Another day, same pandemic, another Hallmark Christmas Movie, same HCM shit. This one is bad, I’m warning you, so bad this slapdash image Hallmark somehow put on the internet best captures the movie and N’s & my thoughts on it.
“Is this the Darlington house?”
That’s the opening line, from a delivery man coming up to a boring enormous house that brags about how much stone it can afford (not enough to look classic, just enough to look expensive). This house was built in 2012 probably, and once again we’re to understand it’s an Old Manse full of history.
There would be no HCMs without pizzicato strings, have I mentioned? When we’re not in an All Is Lost or an Almost Kiss, whatever mood is happening in an HCM requires pizzicato strings. They do what ukulele does in a Flash video on a website for an app or new gadget: signal good times. It calms the unsure spirit—How do I know I’m not going to feel intimidated / disgusted by these people? You know because there’s music playing of people plucking strings at almost-random intervals. It’s percussive, so it feels like we’re moving somewhere at a nice clip, but melodically percussive, so we’re not being hit too hard.
All right, here’s a Black man, a South Asian man, and a White man at a ski resort giving each other the business. We know nothing about them, but I’ve been given everything the HCU needs me to know about them. At least, I know who is going to be the Man and which two won’t have personalities (or appear after this scene). This Man is a less dynamic Dax Shepard. His henley has like 7 buttons. No 8! Jesus, get a grip. His brother is the Woman’s crazy wealthy chairman-of-the-board boss to whom she’s “E.A.” (which I’m not bothering to spell out if she can’t be bothered to spell out), and the premise here is that some Nieces and Nephews are arriving from somewhere (abroad?) for the holidays and the Man has to help the Woman take care of them for a weekend before the Woman (my god I’m tired) escorts them to a boarding school somewhere called Paden Academy.
Paden. Genuinely shocked I haven’t seen a post-millennial child named Paden.
Yes okay so both brothers are the guardians of this Niece and Nephew (still unsure how many kids we’re getting), but whoever died to make them guardians hasn’t been spelled out. And wait also so the Woman hasn’t been assigned to do any of this. She’s volunteered to watch “all three of them” over their holiday break while she takes two weeks off work. And then the Man is going to help her out, for unclear reasons. So we’re about 15 minutes in and we have the most convoluted way I’ve seen for a HCM to get its Woman and Man together. These two already know each other. They “work for the same company.”
If your biggest romantic fantasy is to let volunteering your vacation time to the care of three rich siblings lead you to husband/fellow-parent material with your boss’s brother, have I got a movie for you.
The Woman is an orphan, folks keep hinting at, so she’s familiar with having Xmases alone. Her friend, a surgeon, is a lesbian, who is in love with the gal who runs the café in town, but too shy to say anything to her. Immediately I want to spend all our screen time watching shy surgeon try to figure out how to woo the cute coffee shop gal, but instead here’s Uncle Max and the Woman playing nuclear family with Emma, Abby, and um … J. Henry. That’s the nephew. Jay Henry? They’re rich, so it’s likely J. God, this has me pining for Owen-Noah.
Already bored as hell by this one. Everyone is uselessly wealthy and the pizzicato won’t stop. What Christmas with the Darlings is hoping from us is that we’ll be heartstruck by the plight of these three kids who “don’t have a stable home,” but they’re named the fucking Darlings, and they get to go to boarding school (I would have choked two cats to death as a kid to get to go to boarding school, I’m not kidding), and their two guardians run the kind of company that flies its CEO to Lisbon for business. Kill your darlings, they say in MFALand, and it’s advice I’m only now wanting to heed.
A dream would be for this movie to fix itself around the Woman and her gay friend. Because the Man and Woman just took the kids on a sleigh ride, which is Necessary for any good HCM, and the Woman explained her parents divorced when she was young and her mom died when she was in high school. “So you’re like us,” the kids said. “And you too, Uncle Max,” leaving us with a set of unrelated people who are very clearly going to make a family together.
What if instead they got parented by two women uninterested in each other romantically? If people (or cable networks) want to put Family First I’d get behind them if they were genuinely interested in the many formulations by which U.S. humans make their families, but they never are, no matter how fascinating or heartwarming these new-family stories are. Chosen families and blended families are to Family Firsters always these tarnishes on the ever-beloved boring nuclear family.
Which—given what’s been going on this last week with PornHub—I want to point out is equally part of the problem [PDF] with child sexual abuse. If you really want to stop kids from getting molested, leave porn alone and ban fathers, grandfathers, uncles, stepdads, and moms’ boyfriends.
Wait. The family’s name is Darlington. So the titular “Darlings” must refer to the kids’ whole mien, not their actual names. Gross. These fucking people.
Hey wow! First product placement I’ve noticed all year. The Man just made soup on the stovetop, and right there with the label facing the camera perfectly was the can. I’m not saying which soup company it was. I’m not a sellout. I mean, how else will you trust the integrity of these, my weakest takes?
Last year, or maybe two years ago?, it was Folgers coffee. Not a single family in the HCU made coffee at home without standing very close to a perfectly aimed plastic canister of Folgers. Also, did you know that last year every Lifetime Christmas Movie had some mention of Winter Storm Meghan? (Thus actually firmly creating a cinematic universe.) Meghan. I feel like some gal must have won a contest.
Also, also, my friend David asked me today if I’d seen the other gay Xmas movie, with Andie MacDowell, and it turns out he was talking about Dashing in December, on the new Paramount Network. (Is anyone subscribing to this?)
Wyatt heads home for the holidays to convince his mom to sell the family’s ranch, but with help from Heath the ranch hand, Wyatt gains a fresh perspective about life and love.
The first gay story I ever wrote named the sexy boyfriend Heath, so I’m eager to see what his fresh perspective looks like. We’ll be watching it soon, thanks to my parents’ YouTube TV subscription. But what’s going on with the Darlingtontons? No idea. The Man is lying in a large bed inside an enormous room and one of the Nieces has brought him The Wizard of Oz to read, so now I’m imagining all the scary and difficult shit that befalls Dorothy and wishing any of the HCU writers might have tried watching it for ideas.
The news tells me that New York might get a foot and a half of snow tomorrow, and my heart breaks in utter jealousy. Those lucky bitches. And now the Darlingtons are romping in the snow, building what look like pretty great snowmen (expensive scarves, actual coal, enormous black buttons), and I’m reminded of another reason I love HCMs—the snow. California is wonderful, the best place I’ve lived in lots of ways, but it never snows here (well, not in these parts) and that makes it a shithole for 3 months of the year when all I want is snow.
Again, we should be in South Dakota right now, where it snows. I was lucky enough to be in Maine back in November 2019, but I don’t really know when I’ll see snow again. Except I do know: it’ll be the next outdoor scene of this HCM. This movie is awful, everyone in it is unwatchable, but they keep doing Christmasy stuff in the snow, so I won’t turn away.
Snow is magic. We’re so lucky the world dumps that stuff on us for just a tiny portion of the year. I know it’s cold and wet, and it’s such a pain to shovel out a car or scrape a windshield or shovel a whole driveway, but nothing worthwhile is won easily.
There’s a passed-hors-d’oeuvres party happening at Darlington House right now, and a man who’s important for business reasons has shown up and said, “I didn’t know the Darlington Corporation was a family-run company,” while standing between two brothers named Darlington.
The girl who plays one of the Nieces acts and delivers her lines exactly like Laura Parsons, and now I’m wishing someone would do a genuinely funny HCM and cast Vanessa Bayer in the role of the needy Daughter-Niece. Now I’m reading online interviews with Vanessa Bayer. God, I miss her being on SNL. Did you see her on that episode of What We Do in the Shadows? She’s so good. This movie has fully lost me. Was there an Almost Kiss? The lesbian friend has been given a successful love match, but it’s not enough. I’ll watch to the end, but I’m probably done here.
Final Grade: F
- Sure, I understand that videos of child sexual abuse make it online (but I know they’re not half as easy to find as anti-porn activists like to pretend), but wiping out half the videos of sex workers on PornHub isn’t the way to stop kids from being abused. Instead, it’s like wanting to pave California to stop all these wildfires. If you’d been raised in a culture that continually shamed you for loving trees and wilderness, you’d pretty easily join the call the tear them all down, rather than consider what’s really causing this epidemic.↵