Anyone showing up to The Housewives of the North Pole for some bad behavior shenanigans is going to be sorely disappointed.
The Housewives of the North Pole, a new holiday flick streaming exclusively on Peacock, was originally titled The Real Housewives of the North Pole, in what is an obvious nod to the blockbuster Bravo reality series. The film stars Real Housewives of Beverly Hills OG Kyle Richards, and features a number of cameos from various participants of the franchise, but somewhere along the way, the “Real” was dropped. The excision is a fairly recent development, as press materials still exist with the original title, and in fact, no fewer than three characters repeat the phrase “The Real Housewives of the North Pole” throughout the film. The question then has to be asked: how bad must a movie be for the Real Housewives franchise to distance itself from its marketing? It isn’t as if the TV series is known for its good taste, and that’s really the only reason to show up here: to root for a wonderful train wreck, replete with a little holiday pizazz. Unfortunately, such Christmas wishes aren’t in the cards, as The Housewives of the North Pole is as sedate as they come, a chaste and toothless flick that puts up the façade of nastiness but would fit snugly into any bland Hallmark Channel line-up, which makes sense considering director Ron Oliver and screenwriters Neal, Spyder, and Tippi Dobrofsky are veterans of that very network.
Richards and Betsy Brandt — it’s unclear how a featured player from Breaking Bad got dragged into this — star as Trish and Diana, best friends who reside in the small, picturesque town of North Pole, Vermont. (“No, not the one with the polar bears, hehehe.” Thanks, Diana.) Trish is pushy and controlling, and Diana is a doormat, so their 14-year friendship makes sense on paper. Diana is also a local artist who makes paintings that could politely be regarded as “motel art,” while Trish… well, she throws elaborate holiday parties where she serves her famous pumpkin cheesecake. She has also won the local Golden Reindeer Award 14 years in a row for her elaborate outdoor decorating spectacles, which are the epitome of gauche and seem to go against everything the posh Trish stands for, but she is also fiercely competitive, so whatever. Diana willingly helps Trish each year, and is a real godsend because of her “artistic eye,” but all of that is about to change when the two friends get in a huge fight that will ultimately pit neighbor against neighbor in the ultimate decorating showdown. Only this doesn’t actually happen, because the film can’t even stick to a premise that literally writes itself.
The Housewives of the North Pole, predictably, has myriad problems, but the biggest sin it commits is that it simply isn’t the down-and-dirty fun it should be. Trish and Diana’s initial argument is so minor that it makes no sense why Trish’s immediate reaction would be to throw a Frappuccino in her best friend’s face in the middle of a crowded craft store, let alone lead them down a path of bitter revenge. The arc doesn’t deliver the catty fun latent in its setup, nor does it allow for any feel-good investment in their frayed relationship. Meanwhile, the film keeps piling on subplot after subplot, such as a Romeo and Juliet-inspired romance between Trish’s daughter Skye (Jearnest Corchado) and Diana’s son Jake (Kyle Selig). No one involved possibly believes that viewers will give even half a shit about this relationship, but as has been mandated by the good baby Jesus himself, these films must contain a romantic angle of some sort. Box checked. If the movie deserves any credit, it at least understands that two college-aged individuals, when trapped in their small hometown, will likely drink and screw in an effort to transcend the drudgery, so… there’s that. Skye’s initial kiss with Jake is even so tongue-forward as to inspire gasps, so no one can say the film is without its surprises. As for the hilariously niche narrative details all of these films must be predicated upon: there’s some nonsense about how the local caribou/reindeer population has stopped venturing into the town every December, so a hunky dude from the National Wildlife Federation named Nick (Damon Dayoub) stops in to flirt with the recently-divorced Diana for two scenes before she outright rejects him. This inexplicably leads to him quitting his job to stay in the town, which is a remarkably disturbing life decision that the film tries to paint as swoon-worthy. Also, Trish’s family is having vague financial issues, because this movie is topical in ways Parasite can only dream, and then there’s the out-of-town website writer who is using this bullshit showdown as some sort of ticket to what is sure to be a Pulitzer. By the way, this movie is 84 minutes.
But back to drama. Obviously, there needs to be a natural escalation to Trish and Diana’s warring, but the film can’t seem to stay focused, operating as nothing more than a series of starts and stops as it addresses 58 other things. The two friends only share three “big” scenes together, with the catfight somehow coming before the snowball fight, because that’s how dunderheaded the film is in its execution. Brandt is far better than this material deserves and tries her hardest, and Richards is not a terrible actress — she was even asked to carry a little emotional heft in Halloween Kills earlier this year. The problem, then, is that she just isn’t naturally funny, and so her performance here comes across as grating rather than playful; 1978 New York City saw less mugging than what Richards does here. So in the end, it’s actually no wonder that the Real Housewives franchise wanted nothing to do with this absolute shrug of a film: how could it lend its name and bad-behavior brand to something this nothing (particularly surprising given the litany of bonkers plot beats)? The caribou are appreciated, but all the viewers want for Christmas is more table-flipping.
You can currently stream Don Oliver’s The Housewives of the North Pole on Peacock.