“Will You Merry Me?” the Lifetime channel made-for-TV holiday movie, aired last Saturday. For an overview of the plot, click here to take a look at my earlier blog post. I can almost picture the studio pitch: A newly-engaged interfaith couple spends a holiday weekend with both sets of in-laws! Christmas and Hanukkah overlap! Madness ensues! A Christmas light-related slapstick injury occurs! Comedic gold!
While at times a festival of stereotypes, I found “Will You Merry Me?” to be a rather sweet, if ham-handed, introduction to the basic themes that some interfaith families face. Rebecca, a Jew from LA, and Henry, a Christian from small-town Wisconsin, get engaged six months after meeting and never talk about their plans for the future, their religious identities, or the ways that they want their upbringing to be reflected in their home – until their first holiday together forces these issues. In true made-for-TV fashion, the characters were hilariously undeveloped and the drama was supposed to be driven by external traits and actions: Rebecca is a vegetarian from a big city; Henry went hunting as a child and played Joseph in the Christmas play. The Christian in-laws drive a van that plays carols, put a stuffed fiddler on their roof, and give their Jewish guests a Hanukkah gift of matzah (a food eaten during Passover). Meanwhile, the Jewish in-laws accidentally kill the town’s beloved reindeer, Rudolf, destroy their hosts’ light display, and exclaim, “This is the Jewish version of hell!” My favorite line is when Rebecca cries “We’re just too different!”
Despite these broad strokes, the movie did try to introduce genuine issues that come up for interfaith families. When the young couple announces that they want a small, secular ceremony, both parents realize that their dream of holding the wedding in their own religious tradition won’t be possible. The sadness and loss that the characters express is an emotion that can be hard for parents and children to talk about and I liked the idea that an honest conversation might be spurred in a non-threatening way by the film. These are serious issues, and it disappointed me that the movie didn’t do a great job of exploring these themes – it instead chose to stick with gags about marshmallow laden Jell-O salad.
In the end (spoiler alert!), the Christian mother-in-law breaks a traditional Christmas holiday decoration that she’s always hated. This symbolizes that every couple has to find a religious life that fits their new family. Everyone learns to get along, and there’s even time for her to say, “It’s a Christmas miracle!” before the credits close on the now-at-peace interfaith extended family.
“Will You Merry Me?” is no “Citizen Kane,” but it might be a nice way for families who are struggling to start a conversation about interfaith life to find a way to begin. Did you see the movie? What did you think? Do you think it would help start dialogue in your family?
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