The Real Rom-Com-Athon Was the Friends We Made Along the Way

We did it we did it we did it! 50 movies finished and over $2600 pledged or donated directly to feed hungry kids!

I watched movie #50, Jingle Belle, on Christmas Eve and now I feel like the morning-after Ebenezer Scrooge. I’m as light as father! I’m as happy as an angel! I’m as merry as a school boy! I’m as giddy as a drunken man!

This has been a fascinating experience. Keep in mind that I had never watched even one of these made for TV Christmas rom-coms until this year. I don’t even like Love, Actually, which is the prestige theatrical release version of this sort of thing. I have learned much, yet mysteries remain. Why do many of these movies have alternate titles? Why are so many cast members from iZombie in these films? Why are adults in these movies denied coffee in favor of hot chocolate? Perhaps next year I’ll find answers.

I have been changed by these movies. I have learned that they are not all the same, despite their being many recognizable tropes. A number of them are bland and boring and poorly made. A very, very few rise to something good and still earnest (Every Other Holiday is still the gold standard for me). But the best of the rest are the ones that are completely bananas. Toys come to life, Santa needs a date, someone gets kidnapped, crazy lies are told, nothing makes sense, and the cast sells it with 110% dedication. I enjoyed those movies, and there’s a good chance I’ll hunt them out in the future. I don’t really care if the ambitious career girl goes home and reunites with her wordworking, homeless feeding high school boyfriend. I care very much if that clumsy children’s party planner winds up marrying a snowman who comes to life. Will he or won’t he want to live in a warm climate? When he dies, will he decompose, or melt? These movies need to go big or go home.

But here’s what I really want to say as I wrap this up: thank you. Thank you to the friend who said, “I’d pay money to hear what you think of those movies.” Thank you to the friend who made a large, generous donation when I was still seeing this thing in terms of chump change. Thank you to the friend who pushed me to make 50 my goal. Thank you to the new Facebook friend – a fan of the genre – who messaged me movie recommendations. Thank you to the punk rock, wrestling-loving guy who faithfully reacted or commented on almost every review I posted (you were the wind beneath my wings). Thank you to the friend who said, “I want to participate, but money is tight. Can I make a small donation?” She reminded me of Ellen Corby’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life. Thank you to the people who shared with me every conceivable meme about Hallmark holiday movies (some were shared with me upwards of a dozen times). Thank you to my husband, for listening while I ranted about the worst of these movies. Thank you to my youngest daughter for watching several of them movies with me, or pretending to watch. Thank you to two of my other children for making pledges – and to my oldest daughter who pledged on her boyfriend’s behalf without asking his permission. Thank you to my pastor and friend who invited me onto his radio show to talk about the pledge drive. Thank you to my fellow critic who talked about the drive on his radio show and tweeted about it several times. Thank you to Jim Tudor, the founder of the Zekefilm feast, who invited me to partner with Zeke and write about the craziness here (even though he knew my reviews would probably be hash). And thank you to Lisa Guilliams, who founded Twigs and devotes a huge chunk of her life to caring for folks who live in food insecurity. These movies didn’t always put me in the in the Christmas spirit, but you, my friends certainly did. My heart grew two sizes, I’m definitely giving Bob Cratchit a raise, and Cousin Eddie can stay as long as he needs to.

I have been asked if I would do this again next year. I’m not sure that people would be as motivated to give, now that I’m no longer a Hallmarkish holiday movie virgin, so to speak. But there are certainly enough movies to go another 50, and if people would give – I’d do it. For the kids, you know. Not because I’ve become an addict, I swear.

Without further ado, the last five movies….

Official Entry #46: Christmas Around the Corner (2018)

Watched: December 21, 2019

Claire is an overly ambitious venture capitalist who takes a vacation managing a bookstore in a Christmas obsessed small town. Unfortunately the town has lost it’s Christmas spirit, as has the hunky young blacksmith whose forge is behind the bookstore. Claire restores everyone’s Christmas spirit, falls in love with the blacksmith, and saves the bookstore from being sold.

Our Romantic Couple: Claire (Alexandra Breckenridge) and Andrew (Jamie Spilchuck)

Their Meet-Cute: The shower in Claire’s vacation apartment (above the bookstore) goes haywire and Andrew, who owns the building, has to fix it. He’s a little bit grumpy about it.

Star Power Casting: Jane Alexander (Kramer vs. Kramer, Eleanor and Franklin, The Blacklist) as Mrs. Tumulty, who runs the bookstore.

The 110% Award: Sarita Van Dyke as Claire’s boss, Parker Brecht. She conveys very quickly that she’s an overly ambitious, ruthless dragon lady. “We expect you to make a lot of money for us today,” she says to Claire in one of her few lines. She is the end result of working too hard and never visiting a Christmas obsessed small town.

Observations: As soon as Mrs. Tumulty mentioned that her nephew had a forge behind the bookstore, I knew we’d found our leading man.

The bookstore is in disarray when Claire arrives and she immediately starts cleaning and organizing. But in one scene she is shown shelving books by color, which is psychopathic behavior. I would fire her.

There is an adorable dog in this movie – a church dog no less! There’s also a product placement for, a pet supply website.

The church dog, Dash, belongs to a super hot priest, Fr. Luke. Fr. Luke feeds the homeless and has very nice vestments. He is also married to a black man and has a baby daughter. I’m guessing he’s Episcopalian.

Jane Alexander is a fine actress and elevates every scene she’s in.

Official Entry #47: Girlfriends of Christmas Past (2016)

Watched: December 22, 2019

Livvy expects her boyfriend, Anderson, to propose on Thanksgiving, but he dumps her instead. When she finds two of his ex-girlfriends on a “rate my ex” website, she starts a girl gang to exact revenge on Anderson. But even as she’s scheming with the other ex-girlfriends, she’s falling for Anderson’s nice guy assistant. What will happen when sweet revenge and new romance collide? Spoiler: Livvy and the other girls learn life lessons. So does Anderson. Carter is angry and hurt, and then forgives. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Our Romantic Couple: Livvy (Tammin Sursok) and Carter (Brent Bailey)

Their Meet Cute: She’s trying to sneak around at Anderson’s work and bumps into Carter instead. Eyes immediately begin to twinkle.

Star Power Casting: John Brotherton (Anderson) is a cast member on Fuller House. Does that count as star power? I don’t even know.
If I was more familiar with queer cinema, I might know Chris Salvatore, who plays Livvy’s assistant. He starred in a trilogy of gay rom-coms.

The 110% Award: Lindsey McKeon as Murphy, one of the ex-girlfriends, an overly ambitious lawyer. She gets more chill, but her first scene is an exercise in scenery chewing.

Observations: Boring, silly, badly acted, and cheaply made. I don’t know much about cinematography, but I know what an absence of cinematography looks like, and this is it.

This movie wants to be Mean Girls meets The Other Woman. It’s much closer to The Other Woman – which I hated, and gave a terrible review at the time of its release.

Livvy just seems like a stalker. Her assistant, Tyler, tries to talk sense to her but she won’t listen and treats him like crap, to boot. She’s lucky he didn’t quit.

The ex-girlfriends call their revenge plan “Operation Rudolph’s Revenge”. That just makes it stupider, right?

Best/Worst Lines: Livvy and Tyler, arguing.
Tyler: When did you become such a sour puss?
Livvy: When did you become such a sour apple?

This one is a dud.

Official Entry #48: A Very Nutty Christmas (2018)

Watched: December 23, 2019

Kate is an overly ambitious small town baker who buys a nutcracker from a twinkly eyed old German dude, only to have the nutcracker come to life in her living room. “Chip” leads Kate on a path of self-discovery and helps her recover her Christmas spirit, but he can’t stay past Christmas Eve. What will happen to their magical, ill fated love?

Our Romantic Leads: Kate (Melissa John Hart) and Chip (Barry Watson)

Their Meet-Cute: Well, depending on how you think about it, she either buys him at a Christmas market or finds him lying on her living room floor.

Star Power Casting: I’m declaring Melissa Joan Hart the queen of Christmas movies. She’s a star.
Barry Watson was the oldest brother, Matt, on Seventh Heaven.
Rizwan Manji (Schitt’s Creek) as an employee in the bakery.
Richard Riehle (Office Space) as the twinkly eyed old man, Drosselmeyer
Conchata Ferrel (Two and Half Men, and loads of stuff that is better than Two and a Half Men)

The 110% Award: Some character named Will – uncredited – who has two lines. They make no sense, but he delivers them with such conviction!

Observations: I love this movie so much. Maybe it’s because I watched it on December 23 and I was slap happy with pre-Christmas exhaustion. Maybe it’s because after 48 of these movies my immune system was shot. Whatever the reason, I’ve decided this movie is fantastic, and as for Mellissa John Hart, I stan a queen. She gives her all in every performance, and by “her all” I mean she brings the same feverish energy, dogged determination, sheer spunk regardless of the character and I. am. here. for. it.

So what if the concept (a woman falling in love with a nutcracker come to life) is dumb! We’ve all watched a movie about a man raised by elves a 187 times!

The movie had me at Kate’s super chill reaction to finding a man in a nutcracker uniform stretched out on her living room floor. She’s just like, “Oh, hi, you must be my house share. You’re here early.” Unflappable girl, that one.

After his first night in Kate’s home Chip says he slept “like a log”. +10 for that joke.

Chip saves the day at the bakery by cracking nuts with his bare hands and in the crook of his elbow. Kids come from all over town to watch him crack nuts. Entertainment is scarce in small towns.

This quaint, Christmas-obsessed small town has a big, fancy Christmas ball a couple of days before Christmas. At the ball, because he wants to make Kate happy, Chip puts her down for the highest bid on every single item in the charity silent auction. She wins everything, but you know….I’m not sure Chip has money. She seems excited, but Kate has to pay for all of that stuff. I would not be excited, myself.

Who makes a snowman without wearing gloves? Kate and Chip do.
They also ice skate, and Melissa Joan Hart repeats her falling down on the ice from Holiday in Handcuffs. Here, though, she just falls on her rear, avoiding further concussions.

Shopping for a dress for the ball, Kate is told by her friend Ginger that “you don’t find the dress, the dress finds you.” It reminded me of the mystical advice on picking trees given in these movies, and of finding love. Holiday rom-coms are very big on destiny and there being a “right one” for you. I would dispute this in dresses and trees, and maybe even in love.

Chip wears his tall hat throughout a production of The Nutcracker while sitting in front of a short woman. Super rude, Chip.

Best/Worst lines: Kate, looking for Chip, passes a guy inexplicably decorating an outdoor tree on Christmas Eve.
Kate: Will, have you seen Chip?”
Will, voice dripping with contempt: “Who? That goof off? I’m the chip on his shoulder!
I’d really like to know what happened between Will and Chip.

Most insane plot point: On Christmas morning Kate decides to invite everyone in the cast to her house for Christmas dinner. No one has other plans, which is crazy enough, but also she goes to the grocery store on Christmas and buys everything – including a turkey – and has it all ready by 1:00 p.m. Forget the nutcracker coming to life, this is the real fantasy in this movie

Official Entry #49: A Very Merry Toy Store (2017)

Watched: December 23, 2019

Connie and Will own competing small toy stores in a quaint, Christmas obsessed small town. They drop their animosity to work together to foil a new mega toy store coming to town, and in the process fall in love. Can their stores be saved? Well, one of them will be, at least.

Our Romantic Leads: Connie (Melissa John Hart) and Will (Mario Lopez)

Their Meet-Cute: They don’t have one. Initially, they can’t stand each other.

Star Power Casting: Brian Dennehy as an elderly man wooing Connie’s mom by way of piano lessons.

Billy Gardell (Mike & Molly) as Roy, the owner of the Roy’s Toys chain of stores.

The 110% Award: Mario Cantone as Mayor Stevens, who keeps yelling, “I gave you a kidney!” to a council member who has taken a bribe from Roy. He sold the line. I believed him.

Observations: It was so close to Christmas, and I was in full collapse from the emotional labor that goes into planning Christmas for a big family. That’s why I fell asleep and had to rewatch part of A Very Merry Toy Story.

Yes, I went back to the Melissa Joan Hart well for a fourth time. If something is working, why change it?

There were some pretty funny lines in this script. I wrote several down, but I won’t ruin them for those of you who may watch this movie. It’s just clear that someone put some actual effort into the com part of this rom-com.

The giant new toy store is going into the old Tower Records on the edge of town. “Serves us all right for not buying more records,” says Connie.

As Roy, Billy Gardell is such a clever, charming villain I was almost pulling for him. At one point Connie tries to shame him by saying, “What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world, but forfeit his soul?” Roy simply pauses, smiles, and then says with conviction, “He gains the whole world!”

In addition to the Bible, this movie script also includes quotes from Keats and Shakespeare, and a joke about Mary Todd Lincoln. Pretty high fallutin’ for a holiday rom-com.

The CGI in a bobsled race is so bad, so catastrophically bad, that I thought they must have made it bad on purpose. The rest of the movie seems to be trying, but not that scene.

Official Entry #50: Jingle Belle (2018)

Watched: December 24, 2019

Belle is a hot shot New York jingle writer who goes to her quaint, Christmas obsessed small town to write a song for the 50th anniversary of the town’s Christmas festival. She doesn’t realize she’ll be working with her old flame, Michael, a school choral teacher. Sparks fly, they fall in love, a song is written for the town which is also sold as a jingle to a cookie company, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Our Romantic Couple Belle (Tatyana Ali) and Michael (Cornelius Smith, Jr.)

Their Meet-Cute: None

Star Power Casting: Loretta Devine (Waiting to Exhale) as Belle’s boss; Keshia Knight Pulliam (The Cosby Show) as Belle’s sister; Tempestt Bledsoe (The Cosby Show) as Michael’s sister, and Dee Wallace (E.T., The Howling) as Belle’s old voice teacher.

The 110% Award: None

Observation: I made it! I did it! I finished!

I wish I’d chosen a movie that was a little more bananas for my last film. This one was boring and I don’t want to talk about it.

Seriously, I’m out. I’m toast. But we finished, friends!

It’s not too late to support this endeavor!  Go here to learn about the great organization we’re supporting, and add a note on your PayPal donation to connect your giving to the rom-com-athon. On behalf of the kids who are being fed, thank you thank you thank you!

Some Running Totals from All the Movies So Far

Dead mothers – 20
Characters own restaurant, cafe, or diner – 15
Snowstorms – 13
Characters shown baking – 20
Terrible “big city” boyfriends (probably work in finance) – 15
Cute, extremely clumsy young women – 12
Dramatic interruptions – 11
Characters pretend to be dating, engaged, or married – 11
“Adorable” children – 26
Adorable dogs – 10
Overly ambitious career girls – 22
Quaint, Christmas-obsessed small towns – 14
Christmas proposals and weddings – 18