Every year the Hallmark Channel films about twenty Christmas stories for the Holiday Season. Mind you, these are not serious dramas, but rather romantic comedies designed to lighten the heart and put viewers in the mood for Christmas. Most are utterly forgettable, involving much ado about baking Christmas cookies, making gingerbread houses, decorating the Christmas tree, and drinking lots of hot cocoa (with marshmallows). The settings, shot mostly in Canada, are decidedly middle-class towns overdressed with Christmas lights and decorations, and lots of artificial snow. The adults are cloyingly sentimental, and the children are cute, well-groomed and well mannered, acting more like adults than children.
That said, every year the Hallmark Channel manages to make one or two movies that are quite believable, with good scrips, good actors, and shot in real locations. Below are reviews of three examples:
JOLLY GOOD CHRISTMAS (2022)
This should have been entitled, "The Perfect Gift," as the quest for finding the perfect gift is the elixir that drives this delightful Christmas story. The setting is present-day London, where David Burnside, an American architect, now works for a prestigious London design firm. With Christmas three days away, David is under pressure to find the perfect gift for his new girlfriend, Charlotte, who happens to be the boss's daughter. Running out of options as well as time, David settles on buying her a gift card. It's at this point that he encounters a personal shopper, named Anji Patel, who ridicules David's gift as unimaginative. "Settling on a gift card, means you've given up," she tells him. When the two cross paths again, he hires her to help him find the perfect gift for Charlotte. Finding that gift sets them off on a fraughtful journey through the heart of London's shopping district. David is not only determined to find Charlotte the perfect Christmas gift, he's equally determined to land a large building contract for his architectural firm before Christmas Day.
After a futile and fruitless day of shopping--and having failed to keep an appointment with his firm's biggest client--David and Anji find themselves locked out of Anji's car, and utterly out of options. The pair regroups at a nearby pub. It's here where David meets the warm and winsome owners of the pub, who happen to be Anji's parents. Among Antj's family and friends, the frosty relationship between David and Anji begins to thaw, and the pair discovers they have much in common. Anji's parents approve of David, and believe he's the ideal man Anji's been seeking since college. "He's got a girlfriend,"
she tells them.
The following day, Christmas Eve, David and Charlotte admit they have nothing in common and agree to break up. Before parting, Charlotte gives David his Christmas present, that, ironically enough, turns out o be a gift card. Despite having missed a meeting with the firm's biggest client, the client still wants to meet David and hear his presentation. That night, David learns the client was impressed with him, and has awarded his firm the contract. Later that evening David surprises Anji with a gift, which is a special writing pen she has alway wanted. "I love it," she gushes. While David could not find the perfect gift for Charlotte, he confesses he had no trouble finding Anji the perfect gift. The two have learned that the perfect gift--the one that "keeps on giving"--is love. David and Angi kiss and embrace.
Shot entirely on location in London, "Jolly Good Christmas" reminds me very much of the classic Tracy-Hepburn movies of the 1940s. Suave Will Kemp as David Burnside makes the perfect stand-in for Spencer Tracy, while Reshma Shetty delivers her lines with the crisp patrician elegance of Katherine Hepburn. As with Hepburn, Shetty's magnetic performance tends to dominate the interaction between her and the reserved David Burnside, as played by Will Kemp. As with Spencer Tracy before him, it's not until the closing scene that Kemp's character emerges to take charge of his relationship with Reshma Shetty.
Side note: Will Kemp is an Englishman, who plays an American in this Hallmark movie, while Ms Shetty, who resides in New York City, plays an Englishwoman living in London. Before pursing an acting career, Mr. Kemp performed in ballet, and once danced the lead in "Swan Lake". On the other hand, Ms Shetty, began her career as an opera singer.
The producers of "Jolly Good Christmas" were excited about filming in London, and chose a number of iconic landmarks as backdrops for various scenes, including Saint Paul's Cathedral, the Big Ben clock tower (that figures prominently in the story), the River Thames, Tower Bridge, Piccadilly Circle, Saint James Park, Covent Gardens, plus interior scenes filmed inside a number of London's swankiest department stores.
THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR (2008)
Jennifer has it all--a gloriously large house in the suburbs, a high-powered job in the city, a precocious young son, and a well-to-do boyfriend named Richard, who wants to marry her. What she doesn't have is the proper Christmas spirit, and she can't cook. On top of that, her mother--whom she was counting on to make Christmas dinner--has decided to spend the Holidays in Florida. Enter free-spirited Morgan Derby, who arrives in the company of Jennifer's quirky Uncle Ralph. Morgan loves Christmas, and as a former chef knows how to make the perfect turkey dinner. The problem is Jennifer finds him obnoxious.
Obnoxious he may be, but Morgan is an upbeat problem-solver. He installs Jennifer's outdoor Christmas lights, helps her retrieve the only gift her son truly wanted for Christmas--a RocketWheel bicycle--that's being withheld by an unscrupulous shop owner, despite Jennifer having already paid for it. Morgan also buys the family a real Christmas tree to replace the fake tinsel tree that Jennifer prefers. He cheerfully helps her with last-minute grocery shopping, and, on Christmas Eve decorates the Christmas tree. He also does the prep-work for the lavish turkey dinner being planned for Christmas day.
Despite his obnoxiousness, Jennifer finds herself amused by Morgan's self-effacing humor ("I tend to grow on people," he says). Jennifer also is learning to appreciative that Morgan has become an indispensable helpmate. At the same time, Morgan's love of Christmas has rekindled Jennifer's Christmas spirit.
All the while, Jennifer's stone-faced boyfriend Richard, grows increasingly suspicious that Morgan is invading his turf as Jennifer's rightful suitor. To head him off, at a Christmas eve party, Richard asks Jennifer to marry him. Instead of being happy, Jennifer is annoyed at Richard for having proposed to her before a group of strangers. However, she reluctantly accepts.
While the two are at the party--and to convince Brian, Jennifer's doubting son, that Santa Clause really does exist--Morgan climbs up a ladder and stomps around on the snowy roof, until he slips and falls onto the ground below. In much pain, Uncle Ralph helps Morgan get back inside the house.
Having returned from the party, Richard announces to Morgan that he and Jennifer are now engaged. He then asks Morgan to leave, and as an incentive offers to pay for his room at the airport hotel. Morgan declines the hotel, but agrees to go, and writes a thank-you note to Jennifer. While Morgan is not looking, Richard steals the note and stuffs into his overcoat pocket.
Christmas morning, Jennifer is surprised to discover Moran is gone. "He didn't even have the courtesy to say goodbye," she laments. Later that day, Richard and his parents arrive expecting to partake in the family's turkey dinner. When Jennifer learns that Richard took Morgan's thank-you note, and is still annoyed with Richard's surprise wedding proposal, she returns the engagement ring, and asks Richard and his parents to leave. After they're gone, Jennifer admits to her uncle that she's fallen in love with Morgan. Encouraged by Uncle Ralph to follow her true feelings, she pursues Morgan at the airport, and brings him back home to join her family for the Christmas dinner Morgan has prepared.
Henry Winkler is delightful as the quirky uncle. Beautiful Brooks Burns is enchanting as Jennifer. Warren Christie as free-spirited Morgan is positively charming. Connor Christopher Levin, is believable as Jennifer's disheveled son. Together they breathe life into what could have been yet another dull Hallmark Christmas movie.
FIVE STAR CHRISTMAS (2020)
Widower Ted Ralston has converted his large family home into a commercial bed-and-breakfast, named The Ralston Inn. When each of his three children return home for the Christmas Holidays, they are stunned to see what has become of their beloved family home. Later, they learn their father has exceeded the building budget, and will face bankruptcy, if business does not pick up.
They learn that a famous bed-and-breakfast critic, named Bee Turner, is in the area. Thus when a woman arrives with a flat tire, they assume this must be the famous B-n-B critic. The only way to save their father's business is for Bee Turner to award The Ralson Inn a five-star rating. To give the B-n-B the appearance of being busy and successful, they decide to assume the roles of guests and staff. Later that afternoon, another guest checks in, named Jake Turner, whom Lucy, the oldest of the Ralston children, met earlier in town.
Over the course of the next two days, Lucy and Jake discover they have feelings for each other. However, the family's charade falls apart when Jake unwittingly discovers the truth. In the end, the Ralston family learns the woman they thought was Bee Turner, was, in fact, a former school teacher named Beth Thompson The real B-n-B critic turns out to be none other than Lucy's new boyfriend, Jake. The only drama in this light-hearted Christmas tale, is the number of stars Jake will award the Ralston Inn.
This spirited holiday movie, is given a decided boost by the ever-appealing Bethany Joy Lenz, as feisty Lucy Ralston. Among other veteran Hallmark actors, are Victor Webster, who makes a compelling Jake Turner; and the ever-delightful Laura Soltis, as Beth Thompson.
- END -