Anyone who looks at Hallmark movies or their copycats to any great degree gets used to questionable plot points, plot holes, and many opportunities to suspend disbelief. But this one had more than the usual problems you just have to ignore and move past. Going in, I was hopeful and curious to see Sarah Ramos, because I remember her as Lauren Graham’s daughter on Parenthood. Carlo Marks usually gives a likable performance.
Sarah is a prominent children’s author who has to return to her hometown to reward the winner of a contest promoting her new book. Of course, as is required of fictional Hallmark authors, she is suffering from writer’s block and is having trouble finishing it. It turns out the little winner is the daughter of Travis the boy next door she had a teenage crush on and had been avoiding for over 10 years. After humiliating herself by bursting into his wedding and declaring her love, she has never returned home because of the bad memories. Yeah, it was pretty embarrassing. But why did Travis even answer the door in the middle of his vows? Was this lout raised by wolves? And how did Sarah not know her friend and next-door neighbor was getting married?
Here’s the second problem. Her beloved grandmother Mia (Marilu Henner) still lives in the house across the street. Are they telling me Sarah never visited Grandma Mia when she is supposed to be so devoted to her? 10 years of phone calls, emails, and Hallmark Cards, I guess.
She meets Travis because he lives in his parents’ old house now and gets to know his little girl,(who hugs everyone all the time. I’ve never seen such a huggy little girl) and a rekindled romance ensues. But where is the wife? Is she dead? Divorced? On vacation? I was expecting her to pop up any minute. We find out after a great deal of flirting has been going on that they are divorced and she travels with her band a lot. Whew!
And why did grammy stop making the beloved Christmas cookies again? She taped up the recipe after Sarah ripped it up. Sarah finds it hidden away behind a wall, and she goes ahead and whips up a batch of 12 cookies. These cookies have been missed greatly by the community because they have the magical power of revealing your true love in a dream.(this is what got Sarah into all that trouble) Yet, we are told there was a line out the door for them. How could there have been “a line out the door” for 12 cookies, especially when at least 4 were already given away?
As usual, there was an unnecessary conflict at the end which was more fake than usual and made no sense. She runs away when Travis suggests that she stay in New Britain to explore their relationship and buy Grammy’s house. Why? After she has a convo with Benny, her agent, in which nothing she didn’t already know is imparted, she changes her mind. She also realizes that the cookies really are magic because she and Travis now love each other as adults and, Yay! He is now single.
Alternate time plots are very popular. And for good reason. As oft-repeated ad nauseum as they are they also automatically offer a lot of opportunity for and promise of drama, comedy, wonder, suspense, and emotion. Usually, at least at Hallmark, a woman is dissatisfied with her current circumstances, and magic happens. She goes back in time to a fork in the road. This time she takes the other fork and experiences what her life would then have been like. In the end, no matter what the permutations in this basic plot, she ends up embracing the importance of family and during November and December, “The true meaning of Christmas.” It’s a tale as old as time.
In this one, in a change of pace, it is the man who takes a time trip. Joyce and Ethan are a happily married couple in their mid-’40s. Teri Hatcher and James Denton are each pushing 60, but they are very attractive and it was a suspension of disbelief I was happy to roll with. I believed them. James is a successful lawyer, but he is overworked and is not at the top of his profession. So he has a middle-class lifestyle rather than the affluent, luxury-filled position of his colleague, Sean. He is an ethical good guy, and not willing to be ruthless and unscrupulous in his pursuit of success. But now financial concerns and family tensions due to his lack of family time are starting to get to him. Enter magic Santa. He goes back to that turning point and takes the other path. He now has the luxurious home, the fancy car and the big office. But no family. Luckily Ethan’s two kids were adopted so they still exist and are not wiped off the face of the earth. So that metaphysical and spiritual dilemma is avoided, thank goodness. His wife is no longer a school teacher but a high-profile lawyer who is constantly at loggerheads with Ethan’s firm. She wants to save things, they want to tear them down. He enlists her help, to her consternation, because she is the only one he knows he can trust.
He can’t go back to his old life until he learns his lesson. Actually, he learns his lesson pretty early, but magic Santa shows no mercy until the pain and horror of losing his family brings him to the brink of despair. Magic Santa ain’t playing.
Adding to the enjoyment is Marilu Henner, the owner of the law firm who is there to ensure Ethan will still get his promotion while doing the right and ethical thing and that Sean, his corrupt bully of a colleague gets his comeuppance. Teri and James had great chemistry (no surprise there) and took a well-worn plot to the next level.
I absolutely loved this. A woman who was raised unchurched gets along with her Mother-in-Law (Marilu Henner) better than her soon to be ex-husband. She visits Mother-in Law to break the news of the impending divorce and falls in love with her pastor. It was funny, insightful, romantic, touching, and suspenseful. It had more than one good message. All of the scenes in church were hilarious. My favorite was when she raises her hand to ask a question during the pastor’s sermon. I think this may have been produced by a Christian company, but it was very clear-eyed when it came to why people question the existence of God and religious doctrine. The only thing I kinda hold against it was the mother letting her son get away with his shenanigans, although he did get his comeuppance in other ways. I’d watch this again!