You wouldn’t guess it based on the drab title, but The Perfect Christmas Present ain’t so bad. The premise is dopey – they always are, but the actors are steaming and turn an ordinary script into something kind of magical. The movie is also a love letter to Chicago, and I’m always here for some Midwest affection. I’m going to go ahead and say this looks to be one of the better entries this Hallmark season.
First, you do have to make it through a tedious introduction to Mr. Christmas, aka Tom (Sam Page), a gift giver of sorts. Basically, clueless people pay him to buy/create/recommend the perfect gift for their special someone whatever the occasion. He’s done birthdays, anniversaries, probably bar mitzvahs, but his talent really comes through during the Christmas season, and this year he has a special commission. His old frat buddy, Paul (Sam Guinan-Nyhart), asks Tom to rescue his faltering relationship with his girlfriend, Jenny (Tara Holt). He needs whatever Tom can dream up that will win her back, never guessing of course that Tom himself might be a pretty good present.
Put aside for a moment that this guy doesn’t have a real job; Tom is the type of man that gives women unrealistic expectations. Sure, he’s no Gilbert Blythe, but he’s budget unattainable fictional guy. The qualities that make him great at choosing the perfect gift for total strangers are the same ones that make him a great boyfriend – attentive, respectful, kind. You know he’ll be creative when it comes to dates and, ahem, the proposal. Plus he’s cute.
Interestingly, the movie is told from his perspective. I know we don’t need another well-off white guy take on love and heartbreak (oh, did I just ruin something?), but it’s a departure for this channel and I’m conditioned to lean towards non-conformity, however slight. In a way, it emphasizes Tara Holt’s performance, which is so pure and radiant that I want to date her. Jenny abounds with joy and enthusiasm even while nursing some personal pain from her past. There’s something revelatory about her honesty that makes you want to just watch and smile, in a not creepy predatory kind of way. God, she also loves dogs and works at a non-profit that aids needy families (and she has a black BFF, which stop doing that, Hallmark, and give a black woman the lead role); if Tom is the perfect(ish) guy, then she is a grade above that.
I think the two are so appealing, individually and as a couple, because they see the best in each other. Also because Page and Holt inhabit their characters so fully and specifically. I can’t take cynical television anymore, at least not for the remainder of this year. I want nice people who are good to one another and good to the world. Most of the time, that’s what you get, but every now and then, the movie falls back into familiar territory. There are speedbumps in the relationship that may not be necessary but are leveraged and played up – for example, Paul’s cluelessness about really any aspect of Jenny’s life that they don’t share or the way she mistakes Tom for an event planner and ropes him into helping her organize a benefit. One can see the fallout from a mile away, and for characters who are so lived-in, these narrative choices are kind of a cop out.
I also oppose the copious voiceover Tom delivers at the beginning of the movie. Who thought this was a good idea? I don’t need him to wax lyrical on the magic of gift giving and, I don’t know, life. Please make your hot toddy while he’s opining on how “sometimes the simplest questions lead to the most profound answers” and his feeling that “if you really want to get to know someone, you should read their favorite book”? Is this guy fishing for a second career in self-help publishing? Sigh…this peters out though, so all is forgiven. In the end, The Perfect Christmas Gift doesn’t offer exactly what it says it will, but comes pretty close, so I will take it.
Dir: Blair Hayes
Writer: Blaine Chiappetta
Cast: Tara Holt, Sam Page, Sam Guinan-Nyhart, Emily Peterson, Ta’Rhonda Jones
Time: 83 min
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel