A Holiday Spectacular

To Keep it Light, skip my last paragraph.

Visually, this was a treat. I loved the vintage costumes and set decorations. The Rockettes and their costumes were fabulous. I loved seeing Ann-Margret in the role of a grandmother in the present day telling her granddaughter the story of her past and how she got to be a famous Rockette.  And seeing an Un-rec-og-nize-able (at first) Eve Plumb as the mother of the love interest was great casting as well. I know seeing Eve Plumb along with Ann-Margret’s names in the promos was definitely an incentive for me to watch this one. The rest of the cast have their backgrounds in the theatre or otherwise have very few TV/Movie credits to their name. Also something I liked. Ginna Claire Mason as the lead, Maggie, was particularly appealing. Although her hairdo was very distracting; I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on there. It looked like a wig, but why?

Margaret (the young Ann-Margret) is from old-money Philadelphia society and is engaged to be married to the scion of another prominent family. It is the 1950s and it is an arranged marriage of convenience. However, Maggie loves to dance and she escapes to New York to try out for Rockettes keeping it a secret from everyone. She is hired but plans to only stay until one Christmas and then go back to her real life. While learning how to survive in the boarding house the girls stay in (no doorman to carry up her bags! Sharing a bathroom! Going out of doors in pants! Running out of hot water!) she also meets a young grocer on some kind of leave from the Navy with aspirations to be a photojournalist. She soon realizes she is living her authentic life in New York and is only now the person she was meant to be. Now it’s just a matter of getting up the courage to tell everyone the truth. Including the young grocer/navy man she has fallen in love with and who doesn’t know her family is wealthy and aristocratic or that she is engaged to be married. Meanwhile, she doesn’t hesitate to advise him to tell his parents the truth about wanting to go to college and not carry on with the family business. Of course, we get to know her 4 main roomies and their troubles as well. The ever-present anticipation of the fit hitting the shan when she finally does come clean with her new love, her fiance, and her family, keeps interest pretty high. It takes her way too long, but when she finally does, it’s worth the wait. There are some off-kilter reactions that don’t make sense by more than one involved party but only serve to advance the plot. Not unusual. And returning to the framing device of the grandmother and her granddaughter ends the story neatly.

It is a story of following one’s dreams, standing on one’s own feet, and the power of friendship. It is not the story of what life was really like in the 1950s for non-white people in New York City. In a right-minded effort to correct their past lack of diversity in their movies, I feel, with this one, Hallmark has done a disservice to their viewership and to the truth of the African American experience. It shows an integrated dance troupe with a black dancer who is even promoted over the other girls at the end. In truth, the Rockettes did not have even one non-white dancer until 1985. And she was Japanese. It wasn’t until 1987 that a black dancer was famously accepted. As much as I appreciate Hallmark’s efforts at inclusion, falsifying history is just wrong and harmful. And I don’t think you can just gloss over this situation by glibly proclaiming “It’s the Hallmark Channel, not the History Channel!!!!!”. There’s a quote about being doomed to repeat history that might apply here. Not to belabor a point, but something similar happened in 2016’s A Journey Back to Christmas. In that one, a nurse fresh from segregated 1945 is transported to 2016 and is questioned by a black doctor and interrogated by a black Chief of Police. No incredulity, nor even a blink on her part. What a lost opportunity for a short but dramatic (or comedic!) history lesson! And it would have taken all of 10 seconds and a line or two. Not sure how I would have fixed this one, but even an expository paragraph at the beginning or end about the truth of the matter would have gone a long way toward remedying the problem while still giving a talented black actress a job.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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