In Which an Emotionally Unavailable Movie Critic Opens Herself Up to the Possibility of Falling in Love (With These Movies)
This is it. After successfully avoiding Hallmark Christmas movies (and the ubiquitous knockoffs) year after year, this week I went into the deep end. What does this mean? Six movies in five days. On day four the Netflix algorithm caught up with what is happening and started inundating me with recommendations for Christmas rom-coms. “I wondered how long that would take,” I told my teenage daughter. “The real question is how long it will take for it to stop doing that when you’re done,” she replied grimly.
You will see below my reactions to those six movies, but only five of them count toward my fundraising goal. I watched the first movie before I had the idea to turn this into a pledge drive, and it seemed like a cheat to count it in the total. But that film, Christmas Inheritance, was such a quintessential first taste of the Hallmark-ish holiday genre that I couldn’t bear to skip writing about it.
There are, as many of you know, drinking games and bingo cards designed to accompany the viewing of Christmas rom-coms. I created my own bingo card so that I could play during every movie, figuring that was a better move for me than going the drinking game route. With a goal of 50 movies in less than two months, drinking through this challenge might need to be followed by a January rehab-a-thon. In any case, I’m enjoying tracking the cliches and weird tropes that appear in these movies. I’m going to keep a running total of some of them at the bottom of each post. I’ve also created a few categories to try to include in each movie write up. Beyond a brief plot synopsis and the leads, I’ll cover…
The Meet-Cute: Because almost all of these movies have the lead couple meeting in some quirky, adorable, memorable way.
Star Power Casting: Because these movies usually feature recognizable names in secondary roles – old sit-com and soap opera stars seem to be popular choices.
The 100% Award: Because while these films are not noted for their spectacular acting, there are some real try-hards in these casts. Wacky best friends, extra evil villains, folksy locals, etc. I want to honor those whose attitude to acting is “there are no small parts, especially not the way I play ‘em.”
Well, that’s enough chit chat. Let’s get to the movies!
Trial Run Movie: Christmas Inheritance (2017)
Watched November 2, 2019
In which the New York party girl heiress of Home and Hearth Gifts travels, incognito, to the small but quaint town of Snow Falls, learns about “tradition, friendship, and love” and falls for a hunky cab driver/innkeeper/artist.
Our Romantic Leads: Ellen (Eliza Taylor) and Jake (Jake Lacy)
Their meet-cute: Ellen’s suitcase rolls into the street and is hit by Jake’s cab
Star Power Casting: Andie MacDowell
110% Award: Jonathon Langdon as the exasperated bus driver, chucking luggage for all he’s worth.
Observations: This movie has it all! An extremely clumsy female lead, a dead mother, a Christmas-obsessed small town, a sudden snowstorm, a terrible big city boyfriend who works in finance, a baking lesson from Andie McDowell, gingerbread and hot chocolate and a spontaneously planned but wildly successful Christmas Eve fundraiser! Jake Lacy, formerly of The Office, is the male lead in this film, but only reinforced my conviction that Pete Miller was no Jim Halpert. Apparently Eliza Taylor was in The 100, but I haven’t seen it so she was a stranger to me. She was fine in a chirpy way, I guess. Also, I don’t know whose idea it was to have Andie McDowell sing in this film, but it was cruel. Cruel to Andie, cruel to viewers.
Official Entry #1: Christmas Wedding Planner (2017)
Watched: November 3, 2019
In which a humble wedding planner ends up helping a hunky P.I. investigate her cousin’s fiance’, while also falling for selfsame hunky P.I (who is also her cousin’s ex). Wedding planner learns very little, tbh.
Our Romantic Leads: Kelsey (Jocelyn Hudon) and Connor (Stephen Huszar)
Their Meet-Cute: She crashes into him in line at a coffee shop. He takes the last blueberry scone. Rude.
Star Power Casting: Kelly Rutherford and Joey Fatone
110% Award: Taylor David as Sharl the baker. Wow. What a unique and committed performance.
Observations: Stephen Huszar is not that appealing, but he’s in Letterkenny, a show with which some of my friends are truly obsessed. So he’s got that going for him. Jocelyn Hudon (The Strain) looks like Amy Acker and is actually a decent actress. Rich people in this movie are mostly evil and dress like trash. This is the first of the movies in this challenge in which people pretend to be dating or engaged, but I have a feeling it won’t be the last. Which is weird, because never once have I pretended to be dating someone I wasn’t actually dating. It doesn’t seem that common a strategy in normal life.
Official Entry #2: Holiday Engagement
Watched: November 3, 2019
A young journalist loses her job AND her fiance just before Thanksgiving. So *of course* she hires an out of work actor to pretend to be the fiance her family has never met. Over a few days of playing out this ridiculous ruse, her broken heart is mended and new love blossoms.
Our Romantic Leads: HIllary (Bonnie Somerville) and David (Jordan Bridges)
Their Meet-Cute: She is reporting on the life of the poor. He is her first interview subject, working a corner dressed in a cell phone costume.
Star Power Casting: Sam McMurray, Shelley Long, Haylie Duff
110% Award: The actor playing the waiter in the Mexican restaurant. He saw his chance to make a big comedy performance out of a few lines, and by god, he took it.
Observations: Not a Christmas movie! Everything is set around Thanksgiving, although the overbearing mom does decorate for Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving. The crazy lie at the center of the movie is the sort of foolishness behind a lot of rom-coms. I bet I’ll encounter more of these throughout the challenge. I didn’t recognize either of the leads in this one, but they’ve both done a lot of TV work. Bonnie Somerville was Mona in several episodes of Friends (but who is Mona?), and Jordan Bridges was Frank Rizzoli in Rizzoli and Isles. Maybe this is a moment to appreciate the amount of work these movies are providing to actors whose careers are not, shall we say, peaking.
Official Entry #3: Christmas With a View
Watched: November 4, 2019
Boring! Not nearly enough high drama or falling down hijinks in this one. Clara is the manager of a restaurant at a mountain resort; Shane is the new chef, the winner of a cooking competition reality show. They meet (not even that cute), cook, kiss, fight, make up, and foil the plans of a real estate developer to flatten the homey restaurant belonging to Patrick Duffy and Jess Walton. The end.
Our Romantic Leads: Clara (Kaitlyn Lee) and Shane (Scott Cavalheiro)
Their Meet-Cute: She sees him in a hotel lobby and drops her bag to get his attention. This fake clumsiness is lame. Real rom-com sweethearts are organically clumsy.
Star Power Casting: Jess Walton, Patrick Duffy, Vivica Fox
The 110% Award: The two Janices
Observations: While I may roll my eyes at female leads crashing into Christmas trees, or evil banker boyfriends showing up at the worst possible moment, Christmas With a View taught me that I need a certain baseline of hamfistedness in these movies to make them tolerable. This one tries to be a calm, sensible romance with people who behave mostly normally. What is the point? There’s not even a GREAT MISUNDERSTANDING! On the other hand, it was surprisingly nice to see Patrick Duffy again, all gray-haired and pony-tailed. AND Sharl the baker made a returns, which tells us that this story exists in the same universe as Christmas Wedding Planner. Imagine a universe in which all of these Christmas rom-coms co-existed….all the quaint towns, beloved diner owners, sudden snowstorms, spontaneous Christmas weddings. It really makes you think.
Official Entry #4: A Christmas Prince
Watched: November 5, 2019
A journalist assigned to cover a playboy prince passes herself off as the tutor for his younger sister. Soon the prince is pelting her with snowballs, saving her from wolves, and falling for her sassy, Converse-wearing American ways. But what will happen when her secret is revealed? And will the prince still be able to ascend to the throne when it’s uncovered that he was adopted? Don’t worry folks. All’s well that ends well, and this movie spawned two sequels.
Our Romantic Leads: Amber (Rose McIver) and Prince Richard (Ben Lamb)
Their Meet-Cute: He poaches her taxi at the airport. She doesn’t recognize him as a celebrity prince behind his raggedy disguise beard, and calls him a selfish jerk (or something like that).
Star Power Casting: Alice Krige!!! (That’s the Borg Queen for you Philistines who didn’t watch Chariots of Fire 50 times.)
The 110% Award: Amy Marston as Amber’s boss at the gossip magazine. She’s lays the ruthlessness on REALLY thick.
Observations: Three people recommended this movie to me. Apparently it is a crown jewel in this genre. See what I did there? Ben Lamb was an appealing male lead for a change, and it’s nice to see Rose McIver (of iZombie) again. Also, shout out to Joel McVeagh as the first identifiably queer character I’ve seen in this challenge.
Hot tip: Don’t wait until your child is an adult to tell him he’s adopted. That’s some traumatic ish, yo. Prince Richard is going to need therapy.
Official Entry #5: The Spirit of Christmas
Watched: November 6, 2019
An ambitious, emotionally unavailable young lawyer is charged with getting a country inn appraised and sold, but things are complicated by the super hot ghost who inhabits the inn. Lawyer and spirit fall in love, but can they solve his prohibition-era murder and set his soul free?
Our Romantic Leads: Kate (Kati Salowsky) and Daniel (Thomas Beaudoin)
Their Meet-Cute: It’s not cute. He turns off the security alarm, breaks into her bedroom, and HAUNTS her.
Star Power Casting: None
The 110% Award: No one gets it.
Observations: Another boring one! The emotionally unavailable, promotion seeking career gal certainly seemed like a classic starting point for a movie like this. But it’s as if The Spirit of Christmas couldn’t decide if it was going to be spooky or sad or funny or romantic, and it failed at all of them. Also, BOUNDARIES, Daniel. I don’t care if you’ve been living here since the 20s, a woman’s bedroom should be sacrosanct. Speaking of Daniel, Thomas Beaudoin’s acting leaves something to be desired, but he is pretty hunky. Is it okay for me to say that? I like vests and spectacles. Finally, there aren’t even any villains in this movie! What the heck? I guess I’ll give it a couple of points for modeling redemptive forgiveness, which along with Daniel’s looks pulls this up to about a C-.
Some Running Totals from the Test Run Through Movie #5
(Get your bingo card or your shot glass ready.)
Dead mothers – 3
Character owns restaurant, cafe, or diner – 4
Snowstorms – 2
Characters shown baking – 2
Terrible big city boyfriends (probably works in finance) – 2
Cute, extremely clumsy young women – 4
Dramatic interruptions – 3
Characters pretend to be dating or engaged – 2