Yesterday I was on the phone with a new contact in the Bay Area literary world about a sponsorship the MFA Program I direct is involved with, and after she opened the conversation asking how I was I gave what’s become my standard answer: “Oh, the same. Same as yesterday and the day before that and the day…” She laughed and said, “You know I read your blog today just to find out who you were, so I suppose I should expect a funny answer.” I was happy, I think, to be so on-brand, but I was also reminded, suddenly, of how front-facing (as they say around these parts) this blog is. Anyway kids, if you’re worried whether anyone will take you seriously if you publish for the world your first-draft thoughts on Hallmark Movies and sexual ignorance in the U.S., I am here to tell you no. No, of course they won’t, but that won’t necessarily preclude you from getting a professional job that treats you like a professional.
Okay so not only is this an Angela Lansbury reference (missing a comma tho; just as Jeopardy! fans know about that exclamation point, we Murder, She Wrote fans know from commas), but it stars Danica McKellar, who is probably the only Hallmark Woman who has co-authored a mathematics paper, on statistical mechanics, with a title I can’t even type because it’s got a script Z (for the set of all integers) I don’t know how to do. Plus also she’s written a handful of books that encourage young girls to get excited by math. I love Danica McKellar. I’m more excited about this HCM than any other, save for the inevitable Candace Cameron Bure one I haven’t seen yet.
Danica’s Woman is a columnist, at a print (!) newspaper, who used to be a therapist, and she lives in New York City, and I’m waiting for a story conflict to kick her to a small Vermont town but nothing so far. So far it’s just this office party in what might be a hotel bar, and the Woman keeps bumping into a Man who might be a ghost, because he disappears quickly after she looks away and nobody else at the party can see him. If it’s a ghost…well, I don’t want to have to think about what I’ll do.
Okay he’s not a ghost, the Man, he’s the new editor in chief. He has the face of a sphinx, if Skeletor was a sphinx, and his name is Tripp Window? He’s too old for the Woman, and because he needs to make cuts at the paper he’s ending her column. The news is so sad she’s bailing on Aspen with her gay friend at the paper, and now she’s at home typing a column in voiceover a la Carrie Bradshaw in an inexplicably large all-brick apartment that would make Monica and Rachel gawk. Yes.
Yes! Please let me keep indulging in this fantasy. After a year of sitting in our apartment I would pay money to watch Danica McKellar decorate a dubiously large NYC apartment for Christmas while through the windows snow falls. Please don’t disappear her to a small town, where basically nobody in America actually lives.
Oh wait never mind. She just called her sister and said she’s coming home for Christmas. Home is of course another tiny town. Goodbye New York Christmas. Hello Pineberry, California.
You can start up your therapy practice again, the sister is suggesting. “I love writing too much,” says the Woman. Good for her. They’ve given the sister Bakery-Owner and Widow functions and attached the Teen Daughter plug-in. I haven’t seen a single man in the movie other than the gay friend and Tripp Window, who is still in New York and now tasked with rehiring the Woman after her final column created angry readers missing her, so yes Mr. Sphinx is really going to be the Man.
The Boss-Boyfriend, that’s what we’re heading for. He’s personally flying to California because the Woman won’t answer his calls. He won’t leave town until she agrees to come back to the paper. They are competitive these two. Is this fun? It is yes, I’ve decided. There’s an extreme pleasure in watching two people who loathe each other move through that loathing toward romance and sexual desire—well sexual desire is compatible with loathing of course. I hope they hate each other well into Act III. Or Act 6? I read somewhere that HCMs have 9 acts, one of which is Almost Kiss. So another feather in the cap of Hallmark is how, without being big braggarts about it, they’ve found a dramatic structure that doesn’t worry about making Aristotle happy.
Another part of the pleasure of keeping the Man and Woman hating each other is that it gives us as long a fantasy as possible of the Woman possibly, maybe, if only, going her own way. ‘Cause see, now the Woman is working on a column for the Pineberry newspaper, and she’s got family here, and so maybe she doesn’t need anybody but her own strength and courage to make a great change.
Wait shut up it’s snowing.
If you watch Home Alone after a bunch of HCMs, as we did last night, the fake snow on the ground of Kevin’s street is gaudy, it’s an embarrassment: glassy and pebbled. The fakey-est of fake. Before Hallmark became really what it is now, the fake snow they used was another embarrassment, like cotton batting laid on top of grass. The snow they’ve got now is just like, oh it’s gorgeous snow. It’s the greatest snow, this snow, chunky like cotton balls but floating down past the actors’ faces in a way that almost defies physics. It flutters like the snow in those high-end snowglobes you’d like to have just one of on your mantle but can’t talk yourself into dropping that much on during a vacation—and how are you going to fly it home without it breaking? That snow. You hear it crunch under their boots while they walk around the tree lot set up on a corner of the town’s decked-out main street.
The not-so secret of HCMs: they don’t have to say or be anything. They just have to stand where it looks nicer to be than where I am right now.
The Man is originally from San Francisco. (The U.S. West is showing up in the HCU this year.) He’s “not good at that whole work-life balance thing,” which makes sense given that he’s the editor-in-chief of a New York City daily and has decided it’s no big deal for him to stay in this small town, sipping coffee at the Widow Sister’s café, staying up all night reading the Woman’s past columns to better understand her. No, there’s no pressing work needing him back at New York, why would there be?
The Woman has confessed that she’s working on an autobiographical romance novel that she hasn’t found the ending to yet. This, I think, is the Christmas she’s written, titularly.
The retirement home in this town of Pineberry, California, is called “The Pineberry”, which wouldn’t have the same effect in another town, like Boise, say. “We’re staying at the Boise.” The Internet tells me that pineberries are white strawberries with red seeds. See?
They were discovered, pineberries, in 2002, so this must be a very new town. Now the Woman has run into what has to be an ex, given how awkward this is between them. He’s a beefy doctor who wears a tie and has the best ass I’ve seen on the Hallmark Channel. He has sad eyes and his hair is just starting—just a touch, just like an angel’s whisper’s worth—to go grey, and it’s infuriating that he’s not going to get to be the Man.
Let’s talk about the chemistry between the Woman and chosen Man: they make the kinds of jokes I hate watching people pretend to enjoy, lines like “Thanks for the ride … but I’m only going to give you 4 stars because there was no phone charger!” or “My cooking comes with a warning label: Eat At Your Own Risk!” Etc. Then in a heartbeat one of them Gets Real, and soon they’re re-establishing boundaries and remembering that they’re boss-employee. I don’t buy it, and I don’t want it to happen. I don’t want the Woman to fall for her new boss who has too little going on in his life.
God, Danica McKellar is pretty. Her face is a campfire or some other object I just want to stare into and watch the shifting facets of.
Jesus, everyone’s here. The gay friend has just shown up in Pineberry, right at the exact moment that we’ve learned that the Man cut his job, too. So this is the All Is Lost moment, even though the Man and Woman aren’t yet close to kissing, nor is the Woman ready to say yes to getting her job back. Now the Woman has decided with the gay friend to host a cocktail Christmas event they have one day to plan—why are they doing this?—and the only venue they could find is owned by the boyfriend of the impossibly sexy Ex, who is moving back to Pineberry to practice medicine there.
The bar owner is hitting on the gay friend, so here’s another marginal gay romance. Why don’t I hate it? Well, I’m fully invested in this Danica McKellar Is A Writer story. But also because this is evolving, this new romance, in ways that feel as real as things get in the HCU—this is the first time the gay friend and Ben, the bar owner, have seen each other since high school, and Ben was clearly not out in high school, and it’s too weird to come out and say “Hi, I’m gay now too and want to engage with you romantically,” so their banter, the gays’, is, sure, goofy, but it feels honest and, and it feels like a development to the gay friend character’s arc, and it’s not being played for attention or headlines. Good for Hallmark.
And now the Woman’s got two men vying for her attention at this cocktail thing: the Man and the Ex. Good for Danica.
But is this movie coming together? The Man, in reading through the Woman’s old columns, has reminded her of her early spirit and passion when she first started that job, and this has given her the inspiration to finish her romance novel, and from this, she has let her gratitude lead her to fondness and possibly even lovingness. She’s falling for the boss, who is leaving town tomorrow. “Apparently, the mountain air has gotten to me,” he just said. “And, um, so have you.”
Pretty good line. Still don’t want them to end up together though, and ultimately this is what’s making Christmas She Wrote the standout HCM it is: it’s got me emotionally wanting some specific future for the Woman—one I’m sure I’m not going to get—but normally I just sit back and grumpily watch while the Woman achieves the dull trajectory they’ve fully forecasted in the third scene.
Oh shit. Oh shit! The Woman gave a printout of her novel (which she finished the first draft of yesterday) to the Man, who read it in full in one night and sent it to his contacts in the publishing biz, and even though they want to publish it (it’s that easy, kids! every published writer publishes their first drafts because that’s how talented they are), she feels so betrayed that we’re at one hell of an All Is Lost moment. (Another one!) Because what this movie’s cleverly done in setting up the Terrible Idea of Boss-Boyfriend is duplicate the “All” of All Is Lost—they cannot be lovers, and the Woman cannot return to the job she left.
The way out of All Is Lost, though, is quick and easy: the Woman has learned that the Man quit his job the next morning. And he left a message with the innkeeper that the Woman is “pretty special,” I think the phrase was. So in less than 12 hours he’s shown himself to be (a) a man of integrity not scheming and untrustworthiness, and (b) a total sweetheart sweetie to love forever.
Fine. Fine. The Ex, the Woman has clarified to him, is the kind of guy who needs adventure and won’t be happy with a 9–5 in Pineberry. And sure enough he was awarded a grant to go be a doctor abroad. “You’re an incredible woman, Kayleigh,” he said, and left the room and her life forever. Damn it. But also, good for the Woman. I wish she’d have a similar insight about the Man, but no, here he is in a navy suit that’s looking purple in this lighting or maybe it’s our new 4K TV did I mention? What event is this where they’re all coming to a fore with their plotlines? It’s not quite the town’s big Xmas party, but everyone is in suits and dresses.
Okay wait. There’s still a chance these two won’t get together, but will part ways with mutual respect for each other. He’s taking a new job in San Francisco, so…. Please please please. Don’t kiss…?
Final Grade: A-