What’s the Deal with Canada, eh?

Having never seen a Hallmark-ish holiday movie until a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t realize there was a huge Canadian connection. My first clue was the SNL parody skit a friend sent to me on Facebook. But I was also noticing how many Canadian actors were showing up in the cast lists. It’s no coincidence. It’s all about the tax incentives, yo. These movies are made fast (15 day average), cheap ($2 million budget), and mostly in Ontario.

But anyway…I’m ready to report on the next five movies in this Holiday Rom-Com-Athon Against Hunger. If somehow you still don’t know what that is, or why, or wherefore, please read this intro article! Movies 11-15 include one that I thought was surprisingly charming, a few mediocre ones, and the first truly terrible one. Like, it was almost so bad it was good, but somehow it overshot that mark and just wound up so bad it was bad. It’s a fine line between pleasure and a poke in the eye. Movie #12 was just a poke in the eye.

Official Entry #11: Holly Star (2018)

Watched: November 13, 2019

A broke puppeteer goes home for the holidays, reconnects with her paintball obsessed best friend, gets a job at a Christmas tree lot with her childhood sweetheart, and goes on a search for the money she thinks her dead-puppeteer-Santa-looking-grandpa buried somewhere in her hometown. By Christmas she will have discovered that the real hidden treasure is the friends we made along the way.

Our Romantic Leads: Sloan (Katlyn Carlson) and Andy (Brian Muller)
Their Meet-Cute: A photo late in the movie establishes that they were friends even when they were babies. So that’s kind of cute, I guess.

Star Power Casting: None whatsoever.

The 110% Award: Easy. Hands Down: It’s Teya Patt as Sloan’s best friend, Kay K. Loud, obnoxious, up for any and all craziness, Kay K requires a broad performance – but I didn’t hate it. Teya Patt is essentially the Jack Black or Nick Frost of this movie, and we like them, don’t we?

Observations: You can’t judge a movie by its broke puppeteer. This sounded so silly, and the budget appears quite low – but I was happy enough watching it. Holly Star has a loopy charm missing from most movies in this genre. It also has extended fantasy sequences performed through – you guessed it – puppetry. And I honestly thought they were fun, although I saw a reviewer on IMDB say the puppets creeped her out. And +10 points for the perfectly retro movie poster.

Holly Star didn’t do very well on the (newly designed because I accidentally deleted the old one) Bingo card. But this indie movie offers something most of the other movies don’t: some light swearing and characters getting drunk. Hallmark won’t tolerate that business.

Official Entry #12: Merry Kissmas (2015)

Watched: November 14, 2019

Sigh. Alright. Let’s talk about this movie.
Kayla is both the fiancee and business manager of a famous choreographer and also… he’s some kind of performer? I genuinely got confused about why Carlton is so famous. But whatever the reason that he’s famous, he’s a complete tool. But also, there’s a magic elevator in this hotel that Kayla is staying in – I think it’s her hotel? And in the magic elevator, there’s mistletoe, so when Kayla passionately kisses a stranger while BEING ENGAGED, you can blame it on the mistletoe, or the magic elevator, or Santa who in this movie grants wishes. In any case, Kayla soon falls in love with the dude in the elevator – well, to be clear, he’s not always in the elevator. It’s not like he lives there. Turns out he’s the caterer for her engagement party (uh oh!), and Kayla has a shockingly hard time deciding whether to stay with her spectacularly terrible boyfriend, or go with the guy who is as obsessed with nutcracker artists as she is. I believe Kayla and the elevator guy wind up together, but I’ve already forgotten how the movie ended.
Our Romantic Leads: Kayla (Karissa Staples) and Dustin (Brant Daugherty).
The Meet-Cute: They passionately kiss in that “magic” elevator. Some people would call that cute. Not me, but some people.
Star Power Casting: Doris Roberts
The 110% Award: I don’t want give any award, even ironically, to anyone involved in this movie.
Observations: Well, it was awful. The worst movie so far, by a lot. It didn’t make sense: the timeline was confusing, people said things with zero context, I didn’t understand Kayla and Carlton’s relationship AT ALL. But that’s not all! There’s a Santa in this movie who shows up several times like a creepy talisman, but I mean REALLY creepy. Like Santa in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians creepy. Also, our romantic leads grin like idiots through almost the entire film. Also, there are carolers whose lips in no way match the dubbing. Also, this movie is ageist as hell. In fact, while most of the movie was just dumb, badly acted, and and badly put together, the subplot involving Doris Roberts was kind of infuriating. Early in the film her character, Mrs. Billings, is in the magic elevator with Dustin. She sees the mistletoe and lays two very long, aggressive kisses on him. He acts helpless to stop this, and that’s cool because sexual assault is HI-larious when perpetrated by an elderly woman. Later, after kissing Kayla, Dustin tells his cousin that he’s just had a great kiss in the elevator. His cousin asks, “It wasn’t Mrs. Billings, was it?” “No!” Dustin replies. “It was a real woman!” Because, you guys, once you hit a certain age as a woman, you’re NOT a woman. You’re just easy pickings for the laziest kind of screenwriting. That’s why you can assault someone and it’s funny, rather than upsetting. It doesn’t count when you’re super old.
Oh, and ALSO, even if your boyfriend is such a butt that it’s utterly implausible that you ever loved him, it’s still not that cool to kiss strangers when you’re engaged. I’m old fashioned that way. And ALSO! If you keep talking about this nutcracker artist who has been married for 50 years, whatever, and how he probably has great relationship advice to offer – maybe include him in the movie. Or don’t, but if you’re not going to, could you stop talking about him? Nutcracker artists are less interesting than this movie seems to think.
Side note: the guy that plays the animal shelter director is an absolutely standout bad actor. Shockingly bad. Egregiously stiff line readings. But that reminds me of the ONLY good thing about this movie. It has dogs. And it even has a Westie, adopted by Dustin who said, like five minutes before, that his life and apartment are not really dog friendly. But I get it. I have a Westie. They’re irresistible. So I’ve changed my mind about something….
The 110% Award: Barkley, the Westie. He was a very good boy.

Official Entry #13: Falling for Christmas (2016)

Watched: November 16, 2019

Claire is a figure skater who came in second at National’s last year, and is determined to land her triple axel and win this year. But she’s got Achilles trouble, and with nationals just a few weeks ago, her demanding coach sends her to an rehab center in Colorado. There she meets and falls in love with a handy man/hardware store owner/retired pro Hockey player who is the single father of a skating-obsessed little girl. Ultimately Claire learns that there is life after competitive skating, but only after winning Nationals.
Our Romantic Leads: Claire (Leah Renee) and Luke (Niall Matter)
Their Meet-Cute: Claire’s ride is stuck in the Colorado snow, and Niall stops and offers her a ride on his snowmobile.
Star Power Casting: Lisa Welchel and Lochlyn Munro
The 110% Award: Jocelyn Loewen as the quirky receptionist at the rehab center.
Observations: My taste buds still haven’t recovered from Merry Kissmas, but I think this is just run-of-the-mill not very good. The lead actress has a very annoying voice, but the rest of the cast is adequate. I was super stoked to see Lisa Welchel show up as Clair’s widowed mom, Dale. “Look!” I said to my teenager daughter. “Lisa Welchel! You know! Blair? Facts of Life?” She just looked at me blankly, so I sang the theme song to her, but still no recognition. I’m ashamed of what a poor job I’ve done of transmitting cultural literacy.
Lisa Welchel reminds me, though – this movie provides a romance two-fer! While Claire and Luke are fliriting on ice, Dale is being courted by Luke’s friend, Lou (Lochlyn Munro, of Riverdale).
Claire’s skating coach, Julian, functions like a “terrible ‘big city’ boyfriend” even though he’s technically not a boyfriend. He’s rude, fussy, self-absorbed, demanding, and can’t swing an ax like a REAL man. Also, he looks like a cross between Joseph Gordon Levitt and Billy Eichner.
Just a couple more things. Firstly, why does the skating look so unimpressive? You’re using doubles, right? Couldn’t you hire a really good skater to do the spins and jumps? At no point did I see ANYTHING that looked like it would win at Nationals. And finally – the adorable child’s name is Chamonix. I mean…okay, just unexpected. These films are not typically known for the creativity in naming. Btw, it’s pronounced Shah-Muh-Nee, stressing the last syllable.

Is this movie ripping off Ice Castles? Definitely. But no one goes blind because these are feel good films, people!

Official Entry #14: A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding (2018)

Watched: November 16, 2019

It’s my first sequel! Claire and King Richard are back, and there’s drama aplenty as they try to plan their royal wedding in Aldovia while the country is experiencing an inexplicable financial crisis. Claire is frustrated that her wedding is being planned by others (a flamboyant wedding designer, and the housekeeper), and Richard is preoccupied with trying to deal with widespread unrest in the country. By the end of the movie they – and by “they”, I mean Amber, her friends from the U.S., Richard’s “adorable” younger sister, and the villain from the previous film – have uncovered a plot by which a court insider is enriching himself at Aldovia’s expenses through a shell company. I’ll be honest, that sounded too much like current headlines to be enjoyable viewing

Our Romantic Couple: Amber (Rose McIver) and Richard (Ben Lamb)

Their Meet-Cute: Happened in the previous movie, but it is referenced by another scene involving a stolen cab.

Star Power Casting: Still, Alice Krige as Queen Helena

The 110% Award: It’s a tough call. Raj Bajaj as Sahil, the wedding planner, is certainly required to overact, but he can’t keep up with John Guerrasio in a VERY exaggerated New Yorker stereotype as Rudy, Amber’s diner-owning dad.

Observations: King Richard is a real Caspar Milquetoast in this film. It takes him freaking forever to defend his future-wife’s right to have a hand in planning her wedding. It doesn’t fill me with confidence that he’ll be a capable head of state for Aldovia. As for Rudy, Amber’s dad, he needs boundaries. When meeting the royal family, he grabs Princess Emily by her hair, then grabs the queen in a hug and picks her up off the floor. That kind of behavior isn’t just a violation of Aldovian royal protocol, Rudy.

The day is saved by a child who has preternatural hacking skills (that’s how the shell company is uncovered). This is a trope in movies and it seems to me a very silly one. Maybe it’s expressing some anxiety/admiration we have toward the Gen Z kids who have been immersed in the internet since before they were born. It was a bit hard to buy when it was just Willow hacking into Sunnydale’s underground sewer maps 20+ years ago. Princess Emily being able to expose an international plot overnight strains one’s credulity.

This movie ends with everyone coupling up. I mean EVERYONE. The only member of the cast who doesn’t wind up with a (at least potential) romantic partner, is the villain, Lord Leopold. I guess that’s what you get for being evil in a movie such as this. You remain single.

Official Entry #15: Crazy for Christmas (2005)

Watched: November 17, 2019

A single mother limo driver is hired by a mysterious stranger on Christmas Eve. He spends his day passing out large sums of money to strangers, and even gives the limo driver a house. Turns out he’s her long lost father! Can this eccentric old billionaire connect with his daughter and grandson? Can the limo driver, Shannon, find love with the newspaper reporter who spend the day chasing them for a big story? Well, what do you think?

Our Romantic Couple: Shannon (Andrea Roth) and Peter (Vannick Bissom)

Their Meet-Cute: Uh….I’m going to be honest, it’s slipped my mind. Peter is trying to interview the wealthy Fred Nickells about why he’s giving money away, and Shannon is there, and…that’s all I’ve got.

Star Power Casting: Howard Hesseman (WKRP) as Mr. Nickells. Also Joe Flaherty (SCTV, Freaks and Geeks) as the doorman at Mr. Nickells’ hotel.

The 110% Award: Joyce Gordon as Mrs. Jasper, Shannon’s neighbor who makes terrible cookies and smells like socks. Speaking of SCTV, it’s like an Andrea Martin performance, but bigger and less funny.

Observations: This is the oldest movie I’ve watched so far, and it shows. Poor Shannon has to put up with an awful lot of comments about how she looks, and who she should be dating, from virtual strangers. That kind of on-the-job harassment seems less cute now, as does the weird joke about Mr. Nickells lawyer being gay.

Crazy for Christmas is set in New York, leading to this line when describing how rich Mr. Nickells is: “He’s so rich, Donald Trump goes to HIM for loans.” Oh, how I miss the days when Trump was just a pop culture reference in New York movies.

We don’t tick many boxes on the bingo card in this one, but to be fair, it’s not even really a romance. There is romance, yes, but Peter is a secondary character. The story is really about a long-lost father trying to connect with the daughter who never knew him. It’s not a great movie, but it’s nice to see Howard Hesseman again, and Andrea Roth (Rescue Me) gives a straightforward, unfussy performance.

Some Running Totals from All the Movies So Far

(Get your bingo card or shot glass ready)

Dead mothers – 7
Characters owns restaurant, cafe, or diner – 6
Snowstorms – 4
Characters shown baking – 6
Terrible “big city” boyfriends (probably work in finance) – 6
Cute, extremely clumsy young women – 5
Dramatic interruptions – 3
Characters pretend to be dating or engaged – 3
“Adorable” children – 7
Adorable dog – 1
Overly ambitious career girls – 4
Quaint, Christmas-obsessed small towns – 4
Christmas weddings – 2