It’s a sneaky thing Hallmark did by adding not one but two cats to their Christmas lineup, thereby guaranteeing that women conforming to a certain stereotype – young-ish, single, cat-loving romantics (e.g. me) – would tune in. Well, it worked. I watched the lazily titled The Nine Lives of Christmas and then surprised myself by enjoying it. (I was also surprised by the appearance of two non-white actors. Jennifer Cheon and Dalias Blake appear as the main characters’ friends.)
The movie’s two adorable felines get a lot of credit, but so does lead actress Kimberly Sustad for making her character just chipper enough to be warm and appealing but skeptical and reserved enough to be relatable. To put it plainly, she’s normal. Merilee, who is nearly finished with her veterinary degree, isn’t traumatized by past relationships and she doesn’t have it in for the holidays. She is looking for love, just not at the moment, and her house sparkles with Christmas spirit.
That’s not the case for Zachary (Brandon Routh), the studly firefighter with whom Merilee keeps crossing paths. The breakup of his parents’ marriage persuades him to think of love in the short term, and without a family, this movie tells us, there’s not much holiday to celebrate. Zachary begins to reevaluate his priorities though when he gets an unexpected visitor. Ambrose, a stray cat, follows him home, so he turns to Merilee for some advice.
While the story reads like a carbon print of many other Christmas television movies, it helps that the dialogue here isn’t overdrawn. Additionally, Sustad refrains from the pitched style of delivery that many Hallmark leads favor, the kind that has you believe the plot is turning on every syllable. Routh is also refreshingly low-key and gives off an instant ease and likability. Other than Zach’s wrongheaded choices about women – he spends most of the movie dating a manipulative model, the two are a couple you wouldn’t mind hanging out with. Theirs is a romance that saves the excessive displays of emotion for their private lives. Plus, they both love cats, and that just makes everything, um, purrfect.
Prod: Ted Bauman, Jim Head
Dir: Mark Jean
Writer: Sheila Roberts
Cast: Kimberly Sustad, Brandon Routh, Gregory Harrison, Stephanie Bennett, Chelsea Hobbs, Sean Tyson, Dalias Blake, Jennifer Cheon
Time: 84 min
Country: United States