Will the third time be a charm for Danica McKellar, who has featured in Hallmark’s Christmas-thon for the past two years? Turns out, no. Coming Home for Christmas is the dullest of the lot, and not even McKellar’s winning personality can make this worth the while. Here she stars as a directionless woman who plays house manager at a fancy estate that’s up for sale. There are a hundred ways one could make this even mildly exciting, say by having her character spar with the butler or by running into a bear in the foyer.
Unbelievable, I know, but at least it wouldn’t be boring. The same cannot be said for this movie. There’s little dramatic tension, leaving the story inert and wrapped up in signifiers of coziness without the actual coziness. One reason is that most of the action is confined to the house. The setting is supposed to be a exquisite mansion, but you don’t a sense of the grandeur at all. The place is slightly bigger perhaps but not fancier.
The plot half addresses this. The family is engaged in a passive-aggressive feud over the sale of the house. Robert (Neal Bledsoe), the stern, business-minded older brother who is managing the deal, is at odds with his grandmother, Pippa (Paula Shaw). She raised Robert and his siblings, Kip (Andrew Francis) and Sloane (Chelan Simmons), after their parents died and wants to keep the property in the family. The frosty relationship has put a chill on everything, including the winter decorating.
Enter Lizzie (McKellar), who is supposed to warm up this cavernous place and plan one last Christmas bash. Man, does she do everything she can to get everyone stoked for the holidays and for seeing each other. She even tries to get them to play nice by feeding them Yule logs, because nothing brings snippy relatives together like a rolled up cake dressed up as a chunk of wood. Surprisingly, this plan kind of works and allows everyone to reevaluate their actions.
That makes the characters sound far more introspective than they are. I should probably say that Robert starts to rediscover some joy, not just for Christmas but for his family and the house. Lizzie also realizes what, and who, she wants in life. Even little sister Sloane has a moment of reckoning with her unemployed husband, who is ashamed they have to dip into her trust fund because he can’t provide. Son, let your woman help you up.
All this happens, but it also unfolds as if on autopilot. It seems the writers don’t want to waste their time developing plot, instead opting for platitudes and maudlin dialogue. Problems simply get resolved, like Sloane’s storyline and Robert’s détente with Pippa, and the movie bounces from one scene to the next. The fact that the actors have no chemistry contributes to the superficial feeling of happiness. Lizzie might as well sit in an echo chamber and send out her loud tidings of great joy to herself. Bledsoe plays Robert so straight that when the character finally comes round, it’s like he’s just come out of deep freeze and has to readjust to human interaction. It would be better if we shoved him and the whole movie back into the icebox.
Dir: Mel Damski
Writer: Nina Weinman
Cast: Danica McKellar, Neal Bledsoe, Andrew Francis, Paula Shaw, Chelan Simmons, Rebecca Staab, Lindsay Maxwell
Time: 83 min
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel