With Love, Christmas (2017)

There’s a fluffy Himalayan cat that curls its way into a few scenes and is, in my heart, the real star of the movie, but I guess we’re here to talk about the people. Oh, these pretty, pretty people. Emilie Ullerup and Aaron O’Connell exist to remind me that I have a radio voice and face, but at least they give me a pleasant Hallmark movie to watch in the process. While little about the story really impresses, Ullerup’s performance is sterling and probably the best of all the leads this season. She should front the network instead of regulars like Candace Cameron Bure and Lacey Chabert, unless of course she has a better class of movies to make.

In the meantime, I am going to enjoy the hell out of her here. She plays ad manager Melanie Welch to O’Connell’s Donovan Goodwin. The two are colleagues at the same ad agency but don’t interact much thanks to Donovan’s utter lack of social skills. I mean, the guy can’t even hang around the water cooler and talk about the weather without making things awkward. So it gets tricky when they pick each other as their secret Santa, then are paired for a mobile phone pitch, and then find out they are competing against each other for a promotion.

There’s a little bit of You’ve Got Mail along with all the confusion and mistaken identity that comes with exchanging anonymous emails. Melanie decides to set up a fake account and write Donovan to figure out what she should get him. Their terse exchange, well on his part, gradually grows into something more as he begins to share his insecurities and personal issues, not knowing that he’s actually talking to his partner. Emotionally closed due to a fractured relationship with his father, Donovan heeds his secret Santa’s advice and encouragement and starts to join the human race, going so far as to hang out with the rest of the office at ice skating night. (Okay, in fairness, I probably wouldn’t want to go skating with my colleagues either.)

O’Connell shows that he’s more than a model and fit to play characters that aren’t just thick pretty boys. Donovan undergoes an admirable transformation from a grumpy and aloof worker bee who thinks “the only magical thing about Christmas are the sales numbers” to someone who embraces the spirit of generosity in thought, word, and action. Ullerup is true reason to watch this movie though. She’s not merely competent as most Hallmark actors are. She’s at complete ease with her character. Nothing feels forced about her performance, not even her slightest reactions. Whether Melanie is just laughing off a friend’s odd comment or trying to hide her disappointment when Donovan mistakes someone else for his secret Santa, she’s as natural as they come. My Christmas wish for next year? More movies starring her.

Released: 2017
Dir: Marita Grabiak
Writer: Marcy Holland
Cast: Emilie Ullerup, Aaron O’Connell, Rebecca Davis, Lindsay Winch, Kazumi Evans, Milo Shandel, Jett Klyne
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2017

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