A Christmas Cottage worth visiting

Nov 12, 2008 at 4:27 p.m. ET

Every week, Jared Padalecki fights off demons, ghosts and ghoulies as Sam Winchester on The CW's Supernatural. But a few summers ago he was fighting off demons of a different kind - the demons of doubt - as he took on role of a young painter in Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage. It's new this week on DVD and I'm here to tell you all about it.

Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage is a semi-autobiographical film that delivers the traditional, 'you have more blessings than you think' message with a family struggling to make ends meet and an artist struggling to find himself.

Thomas Kinkade is known as The Painter of Light and I'd say he's singlehandedly responsible for putting art into the average home. His stores in malls across America have made him a household name but Kinkade didn't always have it so easy. Raised by a single mother in the '70s, Thomas was the man of the house from an early age and it was fate that took his talent for painting and turned it into a life's dream.

A Christmas story worth telling

In the film, Thomas (Padalecki) is a college student who comes home for the holidays only to learn that his mother, (Marcia Gay Harden) is about to lose the family home. He and his brother (Smallville's Aaron Ashmore) decide to get jobs to help stave off foreclosure and it looks like it's going to be a pretty rotten Christmas for all.

Thomas takes the job of painting a holiday mural for the town's resident marketing maven (Chris Elliot). He goes into it begrudgingly, seeing himself more as an "artist" than a "painter" but he soon sees the work as a real opportunity to give something back to the town that raised him.

The real heart of the movie comes from Peter O'Toole who plays Thomas' mentor, Glen. Suffering from arthritis and possibly the early stages of Alzheimer's, Glen has nearly given up - on painting and on life. But Thomas and gallery owner Ed Asner both feel that Glen has one more painting in him if only he can find the inspiration to get it done.

Rounding out the cast of Christmas Cottage is a wonderful grouping of familiar faces including Charlotte Rae, Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Moll and Richard Burgi who plays Thomas' off-the-wall dad. These characters take us on a journey through a small town Christmas and it's great fun to watch (when it isn't horribly sad.) Moll is engaged in a holiday decorating war with the neighbors, Rae is the church pianist who is in a world of her own and Lewis is a man broken by the death of his son in Vietnam. Like I said, great fun when I wasn't crying.

Kinkade gets neighborly

As with most holiday movies, things go from bad to worse until everyone in town needs a lesson in the true meaning of Christmas, which comes, of course, from Thomas' painting. Yes, it's cliche and predictable but you can do that in a Christmas movie - it's actually expected.

What isn't predictable is the relationship between Thomas and Glen. Jared Padalecki and Peter O'Toole come together in several emotional scenes. O'Toole struggling to do the simplest of things for himself, Padalecki feeling the burden of seeing his hero, his mentor, crushed by the effects of old age, it's difficult to watch at times and yet, so poignant.

I was particularly touched by this movie because I'm one of those people who feels like we don't pay enough homage to those who went before us. I was excited to see people such as Rae and Lewis and Asner - TV staples still doing what they do best. And I had to wonder how much of Glen's tremors and frailty was acting on O'Toole's part and how much was really O'Toole. It's funny. I watch Padalecki every week on Supernatural, but seeing him in this film, it reminded me of how young he really is and how much of a career he still has a head of him.

In the Christmas Cottage DVD special features, Jared talks about an early meeting with O'Toole, where the man looked him right in the eye and told him that he was a good actor. Jared says the compliment nearly drove him to tears then he laughs and says maybe O'Toole was just saying that in order to get him to relax. I don't think so. I think O'Toole saw in young Jared, what Glen saw in young Thomas -- the heart and soul of a true artist.

Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage is only available on DVD and it hits stores this week. Pick up a copy for the true artist on your holiday gift list.

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