The Worst Kind of Recount

Well, oopsie daisy! I’ve just realized that I jumped straight from #26 to #28 in counting my movies, so that’s a bummer. At this point every movie is a bit of a climb. But I’ve made my adjustments and have crossed #30. I can’t see the finish line yet, but I know it’s out there.

Entry #26: A Christmas Solo (2017)

Watched: December 1, 2020
Available on Hulu and Tubi

A recently widowed veterinarian moves to town and befriends a newly divorced cabinetmaker. The chemistry is there, but there two 16 year old daughters are engaged in a bitter rivalry over who will get the solo in the town Christmas festival. Can love and parenting teenagers coexist?

Our Romantic Couple: Jennifer (Kelli Williams) and Nate (Jonathon Scarfe)

Their Meet-Cute: They’re both trying to buy the last LED reindeer in the store.

Star Power Casting: Kelli Williams was on Lie to Me and The Practice. Scarfe was a regular on Van Helsing.

The 110% Award: None.

Observations: A lot of these movies are filmed in Canada using Canadian actors, but you’ve never heard a more Canadian “sorry” than you do from the store clerk who is fresh out of light up lawn reindeer.

Jennifer’s daughter Charlotte is coaxed into trying out for a solo after her friends here her sing “five golden rings”. Literally, just those three words blow them away.

Charlotte’s friend Henry gets off a good joke when he tells Charlotte to watch out for the mean girls in chorus. “They’re pirates,” he says. “They’re terrors on the high-Cs.” I thought it was funny.

Charlotte is a kind and gentle sweetie, despite losing her dad two years ago and recently moving from San Francisco to wherever this is. Nate’s daughter, MJ, on the other hand, is suuuuuuper mean. She targets Charlotte as a rival early on and not only bullies her at school but vandalized her house! MJ is a menace to society.

Before going to her solo audition, Charlotte asks her mom how she looks. “Cute,” Jennifer replies. Then Charlotte huffs, “I don’t want cute!” Charlotte, hun, you’re wearing a pink unicorn sweater with a shiny silver bow on it. There’s no getting around the cuteness.

MJ and her friends are definitely patterned after “the Plastics” in Mean Girls, right down to the slow-mo walk down the school hallway.

This is a pretty good movie! Realistic dialogue, charming leads, a high school teacher who seems like a high school teacher, and good music. The relationship between the parents grows in a natural way, and the onscreen parenting even seems realistic. And I admit it, Jonathan Scarfe is kind of a hottie.

Entry #27: Christmas Town (2019)

Watched: December 2, 2020
Available on the Frndly App

Lauren is traveling by train to her new teaching position two weeks before Christmas when the train is forced to stop in Grandon Falls (aka “Christmas Town). She meets local handyman Travis and sparks fly. She finds a place to stay in the attic about an antique store, hangs out at the Christmas Cafe, and befriends Travis’s foster son, Dylan. Lauren stays longer and longer in Grandon Falls but then her ex-Handsome Mr. Business boyfriend shows up from the big city to try one last time to win her back. Will Lauren go back to Boston to Eric? Or on to Springfield to her teaching job? Or….will she be trapped in Grandon Falls forever and ever and ever and ever…

Our Romantic Couple: Lauren (Candace Cameron Bure) and Travis (Tim Rozon)

Their Meet-Cute: Lauren gets off the train in Grandon Falls, sees Travis standing near a taxi sign and orders him to take her luggage and drive her to town. Travis is not a taxi driver, but he is a gentleman and offers her a ride anyway.

Star Power Casting: Tim Rozon was Mutt on Schitt’s Creek and Doc Holliday on Wynonna Earp.

The 110% Award: None, and frankly, that’s inexcusable. Movies set in Christmas-obsessed small towns should feature at least one twinkly eyed old man full of wise advice, or maybe a grumpy poor person who becomes the catalyst for the lead’s moral development. But Lauren doesn’t need moral development because she is already perfect.

Observations: There is too much Christmas in Christmas Town. There are so many Christmas trees in the Christmas Cafe that it felt as if it was closing in around me, and I wasn’t even there. There is no food in town besides cookies and muffins and hot cocoa, and sure, that sounds great on Day 1, but at some point you want, oh, I don’t know – an apple? Some curry? A burger? It was just too much, too much, too much. And I never got any sense that this town knows what to do with itself outside the Christmas season. What if it’s ALWAYS the Christmas season there? What if THIS is the Bad Place?

CCB movies always have God-talk (it’s probably in her riders), but the theology is confusing. God closes doors and opens windows, or other doors, or angels need your help, and if you have hope you can have more doors. Something like that. Feel free to preach that this Christmas season, preachers.

This is the second movie in which I have seen CCB confuse the leading man with a service person who she then orders to do her bidding (the other was Let It Snow). She’s a little full of herself, our CCB.

Betty, owner of the Christmas Cafe, says, “I don’t know where she puts it” as she watches her friend Gloria eat another cookie. I don’t know where ANY of them put it! These people eat nothing but cookies and muffins – how are they surviving?

When Lauren decides she wants to adopt Dylan she is living in an attic room without a kitchen or bathroom. She’s had no foster care training, no licensing, and yet she is approved to adopt within a matter of days. This is not how adoption works, just fyi.

There is a long involved subplot about a broken Christmas tree angel which Lauren has been looking for all her life. It’s not interesting enough for me to explain, but it does a lot of heavy lifting (especially considering it only has one wing) in making fate and the magic of Christmas a major player in this movie. It’s just all too much. TOO MUCH.

This movie is two hours long. No Hallmark movie needs to be two hours long.

+1 for featuring a very good and beautiful cat.

Entry #28: Christmas Everlasting (2018)

Watched: December 3, 2020
Available on the Frndly App

Lucy, a big city corporate lawyer, returns to her hometown after her sister Alice’s death to discover that her sister’s will requires her to stay in their family home for four weeks in order to take possession of the house. During her weeks in the house Lucy reckons with the guilt of her past, reconnects with her childhood sweetheart, tries to save the town the town from greedy real estate developers, and learns more about her sister’s past – including a child Lucy never knew about!

Our Romantic Couple: Lucy (Tatyana Ali) and Peter (Dondre T. Whitfield)

Their Meet-Cute: None, they’re childhood sweethearts.

Star Power Casting: Ali was the little sister, Ashley, on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Dennis Haysbert is Dennis Haysbert (the Major League trilogy, Far From Heaven, 24, Nationwide Insurance commercials, etc.). Also, Patti LaBelle shows up in a tiny and completely irrelevant role.

The 110% Award: Shi Ne Nielson as Rinda, one of Alice’s friends. She judges Lucy SO hard for not visiting Alice more often, and gives off a real Regina George vibe in early scenes.

Observations: Tatyana Ali cries well onscreen. As a former failed high school thespian, I know that laughing and crying convincingly are not easy – and lord knows I’ve seen some obviously fake crying in holiday movies. But Ali pulls off the crying part of her performance well.

Alice’s backstory is a bit confusing. 20 years ago, as a college student, she was in a car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury. At some point, apparently, she was struggling mightily. Lucy mentions had hard it was to watch her button a shirt. Lucy tells a co-worker at the beginning of the film that Alice still struggles. But we find out after Lucy goes home that Alice was practically the unofficial mayor of the town, ran the local animal shelter, turned out beautiful handmade quilts, and had an actual grown up girl-clique named after her (the FOA – Friends of Alice). She didn’t seem to be struggling that much, to be honest. But I don’t know enough about TBIs to speak on this, so I will let it be.

Speaking of the FOA, it’s made up three white women, Daphne, Celia, and Rinda, who all look like Instagram influencers of the “Girl, Wash Your Face!” school. That these three were in a quilting group with Alice – a quilting group with weirdly strict and specific rules – strains credulity. Also, Daphne has two daughters named Portia and Ophelia. Shakespeare superfan?

The FOA insists on finishing the quilt in Alice/Lucy’s house, where it was started (club rules) and they insist that Lucy help them, because they must have four quilters (club rules). But when Lucy breaks down weeping over her sister’s death, it’s all, “Oh, look at the time! Gotta run!” Not great, ladies. Not great.

Lucy is given the responsibility to care for her sister’s cat, Mr. Freckles, a very good and beautiful ginger swirl boy. I’m not seeing a lot of dogs this year, but shout out to all the movies featuring cats. They deserve it.

There are a lot of flashbacks to Alice and Lucy’s childhood in this movie and the little girls cast to play them are adorable. There are no adults in these memories, though. Did these girls raise themselves?

Peter seems to live in an ice fishing hut, which is surprising given that he’s a lawyer. But also, the amount of Christmas decorations in and around this fishing hut is bonkers.

It was inevitable that someone would say, “Life is like this quilt.” And they did.

Alice made a Christmas quilt for her daughter, Maeva, every year after giving Maeve up for adoption. Lucy finds the stash of quilts and it set her off on the mystery-solving about who Maeve is. So Maeve is approximately 20 (although the actress who plays her looks significantly younger). I’m just saying, that is a LOT of Christmas quilts.

The actress who plays Maeve, Jaida-Iman Benjamin, is lovely and charming. And the scene in which her adoptive parents bring her to meet her Aunt Lucy and Great Uncle Barney is actually very sweet.

I feel sorry for Lucy’s boss, Joe. She’s in the middle of a big case when her sister dies, she’s just made junior partner, and Joe is actually very gracious about letting her take time off. We know, as the viewers, that after a few days of small town life she won’t give a hoot about that big case. Poor Joe put his confidence in the wrong corporate lawyer.

+10 for being the first movie I’ve seen to acknowledge the need for a tree stand in order to set up a freshly cut tree.

This was not a rom-com. It’s got death, a TBI, an unplanned pregnancy, adoption, decades long guilt and regret, and some very convincing weeping. You’ve been warned.

Entry #29: A Christmas Movie Christmas (2019)

Watched: December 4, 2020
Available on Hulu, Tubi, and Amazon Prime

Eve is a homebody who loves Christmas movies and dreams of finding her true love the way the heroines in the Hallmark movies do. Her sister Lucy is a cynic who goes out on lots of dates but can’t commit to anyone. The two of them make a wish to a bell ringing Santa on Christmas Eve and wake to find themselves in a Christmas movie, complete with all the tropes. Both sisters find love in a small Christmas-obsessed small town, eat loads of cookies, save the local Christmas festival, and experience personal growth. But what will happen when they are transported back to their real lives?

Our Romantic Couples: Eve (Lana McKissick) and Dustin (Ryan Merriman)Lacy (Kimberly Daugherty) and Paul (Brant Daugherty)

Their Meet-Cute: Okay, so it’s been a few days since I watched this and I’m struggling to remember. I THINK Dustin bumps into Eve on the street and Paul bumps into Lacy in his bakery.

Star Power Casting: None.

The 110% Award: Brigid Duffy as Gram Gram, the compulsively cheerful and sweet, always baking, wisdom-spouting Grandmother who gets off the film’s best line: “Oh, it’s so nice to have you girls come on back to your hometown from the big city for the holidays. Maybe you can help us plan our annual Christmas bakeoff while we decorate the tree and figure out who is sending Millie all those gifts from the 12 Days of Christmas. So many birds!”

Observations: This movie was made by Mar Vista Entertainment which churns out Christmas movies. So a company is attempting parody its own product. Can it succeed? Not entirely, but it gets close a few times.

Lana McKissick is a cutie patootie who manages to be adorable without making me want to scratch my eyes out (unlike, say, Kelly Jackle). This is appreciated and I hope she makes more Christmas movies.

A Christmas Movie Christmas pushes the last minute festival to the ABSOLUTE last minute. Eve and Lacy (with Dustin and Paul’s help) literally plan the festival on Christmas Day for that evening. When one of them says, “How will we get this all done in time?” another character shouts, “MONTAGE!” That was a nice touch, and a dead accurate parody of what happens in these movies.

Gram Gram is a really stellar character, and the very next movie I watched (review to follow) featured an almost identical Gram Gram character.

The ending is such a cheat that it bothered me even in a movie that isn’t meant to be taken seriously. The real question for me is how Paul is going to survive in the real world when he has as much depth and complexity as Flat Stanley.

Entry #30: Check Inn to Christmas (2019)

Watched: December 5, 2020
Available on the Frndly App

Julia Crawley is a big city lawyer who is home for her Christmas obsessed small town’s centennial Christmas festival. Her parents own an inn, as do the Masons, with whom the Crawleys have a feud stretching back generations. But sparks are igniting between Julia and Ryan Mason. Can Hallmark’s Romeo and Julia find love? And can they save their town from an evil real estate developer?

Our Romantic Couple: Julia (Rachel Boston) and Ryan (Wes Brown)

Their Meet-Cute: They already know each other, but they RE-meet cute when he brings her the laptop she left on a train.

Star Power Casting: Richard Karn (Home Improvement) is Julia’s dad. Karn is making his second appearance in this year’s rom-com-athon, after Christmas in Mississippi. Christopher Cousins, here playing Ryan’s dad Bill, was Ted, Schuyler White’s boss/love interest on Breaking Bad. Tim Reid (WKRP) is also making his second appearance this year, after a key role in The Rooftop Christmas Tree. Here he has a smaller role as Julia’s boss back in the big city.

The 110% Award: Barta Heiner as the deeply concerned, wisdom-spouting, Buche de Noel-baking Grandma Cathy. She’s the embodiment of Gram Gram from A Christmas Movie Christmas!

Observations: Five minutes into this movie I thought, “Oh, this is going to be a stinker.” I was right.

I take back all the nice things I said about Rachel Boston after watching Holiday High School Reunion last year. Here she is stiff as a board and substitutes awkward smiling for romantic chemistry with Wes Brown.

This movie is super dumb. I can believe the Crawleys and Masons would be competitors in business, but asking us to buy their deep seated animus extends to who wins the snowball throwing contest is too much. Are these children?

Richard Karn has, let us say, a limited acting range.

The evil real estate developer, Kevin Howard of Edgestone Resorts, looks like a Trump kid.

Ryan’s younger brother, Frank, is basically the Percy Weasley of the Mason clan. And that’s bad even in this terrible family.

Seriously, if Grandma Cathy had said Buche de Noel one more time I would have LOST it.

Eddie’s Pub is a local landmark where everyone gathers to drink – get this – hot cocoa. Um, okay.

Wes Brown and Richard Karn were both in Christmas in Mississippi. Wes Brown is alright, as Hallmark leading men go, but his hairline is a bit weird. I’d like to suggest he have some work done on his edges.

The title of this movie makes my brain hurt.

Running Totals

No new holiday job losses, still only 5.
But dead mothers surged! We’re up to 23!

Only 20 movies to go.

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