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.
Godwinks. It’s a Hallmark thing, based on some book. Possibly Kathie-Lee Gifford is involved? Did she coin it? I don’t know, Google the thing, but from what I recall it’s a moment of serendipity or big feelings where it seems like God is winking at you, so’s to indicate something of His Plan coming to fruition. “Godwinks are always signs of hope,” they say via intertitle before the opening credits.
Insipid? Maybe. But what’s even more insipid is that I live for these. Like: it’s been important to learn these last five or six years when to stop and take a moment to thank God for some small gift, like on Election Day, when I was assigned by random to work a polling place that had a sudden vacancy, and it turned out to be a church with a high, sunfilled rotunda whose walls were covered in painted icons representing religious and secular saints. On what was for me one of the most anxiety-filled days in an anxious year, God gave me a little gift of serenity and I thanked him for it like 5 times that day.
So what’s insipid about “Godwinks” exactly? Well, there’s the obvious cashing in on the way some people use prayer as wish-fulfillment, the Godwink Industry I mean, which behold this opening line from the “Godwinks History” page, written by the man who coined this term:
It was truly a “Godwink” that my first book of hope and encouragement was released just before 9/11, almost as if it was predestined to help a hurting nation.
If I had more time, I’d get into how “almost as if” is the trap Godwinkers unwittingly use to keep themselves from happiness and serenity—it is classic Berlantian cruel optimism—but we’re like four scenes in already and I don’t know what’s going on.
BOISE! We’re in Boise in this one, where Sam Page lives. Sam Page will be playing the Man in this one, and he’s the only Hallmark Man I follow on Instagram (you might remember him as Joan’s military husband on Mad Men), even though his posts are rife with shirt-on-fullness and pics of his kids. The Man has not 1 but 2 sons. They’re visiting his mother for the holidays. The Woman works in an office, probably in a city, is it Boise proper? Too soon to know how/why she’ll meet the Man. Her boss is a Black woman, which is true for most Women in the HCU this year—I think I’ve pointed out before how Hallmark has risen to the call of better representation not by exactly letting more people of color star in romantic roles in its movies, but instead by promoting its Black women characters from (White) Woman’s Friendly Coworker to Woman’s Demanding Boss.
It’s something. It’s not representing people with desires and faults to overcome, but it’s not nothing. Oh, Sam Page and Sons live in Hawaii?
Okay we got our first Godwink. I forgot that they’re signaled by a little non-diegetic chime for those of us slow on the uptake. Here, the Man has borrowed the classic car his mom keeps in her garage (was it Dad’s? I missed any explanation), and the Godwink is that he found a 4-photo photobooth strip somewhere inside it.
Once, in high school, driving around with nerd friends a few years older than I was, we pulled up to a red light on Herndon Parkway, and there was someone standing in the median selling roses. “If this were a King’s Quest game we’d have to buy one of those roses,” my friend Rob said, and we all laughed, because it was true. Video games’ solipsistic lesson is that everything around you will lead to something later. That’s basically how Godwinks work: if you find something on the floor of a car—now it’s a Christmas tree charm—it should be seen as a step on your personal plot trajectory, not anyone else’s. Ignore the Godwink Chime at your (love life’s future’s) peril.
The Woman is his old girlfriend. That was her Christmas tree charm she lost after prom years and years ago. Moments after he found it on the floor of the car (this car’s floor hasn’t been vacuumed in 20 years, we’re to imagine, despite the car’s flawless detailing), the Man has run into her on the main street of this Idaho town. (Boise was just the airport they flew into.) So it’s like you find something, and then it gives you what you’re looking for. In A Godwink Theoretical Model, coincidences don’t exist on their own, they are always broadcast moments before they’re to happen, like precogs to any crime in Minority Report.
I don’t think this warrants any more discussion, despite how much I want to get into what it means to cloak your lazy plot devices in a matter of down-home faith.
Idaho in December seems to be full of snow. It’s everywhere, every spot of ground is covered in it. I’ve only spent one night in Idaho, in a hotel room in Bliss (pop: 318) back in May 2001, so I don’t know what kind of winters they get there, but this snow cover seems accurate for so northernly a state. But anyway here, in this Idaho town, every tree outside is fully decorated: big ball ornaments, lights, ribbon, small trinkety ornaments. Did I mention ribbon? They’ve got ribbon. Those of you readers who live in snowy climates, imagine going outside in December and decorating one of your yard trees with ornaments and ribbon. Then imagine it snowing. If the HCU is to be believed, those trees are going to look fucking incredible in the snow, not at all like the rubble from some apocalyptic disaster.
The Woman has a co-worker boyfriend/ex-boyfriend who I’ve seen in other HCMs and who has the perfected eyebrows of a man who does drag. The Mom of the Man has ombré’d grey hair that makes Susan Sontag’s look underwhelming. She’s my favorite mom so far this year: her house is overdecorated but tastefully so, with less overloaded garlands and more white surfaces than you normally see. (On second thought, she does cover every door, including her front door, with wrapping paper, and it’s a corny, cloying look.) She went with her son and grandkids to pick up a tree, and the Man, carrying the wrapped tree on his shoulder, just lightly smacked the Woman in the face with it. Normally, this would be a meet cute, but instead it’s another Godwink. There’s that damn charm again.
The thing about this HCM so far is that nothing is different or interesting. In facing the puzzle of how will this movie put the required elements in order, this one went, “Let’s just follow the instructions very carefully and then be done when it says we’re done.” I don’t know what the Woman does for a living. The Man is looking for a job now that he’s moving to Boise (his ex-wife lives in San Francisco, so they’ve just moved from Hawaii to be closer). The Woman’s coworker boyfriend isn’t weird or threatening or overly protective or rude. So far the only plot obstacle is that the Man and his sons haven’t received their Christmas stuff from the shipping company in time to decorate in full, but now I guess the Woman has made a call and solved it for them.
So why not just kiss now, Man and Woman? Maybe God needs to wink before they can do it. Oh wait, okay so now the Woman is pushing the Man away, because she doesn’t want to get caught up in their past relationship again, and wants to pursue this deeply unattractive coworker. Now the Man is asking his mom what might have happened if he didn’t run off to Hawaii. This is a fatalist movie, which might be true of all Godwinkers: the essence of their conflicts involve people worrying over whether they made the right decisions long ago or are making the right decisions now.
I can get on board with this because I feel it it all the time. But on a good day, I also know that what I’m feeling is a little lie I’m telling myself, and sometimes that wisdom hits me in prayer, which is to say God tells me what’s wrong about that thinking. The choice you made years ago to move to Hawaii and not pursue this relationship wasn’t the “right” or “wrong” choice, it was just a choice that had consequences you’ve been living with. If you want to do something else you can start to do it, without needing a sign from above that it’s okay.
But then again, few things are more difficult for me than knowing what my desires are, or, when I do know them, trusting that they’re my desires, not the desires I think others want me to have.
“That’s a Godwink,” the Man just said, to his mom in the kitchen. She was talking about “those little coincidences that give you hope when they happen.” So now it’s diegetic—though I hope they’re not also hearing the chime. Then she asked if the Man remembers what she said when he moved to Hawaii, and Man said, “Go where your heart leads you.”
So it’s like total mixed messages in this movie: are you supposed to listen to your heart or look for Godwinks? They’re not always leading you to the same place. Maybe the heart is the refuge of those poor people deaf to the Godwinkian chime.
Oh shit, the ex-wife has just shown up.
Never mind, she’s only here to deliver the presents she got the boys and tell the Man she’s found someone she might be falling in love with, thus making it very clear she’s not here to become a plot obstacle. God damn it.
Almost Kiss just got broken up by the Woman herself. The only thing keeping these two together is some fealty to their shared sense of timing, that there’s again something fated that indicates they’re not “supposed to be” together. So this, ultimately, is the function of the Godwink, to indicate through coincidence that old adage about how to make God laugh. Godwinks kick a person out of their doomy fatalism and say: look, see, here, this is what’s right in front of you.
What does it mean for something to be Meant To Be? I think it means nothing. I think there’s zero signifying in the phrase, “It wasn’t meant to be,” and instead of signification we have only the evidence of people wanting language to fill the uneasy void of their fear. “It is what it is,” we say in similar situations. The only way Meant To Be makes sense to me if I believe two things: (1) someone (God, probably) has a plan that will decide for me what I am and am not supposed to do with every choice that comes my way, and (2) I could ever know what that plan is.
“Margie, look at me: how much more proof do you need that there’s a bigger plan for the two of you?” This is the Woman’s friend speaking (the Woman’s name is Margie), after the Godwink of driving to some big Christmas event everyone is going to and—chime!—seeing the Man there.
It’s led to our All Is Lost moment: the Man is moving to Seattle for a job. The Woman is now positing that this job in Seattle is the Godwink. These people have been given a very cruel and useless thing to guide their thinking and I hope they find peace by like, slipping over onto the set of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and getting this entire concept erased from their memories.
But then again: isn’t God a compass? Don’t I also pray for…if not signs then guidance? I could go around this question for hours, but the fact remains that this movie, simply obsessed with sudden coincidences, fails at each moment to create drama and surprise. I’m grumpy at all this Godwinking taking away from my HCM workhorses like cocoa and tree lighting ceremonies and big holiday parties and, well, we have watched a tiny bit of cookie decorating.
He has this odd thing with his underlip, but Sam Page is maybe the handsomest of the Hallmark dudes. I hate that they did this to him.
Oh wait, oh gross—this movie, we learn at the very end, is based on a real couple, the Godfreys, who look like wretched people who always put Family First in whether they decide to trust others and “are grateful for so many Godwinks that have filled their lives over the years.”
Final Grade: D.