The Claus Family review – a humdrum if well-intentioned festive film

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: November 1, 2021 (Last updated: November 10, 2023)
The Claus Family review - a humdrum if well-intentioned festive film


The Claus Family might put the filler in “stocking filler”, but it’s a well-intentioned festive film that’s difficult to dislike.

This review of The Claus Family is spoiler-free.

It seems a bit early for Christmas cheer, but with two whole months of festive spirit to monetize, streaming platforms like Netflix are smart to start early. Thus, the Dutch-Belgian family film The Claus Family, a wholesome two-hour meditation on grief and growing up written and directed by Matthias Temmermans. It’s inoffensive, even if there’s only enough story here to fill half the runtime.

Not to be a Scrooge about things, obviously. There’s some charm to The Claus Family, its heart is in the right place, and it strips away a lot of the archly fantastical elements of Christmas stories by rooting itself in the perspective of Jules (Mo Bakker), a youngish lad who, purely through chance, has come to see the holiday as a reminder of the untimely loss of his father.

Despite that rather morbid-sounding angle, the film doesn’t get bogged down by too much trauma. The very likable presence of Jan Decleir as Noel Claus, Jules’s grandfather, helps to capture some of that warm festive spirit, as Jules and his biscuit-maker mother Suzanne (Bracha van Doesburgh) spend more time with him over the holiday period. Noel has that classic Christmas vibe because like all the men in the Claus family have been or will be, he is Santa Claus, something that Jules discovers inadvertently thanks to a magical snow globe.

The problem is that the death of Jules’s father has meant that Noel has been carrying on the family tradition for much too long, and his health is beginning to fail. He should be collecting his bus pass, but instead, he’s trying to ensure the world’s children get their gifts, all while coaxing Jules out of his shell and showing him the magic of both Christmas and the family legacy.

The main problem with The Claus Family, beyond this thin plot not being enough to really fuel a feature, is that Mo Bakker’s Jules is a surly, often annoying presence who has little to do except mope until the script allows him to see the fairy lights. The performance isn’t great, to put things charitably, and the characterization is rote, and so much of the film’s drama is contingent on both these things that you can’t exactly overlook them. But the film is heightened somewhat by its injection of Christmassy good cheer into ostensibly humdrum family affairs. The idea of a young boy realizing his grandfather is a lot cooler than he thinks, and the struggles of Suzanne trying to avoid the biscuit factory she works in going bankrupt, are relatable human stories given the obligatory upbeat payoff.

The lack of character and thematic depth obviously saps The Claus Family’s staying power, and it isn’t going to stand out in such a competitive market, but it’s a decently feel-good festive endeavor that’ll get you in the right frame of mind for the season if you meet it halfway.

READ: The Claus Family 3 Review

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