There’s a reason holiday rom-coms like The Knight Before Christmas are so satisfying

The plot of the movie is delightfully bonkers: A knight from 1334, Sir Cole (Josh Whitehouse), time-travels to present-day Ohio and meets a science teacher, Brooke (Vanessa Hudgens), after she accidentally hits him with her car.

The doctors think Sir Cole has a head injury, which is why they aren’t fazed when he says he’s from medieval times. They think his memory will return in time and he’ll be back to “normal.” But days go by, and Sir Cole still contests he’s a knight. Brooke starts to wonder whether he’s telling the truth, until – spoiler alert – she realizes he very much is, and they live happily ever after.

Vanessa Hudgens won Christmas last year with her Netflix festive rom-com The Princess Switch. The film was a viral sensation, filled to the brim with the feel-good, low-stakes high jinks we’ve come to expect from our holiday movies. A sequel to that now classic is coming in 2020, but while we wait, Hudgens has another holiday flick for us: The Knight Before Christmas. And I’m pleased to report it’s very, very good.

Much like Amy Adams’s character in Enchanted, the humor in The Knight Before Christmas stems from Sir Cole’s attempts to navigate the modern world. He pulls out a sword to fight Brooke’s ex-boyfriend, calls cars “steel steeds,” is enamoured with televisions (aka “magic boxes that make merry”), and thinks neckties are tiny torture devices. Brooke finds Sir Cole’s naiveté endearing, though, and romance blossoms. Not much about The Knight Before Christmas is realistic, but that’s the point. It’s pure, unabashed escapism in the best way possible.

“I think all rom-coms, on some level, are fairy tales, and I liked dropping the pretense and just owning it,” Monika Mitchell, the director of The Knight Before Christmas, tells Glamour.

Finding pure joy in 2019 is hard, after all, which is probably why rom-coms have become a booming business again. “I guess we all need to believe in magic a little bit more now than before,” Mitchell says. “These movies are entertainment, and that’s okay. They’re art, but they’re commercial art. They’re designed to be entertaining to the entire family so that a group of loved ones can sit together. Everyone has something in there that they can hold on to. Watching something that makes you happy is legitimate. To be happy at the end of something you invest an hour and a half of your life in is completely legitimate.”

This rings especially true for holiday rom-coms. Mitchell has an interesting theory as to why holiday movies like The Knight Before Christmas are experiencing a particular kind of renaissance on streaming platforms like Netflix. “In childhood, there’s a true psychological phase called ‘magical thinking.’ It’s when you believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy,” she says. “I think the holidays bring us back to that, even when we’re adults. Movie after movie has been made about the fact that adults lose that magical thinking. I don’t want to speak for the world, but there seems to be something right now where people are just really embracing holiday movies. I still believe in magic.”

Magic is everywhere in The Knight Before Christmas, but the movie still has something concrete to say about the world we live in – and about women, specifically. While there is a literal knight in shining armour in this movie, Brooke never actually needs him. It was very important for both Mitchell and Hudgens to get that point across.

“This character, Brooke, loves her life,” Mitchell says. “She is not someone who needs to be rescued. In a lot of rom-coms these days, there’s this paradigm of a woman who has to be saved from herself. Because the knight is coming from another era, it gave us a chance for them to be at odds with each other. She can still love her job and love who she is. She’s happy. From the first frame of the movie, she’s happy. It’s not like she needs this knight to come and save her, and yet she still has so much to learn from him.”

The biggest thing Brooke learns from Sir Cole is to believe in magic. That’s the key theme in The Knight Before Christmas. Magic is how Sir Cole traveled to 2019 in the first place, and if Brooke didn’t truly believe his story, she wouldn’t have fallen in love with him. Mitchell hopes this movie encourages people to make space for a little magic in their own lives.

“We can’t limit our belief system to things within our understanding,” she says. “We would’ve never gone to the moon like that. That’s the most powerful message in the movie: not to limit our belief systems.”

The Knight Before Christmas is now streaming on Netflix.

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