us to secretly indulge the kitschy decorations, the silliness of gifting soap and socks, and the overwhelming magnetism of family at this one time of year when we can get drunk, eat too much, and remember how good it is to be reunited.