If I Don’t Hate These Movies, Who Am I?

I’m a little bit worried these days. A lot of us, myself included, tie our identity not only to the things we like, but the things we don’t like. I’m old enough to have accumulated a long list of things I have enjoyed and loved (Hitchcock films, anything Carl Reiner or Mel Brooks ever did, 50s & 60s era country music, Tom Waits, British sitcoms, disaster movies), and things I don’t like and have dismissed (most Bond films, anything Michael Bay has ever done, contemporary country music, Nickelback, Benny Hill, rom-coms). The whole reason some people were willing to financially support this endeavor was because it sounded like it would be torture for me, and it’s funny to watch your friends suffer sometimes. I mean, not real suffering obviously, but you get what I’m saying.

So it’s alarming how few movies I’ve really disliked so far. Some are dumb, or vapid. Some are poorly acted. All are predictable. But most of them are…relaxing? Also very good for multitasking. I can fold laundry, plan a menu, making a shopping list, and clean the room while watching these holiday rom-coms, and I never lose the plot. They’re not that complicated.

I have more thoughts about the role these movies play, but for right now I’m just grappling with not hating most of them (I did hate one, to be fair). I already like big, dumb disaster movies – so maybe it’s okay to like small, dumb rom-coms, too? Can I still be a cinephile? Can I still be a world-weary cynic who gags at Richard Curtis and Nicholas Sparks films? Who even am I now?

Official Entry #16: The Christmas Calendar (2017)

Watched: November 19, 2019

A lawyer-turned-baker moves to her hometown to take over her dead grandmother’s bakery. But what’s this? The department store across the street has put in a baking kitchen and hired a sexy French baker? Sparks fly, romance blossoms, but this town is only big enough for one bakery. Oh, and also, the lady baker has received a mysterious Christmas calendar with messages behind each door. Soon the whole town is aflutter wondering who her secret admirer is.

Our Romantic Couple: Emily (Laura Lee Bundy) and Gerard (Brenden Zub)
Their Meet-Cute: Gerard comes into Emily’s bakery and asks her the secret to her delicious macaroons. (Spoiler: They’re double baked.)

Star Power Casting: Not a whit.

The 110% Award: I’m going with Frazey Ford as Ivy, the florist (!), who has a languid, breathy delivery that reminded me of a stoned Jennifer Coolidge.

Observations: The biggest conceit in this movie is that an entire town and the news station from the big city would really care who gave Emily her Christmas calendar. I know this is supposed to be a sleepy little village, but is it really that sleepy? Everyone shows up at the same time each day just to hear the day’s message from Emily’s secret admirer?

Brenden Zub is Canadian – shocker! But how authentic is his French accent? It sounded pretty fraudulent at the beginning, but then I think I got used to it, and I’m sorry to say he seemed pretty charming by the end of the movie. Side note: Brenden Zub was a PK (preacher’s kid), then an MK (missionary kid), and spent much of his growing up years in Hungary. Isn’t that interesting? I thought it was interesting.

Emily’s hometown has four eligible bachelor’s in it. Chuck, the Christmas tree salesman (there’s always a tree salesman somewhere in these movies); Eddie, the dude who hangs the lights around town; James, the banker who sadly tells Emily she’s going to have to sell her Nona’s bakery AND house because Nona went into debt to put Emily through school; and Gerard, the sexy, Frenchy baker. That’s it. One of those four must be the secret admirer, unless there’s a plot twist (wink, wink).

This is another movie in which everyone pairs off, and being single is aggressively pitied. Emily’s story is pitched to the TV station as “Single woman saved from loneliness on Christmas Eve by secret admirer.” So empowering!

Is this the only one of these movies I’ll see in which the dramatic climax is a perfect game of bowling? I bet so. I hope so.

The conflict between Emily’s sweet family owned bakery and the corporate grocery store, Forge, is basically You’ve Got Mail, with macaroons instead of books. Except the ending is less dystopian, thank God.

Query: Is double-baking cookies a real thing?

Official Entry #17: A Puppy for Christmas (2016)

Watched: November 22, 2019

When a magazine writer, Noelle, is dumped by her boyfriend just before Christmas, she’s left homeless and alone, except for her newly adopted puppy. Fortunately a coworker, Liam, invites her to his family’s country home for Christmas. There Noelle learns that she may have been to paradise with her swanky ex-boyfriend, Todd, but she’s never been to me. When Liam also finds himself suddenly single, a new relationship is born. AND Noelle helps Liam’s Gramps save the family Christmas tree farm.

Our Romantic Leads: Noelle (Cindy Busby) and Liam (Greyston Holt)

Star Power Casting: None. Although, given that it’s an all-Canadian cast, maybe I just need to up my exposure to the Canadian film and TV industry.

The 110% Award: The voice of Todd’s boss, over the phone. He only has two lines, but he’s sell them for all their worth, and more.

Observations: This movie is perhaps the perfect example of the genre. It’s extremely cheesy, there’s some very campy acting, it’s following the most literal version of the tropes, and it finds time to focus the camera on an adorable puppy who has no character arc aside from making messes and peeing on things. And yet, it was not an unpleasant viewing experience. I mean, firstly, that dog is super cute, and the lead actors are sweetly inoffensive, and Gramps is adorable, and the wacky sister is just wacky enough. And there is something satisfying in seeing Todd get his comeuppance. Also, good job naming him Todd. But the movie is gentle-natured enough that it seems just possible that Todd will take this as a learning experience and not be such a selfish butt all his life.

This is the second movie I’ve watched in which the leading man’s family runs a Christmas tree farm. Between that in the name of the lead actress, I think we might just be in a holiday movie!

I really should have put a free space on my bingo card. I was one crazy lie away from a bingo!

Official Entry #18: Home For Christmas (2014)

Watched: November 22, 2019

Beth is a bit of a sad sack. She’s a sweet, quirky rom-com lover who works at a historic cinema, but she’s never heard those three little words from a man. She’s sure her boyfriend Aiden is the one, but he dumps her on Halloween. At the same time, she finds out a cinema chain is buying the theater, and her only chance for keeping a job is to become the new manager. The hiring is done by Matt, a youthful looking corporate manager – but it’s complicated when he and Beth fall for each other. Love conquers all, but only after some real loss and a bittersweet reunion.

Our Romantic Leads: Beth (April Pearson) and Matt (Karl Davies)
Their Meet-Cute: Beth assumes Matt is applying for a job at the theater and tries to interview him before finding out he’ll soon be in charge of the place.

Star Power Casting: A cardboard cutout of Ryan Gosling.

The 110% Award: It’s really not that kind of movie. There’s certainly a variety of British comedy that is big and loud and over the top, but this is not it. Still, I’ll give the honor to Graeme Dalling as Carl, the coworker from hell. What is that guy’s deal? He’s so mean!

Observations: I feel like I cheated, but honestly, I didn’t mean to. The picture and blurb on Amazon Prime made this look like all of the other Christmas movies I’ve been watching, but it was decidedly not. Home for Christmas is smarter, wryer, sadder, sweeter, and raunchier than anything I’ve seen so far. It also have a really great soundtrack and believe me, those are a rarity in this genre. In short, this was not very Hallmarky. I guess I should have noticed the 16+ rating. Still, no regrets. It was a solid B to B+ movie!

There was very little Christmas in this movie. Christmas decorations, yes, and a screening of It’s a Wonderful Life. But precious little to check off on a bingo card.

I’ve now seen women in these movies dumped on Halloween, just before Thanksgiving, and just before Christmas. Dudes, why you gotta ruin the holidays?

There is a scene in which Matt tries to reunite with his ex-girlfriend over a romantic dinner at which she insists they share a plate of oysters. Matt is not pro-oyster, and his valiant attempt to eat one was a highlight of the movie – but mostly because I hate oysters. I was on Matt’s side in that scene, and his ex-girlfriend totally deserved getting a face full of oyster.

While Beth works in a historic theater, her taste in movies mostly runs to rom-coms. They are quoted and referenced often. There’s even a scene in which she is quoting along with one of my most hated, gag-inducing lines in all of cinema. It’s from Notting Hill, and I bet you know exactly what one I mean. I felt a little sad for Beth, that she was in the beating heart of a cinema that clearly ran old movies at least sometimes, but her rather limited and basic taste still gave her bogus ideas about how real life love works. A closer, repeated viewings of It’s a Wonderful Life might have helped.

Derren Nesbitt as Matt’s Grandad was wonderful.

I actually recommend this one as a nice diversion even if your not a Hallmarky person. It’s on Amazon Prime.

Official Entry #19: Christmas Perfection (2018)

Watched: November 23, 2019

Darcy is a perfectionist and a control freak, particularly when it comes to how Christmas is celebrated. Through a bit of holiday magic she’s transported into the perfect Irish Christmas village – the porcelain one she ones, in fact. There she has the perfect boyfriend (her boss, Tom) but finds having every day be the ideal Christmas gets old. She also misses her best friend, Brandan – until he, too, is transported to Christmastown. Soon Darcy learns that it’s the messiness and unpredictability that makes real life meaningful.

Our Romantic Leads: Darcy (Caitlin Thompson) and Brandon (James Henri-Thomas)

Their Meet-Cute: They were childhood friends, so no meet-cute. I’m disappointed by the lack of meet-cutes in the movies I’m watching.

Star Power Casting: Well, I guess it would be our female lead, Caitlin Thompson. She’s a regular on This is Us.

The 110% Award: Honestly, there wasn’t any crazy overacting in this film. But I’d like to give the award to Caoilfhionn McDonnell (Elsie), for having a 110% awesome first name – although I have no idea how it’s pronounced.

Observations: Well, first of all – nice name, Darcy. (I have a daughter by that name, for those who don’t know me well.)

As a character, Darcy is initially really obnoxious. She’s incredibly demanding of those around her, insisting that they live up to her impossible standards. While the point of the movie is for her learn a valuable and lighten the heck up, I wonder how Brandon had managed to remain her friend as long as he did.

In “Christmastown”, the fantasy world to which Darcy is transported, every day is the same. She wakes up to the alarm to find it’s Christmas over, over, and over. At first Darcy loves it, then grows restless, then angry and disruptive, then tries desperate measures to escape before finally sinking into despondency. It is, in short, Groundhog Day. But it’s also got a little Wizard of Oz thrown in, because the world in which Darcy is trapped is a world born of her own fantasies and starring the people from her own life. Original ideas don’t seem to be a high priority in this genre of film.

Hats off to Robber Silverman as Tom. He’s Darcy’s boss in real life, but in Christmastown he’s become her creepily robotic, very possessive boyfriend. It’s actually quite a good performance – you can imagine another version of this in which Christmastown Tom terrorizes the increasingly desperate-to-escape Darcy. Someone make that horror movie and I’ll watch it, too.

Weird thing about these movies. People are always singing Christmas carols, but never well. One thing they don’t spend money on, is hiring singers. Andie McDowell’s shockingly bad vocals in the very first movie I watched, A Christmas Inheritance, were a portent of things to come.

Official Entry #20: The Knight Before Christmas

Watched: November 24, 2019

A young knight from the 14th century is transported to modern day Ohio to fulfill a quest – restoring belief in a true love to a disillusioned high school teacher.

Our Romantic Leads: Brooke (Vanessa Hudgens) and Sir Cole (Josh Whitehouse)

Star Power Casting: Well, listen. That’s Miss Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical fame. How much more star power do you need? But for the record, Emmanuelle Chriqui of Entourage and The Mentalist plays Brooke’s sister.

The 110% Acting Award: I’m having a real crisis of confidence about this category. It started off strong, but the last several movies have offered little besides tastefully restrained performances. What the heck.

This movie is both meta and shamelessly commercial. Cole watches Holiday In the Wild, another new Netflix Christmas movie. Brooke hangs an ornament that her mother bought in Aldovia (the fictional European country from The Christmas Prince). Brooke owns an Amazon Alexa, but Cole finds it mostly frustrating and unhelpful – a kind of sly move for a Netflix movie. It’s all very winky and self-aware.

It’s all fine. The leads are cute, it’s a feel good movie in which everyone is kind and generous to everyone. There are both adorable children AND an adorable dog; both a wise old Santa, and a magical medieval crone. It certainly ticks a lot of bingo card boxes!

Speaking of bingo cards, I’m not too proud to say that I redesigned my card yet again. Did I make it easier to win? Undoubtedly. That was the point. I’m sick of never getting bingo, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

Alright, dear readers, my companions on this quest: by the next time I post here I will have hit the halfway mark. It’s not too late to join in reaching our stretch goal of $2500 goal to fight childhood hunger. In fact, we’re only $50 short of that goal right now! Go here to learn about the great organization we’re supporting, and comment here to let me know if you want to pledge. I know we’re going to hit that goal, and maybe surpass it. In the meantime, I’ll keep watching and worrying about what’s happening to me. Here’s hoping for some truly mockable movies soon!

Some Running Totals from All the Movies So Far
Dead mothers – 9
Characters owns restaurant, cafe, or diner – 7
Snowstorms – 7
Characters shown baking – 10
Terrible “big city” boyfriends (probably work in finance) – 8
Cute, extremely clumsy young women – 5
Dramatic interruptions – 3
Characters pretend to be dating or engaged – 3
“Adorable” children – 10
Adorable dogs – 3
Overly ambitious career girls – 5
Quaint, Christmas-obsessed small towns – 7
Christmas weddings – 2