Open by Christmas

Fantastic!

Once again, Hallmark is raising the bar, as this entry in the Hallmark Christmas movie sweepstakes demonstrates. Although many of their new movies follow the usual pattern, many have not. This one, for example, features a dual storyline of two best friends who have separate and different challenges to overcome. It leaves the well-worn and predictable path in some refreshing ways.

Simone is getting ready to marry her fiance during the Christmas season. She is conflicted because her 15-year-old son is growing up and, she thinks, away from her. He is bonding too almost too well with her fiance! Both of them spend more time with each other than with her.  In response, she becomes clingy and tense. To add to the strained atmosphere, her future mother-in-law will be visiting and she doesn’t like her, thinking her too critical.

Her friend, Nicky, played by Alison Sweeney who is wonderful in this, is coming home for Christmas. Right away, this one got my attention. When her parents tell her fearfully that they are selling her childhood home, instead of weeping and wailing and trying to “save” it, she is all for it! Hallmark indulging in a little inside self-deprecating humor?  Anyway, Nicky is a confirmed single woman who finds an anonymous Christmas love letter that was written to her when she was in high school. Nicky always felt she was an outsider during her high school years and thinks of those years with embarrassment and regret. In part, it is why she has remained single. She has been afraid of rejection and never put herself “out there.” The letter shows her that maybe she was mistaken in her perspective. The two friends go on a mission to find the letter writer, and Nicky learns that most of her classmates admired and liked her and her impact was positive.

Brennan Elliot, playing against type as an awkward, shy, and a little too eager real-estate agent plays Nicky’s love interest. He was very winning in this role and the two have super chemistry. Lacey Chabert should be jealous. It is telegraphed right away that he is the letter writer. I will not go further into the plot as it is complex and many-layered and this review would be very long. What made it great was the unexpected ways things developed. The two friends do not pander to each other and tell each other the truth no matter how unpleasant. “Be a normal person!” They get genuinely hurt by upset and with each other but in the way of true friends do not let things fester. The mother-in-law is set up to be over-critical and unpleasant. They do clash, but she ends up being supportive and gives Simone good advice. There was an interesting shocker when it is revealed that Jeremy, Simone’s fiance is the one who wrote Nicky the love letter! What?! Wait!

 It was heartwarming. It was suspenseful.  It had some important lessons to impart.  It was humorous. “Nothing says “Christmas” like a tamale!” And best of all, there was no meaningless Christmas filler. Every scene was important and advanced the plot. There were a couple of things I could be snarky about but I won’t.  It was fantastic.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

November 21, 2021

Sweet Carolina

Hallmark Takes a Daring Step Forward

It’s not often Hallmark actresses get to portray anguish on camera. Luckily they have a real pro and bona fide actress in Lacey Chabert, who did a very credible job. I can think of very few in the stable of regulars who could have pulled off the scene where she learns her beloved sister and brother-in-law have been killed. I cried. The whole ensemble handled the story very well. You can tell they pulled out the “big guns” to meet the challenge of a script that actually called for a range of emotion: Gregory Harrison and Teryl Rothery as the parents, good ole Peter Benson as the city boyfriend who gets dumped for the small-town coach, who was played by the always welcome Tyler Hynes. I appreciated that they got a normal-looking kid who could act to play the introverted son.

There were very real problems and conflicts that had to be resolved. The father was a good guy, but too controlling. Gregory Harrison managed to keep him likable. I groaned when they were setting up for the customary Hallmark food fight ( or snowball fight if it’s winter) but it was actually funny, thanks to the performances.

It was good to see Hallmark break out of its own box a little bit. Fear not, most of the usual templates were still in place, but baby steps! Kudos.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

May 17, 2021

P. S. I just noticed that Lacey Chabert was actually one of the writers. You go, girl! **8 stars out of 10**