"Christmas Cottage" is an autobiographical film about Thomas Kinkade (1958-2012), the "painter of light." I had seen Kinkade's work in shops when I lived on the West Coast from 1987 to 2007. I've also heard and read some of his recent history – up until his death at age 54 in 2012. Based on newspaper reviews, it seems that some critics loved his painting while others didn't. I'm not an art expert or even an aficionado. But I do like some of his work that I've seen.
Kinkade came from a broken home with poor to modest beginnings and rose to super success as a commercial artist. In the course of that, he had a religious experience of some sort that molded his character and guided much of his work for many years. He spoke of the importance of family, and he and his wife had four daughters. But his success might serve as a classic tale of fame and fortune bringing ruin to one's life. In his last years, his character changed. He became an alcoholic, had extra- marital relations, was separated from his wife, was living with a girlfriend, and had run-ins with the law. He died in Monte Sereno, CA, on April 6, 2012. An autopsy fixed the cause of death as "acute intoxication" from alcohol and Valium.
In watching this film, I set aside what I knew about Kinkade, his life and his art. I don't know how close this film is to real events, but the opening credits say that the movie is inspired by true events. It takes place over one Christmas holiday season when Kinkade would have been 19 or 20 years old. Everything else aside, this film is a good story that stands on its own. Its Christmas setting makes it a good film for this genre. Indeed, the location around Placerville in California's gold country is ideal. I've been to Placerville, Plymouth, Sutter Creek, Ione, and Jackson. The seasonal climate in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains evokes a holiday atmosphere.
Others have described the plot, which is very good and original for a Christmas story. The screenplay, direction and camera work all are very good. The acting is excellent for the most part. Jared Padalecki is very good as Thomas "Thom" Kinkade. Marcia Gay Harden is superb in the role of his mother, Maryanne. Aaron Ashmore does very well as Thom's brother, Pat. The one role that seemed overly played, maybe even hammy, was that of Thom's father, Bill. Richard Burgi played the part. Kinkade's father may have had such a hammy personality, but it comes across in the movie as far too exaggerated.
A real plus for the film was getting Peter O'Toole to play Glen. This was a sizable part in the movie as Glen Wesman. It's based on Glenn Anthony Wessels who was an established painter, muralist, instructor and mentor of Kinkade. He lived out his remaining years in Placerville, dying at the age of 87 in 1982. Whether or not the real Glenn said some of the things that O'Toole does here, some lines are real gems.
In one scene, Glen says, "Don't reduce art to something that's about the artist. Art isn't about the artists. It's about life. Life
emotion. Art should bring emotion that can topple tyranny." Tom, "I had forgotten, Glen." Glen, "Art crosses all borders, surpasses all languages." Later, he says, "An image can change lives. You can introduce men to their souls." And, he admonishes Thom later, "Give your very best always."
I noted a couple of reviewers who thought O'Toole's performance wasn't very good. Because someone may not like a character, or how that character is portrayed, doesn't mean always that the actor didn't perform the role well. I think that must be the case with O'Toole in this role. Peter O'Toole surely didn't need the money – whatever amount he was paid for his role here. Nor did he need to keep acting. No, O'Toole took this part because he wanted it. He said so in an interview that came with the DVD of this film. On that basis, I would trust this great actor to give a performance that he thought befitting of the role, the character, and the time and place. I saw him as thoughtful, philosophic and funny. He was a man dealing with his diminishing abilities brought on by age with a sense of humor and perhaps reluctant acceptance of the inevitable. But never did his spirit wane or falter.
This is an interesting and entertaining film for the holidays. It's one the whole family should enjoy over Christmas. Older children from broken families may find a message of hope and peace for their lives, families and futures.