Film Still from THAT TIME OF YEAR

Danish Actor and Director Paprika Steen effectively captures a family’s ability to bring out the worst in each other in THAT TIME OF YEAR

Danish Actor and Director Paprika Steen serves up a delectably funny slice of Christmas cheer in her latest foray behind the camera, THAT TIME OF YEAR.

Taking place over a 24 hour period, THAT TIME OF YEAR follows stressed-out 40-something Katrine (Paprika Steen) and her husband Mads (Jacob Lohmann) as they prepare for their annual festive family celebration. As the mismatch of guests start to arrive including Katrine’s divorced parents Gunna (Karen-Lise Mynster) and Poul (Lars Knutzon), Katrina’s recently ordained sister Barbara (Sofie Grobel) and her pompous husband Torben (Lars Brygmann), as well as Katrine’s estranged sister Patricia (Patricia Schumann) who is just out rehab, long-simmering resentments and squabbles begin to resurface with catastrophic and comic results.

Paprika Steen in That Time of Year

Bittersweet, witty and highly relatable, THAT TIME OF YEAR is a caustic comedy about a family’s ability to bring out the worst in each other. Filled with snappy dialogue, ego clashes and subtle put-downs, Jakob Weis’ well-written script mixes sour comedy and with tender sentimentality to deliver a tale that is as sad as it is ordinary. As this sincere attempt to have a wholesome, traditional holiday gathering gradually devolves into drunken fights, backhanded comments and inappropriate revelations, Steen effectively captures the amusing nuances, simmering family tensions and emotional messiness that so often boils over during the holidays.

Much of the comedy comes from the mischievous cast who do an effective job of capturing the chaos of a boisterous family gathering. As Katrine, Steen brings warmth of spirit to the main character, her big heart making her insufferable to her guilty-conscience family but also a joy to watch. Sofie Gråbøl holds our attention as the brittle Barbara and Karen-Lise Mynster stands out as Katrine’s eccentric and pretentious mother Gunna.

Film Still from THAT TIME OF YEAR

Yet, while Steen’s direction is on top form here, the concept behind THAT TIME OF YEAR is so well-worn and clichéd that this caustic comedy offers very little in the way of surprise. While, for the most part, the characters feel authentic and real, there is a tendency for Weis and Steen to over-emphasise their cartoonish behaviour and the overall theatrical nature of Weis’ script means THAT TIME OF YEAR is probably better suited to the stage than the big screen.

That said, Steen and her fine ensemble demonstrate that there is plenty of life still left in the genre and while the narrative does not shy away from dramatic twists, each turn feels believable, the chaos is rooted from putting distinct, conflicting characters in a room together. There are also several emotional high points sprinkled throughout the film including an impassioned confrontation between Katrine and her mother.

A highly relatable tale will warm even the coldest hearts.

3.5 out of 5 stars

THAT TIME OF YEAR screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 14 October 2018