So did I just watch a Lifetime Christmas movie about a woman who falls in love with a ghost – and enjoy it? I think I did, because despite its cheesy title and premise, The Spirit of Christmas hits my holiday sweet spot. It’s not a great movie by any means and there are some abrupt character changes that only serve to move the plot along, but generally it embraces what it is – a TV Christmas mystery-romance for a female audience.
The story moves back and forth between the present, where lawyer Kate Jordan (Jen Lilley) is trying to get a haunted inn appraised and sold before the holidays, and the past, where events unfold that lead to Daniel Forsythe’s (Thomas Beaudoin) untimely death. Ultimately, the flashbacks function as speedy exposition, and the scenes aren’t that long or intrusive.
The movie starts in the early 1920s with Daniel standing at a distance from the great house and spying his beloved, Lilly (Kati Salowsky), before being violently struck down. In a flash, it’s nearly 100 years later and his life and death are nothing more than an unsolved mystery to be gossiped about by the townspeople, all of whom are convinced his ghost is haunting his former residence. The only person who isn’t too bothered by spirit-Daniel is Rafferty (Robert Walsh), the inn’s manager. But out of deference to Mr. Forsythe, he always closes down twelve days before Christmas, when Daniel resumes his semi-human form. (Just go with it.)
Enter Kate, a driven lawyer who is as great at her job as she is bad at romance. To put it in perspective, she’s about to be promoted to associate. Her primary concern is to sell the inn, but when she meets Daniel, she also wants to help him solve his own death since becoming a ghost apparently causes memory loss. If she can do that, maybe he can cross over, and maybe she can sell the inn. Love only comes later, when they both realize they’re a pair of lost souls.
It’s all nonsense by definition, but it’s also different from all the other cookie cutter plots out there. We may not need this movie, but we certainly don’t need more about being a Christmas princess or getting stranded en route to the man who’s obviously wrong for you. The story is engaging and well paced, and though it’s all well trod territory, it still feels fresh. The mystery is enhanced by the double timeline and a knowledge of the Volstead Act, which you’ll recall from tenth grade history concerns Prohibition and thus bootlegging.
The most rewarding thing about this movie though are its well written characters and the cast that gives them life. Oh, and the gorgeous New England inn. The supporting roles are stronger than expected, and I found myself liberally doling out sympathy cards to everyone from Rafferty to a doughy kid from Daniel’s past. Lilley brings energy and optimism to her part but is much better when sharing screen time with her costar. She and Beaudoin have an easy chemistry and play well off each other despite their characters coming from two different time periods. And as for Beaudoin, well, I guess I’m saving the best for last. Ill tempered and gruff yet compassionate and sensitive to Kate’s worries, the actor as Daniel might as well have stepped out from some fantasy world. Looking like an extreme hipster, he balances his character’s misplaced, misfit personality with deft and humor. I love the way four syllable words no longer in use just roll off his tongue and his exasperation when he moans, “The modern woman’s forward nature when it comes to courtship leaves me off-put and deeply envious.” That doesn’t have to be a problem, Thomas/Daniel.
Dir: David Jackson
Writer: Tracy Andreen
Cast: Jen Lilley, Thomas Beaudoin, Robert Walsh, Kati Salowsky, Steven Miller, Bates Wilder, Brett Leigh, Joanna Herrington
Time: 91 min
Lang: English and old timey English
Country: United States