The Good, the Bad, and the Series

This week I watched an entire holiday rom-com series without intending to, but I have no regrets. It was a real pick-me-up, actually. On the other hand, I had my first, “Oh, dear God, what have I done?” moment. So many movies coming at me, and as the pledges slow I start to wonder if doing this for a seconde year was a good idea. However, I’m in for the ride. We’ve got over $2000 pledged which is certainly more than I could personally donate in the next couple of months, so I’ll continue to provide the labor as you, dear readers, provide the cash. It will be worth it for this “one last time” (and yes, I sang that. I haven’t had a break from the Hamilton soundtrack in years.).

Entry #11: Let It Snow (2013)

Watched: November 12, 2020

Stephanie is the hard working daughter/employee of a resort developer, sent by her dad to check out her dad’s newest acquisition, a Mom and Pop resort in Maine. Her dad has given his word that homey, family oriented, Christmas-obsessed Snow Valley Lodge will be unchanged under new ownership, but in reality his plans are to raize the place and replace it with a sleek new singles-oriented resort. Stephanie becomes uncovered with this deception as she spents the days before Christmas with Snow Valley’s owners, and especially with their son, Brady. As Stephanie falls in love with the resort and with Brady she decides to try to change her father’s mind about radically changing the resort. Her father views this as disloyalty and fired his own daughter, but has second thoughts as he spends Christmas day alone. Can Snow Valley be saved? Can Stephanie be reconciled to her dad, find a future with Brady, and still get the big promotion? As they’d say in Maine, Ayuh.

Our Romantic Couple: Stephanie (Candace Cameron Bure) and Brady (Jesse Hutch)

Their Meet Cute: Brady is sent to pick Stephanie up in town after her helicopter arrives. He drives through a pile of snow and splatters snow all over Stephanie’s coat. She is annoyed. They bicker.

Star Power Casting: Alan Thicke (Growing Pains) plays Stephanie’s ruthless businessman dad.

The 110% Award: Gabrielle Rose as Karla, the co-owner of Snow Valley. Her obsession with Christmas is so over the top it becomes creepy. One can almost imagine her devotion to the holiday crossing over into a Midsommar or Wicker Man ritual paganism.

Observations: I’ll eat a little crow. Candace Cameron Bure is better in this one than in A Shoe Addict’s Christmas. It turns out she’s capable of expressing a range of emotion, or at least she was in 2013.

Paul and Karla, the kindly older couple who owned Snow Valley before selling to Falcon Resorts, are so gullible that it’s almost hard to feel sorry for them. “Ted gave us his word” that Snow Valley won’t be changed, Paul says more than once. Why does he trust this guy? Did he do any research at all into Falcon Resorts’ business model?

Much is made of how ill prepared Stephanie is for Maine’s brutal cold. Brady helps her buy a coat rated for low temperatures, and then wanders around outside in an unbuttoned flannel jacket. I know, I know, Mainers are tough and used to the cold, but c’mon, man.

Brady arranges a very romantic ice fishing date for Stephanie, and then they eat the fish they catch. You know what was missing from this romantic scene? Gutting, scaling, and deboning.

DO NOT stay at Snow Valley during the holiday season unless you are all-in on Christmas. Karla plans Christmas activities for the guests every day and everyone is expected to participate. Everyone. At one point, a little girl challenges Stephanie on her fidelity to the holiday. “Do you believe in Christmas? You didn’t come carol singing and that’s part of Christmas.” Seriously, it’s kind of a cult.

Favorite line: “One generation’s innovation is the next one’s tradition is the next one’s holy cow.”

Product placement! Apparently Leap Pad Ultra was a hot gift idea in 2013!

On Christmas Day Paul and Karla give Brady and Stephanie matching embroidered stocking caps. Here’s the thing: Brady and Stephanie have only been a couple for a day and a half. When did Paul and Karla find time to order personalized “couple” gifts for them – and isn’t that a bit much when you son has only been dating this woman for a day and a half? I think it’s weird, is all.

This movie has some terrible gender politics.

Entry #12: The March Sisters at Christmas (2012)

Watched: November 13, 2020
Available on Hulu

The four March sisters are left alone for a few months while their mother travels to Afghanistan to visit their injured war correspondent father. The parents plan to sell the girl’s childhood home, Orchard House, because it’s fallen into disrepair and they don’t have the money to renovate. The sisters, horrified by the idea of ever moving out of their home, decide to remodel the house themselves while their parents are away. Also, there are young men trying to woo them and holidays to celebrate. Yes, it’s a modern update of Little Women, sort of.

Our Romantic Couples: Meg (Kaitlin Doubleday) and John (Charlie Hofheimer); Jo (Julie Berman) and Marcus (Mark Famiglietti); Amy (Molly Kuntz) and Teddy (Justin Bruening)

Their Meet Cutes: Teddy is the “boy next door”. John is Meg’s ex-boyfriend. Marcus is Jo’s new editor. None of these qualify as meet cutes.

Star Power Casting: It is very slim pickings. I think the biggest “star” is John Shea, as Mr. Lawrence, who played Lex Luthor on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Also, my daughter would recognize Justin Bruening from Grey’s Anatomy, but I don’t. Julie Berman was in over 1000 episodes of General Hospital as a character named Lulu Spencer. Luke and Laura’s daughter, by chance?

The 110% Award: Everyone, and no one. Almost every performance in this movie is too much, but I don’t want to honor anyone for this monstrosity.

Observations: Wow. This is SUCH a bad movie. How do you take the bones of a beloved novel and so thoroughly turn it into trash? For starters, I guess, you have Jennifer Maisel write your script. I have heard a lot of bad dialogue across 60+ holiday rom-coms, but none so ill conceived as the dialogue in The March Sisters at Christmas. Louisa May Alcott is listed as a writer on this film, and she should rise from the dead and sue to have her name taken off of it.

The tense relationship between Jo and Amy which exists in the novel is ramped up to ridiculous levels here. I’m just going to say it, edited: Jo is a b. I don’t blame Amy for torching her career.

Jo’s career, by the way, is ghostwriting celebrity tweets. Is that a real thing? Was it in 2012?

Reminiscing about their happy childhoods in Orchard House, the sisters remember how their mother used to wake them in the middle of the night so they could drink hot cocoa. As a mother of several children, I have to say…that doesn’t sound right. We’re always trying to get our children to sleep, we mothers. This sounds like the behavior of a woman with a mental illness, but I won’t diagnose Marmie (who isn’t called Marmie in this version, by the way).

These are adult women who mostly don’t seem to work or ever plan to move out of their parents’ home. I wonder if the parents are actually planning to sell Orchard House just to make their infantile daughters leave?

Orchard House looks great, considering that it’s supposed to be on the verge of collapse.

Oh, hey, here’s an example of bad screenwriting. In one scene Jo and Amy shop for supplies to fix up the house. They have a list. They have a cart full of items carefully chosen. And then, suddenly, Jo declares that they can’t afford any of it and need to put every single thing back. I repeat, these are adult women. Did they not think through this plan at all before burning two hours shopping?

The novel’s Laurie becomes Teddy here, and his constant declarations of love for Jo are very tiresome. The novel collapsing years of plot into a few months means everyone is acting bonkers. Teddy is declaring his undying love to Jo and then bouncing to Amy in a matter of days. Jo is promising never to marry and then falling for Marcus in a matter of weeks. John goes from Meg’s sad sack ex to her fiance in no time. And none of it makes sense. No one seems to have a real connection.

Also, making the March sisters hard drinking party girls was…a choice.

Amy qualifies as the cute, clumsy girl of this movie, since she both sets the house on fire and drops a water heater on her head.

Mr. and Mrs. March surprise their daughters by coming home for Christmas. Mr. March stands just inside the door, look around the foyer in shock and says, “Am I to understand my four little girls remodeled Orchard House?” He can tell all that from the foyer?

I didn’t time it, but I think this movie may invest more time into Halloween than Christmas.

As always, meek little Beth is the odd person out. But in this version she did NOT die, which I’m sure the filmmakers would have considered a buzz kill. I think it could have only helped. This is a very bad movie. Also, I fell asleep in the middle and had to rewind.

Entry #13: 12 Dates of Christmas (2011)

Watched: November 14, 2020
Available on Disney+

It’s Groundhog Day, but with Christmas.

Our Romantic Couple: Kate (Amy Smart) and Miles (Mark-Paul Gosselaar)

Their Meet Cutes: Kate’s stepmom, Sally, sets them up on a blind date. It’s pretty terrible the first time, but Kate gets 12 chances to improve on it.

Star Power Casting: Mark-Paul Gosselaar from Saved By the Bell, obviously! Amy Smart was a regular on Justified, one of my favorite shows. Jayne Eastwood, who plays Kate’s neighbor, Margine, is a prolific character actress. I guarantee you know her face and voice. And finally, look for Stephen James (Race, If Beale Street Could Talk) as a teenager on the run from his group home because he wants to keep a puppy.

The 110% Award: Jayne Eastwood as Margine. I quite liked what the movie did with Margine’s character who is not the lonely, nosey old neighbor stereotype but a cosmopolitan art collector and first class baker. I could have spent even more time with Margine.

Observations: You have to decide, first of all, how you feel about 12 Dates of Christmas lifting its premise wholecloth from Groundhog Day. If you can forgive that, it’s actually a very charming and reasonably well written movie.

Both of the leads are likeable, but Amy Smart is especially good. Kate’s obsession with her ex-boyfriend is unhealthy, as her best friend tries to tell her, and she’s very rude to Miles on the first of their blind dates. She’s also resentful that her father has found love again after the death of his wife, and has never given her stepmom, Sally, a chance. Kate has a lot of growing to do before the gods of Christmas will let her leave Christmas Eve behind.

One of the jokes of Groundhog Day is that Phil uses his years of repeating the same day to master a number of skills (speaking French, playing the piano). This is repeated in 12 Dates of Christmas, but there really aren’t enough days for Kate to become a master baker and gingerbread architect, and certainly not with all of the other hoops she’s jumping through each day.

Kate moves from self absorption to selflessness in how she spends her days, but my favorite piece of growth was her newfound ability to appreciate Sally.

This movie is full of Easter eggs (or Christmas cookies) connecting each day to a verse in the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. If you have the patience for it, watch the movie looking for them.

I did not regret watching this at all. Oh! And I love the purple coat Kate is wearing early in the film.

Entry #14: Dash & Lily (2020)

Watched: November 15 & 16, 2020
Available on Netflix

Two teenagers, strangers to each other, engage in an elaborate pen pal relationship/scavenger hunt around New York during the holiday season. I don’t want to say too much by way of plot, since watching the story unfold in this 8 part series is a real pleasure.

Our Romantic Couple: Lily (Midori Francis) and Dash (Austin Abrams)

Their Meet Cute: Lily, a shy 17 year old, leaves a notebook on a shelf in The Strand bookstore, hoping the right kind of stranger will find it and make a quest out of getting to know her via puzzles and dares. Dash, a “finicky” boy Lily’s age finds the notebook and is instantly intrigued with the girl he imagines to be behind it.

Star Power Casting: James Saito (Altered Carbon, Always Be My Maybe) as Lily’s grandfather.

The 110% Award: Michael Cyril Creighton as Santa’s elf, a drag queen working the door at an underground club, and the person who provides entry to the Strand at the end of the film. In all three scenes Creighton serves as a gatekeeper and his presence provides a clue that we are watching a fairy tale.

Observations: You may have noticed that this is not a movie, but an 8-part series. I didn’t realize this until I was at the end of the first 25 minute episode. It goes quickly, though, and I finished it in two nights.

Troy Iwata plays Lily’s older brother, Langston. At first I thought Langston and his boyfriend, Benny, were going to be camp stereotypes, but Langston is a fully drawn character with his own relationship struggles. In the end I was almost as invested in his future as in Lily’s. Iwata is very good.

This is a top-notch production. Beautiful sets and costumes, terrific score, excellent cast. The story is not even remotely realistic, but that’s okay. I don’t think it’s intended to be.

I love, love, loved the scene in which shy, awkward Lily goes to an underground club to watch a Jewish punk band called the Challah Back Boys (they’re pretty great, for the record). This is a challenge Dash has given her via notebook and watching her let loose on the dance floor is a joy and a delight. Is she a good dancer? No, but she’s free. And every socially awkward, wounded teenager girl knows how rare and wonderful those moments of freedom are.

Really, this is a sweet and love-affirming series. You should watch it.

Entry #15: Miss Christmas (2017)

Watched: November 17, 2020
Available on the Frndly App

Holly’s job as “creative director” for the Radcliffe Center in Chicago seems to consist entirely of finding the perfect Christmas tree every year. Her enthusiasm for the holiday has earned her the nickname “Miss Christmas” but this year her reputation and her job are in danger after “the” tree is damaged while being cut down. Fortunately an “adorable” child named Joey tips her off via letter that the perfect tree is growing on his family farm in Klaus, Wisconsin. With only 10 days to her deadline, Holly must persuade Joey’s rugged farmer dad, Sam, to give up his special family tree, but in the process Sam and Holly fall in love. Holly even decides to leave her job and move to Klaus! Sam agrees to give Holly the tree until – GREAT MISUNDERSTANDING! – he thinks she’s just using his family to get the tree and changes his mind. Holly goes back to Chicago, another tree is found for the Radcliffe center, Sam and Holly are sad until she performs a grand gesture to declare her love and I *think* they’re engaged now.

Our Romantic Couple: Holly (Brooke D’Orsay) and Sam (Marc Blucas)

Their Meet Cute: Newly arrived in Klaus, Holly meets Sam in town, but doesn’t understand that he’s Joey’s dad. He grumps at her about being “city folk” who invade his small town for the renowned Christmas festival. She is offended and tells him that she grew up on a tree farm, thankyouverymuch. They bicker and part ways.

Star Power Casting: Marc Blucas (Sam) was the poor, beleaguered Riley Finn on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the place holder between her two vampire lovers, Angel and Spike.

The 110% Award: None.

Observations: Her name is Holly and Sam lives in Klaus, Wisconsin. Sigh.

It’s a whopper of a tree, and Holly offers *no* financial compensation, should Sam’s family allow the Radcliffe Center to cut it down. Holly says, basically that they should be happy to donate their tree. Why? All she offers them is an “all expense paid trip to Chicago” and front seat spots at the tree lighting. Listen, they live in Wisconsin and obviously watch Chicago TV. Going to Chicago is not that big of a perk. How cheap is this company Holly works for that they’re out here trying to exploit Wisconsin dairy farmers in this economy?

I was rooting against Holly from the jump. This tree is not just a big tree, it’s the family tree. Sam’s parents carved their initials in the trunk 40 years ago. His mother passed away last year and the tree is a reminder of her. Why should we, the viewers, want the tree to be killed and hauled off to become a corporate prop in Chicago? Boo!

Sam says he hates Christmas, but he’s not a true Hallmark-style Christmas hater. He’s just a little sad because he’s divorced and his mom is dead. Fair enough, Sam. Also, except for their initial meeting, Sam is unfailingly polite and hospitable to Holly. He tells her, in no uncertain terms, that he *will not* agree to her taking the tree, but Holly prides herself on not taking “No” for an answer – so she continues to harass him. I think as a society we very much need to normalize taking “No” for an answer.

In any case, no true Christmas hater would agree to wear that sweater to the Christmas festival in town. As for those sweaters that Sam’s dead mother supposedly made, they don’t look especially handcrafted to me. I’ll have to consult my more handcraft-gifted friends to see if my skepticism is warranted.

The central conflict of this movie is about THIS TREE. Holly’s boss threatens to fire her if she doesn’t get THIS TREE. Holly insists, over and over, that this is THE TREE she must have. But late in the movie when Sam changes his mind about giving her the tree because of the GREAT MISUNDERSTANDING, Holly immediately says, “We have a back up tree.” And they do! What the crap? If Holly never really needed Sam’s tree, what has this movie been about?

Joey is the most irritating child I’ve seen in any movie this year.

Holly tells people that her nickname is “Miss Christmas.” Can you imagine how annoying you would find it if you met a minor local celebrity and she insisted on telling you her minor local celebrity nickname?

Is everyone in Klaus required to participate in their renowned Christmas festival? It seems like Sam is being forced to do free labor when he’s in no mood for it, and I’m concerned that this is another holiday cult. We need to #liberation movement for people who live in Christmas-obsessed small towns.

The GREAT MISUNDERSTANDING is dumb, as they usually are. But what’s dumber is the fact that when Sam tells Holly he heard her on the phone and thinks she’s going to grab the tree and run, she takes offense and basically breaks up with him instead of explaining what’s up. She’s only known him for a few days, she DID in fact come to his farm to get his tree, and she knows his marriage ended badly. Can she not cut him some slack for not knowing how much he can trust her?

This was a bad movie: not the worst of the season, but bad enough. The only good part was seeing Marc Blucas. I cheer for the careers of all members of the Buffyverse, and I thought Riley got a raw deal on that show. Blucas is very good at playing the corn-fed, good guy underdog who loses the girl to a cooler guy. He was in Knight and Day, a truly delightful movie, playing just such a role. I recommend you watching Knight and Day rather than Miss Christmas.

Running Totals

Dead Mothers 10
Christmas Job Losses 4

Only 35 movies to go!

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