We made it, we did it, this long dark national nightmare is over! Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but I got hit with COVID the day after Christmas and it’s made the last few bits of the rom-com-athon a bit of a slog. Thank goodness for the guest contributor who wrote about the last movie, or I might be writing about movie #48 on Valentine’s Day.
But listen, I’m burying the lede. Today, on January 6 – Epiphany, Feast of the Three Kings – we celebrate the culmination of this fundraiser. Yesterday asbestos remediation was completed at our friend’s home, paid in full, bringing some good news into the beginning of 2022. Thank you to everyone who donated! It makes every fake relationship subplot worth it.
Entry #46: CHRISTMAS IN CAROLINA (2020)
DIRECTED BY PEGGY WILLIAMS
Watched: December 26, 2021
Our Romantic Couple: Elle (Joslyn Y. Hall) and Wesley (David L. Rowell)
Their Meet Cute: Elle and Wesley are set up on a blind date by Elle’s cousin, Blythe (Jessi Nicolet), who works for Wesley. According to the bartender who serves Elle her “usual”, it’s her 15th date in a month. Wesley is approximately two minutes late and Elle is incredibly angry and spends most of their very short date typing on her laptop and snarlilng at him. Then she leaves early. Wesley is undeterred.
Synopsis: Busy Miss Businesswoman Elle has no time for love and no tolerance for most men. Wesley apparently likes that in a woman and after two dates invites the orphaned Elle home to spend Christmas with his family in South Carolina. Once there, Elle runs into interference from Wesley’s older brother, Ryan (Terrance Shingler) who insists she’s not right for Wesley. Will Elle ever win Ryan over? Will love conquer all? And will Wesley’s dad ever show up for Christmas?
Star Power: The star power in this movie, such as it is, is limited to Kellie Shanygne Williams and Darius McCrary, who play Wesley’s mother and his Uncle Marlone. Williams and McCrary played siblings Eddie and Laura Winslow on Family Matters.
110% Award: Stephen Fisher as “Stephen the Intern” who spills coffee on his boss, Elle, twice in the course of the movie. The first time, before dating Wesley, she threatens to fire Stephen. The second time she sends him on his way with a “Merry Christmas”, because that’s what love can do.
Observations: Whew, this is a real stinker. It looks and sounds like it was made for about $75. Any budget they had must have been spent to get McCrary and Williams to appear in this disaster.
The movie opens with Elle complaining on the phone about another Christmas coming and “Here I am. Successful but still single.” It is, as you can tell, a movie of great subtletly.
Let me just roll through a few of the problems with this film.- The director didn’t believe in editing and the film seems to be about 50% B-roll footage.
– The sound mixing is catastrophic – volume fluctuating wildly from scene to scene. Sometimes ambient sounds are completely out of control. It brings to mind the scenes from Singing’ in the Rain in which early talkies directors struggled to balance dialogue with rustling fabric and thudding footsteps.
– Daytime and nighttime scenes are mixed up without regard for continuity.
-Exposition is delivered with the finesse of a falling piano, i.e, “I know it’s hard ’cause you and Eve lost your parents in a car accident.”
– But also, sometimes information is delivered with such a lack of specificity that it’s like a madlib that hasn’t been filled out yet. “I was an athlete” (yes? what sport?) but not I am a manager for a team” (yes? what team?). As for busy Miss Businesslady, they need her at work all the time to send files and type and order people around, but I have no idea what Elle’s job actually is.
– Wesley’s brother Ryan is deranged. He rages that Elle is wrong for Wesley, and apparently has interfered in Wesley’s relationships in the past. Then he insists, over Elle’s objections, that he – Ryan – once went on a double date with Elle and she was mean. On Christmas day Elle’s sister, Eve shows up and Ryan’s like, “Oops! My bad! That’s the woman I met on the double date!” This would be plausible if Elle and Eve looked very much alike, but they don’t. I think there’s something wrong with Ryan.
– Wesley’s dad, “Dr. John” is talke about – “Dr. John is coming!” – but he never shows up. This is never explained. The mom who made such a fuss about having all of her family together at Christmas just glosses over the absence of her husband. What’s the deal with Dr. John?
– Elle and Blythe are exaggerated sassy black woman stereotypes, but at least they’re interesting to watch. Wesley is so bland he practically vanishes. Actor David L. Rowell’s IMDB bio is painful to read. The transparent puffery for an almost empty resume is truly cringe-worthy.
– Christmas in Carolina is ugly to look at, which is a truly fatal flaw in a Christmas movie. If these movies have NOTHING else to offer, they usually are set in lovely homes heavily decorated for Christmas. They are bright and shiny. But not this one. It looks like someone pulled an artifical tree from their Nana’s attic, then went to Dollar General and invested about $20 of that $75 budget on some cheap decorations.
The best thing about Christmas in Carolina is that the plot is filled with holes into which you could drive a bus. That makes watching this film entertaining rather than an ordeal. Also, +10 for being very short.
BINGO? Not a chance.
Available for free on the Roku channel.
Entry #47: HOLIDAY IN SANTA FE (2021)
DIRECTED BY JODY MARGOLIN HAHN
Watched: December 26, 2021
Our Romantic Couple: Tony (Mario Lopez) and Belinda (Emeraude Toubia)
Their Meet Cute: Belinda works for Warm Wishes (it’s a stand in for Hallmark) and has been sent to Santa Fe to by the rights to Casa de Milagro name, the gift shop containing original artwork started by Tony’s family. It doesn’t take long for business and pleaure to mix.
Synopsis: Tony hopes to craft a partnership with Warm Wishes that will still allow his family to have creative control of the Casa de Milagro name. That’s not how Warm Wishes operates, but Belinda is soon charmed by the family’s shop, and by Tony himself. Meanwhile, Tony’s sister, Maggie, is trying to create a new line for the business. Her mother was the in-house artist and she’s recently passed away. Will she be inspired in time to create something for the Winterfest? Will Warm Wishes consider a partnership rather than a buyout? Will love bloom between Tony and Belinda?
Star Power: Mario Lopez, natch, but a bonus point for Don Most (that’s “Ralph the Mouth” for those of us old enough to remember Happy Days) as Belinda’s boss, Mr. Rogers.
110% Award: To Hank Chen as Belinda’s assistant, Kevin, who is the coded gay character in this film and he plays it VERY big.
Observations: Can’t finish the rom-com without bringin’ the Mario! He is undeniably stunning and charismatic and his last couple of films have been set in Santa Fe, saturated in color and Mexican culture. It’s a nice departure from the usual, tbh.
Tony’s niece is played by Gia Lopez, daughter of Mario Lopez. She looks like him and has the same ebullient energy onscreen. It’s a really strong child performance.
Belinda does not set appropriate boundaries for conducting business, if you ask me. The hug she gives after her first meeting with Tony, the dress she wears to their “business dinner” – it all seemed a bit much.
I have another bone to pick with Belinda. Tony takes her to the Winter Fest (“We put the Santa in Santa Fe) where she participates in – and ultimately WINS – a ham toss. I have handled many a ham in my time. I know their heft. That thing Belinda throws was no ham. She handled it like Hallmark actors handle their coffee cups. As for the chili pepper eating contest which she also wins, that’s more plausible. Tony is shocked by her tolerance for hot peppers and asks, “Who are you? A komodo dragon?” It was a nice follow up when, as they leave, she tells the teary-eyed Tony to not forget his “little milk”.
There is a very meta moment in Holiday in Santa Fe when Belinda tells Tony that she’s going back to her hotel to watch Feliz NaviDAD. Mario Lopez starred in that movie last year.
The crisis in the story happens when Kevin reports to Belinda that Warm Wishes already has mock ups of products they want to sell under the Casa de Milagro name, and they are extremely tacky. As Kevin says, “I’m not even Hispanic and I’m offended.” It was a very of-the-moment plot element. A white as heck company trying to buyout a minority owned business needs some cultural sensitivity in 2021.
Also of the moment? The TikTok dances that Frankie is teaching the adults in her family.
Emeraude Toubia is an unfortunately stiff and boring leading lady, but Aimee Garcia as Maggie is great. Let’s give her some leading roles.This movie is pleasant. The tree in Maggie’s home is beautiful and uniquely decorated, Tony takes Belinda to a Christmas roller skating night (where Maggie refuses to leave the floor for a couples skate, claiming it’s “singles discrimination”) which was a fun twist on all the ice skating scenes in holiday movies, and there’s even a fresh and fun version of Jingle Bells (I wager the performer is a local, but I can’t find info on him online).
This is a bright, breezy, thoroughly undemanding movie to cap off our 3rd Rom-com-athon.
BINGO? Bummer, no.
Available on Lifetime.
Entry #48: HAPPY CHRISTMAS (2014)
DIRECTED BY JOE SWANBERG
Melissa McNeal Adams is coming in clutch after your ol’ pal Sharon miscounted and came up one movie short.Melissa Adams is a former elementary school music teacher who is now an HR lady with a moderately unhealthy obsession with excel tricks. She plays trombone in Chicago’s favorite punk rock marching band. One time her car got crushed like a bug when a shipping container filled with granite and marble tipped over on top of it; it and the Bananagrams that were explodingly displaced from its windshield subsequently became a public installation art piece for about a week, where passers-by spelled things like “U R SO SQUISHED” and “FLAT” and, in a flash of something close to brilliance, “HARD HAT AREA.”
She’s listened to all seven Harry Potters in German (likewise the Chroni[WHAT]cles of Narnia). She’s an adequate baker, a quilter in hibernation, and could not throw a ball with anything resembling skill even if thousands and thousands of dollars were riding on it.
She lives in a quiet neighborhood on the NW side of Chicago with her husband, their daughter, their two dogs, and — currently — a pretty nice looking Christmas tree if she does say so herself.
Happy Christmas is the holiday movie that I had the pleasure of reviewing for the rom-com-asbestothon. As you can see from the “DVD cover” style cover art, this film features a non-singing Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey, aka Dr. Mindy’s wife (and her authentic NZ accent).
A couple two tree years ago, Anna was in another Christmas movie called Noelle, so I was subconsciously anticipating something similar here: light-hearted antics, jollity, feel-good messages. Hoooo-boy was I wrong! (This might be a good time for me to mention that, when I watched Silver Linings Playbook, I went into it thinking it was going to be a feel-gooder about a HS football team.)
The first thing to note here is that this movie is set in Chicago, and I too am set in Chicago! Secondly, many films that are “set in Chicago” are actually filmed in such non-Chicago locales as “Toronto” or, confoundingly, “Atlanta,” it was delightful to actually recognize not only street corners and El stops and grocery stores, but also the super-realness of “oh wow they really captured what a house party looks like.” And it turns out there’s a reason for this: this movie’s budget was itty-bitty: $70k. (In the credits at the end, listing the names of all the attendees of said house party took up the lion’s share of the time.) I will say that the budget showed in the darker scenes [hard to make out details] and the sometimes-mumbly audio.
Plot: Jeff (Joe Swanberg, who also directed and produced) lives in Chicago (my guess is Albany Park / Budlong Woods area, give or take) with his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey, aka Wife Of Dr. Mindy) and their toddler Jude (played by Swanberg’s kiddo). Jenny (played by Anna Kendrick) just went through a break-up so she’s come to stay with them in their basement for a while. Jeff’s a filmmaker (what a stretch!), and Kelly’s a novelist, though writing has been on the back burner since having the baby. Jenny shows up and, night one, gets so hammered at the party of a friend of her friend Carson (Carson = Lena Dunham, in honestly the most palatable role I’ve yet seen her play) that Carson has to call Jeff in the middle of the night to physically carry her out of there. Not a great first impression. She’s supposed to help out with her nephew but, well, is so hung over that they call over the babysitter, Kevin (Mark Webber)… and he & Jenny get to know each other. (By “get to know each other” I mean she goes over to his place to pick up some weed, they make out for a while, things accelerate faster than she’d like so she puts the brakes on it, and then they end up kind of pseudo-dating.)
Jenny is a MESS, friends. She needs to get some help gaining control over her relationship with alcohol, as she’s not currently in the driver’s seat there. But the movie doesn’t beat you over the head with that — they just show, kind of relentlessly but without preaching, what it looks like from various angles when someone is seeking their rock bottom. (But it even feels wrong to name it as coded a word as “rock bottom,” because that puts an addiction lens onto the film, and that’s my lens: having lost a friend to alcoholism a couple years ago [Jenny is a LOT prettier than he was, ha], the movie spoke to me on that level.)
There’s another piece of the plot where Kelly asks for some more time to write, and then she & Jenny & Carson work on concocting basically a Harlequin Romance Novel. And this is the point where I should tell you: there was no script for this movie. It was 100% improvised. “The only thing the actors and the crew had was a vague outline of the plot and the order in which certain events would take place.” (Do stay through to the bonus scene after the credits run, where they debate what to call body parts. ha!)
One aspect of this movie that was specifically and perfectly endearing to me is that I have a kiddo at home who is the precise age of Jude. It was so delightful to see this baby doing baby things and being like “huh, just saw that happen this morning.” My spouse and I watched this movie together and we kept looking at each other whenever Jude was on screen and knowingly smiling.
This movie was, um, VERY MUCH not what I was expecting. Not only did I not get a Bingo, but I didn’t even scratch off a single square!!! However, I sure as heck enjoyed it: it was well-acted, it felt like a very real story of a very ordinary family going through actual real-life things (let me just say, I’m going to be thinking for a long time about all the crap that was on the countertop of that kitchen, because if ever I’ve felt represented in a movie, this was that time). There’s no hero. There’s no tropey bad guy. Nobody’s trudging through a foot of snow in stilettos while dragging a Christmas tree — but the movie was not poorer for it. It was a week in the life of what felt like actual people, and I had empathy for each of them — even Lena Dunham!