Love Always, Santa (2016)

Even the better Hallmark movies are rip-offs of movies you’ve already seen, because this is just the world we live in. Borrowing elements from The Shop Around the Corner and its derivatives, Love Always, Santa gets a gold star for Marguerite Moreau’s lived-in performance, a definite cut above your standard Lacey Chabert or Candace Cameron Bure outing, but it fails to make something more out of a story about pen pals who unexpectedly meet.

That’s not to say you should skip this movie entirely. Maybe you don’t want to watch Shop or its descendants, In the Good Old Summer Time and You’ve Got Mail, because the Hallmark Channel makes better white noise than Turner Classic Movies. Then Love will suffice. Moreau, who will always be Mighty Duck Connie to me, certainly makes it worthwhile. She delivers an earthy performance as young widow Celia, who owns a Hemingway themed bakery, The Bun Also Rises – and yes, there are some choice food puns. (Somebody get me a mug that says “The Old Man and the Tea”.) Celia’s precocious daughter, Lilly (Isadora Swann), observes that her mom’s been out of it lately, you know, since her husband’s died. Not even the charms of Thanksgiving and Christmas are enough to spark joy in Celia, so Lilly writes a letter to Santa and asks him to bring back some cheer in her mother’s life.

The letter winds up in the hands of children’s author Jake (Mike Faiola), who has taken up a $12 an hour job as pen pal Santa while he tries to overcome writer’s block and a recent divorce. His thoughtful reply to Lilly’s prompts a similar thank you from Celia, and a relationship via post develops. Between responding to numbing requests for the hottest toy and the nagging of two well-meaning old ladies, Jake finds an intellectual and emotional outlet in this new correspondence.

And what poetic missives they pen to one another. My mind has been so dulled by the pedestrian dialogue of Hallmark movies that the merest hints of more textured language are enough to seduce me. It’s not Jane Austen poetry or romance, but it’s also not your common Christmas Cookies exchange either.

The epistolary romance is the only storyline though, and tedium sets in after awhile. Jake meets Lilly at a reading and then her mother but keeps his identity secret from both of them. This crinkle is complicated by Celia’s sometime date and potato gun enthusiast, Randy (Brady Smith). Her sister has convinced Celia that reality is not a bad place to inhabit, and that neither a fictional man of letters nor a roving children’s author live there. What the movie needs is a secondary plot, say trying to save a failing business, to liven things up though. As much as I liked watching Celia and Jake, they also kind of conform to a stereotype, that nerdy wordsmiths are dull.

Released: 2016
Dir: Brian Herzlinger
Writer: Jay Black, Brian Herzlinger
Cast: Marguerite Moreau, Mika Faiola, Isadora Swann, Brady Smith, Jay Black, Sara Marsh
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2017