Dear God, What Have I Done?

I am halfway through.

Oh, God, I am only halfway through.

Marathoners know what it means to “hit the wall”. It’s a wave of overwhelming fatigue, weakness, dizziness – perhaps accompanied by a feeling that you can’t possibly finish the race.

I will finish the race, but I have hit the wall.

I know, I know – my last report was all, “Hey, these movies aren’t so bad!” But that was before My Santa and A Christmas in Vermont and You Can’t Fight Christmas. I am weary of terrible ex-boyfriends showing up at the worst possible moment. I am sick of ambitious business gals and guys having to close the deal/get the contract signed/finish the proposal by midnight on Christmas Eve. Who runs a business like that? I am developing a pine allergy from all the time I’m virtually spending in Christmas tree lots, or better yet – in pine forests, being told, “You’ll know the perfect tree when you see it,” by a guy with an ax over his shoulder.

But mostly I’m getting weirdly depressed by how desperately needy everyone in these movies is not only to find love but to have the absolute best, most beautiful, meaningful, traditional Christmas ever. Or else. God help you if you screw up Christmas because THERE IS NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT THAN CHRISTMAS. Except, possibly, not finding yourself single on Christmas. YOU MUST HAVE TRUE LOVE AND THE PERFECT HOLIDAY. Otherwise, your life is pointless.

Well, anyway, that’s where I am halfway through. But marathoners know that hitting the wall doesn’t mean you’re done. You get some calories in your system, you remember your training, and you press on. It gets better. Or I’ll just slam into the wall for another 25 movies, but either way, I’m not giving up.

Help me, Santa!

Official Entry #21: My Santa (2013)

Watched: November 25, 2019

This is the sort of so-bad-it’s-bad movie experience I expected to have during this challenge. Jen is a human interest reporter/single parent whose son wants the must-have toy of the year, a Mike Maxim action figure. Lucky for Jen’s kid, that mall Santa is the real thing, and he’s falling for Jen. Can “Chris” (Santa) give Jen the spirit of Christmas and convince her to marry him by midnight on Christmas Eve, so he can permanently take over for his dad, Santa, Sr.? (Yes, and yes.)

Our Romantic Leads: Jen (Samaire Armstrong) and Chris (Matthew Lawrence)

Their Meet-Cute: Jen takes her son to visit Santa, then tears him a new one when she feels like Santa has given her son false hope of getting a Mike Maxim action figure.

Star Power Casting: Jim O’Heir (Jerry Gergich on Parks and Rec); Paul Dooley, exasperated dad in both Sixteen Candles and Breaking Away; and Julie Brown of Earth Girls are Easy.

The 110% Award: Michael Waite, as Jen’s ex-husband Paul, who dumped her at Christmastime when her son was a baby. He only has one scene to establish his character as a dirt bag, but Waite makes the most of it.

Observations: There’s a surprising number of known actors for such a crappy movie. Even our leads are both semi-famous. Matthew Lawrence is one of THE Lawrence brothers, and was in 90’s classics Boy Meets World and Mrs. Doubtfire. Samaire Armstrong was in The Mentalist, The O.C., and Entourage.

The production values on this movie are shockingly low. There’s a scene in which Jen and her sexy “crime beat” coworker go to the coffee room, and it sounds like the scene was shot in a tin can. Scenes in Santa’s cottage are shot from a top corner of the room, resulting in a surveillance-cam vibe.

Yet another guy dumping a girl on Christmas! Come on!

This movie has some of the worst dialogue I’ve encountered yet. Consider this exchange, from the end of the movie:
Jen: I believe! I believe in the Christmas spirit and I believe in you!
Chris: Every year from now on I promise to show you the wonder of Christmas because for the first time I found my strength in you, Jen.

Official Entry #22: A Christmas In Vermont (2016)

Watched: November 27, 2019

“Riley is a rising star at one of the world’s most noted holding companies.” I’ll admit, I had to read that on IMDB because I wasn’t sure exactly what Riley’s job was, only that she’d been sent by her ruthless boss to shut down a folksy little L.L. Bean-style company called Outwear, just before Christmas. Soon she’s falling for the company’s hunky young CEO and trying to save Outwear from closure. She’s also learning to set aside her big-city ways and find what really matters, blah, blah, blah, you get the idea.

Our Romantic Leads: Riley (Abigail Hawk) and Wyatt (David O’Donnell)

Their Meet-Cute: It’s pretty hostile, really, since he wants her to leave Outwear alone, and she wants to get all up in the company bidness.

Star Power Casting: Chevy Chase, Howard Hesseman (making his second appearance in the rom-com-athon) Morgan Fairchild and Zack Ward, who is Christmas movie royalty (Scut Farkus in A Christmas Story).

The 110% Award: Michael Gaglio as Jim, who works on the prototype floor at Outwear, whatever that means. So much enthusiasm!

Observations: This movie was dull as heck.

Apparently Abigail Hawk is a regular on Blue Bloods. This surprises me, because honestly, she seems like a poor actress and not an especially charming one. She reminds me of an off-brand Mackenzie Davis, except that I like Mackenzie Davis.

David O’Donnell, the romantic lead here, was the terrible big-city boyfriend, Carlton, in the stinker Merry Kissmas. Another similarity: like Merry Kissmas, this movie features an adorable Westie.

What happened to Howard Hesseman between Crazy for Christmas and this movie? He looks so old and seems so frail here. It’s depressing.

This movie is set in Vermont, right? Now, I’ve never been to Vermont, but I imagine it being New Englandy. I don’t get why the small town folks here sometimes sound like they’re from rural Arkansas.

Best/Worst Line of Dialogue: “You must be the New York gal who’s come to give us the big fancy city makeover.”

Official Entry #23: Santa Girl (2019)

Watched: November 27, 2019

Cassie Claus is destined to take over her dad’s toy manufacturing and distribution “business”, and already promised for an arranged marriage with Jack Frost’s son. But she just wants a chance to be a regular girl, at least for one semester of college. That semester is complicated by the machinations of the evil Frost, Sr., his son attending the college incognito to win Cassie’s heart, an elf named Pep, and the fact that Cassie falls for a financially struggling student named Sam. In the end, love conquers all, Santa stops being such a control freak, and the Frost patriarchs plans are foiled.

Our Romantic Leads: Cassie (Jennifer Stone) and Sam (Devon Werkheiser)

Their Meet-Cute: Cassie pays for Sam’s textbooks in the campus bookstore, when he hears him pleading with the cashier.

Star Power Casting: Barry Bostwick as Santa Claus.

The 110% Award: Hank Stone as Jack Frost. He’s an especially ruthless villain, but with a face like that, what choice do you have? I looked at his IMDB page and it includes such roles as “Slaver Driver”, “Heckler”, “Killer”, “Boss Man” and “Killer Agent”. Hey, it’s a living, right?

Observations: If Jennifer Stone looks super familiar it’s because she should. She was Harper Finkle on The Wizards of Waverly Place. Even my husband remembered, and I didn’t realize he’d watched TWoWP

The young man who plays the son of Jack Frost, well, bless him, but he can’t act. At all.

I can’t decide whether I like Sam. He reminds me of Milo in Holly’s Holiday, the sort of whiny guy who judges other guys’ character on whether they play sports or have broad shoulders. I mean, to be clear, JR (Sam’s competition) has zero charisma, but he’s not actually a bad guy.

Like Rise of the Guardians, this movie is set in a universe where all the mythical characters (Santa, Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost, etc.) know each other and collaborate. As in Santa Claus 3, Jack Frost is the villain. So again, originality is not really the point.

Official Entry #24: The Christmas Cabin (2019)

Watched: November 29, 2019

Sammi is on a solitary Christmas getaway at her great-grandmother’s cabin when a driven, Christmas-hating businessman shows up on her doorstep saying that the cabin is half his. Much verbal sparring ensues before these two can’t fight the feeling anymore – and Mr. Business learns that there’s more to life than closing “the Mathis deal”.

Our Romantic Leads: Sammi (Peyton McDavitt) and Seth (Chad Michael Collins)

Their Meet-Cute: He’s nearly died in a snowstorm trying to find her cabin. She doesn’t want to let him in.

Star Power Casting: Not only is there none, this movie hardly has a cast. It’s 99% two people confined to a cabin, leading, at one point, to a throwaway Misery joke. That was probably the movie’s highlight.

The 110% Award: Even though she’s only in 1% of the movie, this award easily goes to Gina St. John as Seth’s stereotyped sassy black administrative assistant. TWICE Octavia is forced to say “Today is a gift, Seth. That’s why they call it a present.” And TWICE she finishes a conversation by saying, “Lordy, that boy needs a woman!”

Observations: Well, the movie’s message is delivered like an anvil to the head. Besides that bit about “today is a gift”, Seth is told three times that “there’s more to life than business.” The movie also traffics in the usual big city vs. country folk shenanigans. Seth meets an old man at a truck stop and is greeted with, “Well, city boy, what brings you to these parts?” I wish I’d started at the beginning of this project keeping a list of all the jabs the “heartland” folks take at the poor city suckers who wander into their territory.

Sammi slips back and forth between acting like a believable human and like an 8-year-old girl in a fit of pique. Seth, on the other hand, doesn’t so much act as look like a J.C. Penney catalog model. I guess it gets the job done, since Sammi can’t resist his “adorable” smile, even after he mocks her Nana’s vintage, handmade Christmas decorations, and clumsily breaks the last gift Nana gave her.

One oddity: Sammi and Seth are both shown reading a copy of “A Christmas Carol” that is, by the looks of it, 1500 pages and about 8 pounds. It looks like my copy of Stephen King’s “The Stand”. Have you ever read “A Christmas Carol”? It’s so short, it’s barely a novel. How large is the print in Sammi’s copy???

Official Entry #25: You Can’t Fight Christmas (2017)

Watched: November 29, 2019

Leslie Major, designer and extreme Christmas enthusiast, decorates the Chesterton Hotel every December. This year, the owner’s grandson and his ice queen business partner have other ideas in mind for the hotel. Will this be the last big Christmas at the Chesterton? Or Will Leslie and the grandson make a yuletide connection? “Love AND Christmas? What more could a girl ask for?”

Our Romantic Leads: Leslie (Brely Evans) and Edmund (Andra Fuller)

Their Meet-Cute: Leslie falls off a ladder and onto Edmund.

Star Power Casting: Richard Gant as J.J. James, the Chesterton’s owner. Trust me, you know his face.

The 110% Acting Award: Persia White as Millicent, Edmund’s business partner. She’s a little Jasmine Guy in A Different World, but less southern; and a little Karyn Parsons in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but less ditzy.

Observations: Nope. Didn’t like it. Don’t like hook ups in my holiday rom-coms. I’m old fashioned that way.

My husband walked in while I was watching this and said, “Hey! This is new territory for you!” That was a commentary on the all-black cast, whereas every movie I’ve watched up to this point has been whiter than the moon on the breast of the new fallen snow. This is a pretty white film genre, to be honest. I will make a point of trying to find some other melanin-blessed movies before this is all over.

After a dry spell, this marks the return of the cute, extremely clumsy female lead.

There’s something almost manic about the meaning some of these movies try to give to Christmas, especially when it’s detached from religious significance. Yes, Leslie gives a moment’s lip service to the church, but Christmas at the Chesterton is a largely secular affair – and yet it is the center of this woman’s existence. It seems weird and desperate and a little sad to try to pack so much importance into observing the perfect Christmas, when I think Leslie would be hard pressed to explain WHY Christmas matters. It’s not about family for her, not about Jesus, not even about tradition. It’s about creating the biggest and best Christmas display – which means this “swanky” hotel ends up looking like Santa’s Village in a mall courtyard. What I’m saying, Leslie, is that I think this is a pretty flimsy thing around which to build your life. It’s ephemera. It’s vanity, vanity, and striving after the wind.

And Edmund seems pretty bland and easily swayed. I’m underwhelmed by him.

Best/Worst Line: “You cannot just sprinkle tinsel on the problem and fix it.”

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Some Running Totals from All the Movies So Far
Dead mothers – 11
Characters owns restaurant, cafe, or diner – 7
Snowstorms – 10
Characters shown baking – 11
Terrible “big city” boyfriends (probably work in finance) – 9
Cute, extremely clumsy young women – 6
Dramatic interruptions – 4
Characters pretend to be dating or engaged – 3
“Adorable” children – 12
Adorable dogs – 4
Overly ambitious career girls – 8
Quaint, Christmas-obsessed small towns – 8
Christmas weddings – 3