The premise for this one had a lot of promise and opportunity for laughs and romance and largely succeeded. Emma is a senior vice-president of Tinsel Toy Company, and being the Christmas season and in the toy industry she has had it up to here with Christmas. For her vacation, which is a couple of weeks before the toy-centric holiday, she is looking forward to going to a Christmas-free zone in the Caribbean. I guess toy companies aren’t too busy a few weeks before Christmas? Whatever. She has her airhead assistant book a trip to St. Johns for a week of beaches, bikinis, and drinks with umbrellas. She gets on the plane for a direct flight to the tropical island but when she deplanes, she finds herself in fictional St. Johns, Alaska. We are treated to a pretty funny visual of her in a sun dress with all of the fur-coated and parka-ed fellow passengers fighting minus 12-degree cold and fierce winds to get from the plane to the terminal. It doesn’t say much for her situational awareness that she never notices that something might be a little off with this airplane flight before she is hit with a blast of cold air instead of balmy heat and sunshine, but whatever. It is pretty funny. The love interest is Connor, the brother of the inn owners who put her up until she can get the next plane out of town. He also has a secret identity which is a big reveal towards the end. Don’t worry, he’s not Santa Claus. Both the Inn and the whole town are like a Christmas bomb went off. Emma stays and stays. First due to a snowstorm and lack of cell service and then she waffles back and forth saying she’s going to go the next day but never actually leaves.
Much of the humor in this is due to the excellent comic timing of Natasha Wilson who plays Emma. One of the funniest scenes is her confronting her clueless assistant over the phone about booking her to the wrong St. Johns.
“And you thought there was only one St. Johns on the planet?”
“ It’s the only one I’ve ever heard of! Except the one in the Bible!”
There were enough other funny bits to keep it entertaining. Unfortunately, there were a lot of hard-to-believe aspects, situations, and behavior some of which were easy to ignore, but there were way too many of them. They started to pile up which made them a distraction. St. Johns is one mysterious town. Large enough for an airport that had regular non-stop flights to Miami Florida, and lots of fancy stores, but small enough to have our hero as the small-town style part-time mayor. It certainly didn’t act like a town in Alaska.
It was refreshing that Emma didn’t hate Christmas, she was just sick of it. And though she was fish out of water, she was a pretty good sport about it most of the time. When there was the inevitable fight with Connor, they made up pretty quickly and she rightly apologized for her rather incomprehensible behavior. Despite the silly title it was fine. And it refreshingly ended with Connor and Emma going back to the big city rather than staying near home and hearth in the frozen north.
Too bad They’re All Not This Good-but then, It wouldn’t be Hallmark.
I knew this was going to be a 10 out of a 10 in the first 10 minutes. The dialogue was sharp and witty from the get-go. The stars were appealing and didn’t have the usual GQ male model vibe for the male or beauty pageant runway vibe for the female. Upon our first meeting with the striking Mia, an English professor, she is delivering a bitter cynical lecture on romantic poetry. Two students comment on her diatribe: “Professor Rivera needs a date.” …” Or a drink!” The girls make a few more appearances throughout the movie with their astute conclusions on the state of her love life going by the tone of her lecture. Very cute. We learn she is on her way to her lawyer to divorce her too handsome husband. He is 90 days sober but was a lying alcoholic who lost their house. He wants her back. And her tween daughter wants them back together too. She meets cute (a couple of times) with our leading man who is handsome but in a normal guy kind of way instead of looking like he just stepped out of a Vanity Fair ad. He is a lounge singer (now isn’t that an unusual profession for a Hallmark hero!?) and the music is wonderful. He is a bit of a flirt and plays the field but thanks to his conversations with a good friend and bartender we know he is a good guy and a keeper.
Despite her suspicious hostile attitude toward love and romance they bond over a love for old movies and he gradually thaws her icy sarcastic façade. The romance is facilitated by their two mothers who meet in the movie theatre the two frequent and know they would be perfect for each other. “He likes her! And she HATES him!… It’s perfect!”
Despite being wisely advised and cheered on by her best friend and his husband, all does not go smoothly in their enemies to friends to lovers journey. Mostly thanks to her jerk of an ex-husband and the inevitable misunderstanding with 20 minutes to go. I loved the unusual-for-Hallmark creative touches. The authentic New York vibe, the black and white dream sequences, the songs, the Greek chorus-like moms and the two female students, and even the original movie poster (not pictured but you can still see it on IMDb as of this writing)!
There is a cute twist at the end that was telegraphed early and often, and it just added one more unusual touch to the whole wonderful production. The cast of fresh faces have outstanding resumes, including Illeana Douglas. There were a few Hallmark veterans (Matty Finochio, David Ruttle, and Peter Benson in a short cameo.) and to my surprise, this was written by a veteran Hallmark writer. They must have told her to “do the opposite of what you think we want” or something. A movie like this is one of the reasons I doggedly look at almost every Hallmark movie. In addition to the crazily predictable and boring, there’s always a chance they shock with a truly excellent romantic comedy.
This is a genuinely amusing little variation on the usual Hallmark template. It starts off with all of the clichés in place: Nice girl gets dumped before the holidays when she is expected to bring the dumper to meet the family for the first time. she can’t bear the humiliation or to disappoint them so she falls in with a plan to substitute an actor to impersonate the architect “Mr. Christmas” ex-boyfriend. He is a born and bred New York City actor who is anxious to visit a small town to get a feel for a role he is up for. One problem. He is Jewish and far from being an architect, he can’t even build a gingerbread house. The chemistry between the charming leads was great, there was some ample support from veteran actors Bruce Boxleitner and Teri Rothery. And the talented Anna Van Hooft, who usually plays the villain in Hallmark movies, does a credible job in a throwaway part as the supportive sister, for a change. And let’s not forget the contribution by a Hallmark stalwart Peter Benson as the brother-in-law and all of his helpful advice.
This was a nice romance with some good laughs fueled by the tension of when will the truth come out, and what will happen then, and the cluelessness of fake fiancee Joel, played with aplomb by newcomer Matt Cohen.
One of the best this year. Hallmark Christmas movie fans: Don’t miss it!
I usually don”t write a review of a movie unless I really loved it, really hated it, or have some points or observations to make that I think might be valuable. But I am really disturbed by the number of reviews that fault the bad acting of the principal characters. The acting is no better or worse than any acting in a Hallmark or happy Lifetime movie. In fact, the one thing that kept me semi-watching was the charm and attractiveness of the two leads.
If anything, it was the writing that kept me from rating this higher. What happened to the ingenue actress who had a crush on Fletcher? Maybe I missed it, but all of a sudden she has a boyfriend she was very loyal to (per magic Santa guy) all while she was making a play for our hero? And, yes, the snow storm that kept her away from the theatre, while rich guy and the whole audience managed to show up? For a 2 minute show? The one thing that really bothered me though was that widower Fletcher told Emma he never stopped loving her. Huh? What about dead wife and mother to his daughter whose demise made made him so sad for years? Out with the old, In with the new, I guess. And this is really picky. But shouldn’t the daughter have had a bit of a British accent? Considering she was born and raised in England by an English (I presume) mother?