The Eternal Sunshine of the Hallmark Mind

I have watched more movies. I have the titles, because I wrote them down. I have some idea of what happened in the movies because I took notes as I watched. But do I remember watching them? Not really. 35 movies in, these movies are operating like a drug, erasing all worry as I watch, but also erasing themselves. They cease to exist the moment that a crummy poppy Christmas song begins to play over the credits. I can only hope that the effect of the movies is limited exclusively to the movies, and is not in fact part of a broader mind wipe.

Have you ever seen the movie Serenity? Do you remember that the Alliance experimented with a drug that would pacify the population, and on the Miranda Colony the people had been so successfully pacified that they stopped working, eating, moving – they were literally pacified to death? I think that’s what these movies are doing to me. For the first time this week I gave up on a movie halfway through (Marrying Father Christmas, for the curious) because I couldn’t retain anything. Like, anything. I watched it for an hour and I have no idea what the plot was. I may need to see a doctor after this is over.

It doesn’t help that the titles are almost indistinguishable. Every title must include one of these words: Christmas, holiday, Santa. You can just randomly generate the rest, and you’ll probably hit on a movie title: The Christmas Trip. The Holiday Trip. Santa’s Holiday Trip. The Christmas Cabin…Inn…Lodge…Holiday in Hawaii…in the Mountains…in Manhattan….in the Wild. Create a title, and you can generate a plot to go with it later. But as for trying to remember which movie is which after you’ve watched them? Good luck.

Are there any exceptions to these naming rules? A few, a very few, but one of them is in this week’s batch. Is a bad pun better than a generic title? I’ll let you be the judge.

Official Entry #31: Second Chance Christmas (2017)

Watched: December 5, 2019

Caroline is an overly ambitious event planner on her way to file divorce papers when she’s hit by a car and wakes up with amnesia. Her husband sees this as a chance to save their marriage and, along with Caroline’s mother, tells her a bunch of lies about her life before the accident. Eventually Caroline gets wise, the jig is up, and she and her husband both have to deal with why their marriage fell apart in the first place. Caroline learns important life lessons. Her husband learns important life lessons. The movie ends with a second wedding on New Year’s Day.

Our Romantic Leads: Caroline (Katrina Begin) and Jack (Tilky Jones)

Their Meet-Cute: I know that it happens at a Christmas party and involves some elaborate effort on Jack’s part. I’m sure it was super cute, I was just too pacified during that part of the movie.

Star Power Casting: Charlene Tilton (Dallas) as Caroline’s mom

The 110% Award: I was going to give it to Ryan Munzert as Caroline’s assistant, because he’s super squirely early in the movie. But he settles down nicely, so he only gets the 55% Award.

Observations: There is a plinky little piano motif that is used over and over in Second Chance Christmas. After the first couple of times I couldn’t resist singing along with it, “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce” – and now you know what that plinky little piano motif sounds like.

Tilky Jones is back! He was the ne’er-do-well shock jock in Naughty and Nice, changed by the love of Haley Duff. I think he’s winning me over. He’s definitely in the top 1/3 of leading men I’ve seen in these movies.

Caroline and Jack have “their song” in this movie, and it’s pretty terrible. My husband and I have two songs – “Moon River” and “That’s What I Like About You” – and they’re both far superior to the Christmas dreck that Caroline and Jack chose.

So Caroline is overly ambitious and “new” amnesiac Caroline learns to enjoy things like baking, playing with her adorable dog, Scotty, and hanging out with her parents. That’s fine, since the movie lets her keep her career and find some balance in her life. Jack starts the movie as a much bigger mess: lazy, sloppy, doing nothing all day but playing video games. Even when he gets his second chance with Caroline, Jack misuses it by trying to convince her that “old” Caroline was content with the chaos. He seems like a pretty big jerk, to be honest. However – and maybe this is just me panning for gold – the movie shifts a bit in explaining what’s going on with Jack. Basically, Jack is struggling in his career as an illustrator while his wife’s career takes off, and Jack is depressed. Depressed people can look and act like selfish slugs. Once I started thinking of Jack as depressed I felt compassion for him. He still needed to stop lying and get his crap together, and he does eventually. (There’s actually some decent, believable dialogue in this movie.)

Have I mentioned that there’s an adorable dog?

Official Entry #32: Same Time, Next Christmas (2019)

Watched: December 6, 2019

An appropriately ambitious career reunited with her childhood sweetheart on a Christmas vacation in Hawaii. Over a few years they fall in love, break each other’s hearts, and finally figure out that they belong together. Caught under the wheels of this love train? Olivia’s big city boyfriend, Gregg.

Our Romantic Leads: Olivia (Lea Michelle) and Jeff (Charles Michael Davis)

Their Meet-Cute: They fought over a lounge chair on the beach when they were 6 years old.

Star Power Casting: Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) as Olivia’s mom, and Phil Morris (Jackie Chiles on Seinfeld)

The 110% Award: Brian Greenburg, as Gregg. The man has no chill. He also has an unnecessary “g” in his name. It’s so extra.

Observations: I thought it was nice to see Lea Michelle again, but one of my daughters heard her speaking voice coming from my laptop and said, “I hate Lea Michelle.” She’s polarizing, I guess.

Big move by ABC (which aired this movie): Olivia has a gay brother with an actual gay husband and child!

Olivia’s dad is played by George Newbern, the groom in Father of the Bride. Not exactly star casting, but close. Mom and Dad spend most of the movie making out and drinking on the beach. It looks like a pretty sweet midlife, tbh.

Jeff’s dad also finds love in this movie, with the Hawaiian hotel’s manager, and she has an adorable dog so she’s certainly Ms. Right.

Poor Gregg. Movies like this work so hard to make it obvious who the leading lady should be with that the big city boyfriend ends up looking like a moron. Gregg would rather take a protein bar on a hike than pack a picnic. He obsesses about getting his steps in, sees the natural beauty around him as nothing but prime real estate, incessantly bugs Olivia about business opportunity she has – it’s Christmas, man! Lay off! And worst of all, he gets his butt kicked by Jeff’s 7 year old at the hotel’s reindeer games. It’s clear that Olivia knows she doesn’t love Gregg the way she loves Jeff, nevertheless, she waits until the night before their Christmas wedding – a destination wedding in Hawaii – to break things off with Gregg. I wouldn’t blame Gregg for nursing a grudge for a long, long time.

And speaking of a long, long time – this movie felt extra long because the on again/off again relationship with Jeff was so obviously going to end with them together. If Olivia had shown the slightest sense, this movie could have been about 45 minutes shorter.

Official Entry #33: Hitched for the Holidays (2012)

Watched: Decmeber 7, 2019

Julie and Rob are both feeling pressure to not be single over the holidays, so they meet online and agreed to pretend to be together until January 2. It will undoubtedly surprise you to hear that they fall in love for real , and also that both of them learn important life lessons.

Our Romantic Couple: Julie (Emily Hampshire) and Rob (Joey Lawrence)

Their Meet-Cute: Rob answers a personal ad that Julie places. It’s not that cute.

Star Power Casting: Marilu Henner (Taxi) as Julie’s mom

The 110% Award: Paula Shaw as Rob’s grandmother, who toggles between one-foot-in-the-grave and just fine.

Observations: Holy cow! The female lead is Jewish! This movie actually uses the “Holidays” in its title to mean more than Christmas!

The best moment in the movie is when Rob is trying to light the Menorah with Julie’s family despite knowing nothing about Judaism. She helps him bluff through the lighting and prayer, but can’t stop Rob from finishing by blowing out the candles and saying, “Amen.

This is the second Lawrence brother to show up as a leading man in this rom-com-athon. While Hitched for the Holidays is not a good movie, it beats the gig Matthew Lawrence got playing Chris Kringle in My Santa.

Emily Hampshire is familiar to any fan of Schitt’s Creek, where she plays the sardonic hotel manager, Stevie Budd. Even here, her leading lady is a little sharper and less cuddly than most. She’s like the Buttercup of Hallmark leading ladies (that’s a Powerpuff Girls reference, for the uninitiated).

As part of the dramatic finale, Rob steals a mounted policeman’s horse and rides it through New York traffic on New Year’s Eve, for the sake of catching Julie. The cop is a romantic, I guess, because he responds to this with tremendous magnanimity. I think it would have been a different story if Rob has been stealing a police horse while black. Yeah, I went there.

Official Entry #34: A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby (2019)

Watched: December 8, 2019

Queen Amber and King Richard are back, and this time they’re expecting! The excitement of the impending royal birth is tempered, however, by the theft of a treaty between Aldovia and Penglia, which must be renewed before midnight on Christmas Eve, or the two countries will be “technically” in a state of war. Princess Emily, cousin Simon and the rest of the Scooby Gang try to solve the mystery while Richard and Amber educate the King and Queen of Penglia on women’s rights. Finally the treaty is found, disaster averted, a new princess is born, and everyone lives happily ever after.

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

Their Meet-Cute: That was two movies ago. Keep up.

Star Power Casting: Alice Krieg, again. She has enough star power to spread across three movies.

The 110% Award: John Guerrasio, again, as Amber’s dad, Rudy. He only shows up for the end of the movie, but oh, my lord, that guy never goes below 11.

Observations: It’s hard to stop thinking about how dumb the central crisis in this movie is. Hundreds of years ago, the Penglians and the Aldovians signed a treaty and set a future date when it would be renewed. When it goes missing everyone is like “Oh, my gosh, if we don’t find it in time, we’ll be at war!” even thought neither country has a standing army and no one wants war. Why couldn’t they just decide not to be at war? To paraphrase Lloyd Dobler, “How hard is it to decide not to go to war, and then you don’t go to war?”

Princess Emily is a teenager now. It’s time to give up the Shirley Temple hair.

I never believed for a minute that Simon was the culprit, despite the movie trying to trick us. My daughter guessed who the guilty party was, but I won’t spoil it for anyone who feels the need to see this movie.

Official Entry #35: Rodeo and Juliet (2015)

Watched: December 8, 2019

A friend expressed a hope that I’d watch a movie that included a rodeo cowboy, so here I am.

Juliet is a sass-mouth New York teen who is forced by her mom to spend her Christmas vacation in Louisiana, at her (recently deceased) grandfather’s ranch. Juliet falls unexpectedly in love with her grandfather’s horse, Rodeo, and also with, Monty, the nephew of her mother’s archnemesis. Did I mention that this is a countrified version of Romeo and Juliet? Can love conquer decades old grudges? Who will get the ranch – Juliet’s mom, or her enemy/old flame, creepy Hugh? And will Juliet become a champion barrel racer so that she can afford to keep Rodeo? The suspense!

Our Romantic Couple: Juliet (Nadine Crocker) and Monty (Jeb Halsell)

Their Meet-Cute: He helps her give the brush off to another teenage boy at a barn dance. It’s mean, actually.

Star Power Casting: None.

The 110% Award: I’m giving it to the opening sentence of the IMDB bio for Tim Abell, who plays Hugh: “An exciting, eclectic actor, Tim Abell is a man of his own making and when that making includes teaching ballroom dancing, horse training, writing, cooking, acting, producing and being a US Army Ranger with the 75th Ranger Regiment, you can see it is a formidable combination.”

Observations: Monty and Hugh are both deeply unappealing male leads (and yes, they both get the girls).

Karen is a bad mom. She’s way more invested in her old grievances than she is in what her daughter might need. Also, Karen slurps her coffee loudly. The more I think about it, the more I think she deserves Hugh.

Juliet has never tried barrel racing before, learns to do it over Christmas break, and becomes so good that she gets an actual job competing and training barrel racers. Wut?

Best worst dialogue:
Monty: “You know, for a city slicker, you’re not too bad.”
Juliet: “I was gonna say the same thing about a clod kicker like you.”

This was not a good movie.

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Some Running Totals from All the Movies So Far

Dead mothers – 14
Characters own restaurant, cafe, or diner – 9
Snowstorms – 12
Characters shown baking – 13
Terrible “big city” boyfriends (probably work in finance) – 11
Cute, extremely clumsy young women – 6
Dramatic interruptions – 5
Characters pretend to be dating, engaged, or married – 6
“Adorable” children – 3
Adorable dogs – 7
Overly ambitious career girls – 12
Quaint, Christmas-obsessed small towns – 10
Christmas proposals and weddings – 11