New and Improved! Now includes Hanukkah!

This subtitle is a bit bogus since last year’s rom-com-athon included one movie about an interfaith couple and some wacky pretending-to-know-Judaism. That was 2012’s Hitched for the Holidays, which means, unless I’m missing some movies, it’s been a while since Hanukkah got its fair share of air time.

The problem is that the stories are not about two people of differing faith traditions FALLING IN LOVE. They are about two people of DIFFERENT FAITHS falling in love. I’ll be happy when these movies don’t seem like ads for comparative religion courses.

Entry #31: Mistletoe & Menorahs (2019)

Watched: December 6, 2020
Available on the Lifetime Movie Club App

Christy is a toy company exec trying to land a big account. When the CEO invites her to his holiday party to make her new toy idea pitch, Christy brags that she knows ALL about holidays and is, in fact, a holiday expert. But what Christy doesn’t is that Mr. Berger is Jewish and is throwing a Hanukkah party. Uh oh! Thoroughly Gentile Christy arranges with Jewish teacher Jonathon to take Hanukkah lessons from him in exchange for teaching him about Christmas so he can impress his Christian girlfriend’s parents. But sparks fly between Christy and Jonathon as tensions mount with Christy’s broski boyfriend, Peter. Will Christy find love? Will she master the perfect latke? And will Mr. Berger love her “Congressional Heroes Action Figures” pitch?

Our Romantic Couples: Christy (Kelly Jakle) and Jonathon (Jake Epstein)

Their Meet-Cute: He is behind her in line at the coffee shop and they bicker over her fussy order.

Star Power Casting: None

The 110% Award: Jon McLaren as Peter, the most dude bro of dude bros.

Observations: This movie assumes that Christians know nothing about Hanukkah and worse, assumes Jews know nothing about Christmas. The thing is, as a religious minority, Jews can’t avoid learning about Christmas. I suspect more Jewish people could bluff their way through a Christmas gathering just fine.

Among the things that Christy teachers Jonathon are how to choose and cut down a Christmas tree – unnecessary, I’ve had artificial trees my whole life; how to make a fruitcake – unnecessary, I have literally not seen a fruitcake since I was a child; and how to wrap gifts. I’M PRETTY SURE JEWISH PEOPLE EXCHANGE GIFTS, CHRISTY.

Also, are we really to believe that an educated man can’t tell the difference between mistletoe and parsley? C’mon.

During the scene which provides the catalyst for the plot, in which Mr. Berger invites Christy to his holiday party, I was yelling at the TV and not just because of the title of the movie. Mr. Berger “reads” as Jewish. Did it really not occur to Christy that a big city holiday party might not be a Christmas party? She’s going to need to learn cultural competency if she wants to keep advancing in the business world.

Christy loves Christmas so much that her “Alexa” is named Rudolph and she has *at least* 43 holiday playlists. Does that make you dislike her? It makes me dislike her. Not to be outdone by Christy’s zeal, Jonathan’s ring tone is The Dreidel Song.

We know that Jonathon and his girlfriend Heather aren’t going to work out when she keeps saying that Hanukkah traditions are “random”. We know that Christy and Peter aren’t going to work out when Peter appears on screen.

Jonathan teaches Christy how to make latkes. I tried making them once and failed miserably, so I admire her ability to make lovely, golden fried latkes. But once Christy has learned to make them she just keeps making them and eating them and making them and eating them. It’s ALL SHE EATS, except for the occasional sufganiyot.

Peter suggests that Christy pitch “stockbroker action figures”, a patently terrible idea. To her shame, she seriously considers and then shifts to an idea that is just about as terrible: Congressional Heroes. Listen, I like Joaquin Castro and Cori Bush as much as the next person, but as a career-defining toy idea, this is garbage. Fortunately for Christy, her idea is stolen by a former coworker and pitched to Mr. Berger before she has a chance. Unsurprisingly, he thinks it’s boring. So what does Christy do in a last minute bid to win the contract? She dresses her action figure in a short tunic and calls him a Maccabee. Mr. Berger is THRILLED at the idea of a line of biblical action figures. It’s a game changer! Although I’m pretty sure that Christian bookstores were carrying those in the 90s (Macabees not included, but you could alway grab Bible Man).

Christy’s globe-traveling parents are definitely the sort of people who give to NPR at the highest level.

Jake Epstein is a likeable performer and I warmed up to Jonathon’s character easily. Christy, on the other hand, is so bright and shiny and twinkling and doused in pixie dust and Christmas spirit that I just wanted to be done with her. Dial it back, Christy. And don’t create anymore holiday playlists.

Entry #32: Love at the Christmas Table (2012)

Watched: December 6, 2020
Available on Amazon Prime

Sam and Kat have grown up together – their fathers are business partners – and every Christmas they navigate the changing landscape of their relationship at the annual Christmas parties hosted by family friend, Elissa Beth (E.B.). Are Sam and Kat friends? Frenemies? Or do they belong together? One Christmas party at a time, stretched over 27 years, they’ll figure it out.

Our Romantic Couple: Sam (Dustin Milligan) and Kat (Danica McKellar)

Their Meet-Cute: We first see them as five-year-olds, playing under the “kids’ table” that their furniture making dads have built – and which will serve as holiday seating for the rest of their lives.

Star Power Casting: Lots. Danica, natch, of The Wonder Years fame. Dustin Milligan was Ted on Schitt’s Creek. E.B. is played by Lea Thompson, most famously of Back to the Future. Scott Patterson (Luke on The Gilmore Girls) is Kat’s widowed dad, Tom, and you surely know Brian Huskey who plays Sam’s dad, Bobby, from something. Most relevant to my viewing, he was the reporter, Leon West, on Veep, and the voice of Regular Sized Rudy on Bob’s Burgers.

The 110% Award: None.

Observations: The structure of this movie – jumping from one Christmas party to another without any of Sam and Kat’s lives in between – is interesting but has its problems. Firstly, because we know where the film is going, 14 separate Christmases is a lot. It feels overlong. Also, the character development gets a bit sketchy. We’re supposed to understand that there is a love between E.B. and Tom strong enough for Kat to basically arrange their marriage at the end of the movie, but we don’t see that onscreen.

Another issue with movies that stretch across long spans of time – casting for age progression. You can certainly get it wrong when the actors don’t look enough alike (as in Christmas Everlasting, where teen Lucy looked nothing like Tatyana Ali), so well, done on the child and preteen Kat casting. But the director made a decision to switch to McKellar and Milligan when the characters are 18 and friends, it does not work for McKellar. She was 37 when this film was made (ten years older than Milligan, by the way) and in no way does she look like a teenager.

There’s a dance scene in this movie which is kind of silly (how does the music from the inside record player carry so well to the front yard?) but very sweet. McKellar must have studied ballet. She’s very light on her feet.

Can we show a male/female childhood friendship that DOESN’T rely on the girl playfully punching the guy all the time? Please?

The parents in this movie are great. Not too overbearing, not too cute. And I LOVE that at 22 Sam’s dad says something Sam carries with him for 10 years, and when he mentions it again his dad doesn’t even remember saying it. That’s real life, y’all. We leave marks on our children, for good and bad, of which we are barely aware.

While E.B.’s “Miss Havisham” storyline is maaaaybe a bit much, Thompson is a skilled enough actress to pull it off. The bit at the end in which Kat plans the proposal for E.B. and his dad is weird, though. There had to be a better way to handle that situation.

Milligan has such a natural sweetness as a performer that I wanted to root for Sam and Kat. But there was something a bit unhealthy about the way in which Sam just assumed Kat would always be there, waiting. And his showing up after a five year estrangement to PROPOSE was super sketchy.

I am noticing that the movies made more than, say, five years ago are much less formulaic. This movie is far from perfect but it’s *interesting*. More of that, please.

Entry #33: Five Star Christmas (2020)

Watched: December 7, 2020

Available on the Frndly App

Lucy and her siblings come home for Christmas only to find out that their widowed dad has converted their home into an inn, and it’s struggling financially. When news gets out that a famous travel writer may be visiting, the Ralston family pretends to be guests and staff in order to make a good impression. But when Lucy falls for a guest, Jake, how will she ever be able to tell him the truth? And what if Jake has secrets of his own?

Our Romantic Couples: Lucy (Bethany Joy Lenz) and Jake (Victor Webster)Ted (Robert Wisden) and Beth (Laura Soltis)

Their Meet-Cute: Lucy and Jake meet at a local shop when they are both trying to buy the last sassafras candy cane.Lucy’s dad, Ted, meets Beth when she shows up unexpectedly at the inn and everyone assumes she’s the travel writer B. Turner.

Star Power Casting: Bethany Joy Lenz was a regular on One Tree Hill. Robert Wisden has been a very busy working actor, but I’m giving top honors to his two appearances as Robert Modell in The X-Files (“Cerulean Blue…” You all remember, don’t you?)

The 110% Award: It’s a close call between Paula Shaw as Grandma Margo and Jay Brazeau as Grandpa Walter, but I’m giving it to Brazeau. His reluctant attempt to feign being a handyman/desk clerk is a hoot, truly. He does a lot acting with his face and he’s a pro. Interestingly, he has a long history in Christmas movies but also in horror.

Observations: This is the sort of ensemble cast/multi-storyline film that The Christmas House intended to be. Everyone gets their arc and they’re all filled out enough to make the payoffs work. A rare accomplishment in the Hallmark universe!

Bethany Joy Lenz is a charming lead, and while Victor Webster is one of those big, strapping Mr. Handsome’s that usually bore me, here he is silly enough that I could tolerate him. He cannot dance and he cannot sing, but he amiably tries anyway.

They have a taffy pull in this movie, but the taffy looks disgusting. We had a taffy pull when my grandmother and aunt were visiting when I was a little girl and the taffy looked a lot more appetizing.

This movie includes a crowd applauding a kiss. I think that’s the fourth of the year. Shoulda been on the bingo card!

The best line is when, in her attempt at a reconciliatory grand gesture, Lucy grabs all of the sassafras candy canes in the local store and runs out the door yelling, “Put it on our tab!” “You don’t HAVE a tab!” the shop owner yells after her.

Grace Beedie plays Amber, Lucy’s younger sister. Over Lucy’s objections Amber “pretends” to be the inn’s chef, but then turns out to have a real aptitude for cooking. Beedie is lovely and gives a strong performance, but only has a few acting credits on IMDB. Take note, Hallmark, and cast her again. She’s better than most of your current leading ladies (Lenz excluded – she’s fine.)

This was an exceptionally good Hallmark movie.

Entry #34: A Very Merry Daughter of the Bride (2008)

Watched: December 8, 2020
Available on the Lifetime Movie Club App

Roxanne and her mother run a bridal shop and wedding planning business together, but Roxanne’s life is upended after her mother returns from a vacation in Paris with a fiance. Roxanne’s mom, Rose, wants to marry Jack in a matter of days, before Christmas. Convinced that Rose is making a mistake, Roxanne conspire’s with Jack’s son to stall the wedding. Meanwhile, Roxanne’s old boyfriend, Dylan, is back in town and sparks are flying.

Our Romantic Couples: Roxanne (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) and Dylan (Lucas Bryan); Rose (Helen Shaver) and Jack (Kenneth Welsh)

Their Meet-Cute: I believe Roxanne and Dylan were high school sweethearts. They RE-meet cute (?) when he shows up outsider her house and sees her dancing in her underwear through her front window. If the movie gave us deets on how Jack and Rose met in Paris, I’ve already forgotten them.

Star Power Casting: JoAnna Garcia Swisher has been in several series, but she’ll always be Reba’s Cheyenne to me. Lucas Bryant was the lead on Haven. Jack’s son, Charlie, is played by Beverly Hill’s 90210’s Luke Perry (RIP), and his castmate from that show, Jason Priestly, has a cameo as a groom who cheats on his bride mere moments before their wedding.

The 110% Award: Kenneth Welsh as Jack. It is a bold part, a big part, a part that often made me uncomfortable (I’ll explain below), but Welsh plays the whole thing as if it’s not crazy. It’s not his fault that the script makes his character impossibly creepy before asking us to trust him.

Observations: Once again, even though the plot seems like it could be any old Hallmark movie, this movie is more original and interesting, if deeply flawed.

The men in this movie are all very weird and troubling. It’s like Steel Magnolias or Waiting to Exhale in that only the women can be trusted, even if their judgement isn’t always the best.

Dylan is the love interest, but I have issues with him. In his first conversation with Roxanne in six years he tells her that she looked hot dancing in her underwear. Which he saw through her window. Which is a super inappropriate thing to say. Also, he’s been traveling the globe and his big pitch to her is “I’d love to show you some pictures.” Hot tip. Wait for people to ask to see your vacation photos. Do not OFFER to show them. People are typically less interested in your travels than you imagine. And can we talk about Dylan’s clothes? I guess he’s supposed to look like he’s been off getting scarves from Tibeten monks and sweaters from Peruvian shopkeepers or something, but he just looks silly. Layers and layers. It’s as if you crossed midlife Johnny Depp with a Siberian grandmother. And he has a sweater with geese all over it that looks like it came from the women’s department at Cracker Barrel. Also his haircut. My gosh, that haircut.

Charlie (Luke Perry) is a sneaky, slimy dude who wants to break up his dad’s engagement because he doesn’t want Rose get any of “his” inheritance. Roxanne’s coworker, Tish, has the hots for Charles and delivered one of the more cringy lines in the script: “I could take a nap on his lips.” The thing is….did Luke Perry ever have pillowy lips? No, he did not. He was a lean, angular featured fella, handsome but not exactly known for his fulsome mouth. The line doesn’t work for him, is all I’m saying.

This movie’s biggest problem is that is makes Jack a nightmare early on and then changes its tune and wants us to root for Jack and Rose to marry. But on the VERY NIGHT he comes home with Rose, when Roxanne says she wasn’t expecting company, Jack replies, “I’m hardly company. I’m practically your dad.” That’s the kind of boundary-crossing behavior he keeps perpetrating. He wears her dead dad’s robe, jokes about sex in front of Roxanne, tells Roxanne she’s “welcome anytime” in the house he first entered an hour earlier, etc., etc. He’s the WORST, until suddenly he isn’t and is just a doting old dude who wants to marry her mom. Welsh and Swisher handle the comedy in the early scenes well, but it’s hard to come back from that kind of awkwardness.

This is not a good movie, but it’s also not incredibly boring. And the characters drink and have sex lives, which is a change, at least.

Entry #35: Holiday Wishes (2006)

Watched: December 9, 2020
Available on the Lifetime Movie Club App

Danni is employed as a party planner for the King family while also trying to find her younger sister, from whom she insists she was separated in foster care. The Kings bratty younger daughter, Brittany, ends up body switching with a mistreated foster child, Rachel, at a school dance and it falls to Danni to sort this out, because reasons. Also, Danni is reunited with her old boyfriend, Jeremiah, but he seems to be hiding something.

Our Romantic Couple: Danni (Amber Benson) and Jeremiah (Tygh Runyan)

Their Meet-Cute: Danni goes into a coffee shop and Jeremiah (he ex-boyfriend) is working behind the counter. She is SUPER mad at him for never writing or calling after he too that teaching job in another country 3 years, 6 months, and 12 days ago.

Star Power Casting: Amber Benson was Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The 110% Award: Drew Lunder as Sam, Rachel’s evil foster brother. The entire foster family is terrible, but Sam is the only one who seems like he might commit a violent crime against Rachel.

Observations: The worst movies I’ve seen this year is The 12 Pups of Christmas. The second worst movie I’ve seen this year is Holiday Wishes. The awfulness of this movie hurts my heart for one reason, and one reason only: Amber Benson. I can’t be objective about Benson as an actress because, as a member of the Buffy cast, she will always have my unconditional support. But this movie suuuuucked.

Danni is a party planner who works full time for *one family*. Do they really throw enough parties for this to be practical?

Danni’s insistence that she has a sister surely leads us to believe that Danni will FIND her sister, right? But no. In fact, I think the movie tells us that Danni was mistaken and never had a sister in the first place, which is a very weird plot twist for a Christmas movie.

Rachel’s foster family is, as I mentioned, terrible. The parents send Rachel to a school dance, against her will, at a school she’s never attended, on her first day in their home. On her second day in their home Rachel comes home late and the parents are overwhelmed with distress. Not angry, just disappointed, you know. On about day three they say they’re going to have to send Rachel back because they didn’t know she had “problems”. I mean, her main problem is that she’s Brittany trapped in Rachel’s body, but setting that aside for the moment, how many teenagers in the foster care system are problem-free? These people need some trauma informed fostering parenting classes, like, YESTERDAY.

In their switched bodies Brittany and Rachel bicker, and then try to punish each other by eating too much junk food. There is a long vending machine montage, which – to be fair – is new. I haven’t seen such loving filmic attention given to the purchase of candy since Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Brittany’s mom is a super rich Business Lady, and yet when setting out serving dishes for a party she cleans them with spit and her sleeve. SPIT and her SLEEVE! Good lord!

Jeremiah and Danni sneaking into the school gym to get the “magic” wishing star is a master class in bad acting.

Jeremiah keeps showing up in weird places, including at the school dance, dressed as Santa. Danni comes to pick up Brittany and sees Jeremiah sans beard. She is furious! (Why?) She says his presence is SO EMBARRASSING (Why?). Danni just seems to have a lot of unresolved feelings toward Jeremiah. Jeremiah, on the other hand, is so flattened out that he doesn’t have feelings about anything. His face has the dead calm of the people in the graveyard in Our Town. And guess what? It’s because Jeremiah is dead! He was killed in a plane crash 3 years, 6 months, and 12 days ago.

Brittany learns to not be a spoiled brat, but I don’t know what Rachel learned. Danni decides to become her new foster mom so maybe this is sort of like finding a sister? Jeremiah, having done all the magic he was sent to do, gives Danni one kiss and then disappears into the mist.

I’m not a bit sorry about spoiling the big twist in this movie. I want to save you from it. Holiday Wishes is not fun-bad. It’s just bad.

Running Totals

Holiday Job Losses: 6.
Dead mothers: 26

Only 15 movies to go.

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