Earlier this year, it was reported that Universal had won what sounded like a heated bidding war for an untitled Christmas comedy starring Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer, who made a notable pair in Tate Taylor‘s otherwise galling The Help. The basic story, centered on two women trying to get home to their families in time for Christmas Day, is all but identical to John Hughes‘ holiday favorite Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, with Chastain co-writing the original treatment alongside Kelly Carmichael and Peter Chiarelli, the screenwriter behind the upcoming Crazy Rich Asians adaptation, set to pen the script for Universal and Chastain’s Freckle Films.
Now, according to Variety, the film has found its director in The Big Sick helmer Michael Showalter. While Showalter, a brilliant comedic performer and alumni of both The State and Wet Hot American Summer, isn’t particularly an ambitious filmmaker, he’s smart enough to know that the key to a good comedy is allowing his performers to be funny rather than to glom onto tired plot turns and contrivances. He has this in common with Judd Apatow, his producer on The Big Sick, and with a bigger budget under Universal, he could summon some newfound boldness in his shooting and editing styles on the still-untitled holiday comedy.
Even if he doesn’t make any big movies though, Showalter is nothing if not competent and if his work with Sally Field in the undervalued Hello My Name is Doris is any indication, he has a particular talent for getting female performers to go out on a limb. Indeed, what will inevitably make this movie is whatever chemistry Spencer and Chastain summon while navigating the narrative of the Christmas movie, which is likely plenty. Their work together, as well as Viola Davis‘ outstanding lead performance, was the only thing that made me sit through the entirety of The Help without screaming into a pillow out of frustration. If they can do that with such a flippant and irritatingly safe melodrama, weighed down by bland and basic sociopolitical ideas, making an entertaining and satisfying Christmas comedy should be a walk in the park.