The Bitch Who Stole Christmas (2021)

If you didn't know there was a made-for-TV Christmas movie in which almost all of the supporting roles are played by former contestants and judges from RuPaul's Drag Race, now you know. 

As you can probably guess, it's a fairly unique entry in the pantheon of holiday flicks. Like anything with a strong gimmick, viewers who are very familiar with the source material will probably get more out of moments that are clearly cameos and references than we did.

But even though I've only watched one episode of Drag Race, I still enjoyed this. 

It's funny and biting, it pushes the envelope (of course), and manages to be charming as well. The film does overstay its welcome a bit. It could have been a tight, hilarious 45 minutes, but at 86 minutes aspects of the underwritten characters get a bit tedious, and the jokes become especially hit-and-miss in the middle. 

I want to mention something I alluded to above, that the supporting roles are mostly drag queens. The main character is not, and that risks viewers feeling like the queens are just there to support a straight, cis white woman's journey of self-actualization, and that's not a great look (unlike the costumes, which are all on point). I think there's still a lot to enjoy here, the moral center is still about found family, but it could have been better.

The plot follows said woman, Olivia St. Lapel, when she's sent from her big city media job to investigate a small town calling itself the Christmassiest place in the world. This sounds like the set-up for any number of Hallmark flicks, but this movie immediately lets you know that it's more interested in being a send-up of Hallmark holiday nonsense. 

The narrator (Drag Race judge Michelle Visage) introduces us to the plot, including calling out the obligatory sweeping shots of holiday NYC and the work-obsessed girl desperate for a promotion (to "executive fashion ladyboss in chief"). Olivia and her self-described "gay coworker" fill in the rest of the exposition quickly.

Throughout this movie, the humor rides a fine line between playfully satirical/campy/tongue-in-cheek and a little too on-the-nose. Whether any of the jokes work in the moment is largely up to the skill of the actors in the scene and the sensibility/mood of the viewer. 

Her boss (RuPaul) gives Olivia her assignment: go to this town in disguise and find some secret dirt on the people there, also get her hands on a fancy crown that's the prize for a town Christmas competition. No explanation is given for why this is a sensible task. 

Olivia grabs a wig and takes on the fake name Maggie Zine, heading to the town just in time for a big musical number. Olivia is played by Krysta Rodriguez, who is mostly a Broadway star rather than a film star, and it's kind of obvious that one person is a talented singer and almost everyone else in this song is clunkily autotuned within an inch of their lives. Which is too bad, because the writing in this number is very funny. Overall I was enjoying the movie at this point, as a smarter parody of Christmas rom-coms than any other I've seen

A bunch of side jokes and exposition and character introductions later, and we finally have the main plot set up. The town holds a series of Christmas competitions, and teams of five women compete on behalf of their streets. The usual winners are the all-blond team from Kittenheel Court, led by a character named "Delia Von Whitewoman." Olivia (as Maggie) rallies a group of rag-tag "Downtown Broads" to challenge them in an attempt to save a crumbling downtown inn/bar from being demolished to build a cardigan store. It sort of makes enough sense in context if you don't think about it too hard. 

Olivia's new teammates are all drag queens playing female characters: the inn's hapless owner, a local accident-prone cab driver, a postal worker "with no personality", and a sex worker. They bumble their way through the first few events, losing hope of having any chance of winning, until Olivia rallies them to embrace their weirdness and they lean into sexier, weirder performances that shock the townspeople, but entertain the mayor judging the competition. 

A side plot follows a love interest for Olivia, a dim bulb with a hot body who is prone to taking off his shirt as a running gag. It's funny in brief, but this is definitely a part that lasts too long, particularly an awkward scene where he explains his tragic backstory at grotesque length that would have sent any actual possible new girlfriend running for the hills. 

As Christmas approaches, Olivia's boss demands a more biting expose about the people of the town, so she writes something very mean about all her new friends. This is discovered by a private investigator sent by the competition, and she's exposed as a fraud in front of everyone.

Olivia goes to leave town, only to have a brief side adventure about her sad childhood with a "Spirit of Christmas" who picks up the wrong passenger. She returns to town to try to make it up to her friends, and they go to compete in the last event. They perform an extremely catchy, sassy song about female friendship at the holidays. 

Meanwhile, Olivia's boss has stolen the Christmas crown (because it's very pricey, and she's secretly the estranged sister of the mayor). Olivia chases her up a tree, the boss reveals that she's secretly been Olvia's mother the whole time, and she just pretended to adopt Olivia and put her to work as a child so she could make it as a media mogul. Olivia doesn't forgive her, the entire cast gets into a group slap fight, and she gets the crown back, only to have the crown awarded to the Kittenheel Court team after all. However, the other townspeople come together to raise the money to save the inn, and Delia is deposed from the leadership of the evil team, so everything turns out ok. 

Olivia has learned that friendship is more important than work, and even the villainous boss returns for an attempt at eventual reconciliation. Olivia and the love interest do NOT get engaged because she points out that would be insane after knowing someone for 3 days. 

I wish this movie were stronger. It has a lot of genuinely funny moments and sharp writing, and then it turns around and beats mediocre jokes into the ground. Many of the drag queens with the biggest parts are giving their all and doing great, but for some reason RuPaul's scenes feel kind of phoned in? If you're a Drag Race fan, check out this extensive list of cameos and stars.

I still overall enjoyed most of the experience of watching the movie, but it's definitely not for everyone.