The Christmas Bow Live Blog

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.

Look, I just did one of these last night (we’ve got at least 7 more to watch), so I’m going to keep this one short. And probably boring. Already after just 10 minutes The Christmas Bow is impressing the hate out of me. It stars a Korean-American woman I like a lot because she has a total lack of cloyingness when she talks to the Nephew of the Man and also because IRL the actor debuted as a violin soloist with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra at age 5, and no instrument is better in every setting than the violin.

The Woman, then, is a violinist in this movie, too, but get this, she also runs a music shop, with her father, in Boulder. If you, too, are remembering a movie about a father-daughter music shop in Denver, join me in wondering how much the Colorado Tourism Board paid Hallmark to get its official Xmas state changed from Vermont. The Woman auditioned earlier for the Rocky Mountain Philharmonic. Plus one of the Women from an earlier movie was a professional pianist. And I think there’s another I Want To Go Be Famous In Nashville movies coming up to watch, a movie my sister couldn’t finish and I imagine we’ll have a hard time of it as well. So, Hallmark’s cure for 2020 = music performance.

Now she’s singing with a duo in the Boulder Christmas Market, and she’s not a soprano? I’m liking her more and more.

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The Man’s mom has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease that has recently required her to use a wheelchair (oh and how the Man is with the Woman is that he’s her physical therapist after some white cellist slammed the Woman’s fingers in a doorjamb at an audition). Plus, the Woman parents are of two races, as are her grandparents.

Bitch all you (and I) want about Hallmark’s innate conservatism, and for sure the unproblematized acknowledgement that differently abled bodies exist and that mixed-race couples exist shouldn’t be a progressive political position, but it is, particularly in 2020. I know: representation matters also because of how it turns into $$$ for large corporations gunning for mass appeal, but even through my cynicism I can see how more stories about more of us can only help usher in a better future.

No, it doesn’t help that none of these white Boulderians are asking the Woman, even warmly, things like, What’s your ethnic background?, or other such microaggressions white folks still see as reasons to be offended for its own sake. Marginalized folks are allowed inside the Hallmark Cinematic Universe, but their experience is never any different from anybody else’s. Denial isn’t exactly engagement, but—

Oh shit! I almost missed the Almost Kiss interrupted by the proud and needy Nephew! It happened on a Christmas Train!

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The only things you need to know about the Man is that he’s a momma’s boy, he’s hoping to hear soon from “Hands and Hearts Abroad” which is the HCU’s answer to Doctors Without Borders, and he looks pretty good walking away in a pair of jeans.

Now, in a flashback, we’re watching the Woman’s demented grandmother, just a few years before her death, come alive once the Woman starts playing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” in tears next to her on the sofa. She’s singing along, the grandmom, and smiling. There’s something very satisfying about how this movie’s writers understand how basic but real the everyday challenges of being alive in this world are, and the wide varieties of what families look like and with what they can struggle.

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One neat thing about this movie is how disinterested it’s been so far in Boulder. Sure, she sang at their Xmas market, but the town isn’t figuring much as a place. The focus is on the families. But what results is a lack of Hallmark Town Events, like a gingerbread contest (which formed the middle of nearly every movie last year) or a tree lighting ceremony. The Woman’s granddad has suggested they rekindle the music store’s annual Xmas party, so we’ve got our big party, but—

Oh shit! The Nephew just asked the Woman is she was going to the gingerbread house-making party at the Man’s house. Okay damn, this movie is like Tracy Flick in all its overachieving. They’re really using that Nephew to toss out all the curveballs.

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The All Is Lost moment has come when the Man tells the Woman he got the Doctors without Borders job, and the Woman is unsure whether her fingers are fully healed to play for the Xmas party, and also now thinks that the specialness between them she’s been feeling isn’t being felt by the Man, whereas it’s actually the case that the Man assumes that since the Woman’s fingers are healed she’s going to leave town to continue touring as she used to, and so is taking the job because he has nothing else holding him in Boulder. Standard O Henry stuff. Probably the Man is going to have to bear his heart and she’s going to get the Rocky Mountain Philharmonic job. Let’s wait and see….

Yup!

And for the record, I’m sad that I noticed this too. From IMDB:

Final grade: A

Christmas Tree Lane Live Blog

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

On the 12th Date of Christmas Live Blog

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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-.

Cranberry Christmas Live Blog

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.

Cranberry Christmas is about a couple with a well known lifestyle company called Cranberry Lane, who just happen, at this Xmas season, to be probably on the outs with each other. The Woman isn’t living in their home on the farm anymore, she’s living with her sister (and requisite niece character). The Man is focusing on the farm work—it’s a cranberry farm in Maine—while the Woman does things like make an appearance on an Oprah-type show to promote the brand.

Already this one has some disasters and delights. The disaster is the actor who plays the Man, who appears in one Hallmark Xmas movie each year, and who looks like a sickly Zach Quinto with an ass like an empty bag. What we’ve found this year is that Hallmark seems totally disinterested in casting real handsomes, or perhaps the subhandsomes are all saved for the movies they air in October and early November, before anyone but us real Xmas sickos are tuning in. The Men in the movies thus far have had greasy hair hanging down the napes of their necks, or nothingy shoulders. One was so unpleasant just to look at that N & I kept making audible groans whenever they cut to him.

I see how this sounds. I recognize I’m just as much an uggo as anyone. My point only is that if Hallmark doesn’t need to find actors who can surprise through their acting talents, they might as well spend time and money seeking out actors with faces and asses I’d like to imagine my own face and ass in combinations with. But I get I’m not the target audience. I get the target audience has a taste in men that’s perfectly valid but which I find suspect.

The delight is this movie’s singular premise: every Hallmark Xmas movie involves a too-busy-for-dates woman needing to run off to a small town for job reasons and finding there a simple man who seems at first like A Real Pain but ultimately becomes not just dateworthy, but Drop Everything In Your Old Busy Life And Move In With The Guy–worthy. Here the Woman is already with the Man. Cranberry Christmas is about the power of the holidays to heal old wounds.

“I’m leaving the company,” the Man just said to the Woman before the first commercial break. Now he’s talking to his dad about it while they play, in dun-colored barn jackets, at fixing an ancient tractor. There’s a farce-y quality to this movie, in that the Oprah-type has invited herself to the farm during their town’s big holiday festival, and the Woman and Man need to keep up appearances that they’re still together. For PR purposes.

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Another delight: this nihilistic niece. The Woman is doing the scene we always need where she bakes gingerbread in a vast white kitchen, and she asks the niece who Is Helping, “Want to know the secret to making perfect gingerbread?”

“No, thank you,” the niece says. This gets a shocked gaping eyeball face on the Woman, who asks why not. “Because nothing’s perfect,” she says. She’s my hero.

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This white lady just said “Yaaaaaas” in response to an idea the Man had about what seems for now to be the next stage of his career, without her. She’s being a good spirit, the Woman, even though we know she’s crushed and worried about running a lifestyle brand on her own. It’s a reminder of the troubles with new slang. It’s fun, new slang! It’s a relief to have new things to say after language has gotten stale, and it’s something any non-utilitarian language does in time: get stale. So it’s also tiring, new slang. That window of “new” shuts so quickly, and then the rest of us are left listening to old slang get delivered with all the same enthusiasm we’ve long lost. New slang that’s old slang makes everyone just embarrassed.

Speaking of, the Man just cried on the sofa under an afghan watching an Xmas movie.

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The Oprah-type has offered the Woman her own TV show, making the pending professional and personal breakup less bittersweet, for her, and more tense for those of us who don’t really care whether these two stay together but know we’re meant to want this for the sake of drama. Because: maybe they’ll really split up at the end. Wouldn’t that be something? For a Hallmark movie to present the Woman at the end of her movie with personal happiness going at her life and work alone would be revolutionary. We’ve ousted the fascist in the White House: maybe this will be our reward?

Oh wait, the Oprah-type just confessed that she was always too busy for marriage, and now she’s alone with regrets, so no fucking way will the Woman not get back with the Man in the next 24 minutes.

Every Hallmark movie has to end just seconds after The First Kiss between the Man and the Woman. Turns out this time it’ll be The First Kiss After A While Of Not Wanting To Kiss.

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Holy shit they just kissed by the fire under plaid blankets! This is the part of the movie where we’re supposed to get The Almost Kiss—it’s usually broken up right before impact by a proud and needy child. That the Man and Woman are already married has really tossed all the Hallmark conventions out the window. Will we even have an All Is Lost mixup?

The Oprah-type just called a man on her phone, so we’ve got a B-plot love connection coming up as well.

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So far, the Hallmark Cinematic Universe cannot abide a global pandemic, and so in turn here’s Cranberry Christmas‘s big festival party in a barn with a long table full of delicious looking cookies and treats that everyone is just walking up to and taking with their hands. Every romantic comedy is an exercise in masochism. We watch and try to derive pleasure from it while (or chiefly through) forgetting that our lives and relationships aren’t half this easy and fulfilling. But all this masklessness and Xmas-As-Usual partying seems especially cruel this year. Any Hallmark movie that even acknowledges the life we’re all suffering through will be my instant favorite.

Okay: the Man is now angry that the Woman didn’t tell him about the Oprah-type’s TV show offer, which turns out was meant for them both but which the Woman has been trying to figure out how to do on her own. Now they’re fighting about whether it can work, and we’ve got our We Want Different Things breakup moment. Oh shit and the Oprah-type totally heard them arguing! It’s all over.

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I’ll get into the richness of the All Is Lost moment in another post. It’s fascinating to think about, the necessity of it. It’s probably ancient. It’s probably in Aristotle somewhere.

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Typically, the Dad of the Man is the handsomest handsome in the movie. This one has a Sir Ian Holm In The Shire vibe I’m into.

Now the Man just gave the Woman a ring he designed himself. Jewelry has been huge in Hallmark movies this year. The Woman’s mom has started making her own jewelry, and at least 3 of the movies we’ve watched so far have featured closeups of things like gold snowflake pendants that I’d bet dollars to donuts are currently for sale at any Hallmark store in the country that are still allowed to be open.

Okay here it is: the Man just got on his knees in tears after saying “You’re my best friend” to the Woman and has asked “Will you continue to marry me?” And then the proud child ran out to the porch to announce dinner’s ready, thus breaking up the Almost Kiss!

Wow. This movie’s throwing me for loops like a carnival ride and I don’t want to get off.

Final grade: A.