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Monday, December 09, 2013

The Christmas Shoes

Good morning, everybody! I hope you're ready for another day in “THE POP CULTURE ADDICT'S ADVENT CALENDAR”. Day #9 in a series of twenty-five!

And since today is a Monday Matinee kind of day, I'm going to be featuring a movie in this post...with a couple of little tweaks along the way.

For one tweak, I'm going to announce that this particular film was not released in movie theatres. It was actually released on December 1, 2002 as a made-for-television film airing on CBS.  I typically don't do a whole lot of made-for-television movies in this space, but for this month, I'll make an exception.  After all, we do sell this movie in the Christmas movie section on DVD for five dollars in the electronics department at the store I work at.

Another tweak lies in the fact that this particular film was inspired by a song that was released approximately two years prior, so I suppose that if you really wanted to look at this as a Sunday Jukebox entry being posted on a Monday Matinee, you probably could.

And, yet another tweak comes from the fact that in between the song release and the film release, an author by the name of Donna VanLiere wrote a novel based on the main plot of the song, and that novel served as the screenplay upon which the film was based on.  So, you could also say that this blog posting could have served well under the Saturday Smorgasbord!

So, let's see...the movie aired on television, was based on a song, which inspired the novel that the film was based upon.  I'd call that one epic blog entry, combining four different theme days into one!

It's just a shame that the song that the book was based on, which inspired the film, holds such divide in the community.  There is an extremely vocal camp that defends everything there is to defend regarding the movie and song.  Simultaneously, there is another vocal camp that slaughters the song and the film every chance they get.

Myself?  I admit that I find the song a little bit schmaltzy, but the film itself was somewhat saved by the fact that they managed to attract some convincing actors.  Well, at least I'd like to think so, anyway.

So, I guess you're probably wondering what this topic is all about.  I suppose the title is a dead giveaway...but before I talk about the movie, I'm going to post the song.  If you love the song, great.  If not...well, I suppose you could always mute it.

ARTIST:  NewSong
SONG:  The Christmas Shoes
ALBUM:  Sheltering Tree
DATE RELEASED:  October 10, 2000

Okay, so as I said before, the video is kind of schmaltzy.  And, normally, I try not to reveal the ending of films, but of course, the video kind of spoils my plans, so consider this to be one of the few film discussions that I ever do that will speak of how the movie ends.  But, I may hold a couple of details back.  I can't lay it ALL out on the table.

Today's discussion is going to be on the 2002 film "The Christmas Shoes", which stars Rob Lowe, Kimberley Williams-Paisley, Max Moore, Maria del Mar, Hugh Thompson, and Amber Marshall.

Okay, so before I go into detail about the film, I'm going to talk to you a little bit about the song itself.  The song was written by two of NewSong's members (Leonard Ahlstrom and Eddie Carswell).  NewSong itself being a contemporary Christian band that first formed in 1981 in the Valdosta, Georgia area.  And right around the time that the band was recording and writing the music for the album that "The Christmas Shoes" eventually appeared on, the band faced a tough year.  In May of 1999, one of the band's founding members, Bobby Apon, passed away, and a few months later, two more members would quit the band.  By the year 2000, NewSong would also have Ahlstrom depart the band after agreeing to move to Florida to assist a friend in running a record label, leaving Carswell to replace practically the entire band's line-up within the short space of a year.  How is that for stress?

Fortunately, before Ahlstrom's departure from the band, he had managed to complete the songwriting tasks for the band's 2000 album, "Sheltering Tree".  Funnily enough, "The Christmas Shoes" single was actually added onto the album as a bonus holiday track, with the band not expecting the single to perform all that well.

To their surprise, not only did the single almost reach the Top 40 on the Billboard Charts, but it topped the adult contemporary charts in early 2001!

Now, I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking that because the song was released around Christmastime that the single would be filled with warmth, joy, and peace and love.  And to an extent, the song does offer up all of those things.  Yet, there's one festive elephant in the that sort of makes the single bear a lot of tragic irony, if you will.

You see, the song's plot takes place on the eve before Christmas, and the stores are just about ready to close.  From the narrator's point of view, we get the picture that he is around the back of the line, as he has a couple of presents that he still has to buy and wrap as the precious minutes tick away.

(In the film, this narrator...a.k.a., the man who had 364 days a year to shop for Christmas and yet still waited until December played by Rob Lowe.  And as the movie explains, Lowe plays the role of Robert Layton...and his moodiness and impatience is explained by the fact that he is having marital problems of some sort, which has caused a lot of tension between them as well as their daughter, Lilly, while dealing with the fact that his own mother is sick during the holidays.)

Of course, before the man can check out his purchases, he has to hold on until the little boy in front of him, pulling out all the loose change he has in his pockets (something that the then 11-year-old me would have also done in order to rent a video game from the local video store) to be able to afford a present for someone very special.

(In the film, the boy's name is Nathan Andrews, and he is played by Max Morrow.)

It turns out that the little boy is wanting to purchase a pair of shoes for his mother.  And, they are not any ordinary shoes either.  They just happen to be one of the most expensive pairs of shoes in the entire store.

(As well as some of the ugliest looking shoes ever seen.  This is how they looked in the movie.)

Now, I suppose that if one were to wear them on Christmas Day, they would be perfectly fine.  The snowflake type designs and crimson hue are certainly appropriate for the day.  However, they wouldn't be very practical the rest of the year.

Nonetheless, Nathan wants nothing more than to purchase the shoes for his mother.

(In the film, the mother is named Maggie Elizabeth Andrews, who is played in the film version by Kimberly Williams-Paisley...though in this film, she is credited as Kimberly Williams, as this movie was shot before her marriage to Brad Paisley.)

You see, the whole premise of the song/movie "The Christmas Shoes" is time...and just how precious it really is.

In the movie, Maggie is living a life that most people could only dream of.  She has a loving husband, Jack (Hugh Armstrong), and her loving son, Nathan, and she has a good job teaching music at the local elementary school.  Everything seems perfect...except for the fact that she seems to not be as active as she once was.  

Case in point, the opening scene in which Maggie and Nathan are playing football and they accidentally throw a football through the window of the car that Robert Layton happens to be in.  Of course, Layton snaps at Maggie and Nathan, as he has enough problems of his own.  His commitment to work has caused him to miss out on pivotal moments of his daughter's life, which has in turn caused his wife Kate (Maria del Mar) to resent him for it.

But, of course, Nathan and Maggie have absolutely no idea that any of this is going on in Robert's life, so they shrug it off and head inside.  But it is here that we start to see that something is seriously wrong with Maggie, as she has a rough time keeping up with the little boy.

Flash forward a few days to the set-up for the school Christmas concert, where Maggie is trying to set up the auditorium for the production, but is getting winded just from setting up the chairs.  Luckily for Maggie, she gets help from Kate, who arrives at the school to drop off Lilly (Amber Marshall), who is set to perform in the concert.  After Maggie gives Lilly a pep talk because Lilly is nervous about performing on stage, Maggie and Kate quickly become the best of friends, and the two share almost everything with each other.

But Kate begins to notice that Maggie is not feeling well at all, and Maggie too realizes that something is terribly wrong.  She proceeds to ask a reluctant Kate to take over the leadership of the Christmas concert, and she decides to find out what is wrong.

It turns out that the news is not good.  Maggie has been diagnosed with a terminal illness (though we never really do find out what Maggie has, the movie seems to suggest that Maggie has cancer), and that she only has just weeks to live.  A horribly devastating blow to the Andrews family, especially during the holidays.  It's bad enough that Maggie's husband is struggling to find a way to cope with the in the world will Nathan understand?

Now, the good news is that Maggie has Kate by her side, and Maggie's acceptance of her own impending death (as much as she really doesn't want to die) causes Kate to finally open up to Robert about how things really are between them, and how she is willing to make the effort to fight for them if he will do the same.  Appropriately enough, the epiphany begins to happen at the Christmas concert that Kate agreed to take control of from Maggie.

Of course, as if life in the Layton household isn't stressful enough, Robert's mpther suddenly passes away just before Christmas, and the funeral also seems to be a changing point for Robert, as it causes him to re-evaluate everything that is really important.  As a result of his mother's death, plus all of the stuff that was going on with Kate and Lilly, Robert almost forgets to go Christmas shopping, so he makes a last minute dash to the main street of town to pick up a few things...

...which is where he crosses paths with Nathan, who happens to be in front of him in line, armed with a fancy pair of shoes and a fist full of change.  Unfortunately, he has not got enough money to buy the shoes, which breaks Nathan's heart.  Nathan explains that he hasn't got much time left, to which the cashier misunderstands him as thinking that he doesn't have time to buy the shoes before the store closes.  But Robert is listening closely as the little boy pleads to sell him the shoes anyway, as they will likely be the very last present that he ever gives his mother again.  

In fact, there's a reason why the shoes are so important.  Maggie has taken a turn for the worse on Christmas Eve, and it is expected that she won't live long enough to see Christmas morning, so Nathan makes sure that she has to have a pair of shoes that she can wear when she goes up to Heaven to see Jesus for the first time.

(His words...not mine.)

And, wouldn't you know it, Robert decides that he will step up, purchase the shoes himself, and gives the shoes to the boy, who hurries home to give Maggie the shoes before she passes away.  Needless to say, it takes a while for the boy to run home because of the fact that A) it's snowing outside, and B) a group of people from the school have gathered outside of the Andrews' residence to sing Christmas carols outside as a final farewell gift for a wonderful woman.

So, yeah...I'm sure you have figured out that Maggie ends up losing her battle with illness at the end of the story.  But I'm sure that she left the world happy, knowing just how many people loved her and cared enough about her and her family to make it her greatest Christmas ever...even if it did end up being her last.

Granted, "The Christmas Shoes" has all the makings of it being a really bleak, depressing special.  Basically, the plot is "Here, Mom...have some shoes before you die."  But there's a lot more to it than that.  And if you can overlook the schmaltz of the actual song itself, the story of the movie is quite consistent and good.  And while there is a lot of sadness within this movie, there's also a lot of joy to be found as well.  And, if you click HERE, I have a special surprise for you.  If you're up to it, that link takes you to the full movie.

And, this wraps up the 9th day of the advent calendar.  Tomorrow's Tuesday Timeline marks the tenth day of the advent calendar...which in turn was one of the most frustrating days to write a Timeline entry about.  But a little personal touch can potentially save it!

You'll see what I mean tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Do Maggie passed away from myocarditis in the Christmas Shoes movie?