Rating Movies on the Nap Scale

One significant thing has changed in my life since last year’s rom-com-athon: my job. I now work for a pet rescue in the cat shelter, which sounds super glamorous and it totally is, but it’s also very much physical labor. This means when I finally sit down to watch movies in the evening, I’m tired. I’m discovering that just staying a wake is a mean feat with some of these movies. In the interest of integrity I don’t count a movie as completed if I slept through half of it, so I find myself doing a lot of rewinding. It’s not terrible if I fall asleep once, but when you get a two or three nap movie I think that’s more a reflection on the film than on my level of exhaustion. I’ll tell you right now, Christmas in Rome was a two-nap movie. I’ll keep you posted on any other movies that draw me into slumber more than once.

Entry #6: A Dogwalker’s Christmas Tale (2015)

Watched: November 7, 2020

Luce is a spoiled college student who has lots of style but not much substance, and who has maxed out her parents’ credit card. Now, while they’re away doing a “charity thing” in Africa she needs to earn money to buy an emerald necklace she’s got her eye on. Luce takes a job as a dogwalker for her neighbors, wealthy real estate developers. While walking their dog she becomes entangled (literally and figuratively) with Dean, a vet-in-training, and his friends at the local dog park. But – oh no! – Luce’s new employers own the dog park now and are planning to destroy it to build a salon and day spa! Can Luce work with Dean to save the park without losing her dogwalking job? Will she develop substance to go with her style? And will Luce and Dean find love before Christmas Day arrives? Now friends, what do *you* think?

Our Romantic Couple: Luce (Lexi Giovagnoli) and Dean (Jonathon Bennett)Their Meet Cute: He is walking an elderly friend’s tiny dog, she is walking a big dog and they get their leashes tangled and wind up falling down together. Of course they do.

Star Power Casting: Jonathon Bennett was Aaron Samuels in Mean Girls. The ruthless real estate boss is played by Patrick Muldoon, of Days of Our Lives, Melrose Place and Starship Troopers. His wife is a played by fellow Starship Troopers alum, Dina Meyer. Meyer has a lot of TV credits to her name, but to me she’ll always be the star of 2005’s His and Her Christmas, one of the worst holiday rom-coms I watched last year.

The 110% Award: Definitely Patrick Muldoon. Although it’s a bit of a false flag, Muldoon plays a ruthless Mr. Business with of the subtlety of a sledgehammer. At one point he actually decides to “call the boys in” to intimidate a buch of old people having a Christmas party at the dog park.

This movie has issues with its understanding of time (more on that in a minute), which only partly explains how Luce and Dean decorate an entire park out of what looks like two tubs of old decorations, and do it in no time.

Observations: Okay, this is more like it. I start to doubt myself when the movies aren’t aggressively bad, as this one is. Bad acting, bad script, bad plot, bad production values. It was delightfully bad.

Luce is a mess. She’s the sort of girl who has convinced herself she’s in a serious relationship with a guy who doesn’t even know they’re dating. She’s vapid and silly, but the movie wants us to think she’s all quirky charm and fabulous fashion. By the way, fabulous fashion does not make an appearance in this movie.

Dean has three friends at the dog park: a widowed Vietnam vet, a woman looking for love, and a woman who lost a ton of weight walking at the dog park. That’s it. It doesn’t really seem like a crushing blow to the commuity if the dog part goes away.

Jonathon Bennett grew up to be a pleasant if slightly doughy fella. Here he brings a lot of energy to his performance. Even with a bad script there’s no sense of him phoning it in. Also, at one point he calls Luce “Lucifer”, and I kind of liked it. If Bennett is better than the material, Giovagnoli is exactly what the material deserves. Her acting is amateurish and her screen presence is bland.

This movie has issues with its understanding of time. It starts five days before Christmas. It rapidly jumps to three days before Christmas, then on Christmas Eve Eve the dog park gang decides to have a Christmas festival at the dog park on Christmas Eve. The next day. They decorate, print flyers, book a band, get food and drink organized, throw this thing with one day’s notice on Christmas Eve and it’s a huge hit. I don’t even have to say more about this. You all know it’s bananas.

Entry #7: A Crown for Christmas (2015)

Watched: November 8, 2020

Just two weeks before Christmas Allie is fired from her job as a maid at a swanky New York hotel. Her sister, also a maid, is fired with her – leaving the two of them and their brother in even worse financial straits than usual. But an honest deed on her last day at the hotel leads to Allie being offered a job as a governness for the daughter of King Maximillian of Winshire (near Luxembourg). Although Allie accepts the job only reluctantly, she bonds with her new charge, Princess Theodora, in almost no time. Her free spirited American ways annoy some of the palace staff, but work their charm on the lonely, repressed king. But alas, he’s heading for a basically arranged marriage with Countess Celia. At a Christmas Eve ball, King Maximillion is forced to choose between love and royal expectations.

Our Romantic Couple: Allie (Danica McKellar) and King Max (Rupert Penry-Jones)

Their Meet Cute: Allie bumps (literally) into Max in the hallway of the hotel. She gives him a bunch of complimentary toiletries off of her cleaning cart by way of apology.

Star Power Casting: Danica McKellar, of course. She was Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years, and if you didn’t know that, what is wrong with you???Rupert Penry-Jones is a well established English actor, and if you watch a lot of British dramas I bet you know his face. He was also a regular on The Strain, which I liked a lot, but I didn’t recognize him because he was under a lot of vampire makeup on that series.

The 110% Award: Deborah Moore as the hotel manager. She only has to brief scenes, but she is the villain of the movie who fires two maids because one of them is taking a few extra minutes to clean an exceptionally dirty room. The actress doesn’t hold back on being cartoonishly mean.

Observations: They cast an English actor to play a European king (and to be clear, all European royalty in these movies speak with English accents), so this is big improvement on One Royal Holiday.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Danica McKellar in one of these movies (she’s made six Christmas movies) because like all people of a certain age I remember her very fondly as Winnie Cooper. The good news is that her acting isn’t terrible. It’s also not great, but how high do we really need to set the bar? It’s fine.

I knew that McKellar had become a mathematician and even wrote a series of math books for girls, some with sassy titles like “Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape” and “Hot X: Algebra Exposed!”. A Crown for Christmas gets extra credit for including a math lesson on fractions, illustrated with gingerbread cookies.

Allie and her sister are maids on the fanciest floor of a fancy hotel? Well, listen, I’ve stayed at Holiday Inns with nicer rooms. They should have spent a wee bit more of this movie’s budget on filming in a nicer hotel.

Allie and her siblings are orphans. Their parents died in an accident long ago leaving Allie to raise her younger brother and sister. They are, we are led to be believe, very poor. Lots of unpaid bills piled up. But their apartment is cute, quaint and has a crackling fire. In New York City? In THIS economy? How?

There are some mixed messages about both Allie and the King. The King’s room in NYC was trashed, but he doesn’t seem like the type to throw a party. And Allie is supposed to be a very responsible young woman, but she behaves inappropriately from the moment she shows up at the palace. It’s as if the screenwriters were trying to give Allie the childlike charm of Maria in The Sound of Music, but didn’t know how to pull it off.

Speaking of The Sound of Music, this movie seriously rips it off, but the Baroness in TSOM was a much more complex, human character than Countess Celia. It also borrows from Rebecca, with its severe, scary housekeeper, Mrs. Wick (see Judith Anderson’s inimitable Mrs. Danvers). But since this is Hallmark, Mrs. Wick is not a truly terrifying villain who burns down the palace. She’s even, we suspect, softened up to Allie by the film’s end, after Allie draws a very (very!) flattering portrait of Mrs. Wick as a Christmas gift.

Entry #8: Holiday Rush (2019)

Watched: November 9, 2019

Rush is a widower who has been spoiling his children since his wife died. When he loses his job as a top-rated radio DJ just before Christmas, he sells his house and moves in with his aunt so that he and his producer and best friend, Roxy, can take a chance on buying and bringing back to the life the station where they started their careers. His “bougie” kids struggle with the change in lifestyle and the station that fired Rush and Roxie tries to keep them out the competition for market shares, but they press on – and find love in the process.

Our Romantic Couple: Rush (Romany Malco) and Roxy (Sonequa Martin-Green)Their Meet Cute: None. Their friendship predates the story.

Star Power Casting: Romany Malco has been in lots of things, including regular roles on Weeds and A Million Little Things. I first noticed him in Night School, in a small role that he made very memorable. Sonequa Martin-Green was Sasha on The Walking Dead and is also a regular on Star Trek: Discovery. Rush and Roxy’s duplicitous station manager, Marshal, is played by Deon Cole from Black-ish, Grown-ish, and Angie Tribeca. But the real ringer here is the legendary vocalist Darlene Love as Rush’s Aunt Jo. Love gives a strong acting performance and gets to sing us out at the end of the movie.

The 110% Award: Deon Cole, but in a good way. As a weasly character wrestling with his conscience, Cole is funny and charismatic. He steals the scenes that he’s in.

Observations:Always happy to mix some diversity in to this marathon! This was an all Black cast. I mean, 110%, entirely Black. And beyond the diversity, this was a well made, reasonably polished production with a very solid cast. Even the young actors playing Rush’s four children gave distinctive, natural performances.

Lots of these movies have bosses who seem to take positive delight in bullying, threatening, and firing. Tamala Jones, as the new station chief, gets to do all three, and says “That was fun!” after firing Rush and Roxie.

The widowed dad is a cliche of these movies, but Rush was a more interesting one than most. He certainly loves his children, but he hasn’t parented effectively in the face of grief. He’s a plausibly imperfect figure.

Good heavens, Sonequ Martin-Green is lovely.

The old friends who fall in love is sort of sub-genre, and one I appreciate. It’s especially nice to see here, where Rush and Roxie are not just friends but colleagues who have a power-balanced relationship. Some of the movies in this genre require women to become smaller. Sometimes that’s almost literal, as they fall in love with big, strapping tree farmers or blacksmiths. Sometimes its more thematic, as when a young woman falls in love with a prince or a king and it fulfills a little gir fantasy that some of us had. Or a career woman leaves her big-city career to support her new love’s tree farm or blacksmithing business; or leaves real estate to open a homemade jam and jelly shop. It was refreshing to see Rush and Roxy as friends and co-workers who become business partners without Roxy becoming less. She is, in fact, the first to front money to purchase the station.

Holiday Rush’s most serious failing is in falling for the same old device of everything happening in a matter of a few days before Christmas. Does everyone in these movies have a time turner?

In short, while the basics of the story were formulaic, Holiday Rush is way above average viewing among the holiday rom-coms. Yay!

Entry #9: The Rooftop Christmas Tree (2016)

Alternate Title: Defund the Prison Industrial Complex

Watched: November 19, 2020

Sarah leaves her job at a high powered law and moves back home after discovering that the system is stacked against the poor and maybe she wasn’t “making a difference”. Her mentor, an elderly John Lithgow looking fella who serves as the judge in her small town, suggests maybe she’s come home to find the case that will give her career meaning. It turns out that the neighbor across the street from her parents house has been going to jail every Christmas for three years for putting a Christmas tree on his roof and refusing orders from the city to take it down. Although he’s refused legal counsel in the past, Sarah persuades the neighbor, Mr. Lang, to let her represent him in court. Meanwhile, she’s flirt/sparring with the deputy prosecuting attorney assigned to the case, a handsome Mr. Business names John Keaton. When John and Sarah argue too much in court the judge orders them to work together to find a solution to Mr. Lang’s case. They do, but not before some villainous bureaucrat has taken the tree off Mr. Lang’s house. Sarah and John rally the townspeople to put up a bigger better tree even higher up on Mr. Lang’s house, his long -lost son sees the tree and recognizes it as a sign that his father lives there, Mr. Lang is happy, John and Sarah are in love and happy, all the townspeople rejoice and have a big party (or so we’re told, the movie ends before the party starts).

Our Romantic Couple: Sarah (Michelle Morgan) and John (Stephen Huszar)

Their Meet Cute: They are both out for a run and John annoys Sarah by talking loudly on his blue tooth speaker while running behind her. When he follows this up by trying to line cut at the coffee shop, she gives him what for.

Star Power Casting: Tim Reid (WKRP, Sister/Sister, Treme, Greenleaf) as Dale Landis

The 110% Award: Sean Tucker as the villainous bureaucrat who takes way too much pleasure in removing Mr. Landis’s Christmas tree, and has to eat crow later in the movie.

Observations:There’s a lot going on here. Let’s begin with the easy stuff.

This is the strange story of a 30 year old woman and her 40 year old parents. Okay, I’m kidding, but I do think Sarah’s parents were oddly youthful looking. I couldn’t find an age for Alison Brooks, who plays her mother, but Peter MIchael Dillon, who plays her father, is only 12 years older than Michelle Morgan. Were there no 50-something actors available in Canada when this was filmed?

Stephen Huszar is a heavy hitter in the Hallmark Cinematic Universe, but I find him very unappealing. He’s got a “big lunk” quality about him that grates on me, but at least he’s better here than in The Christmas Wedding Planner, one of the first movies I watched last year.

Sarah’s dad is Mr. Exposition. That poor guy must have had muscle strain from all the heavy lifting in telling what the movie couldn’t show.

I can’t overstress how dumb the big reveal in this movie is. It’s so dumb that trying to explain it is virtually impossible. If Mr. Landis wanted to stay connected with his son there had to be a better way than through a Christmas tree on his rooftop a few days out of every year. But honestly, no matter how dumb the reasoning behind the tree is, why has this little town been putting a man on jail over it every year??? Talk about overpolicing!

The court scenes in this movie are genuinely uncomfortable to watch, in part they’re unusually realistic for a Hallmark movie. Whoever wrote the dialogue must watch a lot of Law and Order, and Tim Reid is a fine actor who knows how to communicate the humiliation and degradation of being under the boot of an oppressive system. Maybe 2020 was not the year to watch this movie.

On top of watching the court scenes, we get to see John and Sarah play white saviors after Mr. Landis’s tree is removed. Without asking his permission they put up their bigger better tree, make a feel-good spectacle out of it for the whole town, and are shocked – shocked, I tell you! – when Mr. Landis’s response is polite, but subdued. How can he not be overjoyed? “I don’t understand!” Sarah whines to John, while I tried not to throw things at the TV. Do you see the smiling faces in the photo at the top of this page? Those are the faces of white people who believe they’ve done the Lord’s work and are feeling mighty good about themselves.

Did I mention that Mr. Landis seems to be the only black resident of this town? Let me just add again that Tim Reid is a fine actor. In less capable hands the tone-deafness of this story might not have been so obvious. Reid has done a number of Christmas movies, and good on him for getting the work.

John and Sarah share their first kiss right after they both eat tuna salad. Yuck.

Entry #10: Christmas in Rome (2019)

Watched: November 12, 2020

Angela is an American tour guide in Rome who is fired a few days before Christmas for being “too good” at her job. Oliver is a handsome American Mr. Business in Rome to close a deal (buying a centuries-old, family owned ceramics company. Oliver hires Angela to be his private tour guide and cultural competency instructor and also helps her build a business plan and present it to some deep pocket investors. Love grows, but if Oliver closes the deal he’ll be promoted to VP back in the States. Can Angela and Oliver make a long distance relationship work? Or will Oliver catch Angela’s passion for Rome and decide to stay with her for Christmas and for always? Buon Natale!

Our Romantic Couple: Angela (Lacey Chabert) and Oliver (Sam Page)Their Meet Cute: Oliver is looking at his phone and bumps into the just-fired Angela. She scolds him for not looking where he’s going, they bicker, then he asks her to help him find his way to his meeting.

Star Power Casting: Franco Nero, a longtime star of Italian cinema, who was also a heavy in John Wick 2 (the only credit you need to impress me).

The 110% Award: Bucharest, pretending to be Rome.

Observations: Does anyone else get Lacey Chabert mixed up with Jennifer Love Hewitt? No? Just me?

Angela was not fired for being “too good” at her job. She was fired for being exceptionally bad at it. She is a bad tour guide. She snuck a tour group into a museum after hours, allowed young tourists to handle an antique sword (which they then stole), and lost a tourist. She also gave a gluteny dessert to a tourist who said they were allergic to gluten.

Angela lacks insight. She thinks she’s just an out-of-the-box thinker who wants to show people the “soul of Rome”, whatever that means. I saw no evidence of this. She says things like, “You won’t find this in any guidebook!” while showing Sam the Coliseum, St. Peter’s and the Trevi fountain. What guidebook has she been looking at?

Also, when Angela says things like, “You won’t find this in any guidebook” or “Do you every think about anything but work?” she uses the same condescending tone Gretchen Wieners used when telling us that her father, the inventor of Toaster Strudel, would not be pleased.

Sam Page (Mad Men, House of Cards) has a handsome face and a hauntingly familiar voice. Has he done voice work in advertising? There’s something blank in his performance, though – as if he is a cheerful Handsome Mr. Business android.

Dumbest line: “Your phone can’t navigate Rome at Christmastime.” What difference does the time of year make to a GPS?

Lacey Chabert is one of the queens of holiday rom-coms, but this is the first film of hers I’ve seen. We’re not off to a good start, Lacey and me. Perhaps we will bicker for a while and then I will find her charming later, after she teaches me valuable lessons about stopping and smelling the roses (which, as Oliver points out, are not in season right now).

Hurray, I made it through ten movies!

Running Totals:
7 Dead Mothers
3 Christmas Job Losses

Only 40 movies to go.

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