As N and I watch just about every Hallmark Christmas movie each year, and as I have mixed feelings about this, about the entertainment quality of this, and about the point of it, I figured one way to make this mindless watching feel less mindless would be to live blog each one. I’ve started this series late, about 6 movies in, but I’ve started it.
This one’s got Alicia Witt in it. There’s one every year. Alicia Witt was a little girl with eyes that burned in David Lynch’s Dune. That’s something about her that’s interesting.
“You don’t see a lot of people drinking black coffee these days,” says the guy I think will be the Man on the coffee cart meet cute. (He orders a hot chocolate, naturally.) I feel like ordering different things at a coffee cart shouldn’t count as a meet cute—if anything she should spill something on him, or, Freudianly, vice versa—but what do I know I’m not a writer.
Anyway here they are, with all their chemistry:
Hallmark’s in-house branding laws demand that the screen during any Xmas movie continuously have logos in the bottom right and bottom left corners, lest anyone be watching and not immediately know what. And I know that the greeting card company has such tyrannical control over the production of its movies that I imagine this is even something every Xmas movie’s DP is aware of when deciding how to frame, say, a white lady in merino wool reaching across granite countertops for a baking sheet of sugar cookies so’s not to cover up the delicacy of her frost job. All that said, it’s worth pointing out that this recording of CTL has one logo superimposed over another in the bottom left of the screen, rendering both illegible, which means that maybe Hallmark doesn’t have as much of their shit together as they’d like us all to believe.
My condolences to the low-level technical worker who got fired for this one ugliness.
So Hallmark’s favorite name so far this year is Riley/Reilly. There was A Niece in one of the movies with that name. And there was a woman of color in another who seemed as though she was born in the 1990s whose parents, in the 1990s, we’re to believe, named her Riley. And now the Woman in this movie works for Reilly’s Music, the instrument shop on this small town’s titular main drag. From what I can tell she sells only celli and contrabasses—or at least that’s the fantasy the front of the store is meant to broadcast to all the foot traffic. Anyway, a few scenes back she got an official looking letter from the friendly mail carrier. “An eviction notice?” N asked before the Woman even opened it. It was an eviction notice.
Our conflict: every tiny gentle shop beloved by all in this town has received such a notice. They all need to come up with more money than they can or else a big development company is going to tear down the whole street. The Woman, with her music talents, has decided a holiday concert is somehow going to save them from ruin.
And I don’t want in these live blogs to rag on any woman’s looks, and I don’t want to disregard what even this 7th level of Hollywood hell still demands from woman actors to remain castable, but Alicia Witt’s mouth isn’t moving right. It’s just, something wrong happened lately and I hope she’s okay.
The Man’s face looks whittled off a stick, and the guy playing him you can tell is shorter than his agent wants you to think he is. Maybe his temples are dyed? I’m charmed by the mole under his right eye, but overall he’s perfectly generic. His whole deal is like a fitted pair of Bonobos. Oh, he’s an architect, so this allows him certain talents, like noticing the tile ceiling inside an older building and claiming to excel at picking out a good tree, as though the rest of us untrained in the philosophy of space can’t see blotchy spots or uneven branches. He works for his dad. Dad’s a taskmaster. Have you not yet figured out the Man’s dad’s company is the very company behind the teardown plans for Christmas Tree Lane?
The Man’s name is Nate and the Woman’s name is Meg and I’m waiting for a nutmeg pun that, if it ever comes, will only highlight this shortsightedness on the part of the writers. It’s like an old coworker of my friend, who came in after her maternity leave and announced they’d named her new daughter Amanda Lynn. My friend repeated it, and then repeated it again, pointedly. A Mandalynn? “Oh shit,” the coworker said.
The Man is always in a tie and overcoat with a scarf. His hair never moves. This is making him seem unfit as Hallmark boyfriend material, but if there’s another man in this movie who isn’t a dad I haven’t seen him yet. Right now the Woman is wearing a green sweater whose shoulders are missing. Intentionally. Oh, we’re in Denver? Feel like that explains the shoulders, though how they’re getting away with a small-town main-street vibe in this movie I guess says a lot about the extent to which Denver counts as a city to Hallmark types.
The Woman is now doing this thing that makes me glad I don’t have friends who write songs: she told the Man that she wrote a Christmas song, and she said this not even in a tone of warning while already sitting down to a piano, and without him saying anything she just started playing this song, immediately singing with her eyes closed, as soulfully as is possible from the kind of white woman who’d get like dark revenge on you if you took her favorite bike at spin class. Of course the Man is trapped, forced afterward to tell her this boring song (“….and that’s why Christ-maaaas”) is amazing. She tried to sell it years back, but whoever wasn’t buying said they needed something “more modern,” giving the Man and Woman something to lament over together.
Is Christmas innately conservative? I mean, it’s a Christian holiday, technically, and it’s hard to get any popular sense of liberal Christianity these days. It’s a big family holiday, and family is the chief object of conservative obsession. Christmas Tree Lane, the Woman is now saying on the local news, is about history and tradition. It was the first shopping district in the city that had electric lights, so you know. History. Tradition. N’s point: Everyone’s favorite Christmases happened in the distant past, so it’s innately a nostalgic holiday, which is why even though I loathe so much of the idea of conserving the past and traditions, I find Hallmark movies stupid but charming. I fall for every lie I know they’re telling me—like a conservative.
Still, I’d like to see some progressivism to holiday celebrations, even if I don’t know what that would look like. Hallmark thinks this only involves letting black actors play the friends of their movies’ leads, and my sister reports that there’s a gay-couple movie happening this year, but I’m talking about something more honest, or radical. And besides, if those dull homos end up anything other than All About Family, I’ll eat my hat.
“Christmas doesn’t need reinventing and neither do we,” said the Woman to the Man’s dad, using her weird mouth. (It’s Botox. I’m sorry, it’s rude and tired to point this out but the weirdness is most likely Botox.) I think it’s that I’m torn about everyone in the Hallmark Cinematic Universe being aggressively resistant to change. I get it: I need to make all the same cookies and watch all the same movies every yuletide, but this is nothing I’m proud of. I love Christmas as much as I believe the status quo must be upended today, and I don’t know what else Christ can teach anybody if not to give people who are struggling whatever they tell you they need.
The HCU believes in this, too, but its imagination on who is struggling in the 21st century begins and ends at small business owners (and sometimes, in rare movies, homeless people of color exist). I’m not the first to point out how Hallmark’s pursuit of a Politics-Free Zone for the HCU is itself a (conservative) political move, and probably I’m a fool for looking for progressivism on a basic cable channel when I can barely find it in newspaper op-eds.
So here’s the Woman reading aloud of the Denver newspaper’s article about her store: “Take a walk down memory lane at Reilly’s for all your retro music fun.” It’s relentless, this movie. But now she’s calling another woman a “Gift Wrapping Whisperer” so at least she’s up on her references?
Now I’m grumpy because the Man just got the idea to add housing to the new plans for CTL, and it’s like Wait, so the company tearing retail shops down in a city was only going to build commercially zoned properties? It’s like the most implausible thing I’ve ever seen in the HCU, and it again proves my point that Hallmarkers don’t really know what cities are. Once the Man told his dad about the idea, his dad admired him for “challenging authority” (not a whit about this dad makes him look like the kind of dad you’d call an authority and be worried about upsetting; this is a Keebler dad, down to the wire-frame eyes riding low on his nose), but then he said it’d never work. So this “Denver” must not have updated zoning laws, citizen review boards, or even city supervisors. Developers in Denver are free to build whatever they’d like.
Maybe that’s not very different from reality after all.
Yes! Okay: now we’ve got a good All Is Lost moment: the company’s board has decided not to go ahead with the Man’s plan. Too expensive. The Woman’s in tears on the phone with her dad: “It’s not good news.” Her only hope is to focus on this concert. (However it’s supposed to make money and save the street was lost on me back in the first act, sorry.) She feels like a failure, the Woman, even though her dad just said, “You’ve succeeded beyond your wildest dreams,” confusingly in that she’s achieved none of her goals. But that’s sweetheart dads for you. And she can’t even think about the Man right now, not anymore. This is what I sincerely love: I enjoy convincing myself that everything has gone irretrievably wrong, not just a budding relationship (I just never care about the budding relationship). So often the All Is Lost moment is all of two scenes and mostly works through a mild misunderstanding regarding trust or honesty between the two. But here, I feel like dozens of lives and jobs are just fucked, and it’s Christmas Eve, and I feel terrible, and it’s going to take the same kind of wild creative spark to save the day, the kind that happens in the last 8 minutes of every Murder, She Wrote when Jessica runs off to make a phonecall.
Here’s the woman hugging a dress someone gave her as a gift. I love this move, when somebody unwraps a beautiful article of clothing and hugs it close, as though it’s just said something very moving. The dress is royal blue velvet, and it’s cut straight across, with bare shoulders, giving her an oblong décolletage that makes her look like a Gogurt.
Now she’s going to sing for the whole town at the Concert To Save Christmas Tree Lane that still neither I nor Neal understand how this will happen. Her song is slow, like maybe 88bpm at best, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. Just the same way comedy is harder than drama, catchy songs nearly anyone can sing are far harder to write than banal but sweet and slow songs that showcase vocal talent, because people always give more credit to seriousness and sincere emotion than they ought to.
But again what do I know. Her song has moved the Man’s dad enough to make him change his mind on the project, meaning that nothing of her concert or the people who attended it did a thing to save their town after all, giving us our unwelcome lesson: Even though the people who make our cities what they are don’t have any power in shaping those cities’ futures—cities have ceded that power to developers—sometimes us folks can perform caring enough at those in power to get them to remember, for one day a year, that we exist.
Final grade: B.