In Which I Wonder What Kind of Leading Lady I Am

As I write this, I have watched twelve Hallmark-ish Christmas movies in as many days (go here to find out why). It feels like a lot to me, even though I know folks who can watch three or four of these in a day. You have my respect, friends. I can only absorb one of these a day, two at most, before all the characters and plots start to run together

Broadly speaking, the heroines of our films seem to fall into three categories. There is the overly ambitious career women who needs a ruggedly handsome, self-employed free thinker to help her loosen up and enjoy snowball fights and messy cookie baking. There is the party girl heiress who needs a ruggedly handsome, self-employed humanitarian to help her notice all the homeless people that need dinner on Christmas Eve. And there is the sweet clumsy girl who just need a little ego boost when that ruggedly handsome, self-employed single dad notices her and invites her to go ice skating. Will she fall on the ice? Yes, but adorably.

Of course, if these movies are wish fulfillment (as many people would suggest), we must be wishing ourselves into these roles. If I was young enough, I’d have no choice but to “fall” into the sweet, clumsy girl camp. I was never ambitious and never an heiress, but I can do pratfalls with the best of them. At my age now, my best hope is to be the spunky mother, like Maureen McCormick in Naughty & Nice. Not the overbearing mom like Shelley Long in Christmas Engagement, and certainly not the dead mom as in…well, lots of these movies. Dead moms are so, so common. It’s like Disney up in here.

Well, I’d better get down to business. My brief reviews of movies 6 through 10!

Official Entry #6: Christmas In the Smokies (2015)

Watched: November 7, 2019

Shelby is a spirited young woman trying to save her family’s historic berry farm from a greedy real estate developer, but the bank is calling in the note on the family. Meanwhile, her first love, a country star, is back in town. Shelby has never forgiven him for abandoning her on Christmas Eve when she was 17, and she’s not about accept his help now. Or is she???

Our Romantic Leads: Shelby (Sarah Lancaster) and Mason (Alan Powell)
Their Meet-Cute: We are not given access to the first meeting of these childhood sweethearts

Star Power Casting: Barry Corbin

The 110% Award: Also Barry Corbin. As Shelby’s folksy dad, Barry Corbin (Maurice Minnifield on Northern Exposure) has the folksy dialed up to 11, and I’m here for it.

Observations: I’m a little freaked out by how much I liked this one. Is the transformation happening already? Maybe I’m just channeling a bit of my mom, because she would have loved this one. The Smokey Mountain setting, the Bluegrass music, the folk theology scattered throughout. It would have all made her happy. And here’s the thing: this cast is good. I mean, good. The story is hackneyed, sure, but Sarah Lancaster (Ellie on Chuck) is warm and likable – except toward Wyatt for most of the movie, which does get old. Alan Powell has a quiet charm that seems completely appropriate to the character. He’s got a little Brad Paisley or Randy Travis vibe, if you will. And not only is Corbin great as Shelby’s dad, but Rebecca Koon as her mother is adorable. Even the villain, played by the very recognizable Brett Rice, is above average. And there’s the little scene of Shelby and Wyatt visiting a radio station in which Wyatt and the DJ discuss Christmas music. I think the scene was written by someone who actually knows and loves music, and it’s so natural and unrushed – I quite enjoyed it!
Didn’t do especially well on the bingo card, but I clearly should have added “hastily planned Christmas Eve fundraiser” to the card. This is the second one I’ve come across.

My favorite movie so far, and I’m not ashamed to say it. This one’s for you, Mom.

Official Entry #7: Holly’s Holiday (2012)

Watched: November 8, 2019

Holly is an ambitious young ad exec who wants the perfect man and the perfect life. Is that so much to ask? After falling and hitting her head she wakes up to see Bo, who bears a striking resemblance to a store window mannequin she passes every day and who does seem to offer her the perfect life. Eventually Holly leans that perfection is overrated and smothering, and she finds happiness with a humble photographer.

Our Romantic Leads: Holly (Claire Coffee) and Milo (Jeff Ward)
Their Meet-Cute: Holly and Milo don’t have one. Holly and Bo, have her falling down and hitting her head episode.

Star Power Casting: Ryan McPartlin

The 110% Award: Matt Riedy and Robin Riker as Bo’s parents. They’re not in the movie for long, but they’re impromptu display of their mannequin skills is hilarious.

Observations: I believe this is my first Lifetime Christmas flick.
I spent half the movie going crazy trying to figure out where I’d seen Claire Coffee before figuring it out. She was Adalind the Hexenbiest on Grimm. I didn’t have to rack my brain to remember Ryan McPartlin. He was Captain Awesome on Chuck, which is great because he was basically playing an exaggerated Captain Awesome in Holly’s Holiday. Also, it was serendipitous to see him right after seeing Captain Awesome’s wife, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) in Christmas In the Smokies. Pure coincidence! This means something!

One could argue – and I will – that Ryan McPartlin steals this movie from the intended love interest, Milo. This is especially true since Milo gives a whiny baby speech about how women are complicated and fickle and don’t like nice guys. This movie is several years old and that scene hasn’t aged well in the era of MRAs and incels. Thank God Bo wasn’t named Chad! However, Milo does get credit for delivering a sly critique of this movie genre, under the guise of reflecting on advertising. Holly says they’re selling people the fantasy of perfect lives so that “they can live through these ads.” “But they don’t live through the ads,” Milo replies. “They die a little inside because we’re selling them these unrealistic, unobtainable lies.” Pretty subversive for a Christmas rom-com. The call is coming from inside the house, Lifetime!

Official Entry #8: Naughty & Nice (2014)

Watched: November 9, 2019

A cynical L.A. shock jock gets in enough trouble with his bosses that they exile him to a sister station tiny Idlewilde, Colorado. They he and the advice show host create sparks on air and off. But when the station back in L.A. is ready to bring the prodigal home AND offer him more money, our man Pepper has to decide what he really wants. Fortunate and fame? Or true love?

Our Romantic Leads: Sandy (Haylie Duff) and Pepper (Tilky Jones)
Their Meet-Cute: Again, not that cute. She picks him up at the airport: he assumes she’s his new assistant. But to be fair, Pepper has some personal growing to do.

Star Power Casting: Maureen McCormick

The 110% Award: Eric Peterson as the station engineer, Jonah, whose fan-boying over Pepper is embarrassing for a grown man.

Observations: This was the second appearance by Haylie Duff in our movie challenge. She’s surprisingly okay as a leading woman. Tilky Jones looks vaguely familiar, but I don’t know why. The real treat here is seeing Maureen McCormick as Sandy’s widowed mother. Gosh, she’s cute and spunky. Go, Marcia! Speaking of Sandy’s mom, this makes the second movie in which a dead father has factored, rather than a dead mother. And in another departure from form, there’s more joking about sex in this movie than in any of the others I’ve watched. I actually double checked that it’s a Hallmark Hallmark movie. It is. They got a bit saucy with this one!
Worst things about this movie? The score, which sounds like it was played on a Casio; and the weird subplot about one of Sandy’s listeners dying while having sex. That wasn’t so bad until his elderly widow started flirting with every young man at his memorial service. The whole thing got uncomfortable.

This movie is also a reminder that it’s not always the ambitious big city GAL who needs to go to a small town and reprioritize her life. Sometimes it’s a dude, like Pepper.

Official Entry #9: Dear Santa (2014)

Watched: November 10, 2019

Crystal is an aimless young party girl whose parents threaten to cut off her allowance if she doesn’t find a job or a man by Christmas (mind the patriarchy, folks!). When a “dear Santa” letter from a little girl flies into her path, Crystal decides its destiny. Little Olivia needs a wife for her handsome, snowplow-driving, soup-kitchen-directing dad, Derek? Crystal can be the change Olivia wants to see in the world. Along the way Crystal learns to serve the homeless, babysit, and drive a snowplow. But it’s not all blue skies, friends! Derek is behind on the rent at the soup kitchen and they’re being evicted just before Christmas. Also, Derek’s evil girlfriend is determined to gather dirt on Crystal and get her out of the way.

Our Romantic Leads: Crystal (Amy Acker) and Derek (David Hayd-Jones)

Their Meet-Cute: She spies on him, then volunteers at his soup kitchen. Is this cute? My brain is starting to feel a little fuzzy.

Star Power Casting: None

The 110% Award: This one is easy. Patrick Creery plays the very flamboyantly gay chef at the soup kitchen. He wears a Pepto-Bismol Pink uniform, and always has lip gloss on. It’s a lot.

Observations: Now, this is more what I was expecting these movies to be like. The plot is formulaic. It’s maudlin and campy and predictable. I love Amy Acker (Fred, on the late, great Angel) but this film makes her play a complete twit. She doesn’t know that you can’t open a can of beans with your bare hands because she’s rich, see, and she’s never handled groceries before. There’s not a lot of subtlety at work in this movie. Side note: Dear Santa sees the return of the dire financial crisis. We got that in Christmas in the Smokies, too.

Weird product placement: at one point Crystal grabs a bunch of items from her apartment to donate to the soup kitchen. This includes a bunch of spices. Specifically, Great Value spices, the Walmart brand. Firstly, why does a woman who can’t open a can have so many spices? Secondly, why does a spoiled rich girl buy her spices at Walmart? These questions need answers!

Official Entry #10: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (2008)

Watched: November 11, 2019

Jennifer is a single mother to an adorable little boy, trying to make his Christmas wish for the toy-of-the-season come true. But she’s also an overly ambitious career gal, dontcha know, with a boring, uptight jeweler boyfriend named Richard. Her lovable, eccentric, recently widowed Uncle Ralph comes for the holidays, bringing with him a hunky young chef, stranded by a winter storm. Soon the young chef is showing Jennifer how safe and controlled her life has become, and she’s kicking Richard to the curb. It was inevitable, Richard. You were only here to make the leading man look better.

Our Romantic Leads: Jennifer (Brook Burns) and Morgan (Warren Christie)
Their Meet-Cute: He just shows up with her uncle. Not cute.

Star Power Casting: Henry Winkler, as Uncle Ralph

The 110% Award: The evil toy shop owner who won’t give Jennifer the Rocket Wheels she’s already paid for. A rare, working class villain in these movies.

Observations: Brook Burns had a small part in Shallow Hal, and I thought of it every time she smiled. Apparently she was also on Baywatch, North Shore, and Melrose Place. I know Warren Christie from Alphas, but like Burns, he’s been all over TV.

I’m working on a theory about names in these movies. At first I thought the leading men would all have similar names, but that hasn’t panned out so far. But the terrible (or boring) boyfriends? That theory still has legs. I’ll get back to you on it.

This movie was pretty bland, despite having likable lead actors and Henry-Freaking-Winkler. The central conceit, that Jennifer just needs to loosen up and enjoy life with a free spirit, is both overdone and patronizing. The world needs people who can settle down and keep their crap together, you know? They’re often supporting the more free spirited among us.

Some Running Totals From All the Movies So Far

(Get your bingo card or shot glass ready)

Dead mothers – 5
Character owns restaurant, cafe, or diner – 5
Snowstorms – 4
Characters shown baking – 3
Terrible “big city” boyfriends (probably work in finance) – 3
Cute, extremely clumsy young women – 5
Dramatic interruptions – 3
Characters pretend to be dating or engaged – 3
“Adorable” children – 4
Overly ambitious career girl – 3