I wouldn’t be so hard on TV Christmas movies if they were more like 12 Dates of Christmas. Though it uses a familiar time loop gimmick, the film effortlessly pulls off a warm and festive story that will get you in the mood for the holidays. Amy Smart capably leads and brightens up the screen at every turn, reminding me a little bit of Anna Faris sans some of Faris’s manic energy. Despite her character having to experience the same day over and over, Smart brings something new to each retelling that keeps the movie from feeling like the same old same old.
I was wary when it started the way that so many of these holiday romances do. Kate Stanton, played by Smart, hopes Christmas Eve will be the night to reconnect with her ex-boyfriend. She’s a little too eager though and ends up blowing off her handsome blind date, Miles (Mark-Paul Gosselaar). But karma’s a bitch, and so maybe is the perfume fairy who spritzes her at the mall earlier in the day because for the next twelve days, Kate finds herself reliving Christmas Eve from that point forward.
There’s always a lesson to be had, usually along the lines of not being a jerk, when characters find themselves in these situations, and Kate is no different. After trying to rationalize her way through the experience, she finally decides to embrace it, discovering along the way that happiness isn’t always found in the arms of a partner. It’s hard to own up to one’s role in a breakup and then to move on, but she tries to figure out how to do that in an honest way. Kate’s preoccupation with being in a relationship does comes off as desperate, but that feeling is gradually offset as she allows other people in her life – her retired neighbor who bakes a lot, a couple she spies stringing Christmas lights, even another guy at the bar who awaits his blind date.
Smart holds her own throughout. Kate’s not always likable but her hang-ups are relatable and forgivable. Besides not being able to let go of her ex, she also needs to work on her relationship with her stepmother. Kate’s game for trying anything that will help her to better deal with her unenviable situation though and that keeps the story on its toes. The actress doesn’t need a strong romantic partner to balance things out but she gets one in Gosselaar. He does exactly what he’s expected to in this role, which is to be the Perfect Guy. Miles is one of those men who don’t exist in my reality but who seem to be all over romantic comedy reality. He’s smart, considerate, witty, good looking, and he volunteers at a youth hockey club for boys in the foster system. His idea of a romantic first date also involves ice skating outdoors. Sure, it checks off a whole sheet of clichés, but when the movie’s fun and the actors are likable, who’s keeping track?
Dir: James Hayman
Writer: Aaron Mendelsohn, Janet Brownell
Cast: Amy Smart, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Peter MacNeill, Richard Fitzpatrick, Benjamin Ayres, Laura Miyata, Joe MacLeod
Time: 90 min
Country: United States