Christmas at Holly Lodge (2017)

Now that actress Alison Sweeney is back at Days of Our Lives, I wonder if this means the end of her relationship with Hallmark. It would be a shame if resurrecting Sami Brady meant killing off Hannah Swensen et al., but if Christmas at Holly Lodge is the kind of movie they have in store for her, then Sweeney’s better off wreaking havoc in Salem. That’s because her latest effort for Hallmark is also her most boring one. Holly Lodge suffers from a chronic lack of excitement. There’s a grand ensemble cast but few personalities stand out, and the whole thing is just a wasted hour and a half.

The action centers around a family-owned ski lodge that’s run by Sophie Bennett (Sweeney). She took over the operation after her parents died, who had by then built it up into a welcoming holiday destination. Now a group of regulars comes every Christmas and they’ve created their own family of sorts. This year, Sophie and her assistant, Callie (Crystal Lowe), are once again there to welcome the guests, but they fear this might be everyone’s last year at Holly Lodge unless they can figure a way to get their finances in order.

While Sophie is trying to manage that crisis, she doesn’t know that one of her new guests, Evan (Jordan Bridges), also has his mind on her financial state. Evan’s not here for the holidays but to buy her out. His boss, a stereotype of a British peer who demands Goji berries and a satellite feed in one breath, wants to turn the quaint lodge into a sleek ski destination for the well heeled. Evan is there to assess the property and report back on the best way to move forward with the acquisition.

It doesn’t need to be said that the two fall in love, putting a real crimp in Evan’s plans to destroy Sophie’s livelihood. It’s not a third act surprise that he springs on her, but enough time lapses, like eighteen hours, for her to start developing feelings for him. Maybe it’s the way he tried to impress her by hacking at a Christmas tree like a true city boy or how he humble bragged about all the places he’s traveled to. But when she finds out his real motivation, rather than let him know she’s onto him, she just tries to run him out of town. This guy is not deterred by her weird behavior and all the crazy things that start happening to him though.

And why is that? Because Holly Lodge at Christmas time is da best! Workaholic Evan is starting to see that exclusive resorts, and turning popular local spots into them, is not cool. The makeshift family is showing him the better, Hallmark side of Christmas, and that is surprisingly where this movie starts to lose its way. I admire the attempt to broaden the story, and to include one major black character (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and two minor ones who ski no less. There are several key subplots, include one about a grieving widow learning to find joy in the season once again and another about a young girl who’s not up for the holidays because her dad’s stationed overseas. These are at times touching, but the feeling is fleeting.

The manufactured, assembly line nature of these movies really shows through this time. It’s as if Hallmark realized they ran out of ideas – because they produced thirty-bloody-three of these things – and just cobbled together some bits and bobs without adding heart. I don’t doubt that the characters are getting a warm Christmas buzz, but no one else is.

Released: 2017
Dir: Jem Garrard
Writer: Melissa Salmons
Cast: Alison Sweeney, Jordan Bridges, Crystal Lowe, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Toby Levins
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2017

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