This was a very cute movie starring the talented Alicia Witt playing a down on her luck single mom who is “magicked” into being the store Santa Claus by an angel disguised as a visiting corporate bigwig. Nicki is perfect for the role even though no one knows she is a woman in her Santa suit and stuffing. The kids and parents love her because she seems to know exactly what they need for Christmas as well as being just a warm nurturing person. Store sales boom. She attracts the attention of a department manager who thinks she is just a regular store employee. They are attracted to each other right away, but Nicki is reluctant to tell him she is his Store Santa Claus. The lie becomes a source of tension and suspense.
Wallace Shawn is simply wonderful as the Angel who guides Nicki and thwarts Fiona, who plays the jealous villainess, at every turn. Gabrielle Miller is funny as always playing officious humorless snob. She suspects something is strange about the new store Santa and isn’t too fond of Nicki either. She is determined to get her fired and away from the guy she has been flirting with and starts investigating the too good to be true Santa. When she starts to make the connection we know she will stop at nothing even though the store owner is thrilled with Santa and his popularity. We never really fear for Nicki, because, after all, God is on her side. So we just sit back and enjoy Fiona’s machinations knowing her comeuppance is on the way.
The only fly in the ointment is Gabriel Hogan who plays the love interest. I found him bland and uninteresting without a noticeable spark with the inimitable Ms Witt. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie starring her that I did not like.
I’ve have become an Alicia Witt fan since re-viewing two of her excellent early movies. Even these later ones take advantage of her charm and great acting without quite reaching the classic status. This one, though, was really great and her talents pushed this above the Hoi Polloi of the usual Christmas movie fare. This one sends our heroine to a romantic writers conference and competition after her long-time boyfriend dumps her in a shall we say over abundance of ego that she is not the serious writer that he is. It features some authentic insights into the travails of unpublished romance writers. Her chemistry with both her new found friend, Samantha, and her love interest was tops. I usually don’t like traditionally handsome heroes (boring). But this guy had it going on. It should be said that that the producers hit a gold mind with the idea of setting this in a romance writers conference. Great premise, good writing and great acting push this one over the top.
My rating for this one when I saw it 5 years ago was a 7. I’m bumping it up because I have come to appreciate Alicia Witt’s talent when compared to the current crop of Hallmark favorite actresses. Most are not bad, but very few have Alicia’s acting skills or comic talents. I found her very funny in this role, and the plot steps out of the current cookie cutter lines that Hallmark has fallen into in recent years. Alicia plays a woman who has gotten used to telling people what they want to hear, making promises she doesn’t keep, and telling little white lies to make her life easier and to avoid conflict. After one too many broken promises, Her little niece makes a wish to Santa for her Aunt of be incapable of lying. Yes, it owes much to Jim Carrey’s Liar, Liar. But this plot is comic gold, and Alicia makes the most of it. Special kudos to Mia Bagley who played the young niece. She was absolutely adorable. And it was great to see Brigid Brannagh again as Alicia’s sister. One quibble: I hate it when either the hero or the heroine gives up the career opportunity of a life time to stay with the love interest. So instead of the guy going to be the musical director at NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY at twice the salary, he is going to stay with the high school? That is not going to end well.