Christmas at Maxwell's - a new Christmas Classic DVD Movie

Finding Hope at “Maxwell’s”
Father-daughter film company debuts with meaningful Christmas drama

By Brian Kantz


Somewhere between the nostalgic playfulness of A Christmas Story, the outrageous romp of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and the idyllic perfection of It’s A Wonderful Life, there’s room for a holiday flick that’s more serious, more reflective, more real.

Christmas at Maxwell’s, the debut offering from Cleveland, Ohio-based independent film company LauferFilm, fits that bill.  The PG-rated movie opens December 1 at area theatres.

For most of us, it’s difficult to imagine getting through the holidays with a terminally ill family member.  But that’s the situation facing Andrew Austin (played by Andrew May), a Midwestern businessman whose wife Suzie (played by Jack Hourigan) is diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.  Looking for peace and all-too-hard-to-find answers about life, the family heads to their summer home on the lake, the Maxwell House, to spend what could be their last Christmas together.

At first blush, that may not seem like the most uplifting premise for a holiday movie.  But therein lies the message and magic of this film.  Even in the darkest hours, there is always hope.  William Laufer, writer and director of Christmas at Maxwell’s, knows this through experience.

Laufer, 61, who spent his formative years as an actor in community theater productions, began writing the Maxwell’s screenplay while attending Georgetown University in the 1960s.  The story was inspired by his mother who was given a six-weeks-to-live cancer death sentence, but survived for 16 fulfilling years.

“Members of test audiences realize that this movie is one person’s story, that it is not every person’s story.   But that is part of the power,” Laufer explains.  “People know of the often devastating effects of cancer, but what people either don’t know or overlook are the many stories of those who have survived.”

To be sure, Maxwell’s pulls no punches.  Along the way, we’re privy to the intense pain of anticipated loss, and the physical and emotional toll of cancer.  At the same time, the film leverages that grief to make abundantly clear what really matters most in life: the love of committed family and strong friends. That’s a message the world needs to hear more, especially around the holidays.

In their time of need, the Austins get a boost from a meaningful and entertaining cast of characters, from a local cop who just lost his wife and kids in an accident to the playful owner of a Christmas tree lot to Mr. Carpenter, an angelic elderly gentleman who plays a central role at the end of the movie.  These characters drive the movie forward.

Of course, focusing on family and friends comes honestly to Laufer, who called on kin to make the movie a reality.  His daughter, Tiffany, a graduate of the prestigious American Film Institute in Los Angeles, served as Maxwell’s cinematographer and co-producer.  A talented writer in her own right, Tiffany’s screenplay “Emily and the Blue Heron,” a children’s tale, was a semifinalist in the highly competitive Sundance screenwriter’s competition in 2004.  Various other family members helped to financially back the Maxwell’s project as well.

The Christmas theme was another natural choice for Laufer’s first feature-length work.  Laufer is anything but a Scrooge, but even old Ebenezer himself would be proud of this conversion.  A former manufacturing business boss turned certified public accountant, Laufer walked away from those secure pursuits to take on the financial perils of full-time independent filmmaking.

“I had recently sold a manufacturing company when I came to realize that the timing was really perfect for me to both return to my roots and work with my daughter at the same time,” Laufer says, adding that security of the heart matters most.  “Many people live with a false sense of security, staying in situations because they think there is less risk, only to find out that in fact the ‘security’ is not really there.  I believe we primarily find security in our sense of faith and trust in the Lord and given that ‘security,’ we are empowered to do the work of our hearts. When we do this work, we are fulfilled and happy.”

Although the film’s production budget of about $4 million pales in comparison to most studio-backed movies, Christmas at Maxwell’s relies on substance — when was the last time you went to a movie that really made you think about the blessings in your own life?— over flash and big names to make its point.

“It’s quite a different holiday film from the standard Santa Claus comedy from Hollywood.  We believe our film can bring an insight worthy of our audiences’ life experiences and dreams,” Tiffany says.  And that’s a refreshing alternative for this year’s holiday moviegoers.

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