Indian comedian and actor Kanan Gill is the romantic lead in a Norwegian Christmas movie. Yes, you read that correctly. Gill stars in the English/Norwegian Netflix Original film Christmas as Usual.
Jashan (Gill) and his girlfriend Thea (Ida Ursin-Holm) live together in Los Angeles. He proposes marriage a few weeks before Christmas. She accepts, despite their short courtship, and then invites him to spend Christmas with her family in Norway.
In what is quickly revealed to be a recurring problem, Thea neglects to share some very important information. She doesn’t tell her mom Anna-Lise (Marit Andreassen) that Jashan is Indian. Anna-Lise is awkward from the moment Jashan steps out of the taxi, and things don’t really get any better.
Christmas in Thea’s family — which includes her brother Simen (Erik Follestad), sister-in-law Hildegunn (Veslemøy Mørkrid), and little niece Ronja (Matilde Hovdegard) — is a multi-day schedule of events that must be completed in a specific way, more to alleviate anxiety rather than because anyone enjoys them. It’s been this way every since Thea’s dad died.
Given how rigidly Thea’s family adheres to tradition, it’s in everyone’s best interest for Thea to share the rules with Jashan in advance. But she doesn’t. Virtually all of the conflict in Christmas as Usual stems from Thea needlessly withholding information. The simplistic plot mechanism neutralizes a lot of opportunities for humor in what is at times a pretty funny film.
It also undercuts the “culture clash” angle that the movie is going for. Anyone who’s not Norwegian would struggle with Christmas at Thea’s house, accidentally deviating from rules that they don’t even know exist. At some point, it’s fair to call into question how much of Anna-Lise’s disapproval of Jashan is just racism and not him being an outsider.
To its credit, Christmas as Usual directly addresses some of Norway’s persistent racism. Jashan has a humorous reaction to finding out that there is a (real) spice brand named “Hindu.” It’s also entertaining when Simen and Hildegunn make some well-meaning but clumsy attempts to connect with Jashan about his heritage.
Those who primarily watch Indian films will appreciate Jashan’s use of a well-timed Hindi curse word and a closing scene set to “Punjabi Wedding Song” from Hasee Toh Phasee.
When jokes land, it’s largely thanks to Gill’s terrific performance. He gets the tone of the humor just right and elevates the written material with his perfect delivery. Who knew “Christmas movie boyfriend” was a role that would suit him so well?
It’s hard to get a sense of Ursin-Holm’s abilities since Thea spends most of her time grimacing at the unfortunate consequences of her refusal to communicate.
Christmas as Usual doesn’t veer far from the standard Christmas movie formula — which is fine, since familiarity is part of the genre’s appeal. But Kanan Gill’s surprisingly charming performance makes this one to consider when you’re in a Christmas mood.