[Review] ‘Lost Holiday’ is the post-mumblecore, holiday mystery we deserve

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Malcontent mania triggered by Christmas has never felt more real than it does in Lost Holiday.

Upon returning to her childhood home for a winter vacation, Margaret (Kate Lyn Sheil) learns that her ex, Mark (William Jackson Harper), is now engaged. This news then spurs a series of lapses in judgment. For starters, Margaret hooks up with her drug dealer, which in turn make her the last person to see a young heiress before she went missing. The problem is, the victim isn’t actually missing. But, rather than going straight to the police with this information, Margaret and her best friend, Henry (Thomas Matthews), take it upon themselves to find her. Thus begins a screwball investigation.

If you think you’re watching an indie movie left over from the very early 2000s, that’s partly because the Matthews brothers wisely shot their debut feature on 16 mm. The analogue appearance emphasizes a wonted life. Margaret has come back to a place void of interest or color, and to remedy her own crippling sadness, she dulls her senses with alcohol, drugs, and mystery. And, rather than dealing with her depression or seeking closure with the one that got away, Margaret preoccupies her time with the falsely reported disappearance of Amber Jones (Ismenia Mendes).

Margaret is an easy character to relate to. She’s arrested by her own stunted emotional well-being and a resentment towards people who have ‘moved on’ in life. She avoids rather than confronts, and she replaces one vice with another. Kate Lyn Sheil has made a career out of playing these quirky, glum gals. Her performance here is so finely drawn, but even one of her longing, pursed stares is unusually powerful. Thomas Matthews pulls double duty as the equally distant sidekick; his charm is potent and unmistakable. Together, he and Sheil make for a clumsy if not winsome pair of detectives.

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On its own, the aloof gumshoe story is, at best, mildly appealing. The array of real characters and their lifelike interactions throughout the movie are what impresses. You likely don’t give a flip about Amber Jones. It’s Margaret’s busybodying excuses to eschew seeing her ex or talking to her parents that stir the most intrigue. If there has to be a flaw inĀ Lost Holiday, though, it would be the need for the mystery subplot altogether. Yes, it adds some meat to a familiar setup, but it also takes time away from learning more about our main character.

The Matthews’ first movie feels genuine in spite of the more ridiculous elements here and there. From the real-life locations in place of sound stages, to the artless dialogue that shies away from being overly witty, the film proves micro-budgeted comedies can, and do, still work. They extend a view into the life of one disheartened individual while keeping us at a relatively safe distance from her inner workings. All in all, we have a simple concept elevated by a complicated protagonist. Lost Holiday lacks the forced enthusiasm of other Christmas-set films, but it’s far from being downright downhearted either. The holidays aren’t easy for everyone, and identifiable indies like this make them all the more bearable.

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