The End. Or Is It???

I’m done. I’ve watched 50 holiday rom-coms since the beginning of November: a few good, a lot bad, almost all cheesy. I have seen more cute baking scenes and town tree lightings than you shake a candy cane at. I’ve watched Jake and Nick fall in love with Holly and Noelle over and over again.

But here’s what really matters: 47 different people pledged money in this endeavor, and if they all follow through (many already have!) Twigs will have $2595.50 more to feed hungry children. This makes my brain drain worth it. And if you were one of the people who pledged – thank you, thank you, thank you! We’re in an economic crisis in America, if you hadn’t noticed, and food insecurity is growing. Your generosity will keep help keep children in our region healthy and fed!

Several people have asked if I will do this again. I worry about diminishing returns. I have already watched 100 holiday rom-coms over the last two seasons. Hasn’t the novelty of hearing my reactions worn off by now? Or perhaps I’ve called on the same pool of people too often. I have considered switching to a different charity (the animal rescue for which I work comes to mind) to see if a different people would participate, but I don’t know if that would make a difference. The only think I don’t worry about is whether or not there are enough movies to do it again. There are more than enough. There are so many! I have still only scratched the surface of the Hallmark back catalog.

So will I do this again? Right now I can’t bear the thought of it, but we’ll see how I feel in 10 months.

Worst of the 50….
46. The Rooftop Christmas Tree (2016)
47. The March Sisters at Christmas (2012)
48. A Christmas Tree Grows in Colorado (2020)
49. Holiday Wishes (2006)
50. 12 Pups of Christmas (2019)

Best of the Bunch
5. Love, Lights, Hanukkah (2020)
4. Midnight at the Magnolia (2020)
3. The Christmas Contract (2018)
2. The Christmas House (2020)
1. 12 Dates of Christmas (2011)

Entry #46: Feliz NaviDAD (2020)

Watched: December 19, 2020
Available on the Frndly App

David is a widower and high school principal whose daughter convinces him it’s time to start dating. His first match is Sophie, a symphony musician visiting her dad from out of town. The two of them decide a relationship isn’t practical, since she’ll be heading home soon, but that they the will go on “practice” dates with each other. Sparks fly. Meanwhile, David’s daughter Noel is prepping for the annual holiday festival at which her school’s music department is always shown up by the a capella group from Lake Star High School. And now Pinestar doesn’t even have a music teacher! Can David find someone who knows music to help the kids? Will practice make perfect – in music OR in love?

Our Romantic Couple: David (Mario Lopez) and Sophie (AnnaLynne McCord)

Their Meet-Cute: David, who works part time over the holidays as a delivery driver, drops a package off at Sophie’s dad’s house. She answers the door. He flirts, hard. She is unperturbed.

Star Power Casting: Mario Lopez (Saved By the Bell, many holiday movies, and that weird KFC/Lifetime mini movie that just came out), and in a cameo role, my Christmas queen, Melissa Joan Hart – who also directed this film.

The 110% Award: Herb Mendelsohn as Sophie’s dad, Willard. He can make any moment 25% more awkward and gives off big Bob from Schitt’s Creek vibes.

Observations: Objectively speaking, Mario Lopez is very good looking. I don’t think this is an especially controversial opinion. This is the only way that David can get away with flirting the way he does. He knows he’s a cutie, and he works it. On a mere mortal, it would seem obnoxious but on Lopez, you just accept that certain privileges come with those muscles, those dimples, and that head of hair. But Lopez is not alone: AnnaLynne McCord is no slouch herself! She’s a blindingly pretty blonde, with the ease and self assurance to match Lopez. Basically, the two of them give off “gods walking among us” energy. It’s a very different dynamic than putting Lopez opposite someone like Melissa Joan Hart, and there’s no tension between David and Sophie about whether they’re a good match. They know it, immediately, because just LOOK at them. They just need to work out the logistics of being together.

David’s teenage daughter wonders why he moonlights as a delivery driver. “Dad, are we poor?” she asks, as David stands in front of a red Kitchenaid mixer in a big, beautiful, sunny kitchen. No, Noel, you are not poor. Trust me on this.

Mario Lopez turns on and off an accent in this movie, which could be code-switching or could be poor acting. I haven’t decided which is more likely.

David tells his daughter a story about how, when she was a baby and he carried her strapped in a front baby carrier, he would give her gummi worms to chew on. Am I the only one who is disurbed by the idea of giving an infant gummi worms?

In a scene that is weird from every perspective, David stops by Sophie’s dad’s house on his delivery route, before going on a date. “Would it be weird if I used your bathroom?” he asks. Willard replies, “Of couse, you can! I bet you delivery guys have to go constantly!” Why? Why would delivery guys have to go “constantly”? Also, I like David but it seems very unprofessional for a delivery guy to change his clothes in the home of a customer. Can you imagine in your UPS guy did that?

In the course of the movie David goes on three bad dates. The first is with Melissa Joan Hart as a New Age crystal-reader who decides they’re a bad match because their astrological signs don’t match.

There are a lot of nits to pick in this movie, but it was so much more fun than Merry & Bright or Good Morning, Christmas that I felt positively relieved. Also, a little cultural diversity was a nice change. Feliz NaviDAD won’t kill you, and the leads are pretty.

Entry #47: Christmas Wonderland (2018)

Watched: December 20, 2020
Available on the Frndly App

Heidi left her hometown to become an artist in the big city but is working as an assistant in an art gallery instead. When her sister asks her to come home and stay with her niece and nephew just before Christmas, Heidi says “yes” even though she’s prepping for a big showing at the gallery. In her hometown she ends up planning for a high school Christmas dance with her high school boyfriend, Chris, who is now a history teacher. They bicker. Sparks fly. Heidi starts painting again. Her boss offers to show one of her paintings in the gallery show. Will Heidi’s art career take off? Will she and Chris find a new location for the dance, after the gymnasium roof springs a leak? Will her sister and brother-in-law EVER get back home?

Our Romantic Couple: Heidi (Emily Osment) and Chris (Ryan Rottman)

Their (Re)Meet-Cute: Heidi shows up at the dance planning meeting only to discover that her ex-boyfriend is in charge and there are no other volunteers.

Star Power Casting: Emily Osment was Hannah Montana’s best friend, Lilly

The 110% Award: Al Lampkins as Roy, the owner of the barn that Chris and Heidi use for the dance. Lampkins delivers every line with an earnestness that this film doesn’t deserve.

Observations: You’d be surprised how many of these movies involve pipes bursting or roofs leaking, requiring the relocation of the Christmas dance/fundraiser/festival. Water damage is a major threat in Christmas-obsessed small towns.

Heidi doesn’t know how to cook. She’s been off being an ambitious career girl in the big city, we get it. But how incompetent can a grown woman be? She attempts to make cookies with the kids and the “dry ingredients” are liquid. Really? Can she even read a recipe?

Heidi is not a good artist. If she was a 90 year old snake handler in Appalachia, her paintings might be considered folk art and increase in value. As it is, they look like the murals that the art class students used to paint in my high school. At the end of the movie Heidi tells the gallery owner, “I don’t belong here,” and she has never been more right. She’s really not cut out to be a professional artist. She’ll be a standout at the wine and painting nights with her gal pals, though.

I like Emily Osment, but she doesn’t look like she’s having fun doing this movie. It’s a very understated performance. Like, SEDATED understated. Ryan Rottman is completely forgettable as a leading man, too. Imagine that you attend a work Christmas party, meet an average, pleasant couple and make the mistake of asking where they met. They tell you the extremely average story of how they dated in high school, then broke up, then he became a teacher, and she moved away, then came home to watch her sister’s kids, and they reconnected, and…you are trapped with this blandly nice couple for TWO HOURS. That is Christmas Wonderland.

Entry #48: Midnight at the Magnolia (2020)

Watched: December 20, 2020
Available on Netflix

Maggie and Jack have been best friends since high school and co-host a radio “relationship” show. They have a shot at national syndication but it rests on them doing a New Year’s Eve show at which they introduce their significant others to their families on air. Alas, their significant others give them the heave-ho, and now Maggie and Jack need another gimmick to make the New Year’s Eve show a success. They decide to pretend that THEY are a couple and plan to reveal it at the show, which is being held at the jazz club co-owned by their dads, The Magnolia. But pretending to be in love is more emotionally complicated than either Jack or Maggie anticipated.

Our Romantic Couple: Maggie (Natalie Hall) and Jack (Evan Williams)

Their Meet-Cute: None. They’re old friends.

Star Power Casting: None

The 110% Award: None

Observations: Despite its lack of star wattage or big performances, this was a likeable little movie. The two leads are very charming and the chemistry between them is easy and believable.Natalie Hall looks like a grown up Hannah Montana. Mind you, not a grown up Miley Cyrus – we know what she looks like grown up, obviously – but a grown up Hannah. She has a great speaking voice, too, which is not to be taken for granted. Some of the actresses in these movies have grating voices (not to name names, Alicia Witt and Sarah Drew). Hall’s voice is warm and sweet and packed a lot of pathos into scenes that needed it.

I was staggering toward the finish line by the time I watched this movie, and don’t have much to say about it, but it’s a good one.

Entry #49: The Mistletoe Promise (2016)

Watched: December 21, 2020
Available on the Frndly App

Elise and Nick both hate Christmas for very valid reasons. They also both have valid reasons to want to be in a relationship over the holidays, and after meeting and realizing they are kindred anti-Christmas spirits, they draw up a contract to pretend to be in a relationship through the holiday season. For Elise it’s about getting emotional revenge on her philandering ex-husband who is also the co-owner of her business. For Nick it’s about getting a partnership at his law firm, which favors “family men”. Nick and Elise find that pretending to be in a relationship is more emotionally complicated than they anticipated. Sparks fly. Secrets are revealed. Nevertheless, Nick gets the partnership (based on merit, not marital status) and…uh…things end well for Elise, too. I can’t quite remember. I tried, y’all. I just know Nick and Elise wind up together.

Our Romantic Couple: Elise (Jaime King) and Nick (Luke McFarlane)

Their Meet-Cute: They are both sitting in the food court when Elise is harassed by carolers. Nick tells her that the secret is to always carry earbuds.

Star Power Casting: Lochlyn Munro, as Elise’s ex-husband, Dan, was a regular on Riverdale

The 110% Award: Ashley Ross as Drew, Dan’s exceptionally dumb girlfriend, Drew.

Observations: Luke McFarlane is a Hallmark king and deserves to be acknowledged as such. I haven’t loved every movie I’ve seen him in, but he always gives a decent performance.

Sexism seems to be rampant at this law firm. Not only are they biased toward married or heading-toward-marriage men, but the senior partners want all the women to wear dresses to the Christmas party? Oh, heck, no.

At Elise’s company event, Nick and Elise win a snowman building contest. Have you ever noticed how many of these movies turn Christmas traditions into competitions? This does not seem in keeping with the spirit of the season to me.

This movie gets a little darker in its back stories than most. We learn that Elise hates Christmas because the way she found out her husband was cheating is that he accidentally switched gifts and she opened a personalized charm bracelet with Drew’s name on it. That’s pretty cold, I must say.

There are lots of references to A Christmas Carol in this movie, but it’s a more mixed on who the Ebenezer Scrooge is. Nick and Elise hate Christmas, but they’re not selfish jerks. It’s Dan who wants to cut all the travel company’s charity work, and Elise who fights to keep it. And while Nick is a divorce lawyer, he frames his work in the most positive way possible, as being about helping people find a way forward, a new start. They’re decent people, they’ve just been traumatized.

This is one of the better “fake relationship” movies I’ve seen, but still not as good as Midnight at the Magnolia.

I am going to count how many leading males named “Nick” I have encountered in two years of rom-com-athoning. It’s a lot. I’ll get back to you.

Entry #50: Christmas on the Square (2020)

Watched: December 23, 2020
Available on Netflix

Regina Fuller grew up in Fullerville, a Christmas-obsessed a small town, but left for the big city decades ago. Now her father has died, Regina has inherited the town, and she’s evicting everyone so that she can sell land to the developers of the Cheatham Mall. I am guessing at that spelling, but the pun works. Anywho…an angel starts visiting Regina to bring about a change of heart, while the townspeople are trying to find a way to resist the evictions. Also, Regina’s long lost love, Carl, is still living in Fullerville running a quaint general store. They broke up in high school because of a GREAT MISUNDERSTANDING. Can sparks reignite between Regina and Carl?

Our Romantic Couple: Regina (Christine Baranski) and Carl (Treat Williams)

Their Meet-Cute: They re-meet when Regina visits Carl’s shop to give him an order of eviction. So maybe less cute than usual.

Star Power Casting: Baranski (The Good Wife, The Good Fight) and Williams (Everwood and lots of movies) are both established stars. Regina’s childhood best friend, Margeline, is played by Jennifer Lewis who has had a long, successful career on Broadway, television, and in film. Most recently, she’s been a regular on Black-ish. But it would be hard for anyone in the cast to outshine the angel in this movie, played by Dolly Parton (who also wrote the music)

The 110% Award: Jennifer Lewis who makes Margeline a force of nature every time she’s on screen. And hey, she’s a native of Kinloch, a suburb of St Louis!

Observations: This is a wild movie. It’s a musical that is very heavy on the music and uses obviously artificial interior sets – so it feels like a stage production. That’s…okay….but honestly, I could have used a little less music and a little more emotional realism.

Dolly starts in disguise as a homeless women, except that she still looks like Dolly Parton – flawless makeup, shiny blonde hair peaking out from under her ragged clothing. When I say “ragged”, though, I mean “ragged” like the sort of homeless chic that winds up on runways during fashion week from time to time.

Two of the central characters in the movie are the town’s pastor and his wife. The pastor’s name is – get this – Pastor Christian. Also, Fullerville has only church and everyone attends.

I don’t think it’s legal to evict people and make them leave within a couple of days – unless Fullerville has no renter protection AT ALL. And can we talk about the fact that one man owned the whole town in the first place? This is a grim picture of capitalism, if you ask me. Also, he named the town after himself, which is a very Henry Potter move.

A small child serves as a bartender in this movie. I am not making this up.

Pastor Christian makes a big to-do of how the town is going to resist Regina’s eviction plan, but resistance seems to consist only of making flyers. When she bumps the eviction date up to Christmas Eve everyone just compliantly packs up to leave. Pastor Christian needs some training in political organizing and direct action.

I’m pretty sure there’s a miraculous conception in this movie.

Treat Williams has an unexpectedly good voice (well, it was unexpected to me, since I forgot he was the lead in Hair many years ago), and his song “Keeper of Memories” is almost a tearjerker, partly because of his sweet vocal delivery.

Josh Segarra is charming as Pastor Christian, but I have a few questions about the character.

If not for Dolly Parton floating on a CGI cloud, this would feel like an above average community theater production. It was a diverting change from the generic Hallmark movies, but it’s not especially good.

Running Total

Dead mothers: 35!
Two year dead mother total – 55!

For more info about this fundraiser…

This year I’ve added a simple registration form to track pledges and get everyone entered for prizes and bingo cards. Pledges aren’t due until the end of January and no pledge is too small – or large! Go here to register. Follow this link to learn more about Twigs, the great charity you’ll be supporting. And here’s the link to the Facebook page where you can see more details about what I’m doing and follow along for updates on prize drawings, pledge updates, and other fun stuff. Even though my holiday rom-com watching is at an end (or is it???) you can still donate at the Twigs site.