Starring Nikki Deloach, Lucas Bryant, and Aias Dalman
When Charlie (Dalman), a teen on the autism spectrum, learns that Guinness World Records is coming to town, he wants to break a world record for Christmas. His loving mom, Marissa (Deloach), and stepfather, Eric (Bryant), support him in his goal. As Charlie tries to determine which challenge he feels capable of taking on, it becomes increasingly clear that he hopes his record-breaking attempt will reconnect him with his estranged father, Peter (Matt Hamilton). Charlie decides to build a massive Jenga tower balanced on a single vertical block, and his excitement grows as he learns that Peter will be there to watch him on the big day.
Heartbreaking hope. Charlie didn’t think of Eric as his father and wasn’t comfortable calling him Dad. He missed his biological father, Peter, and thought he’d left because Charlie was autistic. Charlie was puzzled and hurt that Peter didn’t reply to his emails. He hoped to draw his dad back into his orbit by impressing him with his Jenga skills, and he was excited when Peter said he’d be there to watch him go for the Guinness World Record. Touchingly, Charlie reserved a chair at the event especially for his dad. But Peter didn’t show up until it was too late. Charlie’s hopeless attachment to his absent father was a poignant thread that was woven throughout this film, and one that added dimension to his attempt to break a world record. But Charlie finally moved on, and in a beautiful moment, he told Eric that he belonged in the chair he’d reserved for Peter.
Charlie’s world. This movie offered a compelling glimpse into the everyday world of an autistic teen. We witnessed Charlie’s anxiety as a fire alarm went off after Marissa burned some cookies. And when a TV camera was in Charlie’s face, it prompted a similar reaction. But what upset him most was his best friend, Amy (Daphne Hoskins), expressing interest in another boy; this sent him running to his room as he was overcome by strong emotions. Charlie often doubted his abilities and his worth and needed reassurance and encouragement from Marissa and Eric, who were united in supporting him. But the film highlighted not just his vulnerabilities, but also his strengths. Charlie was determined to reach his goal, and he built his Jenga block tower in an incredibly focused way. He also had a good heart and chose to hold a fundraiser to help others on the autism spectrum. It was a relief to see that Charlie’s autism wasn’t treated as a defect that needed fixing; instead, it was simply something that Marissa, Eric, and Amy accepted about him. They loved him, unconditionally, for who he was.
The excitement of the Jenga challenge. As Charlie began his Guinness World Record attempt, the tension level shot up. Watching him build his tower, I was on tenterhooks. But just as he was getting to the finish line, the tower wobbled (gasp!) and collapsed. It was hard not to feel crushed by this, just as Charlie was, especially when he was so close to achieving his goal. Dalman, who is on the autism spectrum himself, made it easy to empathize with Charlie throughout the movie, but especially in this moment. Fortunately, a happy ending followed; he tried for a personal record instead of an official one and succeeded at last.
A loving marriage. Though the focus was primarily on Charlie’s story, Marissa and Eric’s relationship was important too. Because of their careers and their attention to Charlie’s needs, they had little time to devote to each other. They were also weighing the question of whether to have a child together. As portrayed by Deloach and Bryant, two actors who consistently give solid performances, Marissa and Eric’s relationship had the intimate, comfortable quality you’d expect in a couple who’d been married for several years, and they were often playful together too. I liked their easy camaraderie, and how they always had each other’s backs and trusted each other implicitly. Eric easily forgave Marissa for not telling him immediately that she’d met up with Peter. Fortunately, her oversight wasn’t blown up into a huge drama.
A slow start. Though A World Record Christmas was enjoyable, it wasn’t until about a third of the way through that the story truly started to gain momentum. Too much time was spent on Charlie deciding what he’d do for his Guinness World Record. As far as I was concerned, the story could have started when he already knew that he’d pursue Jenga. Still, this gentle movie was ultimately satisfying.
My grade for A World Record Christmas: B+
Caroline Kaiser is a professional book editor who specializes in fiction and memoirs, and she’s been guiding writers toward publication since 2007. Caroline is also the author of two ghostly mystery novels, Virginia’s Ghost and The Spirits of South Drive. Before she embarked on an editing and writing career, she spent many years working in a Toronto auction house as an antiques appraiser. Apart from curling up on the couch and drinking tea as she watches Hallmark movies, Caroline enjoys baking and exploring London, Ontario, the picturesque city she now calls home. Her website is www.carolinekaisereditor.com.