Small Town Christmas

Oldie but Goodie

I reached back in time this season to re-watch a 2018 Christmas movie that I really enjoyed but didn’t review. This stars my favorite leading man, Kristoffer Polaha, and Ashley Newbrough, not a favorite but very good. I have no problems with her.

Ashley plays a successful author who is booked to do some events in the small town on which she based her best-selling book. A few years ago she was great friends with a co-worker who used to regale her with stories set in his hometown. On the verge of becoming romantically involved, he ghosted her, leaving her alone in a restaurant waiting for him to show up for their first real date. She called and texted over and over but he never replied and has never been in touch. She is nervous about visiting his home town and she has a right to be because not only is he living there but he owns the quirky local bookstore and is the liaison organizing the promotional events for her new book.

He is thrilled to see her again, basically acting like nothing happened and he did nothing wrong. He is now the guardian of his niece, the adorable Bailey Skodje. It turns out that on the night of their date he received word that his sister and her husband were killed in an auto accident. Now that is pretty awful and tragic, but it still is no excuse for his behavior of disappearing off the face of the earth without a word. But Ashley is forgiving considering the circumstances and they proceed to fall back in love.

The secondary plot is that of a property developer that Ashley got friendly with wanting to “revitalize” the town. Sound good, but when he wants all of the shop owners to sell their stores to him for obscene amounts of money, Kris gets suspicious.  He refuses to sell until he learns that the whole deal is kaput unless the developer can buy all the businesses including his. So in the name of helping his friends and colleagues who need the money, he agrees reluctantly to sell.  Imagine the shock when they find out, thanks to Ashley, that instead of revitalizing the town, he wants to demolish it and put up a big resort! What is a lying sneaky snake! And he seemed so nice! What is refreshing about this, is that the money men like the little town just the way it is. And his petard is hoisted. The rich investors are even going to invest in the town as is while keeping its charming picturesque feel. Towards the end, Ashley finds out that Kris actually wrote her a letter explaining what happened in his life, but he sent it to their old workplace and by that time she had already quit so she never got it. So he had been wondering why she never replied to him. Still no excuse for no phone call or quick text reply, but whatever. The mystery of his behavior which had been an ongoing puzzle is finally solved.

Kristoffer Polaha is such a charmer in this. He is full of energy and his acting was nuanced, low-key, and natural as always. He adds thoughtful touches to his delivery. For example towards the end when he was very turned off by Brad and his slick behavior, he started saying his name like he was saying “Yuck”. Bra-a-d (grimace, cringe-but subtle!) He plays such a sweet guy in this that it made it very funny somehow. I also liked that though he disliked and was jealous of Brad, he just studiously ignored him rather than acting all pouty and hostile. His chemistry with Ashley Newbrough was terrific. Although, in my view, it’s Kristoffer Polaha so he probably would have chemistry with a bag of doorknobs. This one is 4 years old, but it will play again at least one more time before Christmas is over. I highly recommend you check it out if you have the time.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Haul out the Holly

Haul this one the Door

This was so messed up. I think it was supposed to be a  fun comedic look at recapturing one’s love for Christmas decorations after a childhood of one’s parents prioritizing the trappings of Christmas over their own child’s simpler needs and desires. The movie opens with the parents of a little girl leaving the house on Christmas morning to attend some kind of Neighborhood Christmas Carnival. The little girl begs her mom and Dad to let her open just one present before they leave. They impatiently agree but give her the present she has to open. It’s a camera so she can assist in the neighborhood project by taking pictures for the record. All the little girl wants is to open presents under the tree on Christmas morning as a family. The only thing her Mom and Dad want is to make sure the neighborhood carnival runs smoothly.

We meet the adult Lacey Chabert who after years of understandably avoiding Christmas with her mom and dad finds herself at loose ends this year due to a breakup. She decides to go home for Christmas. Her parents are happy and encouraging, but as she arrives at the front door, to her shock, her parents leave for Florida! Left alone at Christmas, she promises to take care of the house and put up the decorations for the neighborhood extravaganza as her Christmas present to them. This is the first example of a long line of Lacey getting taken advantage of and run roughshod over. As soon as her parents leave, she is visited by her old friend, Wes Brown, who is now president of the HOA. He informs her that she is being given a citation for inadequate Christmas decorations. And so it begins. The rest of the movie is about Lacey just wanting to have a relaxing peaceful Christmas but being hounded by the neighborhood to participate in decorating her house to specification and pitching in with all of the organized “fun”. Front and center among all of the obnoxious neighbors is the petty dictator of the HOA, who is absolutely serious when he measures her Nutcracker lawn ornament to ensure it meets the height requirement. Sadly, he is the love interest.

Lacey is way too people-pleasing for her own good and although at one juncture she points out that she doesn’t “have to” obey the covenants, she does, presumably to protect her manipulating deceitful parents. By the end, in what can only be the Stockholm Syndrome effect, she has bought into it all and the message is clear. The trappings of Christmas are more important than family, love, peace on earth, and goodwill toward men. It turns out that this fustercluck was all a ruse on the part of her parents to get her used to living in their house and complying with the HOA covenants as they are gifting the house to her. And also to fix her up with Wes Brown. Hopefully, he will put away his ever-present citation book before they settle down to marital bliss in the bedroom.

Even cameo appearances by Kristoffer Polaha and Eric Mabius can’t save this one. And neither can Stephen Tobolowsky who played Ned in Groundhog Day, playing a neighbor named Ned. And neither can Lacey, settling down to watch a Brennan Elliot Christmas movie professing “Oh I love him!” Cute inside joke for Hallmarkies. I did laugh. If you want to see the beloved Lacey Chabert, who plays a nice woman too tolerant and compliant for her own good, bossed around, manipulated, threatened, and bullied for almost an hour and half in service of an anti-Christmas message, this is the one for you.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

We Wish You a Married Christmas

Goodness Gracious!

I absolutely love Kristoffer Polaha and so I was really looking forward to this movie. I wasn’t sure about his pairing with Marisol Nichols but I haven’t seen her in anything before and I was willing to give her a chance. I must say though that her eyebrows did give me pause. They were very scary and actually looked navy blue in certain lights. Also the height difference. It was flattering for Kristoffer, but not so much for Marisol.

It started off very promisingly and unusually for Hallmark. Not the usual sweeping city or country scene but extreme closeups of a couple in a marriage therapist’s office talking directly to the camera. The therapist is played by Pascale Hutton, a Hallmark leading lady herself. I don’t care for her in starring roles but she made a great therapist in this little cameo. So calm, gentle, and pleasant. She sends them off for a Christmas getaway in Gracious, Vermont to spend some time together and make an attempt to repair their faltering marriage.

Gracious is a quirky little town filled with alpacas and really really nice friendly people who welcome the couple into all of their holiday activities. This includes Amy Groening once again charming and funny in a supporting role as a pet portrait painter. Time for a promotion, Hallmark! She really has a certain something. Marisol was ok but I wish Kristoffer would have been paired with someone with a little more spark.

All proceeds predictably, repetitively, and boringly as the troubled couple starts to reconnect as they spend more and more time together. The tale of their marriage troubles and the steps forward to eventual reconciliation needed a lot of bolstering and luckily it got quite a bit. Their dog, Jerry was, adorable and a real scene-stealer. He was no Nova. But he was a charmer nevertheless. The couple, Vince and Brian, who own the inn, had a sweet relationship and put a smile on my face whenever they came on the scene. Amy played her funny quirky character to perfection and her tentative romance with the awkward infatuated waiter was darling.

Kristoffer and Marisol’s characters actually turned out to be quite likable even if their journey was not. Isolated parts of the script and plot were well-written and entertaining. The ending had a cute little surprise at the end which hints that their therapist, the inn owners, and the town might have a little Christmas conspiracy going on with more than a hint of Christmas magic. All in all, it’s a 7: nothing really special but little to no eye rolling or remote throwing involved.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A Dickens of a Holiday

With the Two Lead Actors, It Should Have Been Better

I love Kristoffer Polaha. He is one of my Top 3 Hallmark actors. I have never seen him in a role where he did not elevate the material with his appealing attractive self. And I like Brooke D’Orsay in almost every role I’ve seen her in. There was one I didn’t like her in but we won’t talk about that. She always brings a natural sweetness and heart to her performances. I was looking forward to seeing them together and they did not disappoint.

The story wasn’t much. It wasn’t bad. But it did kind of drag in the middle only providing a stage for the two actors’ acting talents. Jake is a Hollywood action star who wants a sensitive dramatic role in a new film based on his late mother’s favorite book. No one wants him for the part because they don’t think he can do it, including his agent. He agrees to go home to his hometown to play Scrooge to prove he can play a complicated dramatic part. And partly because he had an unrequited high school crush on the director, Cassie. It starts out very intriguing and funny because he is spoiled and pampered and he is terrible in the part. His playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge like he was John Wick was pretty funny, and I wish they had made more of this. Unfortunately, Cassie, as the director, gets him on track way too quickly. I was looking forward to the character development, but he changes into a good guy way too fast for it to be an entertaining journey. This also takes the interest out of a side plot, which is his estrangement from his brother. One heart to heart and all is well.

The crisis comes when, thanks to his loyal and talented assistant, he is about to be offered the dream role but to get it, he has to go to a party thrown by a bigwig. Surprise surprise-On the same night as the big performance. Will he revert to his old self and chuck the play in favor of his big break? None of how this is played out made a lot of sense. At one point Brooke D’Orsay gets ready to step into the part of Scrooge in full glamor girl make-up with lipstick, eyeshadow, and her flowing golden locks tumbling from her nightcap. That would have been another fail for the Hallmark make-up department but it would have been pretty funny watching Scrooge in drag.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

December 12, 2021

Hearts of Christmas

Mis-Matched

This was a decent Hallmark script-wise and acting-wise. And it certainly was a tearjerker due to a surprise reveal at the end. But it suffered from a couple of things. First off, the character Emilie Ullerup played, Jenny, a neo-natal intensive care nurse, was naïve and closed-minded. That alone would have made her unsympathetic, but unfortunately her “nemesis” the CFO whose job it was to keep the hospital from failing by cutting expenses and laying off a few senior employees, including her mentor, Alice, was played by Kristopher Polaha. He is possibly one of the most admired and loved of the Hallmark male leads. He is very attractive and sexy as well as conveying strength and gentleness. Those eyes! That voice! Yes, I’m a fan. If the character he played wasn’t quite so likable, reasonable, and so obviously a good guy, It would have made Jenny’s belligerent behavior more relatable and sympathetic.

I also had a problem with the CFO of the hospital romancing a nurse. He is in a position of power over her. She is for all intents and purposes, his employee. He is firing people and deciding whose departments get their expenses cut. It was inappropriate and dangerous for both their careers and reputations. It would have taken one jealous colleague of either of them to cry “favoritism!” to make a whole lot of trouble. What if they got seriously involved and it didn’t go well? Once she jumps into his arms in full view of the whole hospital in the end, she has sealed her fate as far as working with him at the same beloved hospital. So not such a happy ending for one of them. Probably her.

I just don’t know what he saw in her. She was cute looking, but she came across as a spoiled teenager to his mature successful bachelor who could have had his pick of beautiful exceptional women. Why was he even single in the first place?

Trying to end on a positive note, what a treat to see some actors who are now Hallmark regulars in bit parts: Kimberley Sustad as Matt’s sister, and Brendan Zub and Chris McNally as two worried fathers. Of course, Sharon Lawrence as Alice, the focus of all of the angst, was wonderful as always. And speaking of Alice, what was up with Jenny and her cohorts diverting all Alice’s personal Christmas cards to the point she thought she’d been forgotten by all of her old patients? It was for a good cause, I guess, but not very nice in the moment. Nope. Did not care for Nurse Jenny.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

July 6, 2021