The Christmas Shoes (2002)

More like The Ugly Christmas Sweater Shoes.

Ah, with the holiday season upon us, there’s no better time to curl up next to the Christmas tree with a festive glass of eggnog and watch a feel-good Lifetime Christmas TV movie. You know those sloppy, slapped together, emotionally manipulative stories with high moral and Christian values? There’s so many these days, as if they’re churned out by the thousands. Well this season, I bring you the worst offender of all: a film based on the that one song you can’t stand, The Christmas Shoes. You’ve all heard the complexity of the lyrics, but apparently there’s only so much a four minute song can convey. Yes, the complicated story of a young boy buying shoes for his dying mother actually needs a ninety-four minute runtime to be fully appreciated. And to make as much money off the concept as possible, the premise of the tear-jerking holiday song was quickly adapted as a book,  followed soon after with this 2002 holiday movie.

A movie that somehow spawned TWO sequels.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I think about the holiday season, I immediately picture a graveyard. To me, nothing says Christmas like corpses rotting in a cemetery! That’s why it’s fitting when The Christmas Shoes opens with a trip to tombstone town. It really is a wonderful way to get you in the festive mood. So this is the framing device of the film, where our protagonist Robert Layton (Rob Lowe), fondly remembers his mother, who died at Christmas. Is he that little boy who bought his mom some shoes? To risk spoiling this emotional thrill ride: he’s not. This film subverts fan expectations more than The Last Jedi did by having the actual shoe-purchasing boy stand a few tombstones over, also remembering his mother.

Flashback to about 25 years earlier, to a time when Robert appears to be the same age his grave-site visiting future self will. Seriously, the man doesn’t age. We meet him now as the typical disappointing husband/father, a lawyer who works too hard and misses his daughter’s big Christmas concert. For some reason his busy day is set to the Law and Order theme song, even when he’s almost hit by a hilariously incompetent postman who drives around with the back door open to the mail truck.

Notice the string that pulls the shoebox lid open.

The titular Christmas Shoes land right at his feet, and the first forty five minutes tell the story of, among other things, Robert struggling to return the shoes where they belong. First to the post office, and then to the address on the box. At one point, his wife even guilts him about taking so long to return the shoes to the department store they were bound for.

Set in the USA, where Canada Post trucks deliver the American mail. Outsourcing, I guess?

Like Love Actually, this story features an interweaving narrative, where two families connect through a series of pointless coincidences. There’s also a school teacher who fits into the mix sometimes, but for the most part the film tells the story of the Andrews and the Layton families. The Layton family includes Robert, his unemployed wife Kate (Maria Del Mar), and his daughter Lily, who sings in a choir. That’s about as deep as those characters get.

The Andrews family is the story you came for though – young Nathan (Max Morrow) gets to spend his holiday watching his sickly mother die, while his father yells at him a lot and refuses to buy him a puppy. To ease the pain of her passing, Nathan decides to buy his mother some used shoes so her corpse will look beautiful for Jesus. The Andrews may not be as rich as the Layton family, but what they lack in money they make up for in love for each other.

So much love that they leave their dead goldfish in the bowl for over two weeks.

As a dying woman, Maggie Andrews (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) spends her time volunteering as the school’s choir leader. But for some reason, she feels the need to attend her son’s elementary school classes as well. Wouldn’t the choir practice be an extra-curricular, after school activity? Why is she attending classes during the day?

That poor kid must be so embarrassed.

The momentum and drama of The Christmas Shoes really kicks in when Maggie’s doctor calls with good news: they’ve found a heart donor for her. Thanks to a dying seventeen year old boy, the greatest gift she’ll get this year is life. They call her in to the hospital while Nathan stays with his school teacher, Mr. Gregory.

Before she leaves, Nathan overhears his mother’s fond memories of being a dancer – that she once had a pair of shoes that she liked or something. He immediately runs to the department store, the same store Robert Layton visited earlier to return the Christmas shoes. The boy finds the shoes on the shelf and checks the price. Alas, he can’t afford them…. yet.

While his mom is in the hospital, he hatches a clever scheme to pay for the shoes – he’ll collect dirty cans on the street and return them for a nickel each until he has the money he needs. His school teacher decides to lend a hand by scattering cans in a disgusting alley, and then he sends the kid to go get them. Look, I get the message – the teacher is rewarding Nathan’s ambition and initiative – but dude, the kid’s mom is on her freakin’ deathbed. Just give him the money and skip the middleman.

The maniacal smile that says, ‘I stole these from a hobo!’

In another needless connection to the Layton family, Nathan’s teacher just happens to live next door to Robert’s mother, Ellen. Now Ellen is not happy with her workaholic son and nags him constantly with on-the-nose dialogue like ‘Don’t make money, make memories!’ So for some reason the school teacher brings Nathan over to Ellen’s house, and she takes him to Robert’s old bedroom. While there, Nathan steals an old baseball cap from Robert’s childhood. It’s already old when he gets it, but he continues to wear it for twenty five years so we can identify his older self at the cemetery.

In the sequel, this guy somehow turns into Neil Patrick Harris.

When Nathan’s mom Maggie finally wakes up in the hospital, she’s shocked to learn her heart transplant did not take place. The doctor explains that the teenage donor had Hepatitis B and they couldn’t go forward with the procedure. I guess they didn’t think to screen for disease BEFORE calling her in and putting her under anaesthetic. So anyway, with all hope of saving Maggie now snuffed out, things start to look bleak for the movie.

Maybe the Layton family can ignite some positivity, or perhaps add some merry balance to Maggie’s depressing death countdown. Let’s check in on them, shall we? Well, while Robert and Kate are busy arguing over menial things, the school teacher finds Ellen Layton dead next to the Christmas tree.

Floating goldfish, Hepatitis B and now Dead Grandmas. Merry Christmas, folks!

Finally, with all the filler plot contrivances and coincidences out of the way (did I mention Nathan’s dad fixes Robert’s broken car at one point?), we finally get to Christmas Eve. While Robert scrambles to buy last minute gifts for his daughter before the store closes, he finds himself behind Nathan in the cashier line. You all know the story from here. Nathan can’t afford the dancing shoes with his hobo-can money, and Robert’s heart grows three sizes that day. For some reason it has to be the same pair of shoes that had fallen from the mail truck, as if fate keeps reuniting him and the shoes. But this pivotal scene takes up only three minutes of the runtime, which is actually less time than it would take to play The Christmas Shoes song. Again it’s unclear to me why a five minute song needed to be a feature length film.

The ending of the film makes this entire journey worthwhile though. Nathan races home to put the shoes on his mom, while Robert joins his family among carollers standing vigil outside the Andrews’ family home. Maggie takes her final breaths as Nathan hands her the red shoes. The candle-carrying carollers softly sing Silent Night, while a dementia-riddled Maggie admires the shoes she’s about to die in:

‘These are fucking hideous….’

 OhHaiTrebor and Lisa the cat would like to wish you all a safe and wonderful holiday season! Happy Life Day, everyone!  

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  1. Superb review!!!! All of the salient points were touched upon and it makes me want to see this cinematic dung even more!!!! Thanks for the grand review!!!!

  2. Also… Maggie goes from volunteering/stalking people’s classrooms to her deathbed within the span of a week or so? Man, she sure goes downhill fast.

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