Danica Mckellar plays Christina, a department store manager extraordinaire. She is loyal, hardworking, tough yet popular with the staff, and #1 in sales. Victoria is the owner of the chain who is making the rounds of the locations and announcing that she is taking the chain international and will open a branch of McDougal’s in Paris. In addition to being the best store manager on the face of the earth, Christina’s dream has always been to return to Paris where she once lived. She even speaks fluent French. So you would think she was a lock, for the Paris transfer, right? Wrong. Despite all of Christina’s overwhelming qualifications, Victoria announces that the store manager who creates the best Christmas display will get the job! Whether they want it or not, I guess. Somewhat paradoxically, she is also worried about ambitious Christina’s work/life balance because she doesn’t have fun or a family. She is too busy working her fingers to the bone for McDougal’s department store! Luckily, that part is being taken care of, because she is falling for a divorced single father who used to work for McDougal’s before Christina fired him for spilling white paint on her black dress. Unfortunately, Christina is drawing a blank as to what to do for a boffo Christmas display, even after re-hiring the single dad who is also an artist. And Victoria is really turning the screws on her. The woman is a nightmare.
Danica McKellar does her usual thing, which is not always a plus. The child is whiny and spoiled. The actor has a strong resume, so, as usual with unintentionally annoying child performances, I blame the director. David Haydn-Jones is a non-entity as the love interest, and Deirdre Hall is mean and foolish in treating her excellent manager so harshly and unreasonably (“I expect this window display to be the best window display in the history of time and the universe!” or words to that effect.) She gets her comeuppance for not just doing the smart thing and offering the job to Danica right off the bat. Because by the time she finally stops toying with her and offers her the job (as long as she can pick up and move halfway across the world within 24 hours and on Christmas Eve) Danica has learned the true meaning of Christmas and wants to stay home and be a wife to the struggling artist and a Mommy to his son.
I approached this one with a lot of misgiving. I mean, a story based on a country song? By Scotty McCreery? But to my surprise, it was pretty good. Nikki Deloach, who is good as always, is a dedicated Art teacher who is losing her job and is having doubts about her relationship with her boyfriend. She wishes she could have just five more minutes with her beloved late Grandpa who always gave her great advice.
When she goes home to celebrate Christmas(?) Thanksgiving (?) I don’t remember, she finds a journal written by Grandpa when he was a young man detailing his first lost love. She gets together with an old ex-boyfriend, and they decide to try to find her. Or was that another movie, Christmas Together with You? They’re already starting to run together a bit. At the same time, a young man shows up for a job at her store because he said her grandpa was going to hire him. He turns out to be a wonder and is the best employee ever. It’s pretty clear from the get-go that something spooky is going on. There are lots of clues, which I’ll keep to myself.
Sherry Miller plays Bonnie, Clara’s mom, who lost her husband about a year ago. She looks great. I always think of the actress with fondness because she was in one of my favorite TV romcoms, This Matter of Marriage, back in the late ‘90s when she was a young whippersnapper. Highly recommend. She has her own romance along with her daughter finding love with her ex, Logan, and dumping her current beau. I liked that Bonnie did not approve of the ex, who behaved badly dumping Clara when they were teens, and kept giving him the stink-eye. She came around though.
There were a couple of things I did not like. Despite both Clara and Logan being established as Hallmark paragons of niceness, they both behaved badly. Logan kept putting the moves on Clara even after she said she had a boyfriend. And Clara totally dumped Logan and canceled an invitation for the family-less guy to spend Thanksgiving (?) Christmas (?) with her family just because he was called back to active duty. This was really low behavior and hardly patriotic or compassionate. Also contrary to the Hallmark ethos. The third thing I didn’t like was the under-use of Leanne Lapp who played Clara’s sister and a favorite of mine.
There is one scene in this movie that makes it worth watching despite its problems. Or better yet, when it comes up again on TV, fast forward to around the last 45 minutes.
Two elementary school teachers have been engaged in a rivalry since childhood when one horned in on the other’s song solo. From then on, whatever one does, the other one has to better it. Each cannot stand the other to be in the spotlight. It’s fairly harmless until a handsome widower with a daughter comes to town. The story is mostly told through Erin Krakow’s character, so we know that she is the one we are supposed to root for with the actress’s trademark sweet, gentle, and sincere demeanor. Despite her questionable behavior throughout, we know she is a good person at heart. Her rival is effectively played by Miranda Frigon best known for playing the grumpy police chief in the Aurora Teagarden Mysteries.
Skipping to the scene in question. Miranda has invited all of the festival (there’s a festival) volunteers to a party at her home and is forced to invite Erin (“Your invitation will be shoved in your In-box”) Miranda is very proud of her singing ability and announces that she is going to favor the group with her solo rendition of Silent Night, snagging the handsome widower to accompany her on the piano. She has no shame, but as soon as she starts singing Erin starts sneaking up to her side as if she is under the Confundus charm and joins in. I’m like, “Oh no she is not going to….” But she did! Silent Night gets louder and louder as the two try to drown each other out, to the total befuddlement of all the guests, and the horror of Erin’s mother. When they get to the last line “When Chri-ist was born”, “Christ” comes out so loudly and aggressively as each of them vies for supremacy, that it’s almost sacrilegious. Then Miranda ends with a pose like she is the Madonna cradling Baby Jesus in her arms. It is the most irreverent and intentionally funniest performance I have ever seen in a Hallmark movie.
It provides the turning point in Erin’s journey. She walks out of the party with her deer-in-the-headlights look thoroughly shocked at her own behavior. She has finally gone too far. After some skullduggery on Miranda’s part to get through, the two former friends make up, and Erin gets her man.
Spoiler alert to follow the letter of the law only. Come on, this is Hallmark: We all know how this is going to go down.
Arielle Kebbel and Andrew Walker team up again for another Hallmark Romance after 2012’s highly rated (for a Hallmark!) “A Bride for Christmas.” I didn’t think I’d like this at first because the heroine was too gorgeous and the story was crazy predictable. The characters were even more so. Stodgy but successful workaholic fiancé? Check. Snobby disapproving future mother-in-law? check. Cute rebel outside the lines rival for her hand? Check. Nice middle-class family of the bride worried that their oldest daughter is going to become an “Old Maid”? Check. Arielle, however, proved to be down-to-earth, irreverent, and funny. The script served her well. She was surprisingly relatable despite her beauty. The hero was very attractive with a lot of charm. Jaclyn Smyth added nothing. Still beautiful, she obviously has had some work done, but still looks fairly natural. She should have been more evil to get that tension and suspense ratcheted up a bit . Nice “One Year Later” epilogue: Very Sweet with some amusing little touches.**8 out of 10 stars**