My Southern Family Christmas

Christmas in Louisiana minus the Southerners.

A Texas magazine writer, Campbell, receives a voicemail out of the blue from her Bio-Dad’s wife, inviting her to come to Louisana to meet and get to know him and her two half-sisters. Loved seeing Moira Kelly of Chaplin and The Cutting Edge fame in the role of the Deadbeat Dad’s loving wife. Campbell is very torn because while she wants to meet her two sisters, her Dad (Bruce Campbell)  abandoned her and her mother when she was two years old. With her mom and her stepdad, her family is complete and she has had no interest in having a relationship with a guy with whom she hasn’t had any contact in at least 3 decades. Finally, after seeing an old photo of herself at 2 sitting on the very handsome young Bruce Campbell’s lap, she decides to go, but anonymously. Using her profession as a magazine writer doing an article on Pere Noel, she will get to know her father and his two daughters surreptitiously.  Her father has just inherited the title of this cajun version of Santa Claus, which is apparently a big community honor in Louisiana. I don’t know, I confess I’ve never heard of this.

Under the pretext of researching and getting to know “Pere Noel”, she visits the county records department which is run by the town historian and expert. He is very cute, and they like each other. He susses out who she really is immediately as she steals some files on her father from his office. But as she gets to know her father and his family, her heart softens as she learns what a great guy and dedicated family man he is now.  She learns how guilty and torn up he is about his past, and that he actually came to see her when she was 8 years old. But when he saw what a happy, perfect family she, her mother, and her husband, her stepfather, made, he slunk away without making contact. After some drama, she finally reveals who she is just in time for a happy Christmas.

Although this was a good premise for an interesting and touching story, it just didn’t entirely work due to the performance of Jaicy Elliot as the daughter. We really needed to empathize with her, or at least like her. She is supposed to be very warm and lovable in the script. At one point the love interest encourages her by saying “Who wouldn’t love you?” And lots of stuff like that. However, the actress made her come across as flat and emotionless at best and downright unpleasant at worst. When some photographers want to do a family picture of Pere Noel and his family, she is told by them to step aside as they only want “family.” This is the big drama. She hadn’t even told her Dad who she was yet, but petulantly stalks away with the intention of leaving without even saying good-bye to her sisters or stepmother with whom she has grown close. It made no sense. I’m not sure what our emotions were supposed to be at this point about her, but I was pretty disgusted. Luckily, thanks to the cute love interest who is head over heels for no discernible reason, she changes her mind for a tender reveal and reconciliation scene on Christmas morning. Bruce Campbell had been writing to Campbell ever since he abandoned her and gives all of the letters to her warning her they are full of sorrow, pain, and regret. Uh, thanks, Dad. Merry Christmas to you too. Maybe they should just move forward?

Finally, as a southerner, I was borderline offended by the lack of southern accents in the cast of characters. This is Louisiana, y’all! It’s called My Southern Family Christmas. But they all sounded like they were from California or Nebraska and didn’t even make an effort. Campbell was born and raised in Texas, but nope, no accent there either. Poor Bruce Campbell made half-hearted attempts off and on, but please. At least he tried! Kinda.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Christmas for Keeps

Keeping it Real

This was a top-tier Hallmark presentation on par with the best of this year’s Christmas chronicles. And there have been some great ones in 2021. It was almost like a real movie in that it wasn’t just a string of set-pieces held together by clichés. 5 high school friends, 3 still local, get together to honor their recently deceased drama teacher who had an impact on all of their lives. We follow the five friends’ stories as they each deal with their individual challenges while thinking back on their teacher’s past advice. The flashbacks to their high school drama class were superfluous and the teacher’s wisdom was nothing but platitudes but I was very engaged by three of the individual journeys and fairly interested in the other two.

Avery is the one who pushes the four friends to reconnect while patiently and persistently battling their indifference or excuses. She is teaching psychology at the University of Michigan but wants to open her own practice there. Her mother is very overbearing and controlling, but Avery lives her own life in spite of that. She is not a wimp, but she wants her mother to stop. Her mother wants her to keep teaching and move back closer to their Virginia town. She is dead set against Avery opening her own practice. To that end, she actually sends Avery’s resume to the U of V behind her back which results in an awkward convo with the head of HR. Avery is furious and stands up to her mother, who still doesn’t get it (she is actually proud of herself). Her behavior threatens to lead to permanent estrangement. The wise father intervenes and reminds his wife how she was treated by her own mother, who insisted on her way or the highway and how that made her feel. She finally gets it. Don’t ask me why he didn’t speak to his wife 10 years ago. She apologizes to her daughter. ” I guess I learned that love was control and I am learning now that you can’t have both love and control. You have to pick one, and I choose love.” It was a great scene.

Avery is in love with Ben, who is struggling in his business and his personal life. He has pushed away all of his friends and his brother. He has a lot of rage, and we don’t find out what the source of that rage is that makes him act like a petulant toddler throughout most of the movie. When we finally do, it is underwhelming. I didn’t like or sympathize with him at all.

The other story I loved is about the two childhood sweethearts who married each other. The wife is trying to complete her hospital residency so she can take over her father’s medical practice. While she is doing that, her very wonderful husband is a stay-at-home Dad to their two kids and takes care of the house (which is quite the MacMansion considering the family’s lack of income.) She is busy busy busy, but also has a lot of guilt that, understandably, the children are closer to their Dad than her. This was a very adult, realistic story. The Dad loves to bake and when he is encouraged to start a business by the 5th friend, Mia, he is a little reluctant, but is kind of excited too, and goes along with it. His wife finds out and gets angry that he didn’t consult her first and everyone knows but her. “We are leading separate lives”. However, they love each other, the marriage is solid, and she has been making an effort to get away from the hospital to reconnect with her old schoolmates. And her husband. She turns around very quickly which may or may not have something to do with her taking care of the kids by herself for 4 hours. She also probably realizes that without her husband, she would be in a major pickle. Her apology speech to her treasure of a husband was really something.

Mia is a struggling actress who unbeknownst to her friends, is not making it in the big city. Her story was not as interesting and it is tidily resolved at the end. It was one story too many. There was one aspect to her story that was a bit disturbing if I interpreted what was going on correctly.

Most of the characters, even the secondary ones, were not cardboard cutouts. They were layered with both strengths and weaknesses. The movie was well structured with everyone having their beginning, middle, and end. It was a real winner with nice acting from all and great direction and writing.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

December 20, 2021

Sister of the Bride

I Genuinely Couldn’t Guess How this was Going to Play Out!

I really did enjoy this one mostly because I really did not see how they were going to solve the dilemma that was threatening main couple’s relationship. Stephanie and Ben both had successful careers in academia. Stephanie is on the brink of obtaining tenure as a professor at her college, and Ben had just won a prestigious position at Oxford University to work under his idol. They were either going to put their engagement on hold and separate to pursue their equally beloved careers, or one of them was going to have to sacrifice their dream and hard work and talents in order to be together. Being a Hallmark romance, putting their relationship on hold was unthinkable. But how were they going to resolve this? Personally, I was all “go to England, girl!” But I knew it was a bad idea for her big chance for tenure. and that would have sent a bad message, really.

The other conflict was with her father, played by Michael Gross. He didn’t approve of the engagement because they had only dated 6 months. His behavior was contemptible. Very sulky and controlling in a passive-aggressive sort of way. A Grade “A” jerk. Then there was her sister, who had also gotten engaged to her boyfriend of 10 years and had a wedding to plan in less than a month. Then there was the parents selling the beloved family “vacation home”, which was a McMansion in a subdivision in Palm Springs. Weird.

So there was a lot going on, and all of the threads were handled very well, with even a teeny tiny bit of humor thrown in. Becca Tobin was excellent and the actor who played her fiance was competent. Everyone else was likable (both actors and their characters) except the Michael Gross character who very annoying, as he was supposed to be, I guess.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

July 3, 2019