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 about each one. I’ve started this series late, about 6 movies in, but I’ve started it.
Five minutes into this one and we’ve learned twice from a friend and a coworker that the Woman’s chronic conflict is that she doesn’t show up for herself at work, and so here she is carrying to her boss’s office a tin of what look like very dry sugar cookies made with a recipe she got from her grandmother. Story obstacle: the boss who can put the good word in for her to get the Head Game Creator position she wants has quit! (She makes scavenger hunts for a living, so bonus points to OTTDoC for originality.)
Now here’s the Man in a meeting suggesting “Winter Wonderland” as the theme for the big party that’ll be at the end of the movie, marking himself as a basic bitch. “They’d expect that one,” says the client, cinching the idea in everyone’s mind. Still not sure who the Man is yet, but I think he works with the Woman somehow, and the Woman just said, “I got it: the 12 Dates of Christmas!” which will be the theme of her scavenger hunt that’s going to lead players in the end to some big hotel who’s paying for all this wonky publicity for some reason.
Yes, okay: the Man has to work with the Woman and he doesn’t seem to respect her or want to do this, and so even though this Hallmark movie seemed to skip right over any meet cute, we’ve got our relationship established. That the Man and the Woman hate each other in the first act is as common in the Hallmark Cinematic Universe as too much garland in a kitchen.
This time, the Man has the niece. Nothing yet on the woman’s home life, but she may have a roommate, because the opening scene had another woman sipping coffee from a mug in the kitchen. The Man has hair like a wide brushtroke, and another ass that barely qualifies as such, but his mouth is nice enough to look at when he talks. The Woman is fawnish until she’s lit in such a way that her spherical cheekbones swell pinkishly off her face and then she becomes elfin. The grandma she took all her cookie recipes from is young enough to ably Facetime with her on the phone, and if she’s the Woman’s grandma my guess is both Mom and Grandma had their daughters at 15 years old. N’s pointing out that Grandma’s visual vibe is Christine Blasey Ford.
The Man’s family has veterans in it. “Is it true this house is going to be condemned soon?” asked the niece, giving us the Man’s subplot conflict. He needs to somehow help his sister fix up the house so that their dad has a home to retire to? A bit belabored, even for Hallmark conflicts. I don’t know what his personality flaws are, other than the inability to come up with good party themes. Oh I see, he’s also looking to be promoted to Head Game Creator. If this movie gives that job to him in the end over the Woman, I will delete this blog and give away every penny I own.
If you’re unsure from my description of how this scavenger hunt game will work it’s not my fault. I think the idea is that you have to take a photo of something in Chicago that refers to “9 ladies dancing” say, and if you get them all you get a free weekend at the hotel? Why this is a difficult job for both the Man and the Woman is unclear, but they are sweating it hard, and now the Man, who’s a Chicago native, is shaming the Woman in her own office about how she’s not very knowledgeable about the city, having only lived here a year and a half. (She moved from Iowa and is hoping not to have to move back there and prove Grandma et al right.) And then it’s time for the Woman to shame the Man about how his authentic Chicago experiences aren’t very romantic for dates.
It’s worth pointing out that for any Hallmark movie set in a city (itself rare; the City in the HCU is a place to escape from and realize in time never to need to return to), that city is Chicago. Because of what we still in 2020 imagine the Midwest to symbolize, I imagine. But maybe there are enough people in this country whose lives and minds are so small that if you set a story in New York or L.A., or even like Phoenix or Baltimore, they’d be turned off, dismissing the movie as propaganda from coastal elites. Chicago is safe. It’s America’s homiest city.
The Man, gaping up at the hotel’s blue spruce (I know it’s that because he bragged to the Woman about how he knew trees), just reminisced about hanging “heirloom ornaments”, reminding viewers of the need for these around the holidays and of the desire for, say, a shop that might sell them? Hallmark movies are an advertisement for a (white, mostly) fantasy of American falling-in-love, but they’re also an ad for a company that sells shit nobody needs but people want to give each other. Obvious, I know, but it helps to remember what I’m really watching.
Uh-oh. The Woman just opened up to the Man about having left Iowa and said she needs the Head Game Creator job to prove them wrong. And of course, because the Man is a man, he didn’t mention that he’s gunning for it, too. So, like knowing that the world’s first turtle race was held in Chicago’s Chinatown in 1902, he’s got inside info she does not have and it makes him feel powerful. He’s also higher up in the company than she is. He’s so primed to be a villain, and to fix this narrative problem my guess is they’ll give him the job, and right when the Woman starts packing for Iowa, he’ll realize that she’s more right for it than he is, and she’ll have to be grateful for this gift, just in time for Xmas.
But for now, the Woman just got shamed by the head of the hotel about how she doesn’t speak up for herself enough, just in case you were worried this movie’s not developing its characters’ conflicts.
Okay so the niece’s dad is stationed overseas and Skypes in camo with the niece via rocky WiFi, so now we’ll have to endure his surprise appearance at home in the movie’s final scene. Oh god and now they’re doing a wine and painting evening, the Woman and the Man, I think as research for this scavenger hunt I still don’t fully understand, and the subject of the painting seems to be Christmas Tree With Bulb Ornaments In Field Of Blue. If you know the audience for these movies, and if you can imagine the fantasies and beliefs they’ve formed about themselves (or more to the point, about their hidden potential), you can imagine whose painting is better.
The Woman just said to her grandma, re the Man, these words out loud: “I thought he was one thing, but it turns out he’s … something else.” Which I love. I love this so much because one thing every storyteller learns in any class is that you can’t have characters state their feelings and desires out loud in dialogue, and here comes Hallmark saying, “Hold my beer.”
At a holiday art fair, the niece’s art teacher just told the Man that she remembers hearing about the architecture students that the Man’s grandfather would host for dinners every week at the house—the very house that needs tons of repair. I can’t imagine a solution to the problem more complicated in design and more effortless on the part of the Man: all he has to do now is make a phone call and appeal to some devoted person’s sense of nostalgia. Lazy.
Hallmark movie adults drink more hot chocolate in one week that anyone else drinks in a lifetime. Sometimes, they make it at home for each other, but usually they pick it up in to-go cups from a cart on the sidewalk outside shops with just enough flurries in the air to make you remember it’s not any other time right now but yuletide. In small towns, this Hot Chocolate cart (it’s never a coffee cart that also sells hot chocolate, there’s always the sign: HOT CHOCOLATE) has always seemed like one of the cute Xmas weirdnesses this town decided long ago to commit to, but here’s one on the streets of Chicago. It feels out of place, like how a haybale might, or a tuffet.
We’ve hit the part of the movie where the Man and Woman are enjoying their time together and talking about anything other than the job. They’ve got family members and feelings about them. They have memories about past Christmases. They have kinds of cookies they like. As exciting as it must feel to be on a date, I can think of fewer things duller than watching others be on a date. This must for sure be what removes me from the set of People Who Enjoy Hallmark Movies. When I imagine the kind of person who likes watching others on dates, I try to think of her name, it might itself be Hallmark, and I wonder, should we meet, if we’d have anything to talk about.
This is something not uncommon for me, loving something when I know I wouldn’t like most of the other fans of the thing. Best example: They Might Be Giants. What does it mean? Who knows, but the Man just finally confessed he also wants the Head Game Creator job. If you think this is leading us to the All Is Lost breakup, you’re wrong: he immediately said he thinks the Woman deserves it more.
Okay so here’s how their game works. There’s an app. (Within days they’ve got an app.) And if you are a heterosexual Chicagoan you and your boy/girlfriend can go on the app and get a clue about the kind of date you have to do. There’s a rhyme, you see, and it’s Xmas themed, and after you deduce that you have to go, say, to this specific French restaurant and eat Coq au Vin, you snap a selfie of that very thing and post it to the app, which will then give you the next clue. Once you do this 12 times, corresponding to all the gifts of “The 12 Days of Christmas”, then either you’re in the running to win 2 free nights at this hotel, or the first person to do all the dates wins.
Agony, right? Does anyone in this movie realize how much time it takes to set up 12 dates?
Who cares, the Man got the job. The Woman is sitting heartbroken at her desk. All is lost? Well but the Man is immediately telling the head boss that the Woman did most of the work and that she should get the job.
“Good,” says the boss, “then I made the right choice.”
If they did wacky sound effects in Hallmark movies (and isn’t it a bit of a surprise that they don’t?), this is when they’d play the record being scratched.
Turns out he has a better job for the Man, so now the Man and the Woman can both get what they want. Every Hallmark movie is (or tries to be) a Cinderella story, and this movie’s Fairy Godmother is the self-important head of a scavenger hunt company (which requires just dozens of employees for some reason) who keeps company job openings close to his chest.
Or maybe the Fairy Godmother is this former architecture student the man has convinced to help fix his house, who is not only eager to do so but will post about it on the school’s alumni page to get other volunteers interested. Everyone in this movie is just around the corner to solve any problems without the Man or Woman needing to do anything in particular to win it, which is basically my original beef with the Twilight movies: here’s a young woman with no talents or interesting attributes who wins not just one boyfriend but two, who both agree that she deserve all the love and care in the world, seemingly only because she’s able to receive it? It’s a mess. Messier than anything people make fun of on Hallmark.
Well, except maybe On the 12th Date of Christmas.
The last Hallmark scene is always a big party, and here the big party is at the hotel, and there’s nothing for us to hope for. There was no All Is Lost moment to recover from. These two haven’t even Almost Kissed. The house isn’t fixed, though we trust it’s going to be. The overseas dad is nowhere in sight. Oh wait okay: the Woman still thinks she’s not getting the job, so now we get to watch her gush like an idiot in a red gown in front of her boss when he tells her. And now we get to watch her get a 13th clue from You Know Who that leads her out on the balcony for champagne with the Man, who’s saying, “I’m just gonna say it: I like you. A lot.”
Garbage. Lazy garbage. Final grade: C-.