I’m calling bullshit on Hope at Christmas, not because it’s another soppy, manufactured love story or because it idealizes small town America but because there’s never been a fourth grade teacher as hot as Ryan Paevey, and this is a fact. The man is distractingly beautiful, so much so that we’ve lost the plot on this one in my household; it’s now just the “hot fourth grade teacher” movie, which is a better and more accurate title by the way, Hallmark.
If I remember the story though, it goes something like this. Single mom Sydney (Scottie Thompson) and her daughter, Rayanne (Erica Tremblay), return to Hopewell for the holidays. Sydney, who spent part of her childhood there, has inherited her grandmother’s house and wants to get in order before she puts it on the market. Her friendship with Bea (Colleen Winton), the owner of a local bookshop, also leads to several run-ins with Mac (Paevey), said fourth grade teacher and occasional handyman, novelist, and village Santa. Over the next few weeks, Sydney and Mac grow closer, with the prodding of Bea and Rayanne, and Sydney starts to reconsider her decisions to sell the house and start a new job in New York.
There are a few plot strands going on, and all of them feed handily into one another. In addition to the romance and Sydney’s reassessment of her priorities, Bea also finds herself thinking about her future and that of her store while Rayanne juggles whether she’d rather be with her dad in Hawaii or with her mom and new friends in Hopewell. I’m not going to pretend that my enjoyment of this film isn’t related to Paevey though. The guy plays a quiet, capable, and single and emotionally available, man, and what is Hallmark if not some form of wish fulfillment? The movie makes no effort to spoil Mac’s image, with Paevey’s smoldering restraint adding to his character’s allure. Mac’s only fault seems to be his bargain bin romance style of writing, which I will take because no one is perfect. When he finds out that Rayanne’s biggest Christmas wish is for her mom to be happy again, he’s determined to make it come true and sets out with a plan that involves a fresh tree and a French restaurant.
Thompson is a good match for her costar; she too is mum and comfortable with others doing the talking, but she lights up when she’s got a firm grip on an idea or conviction. Sydney excitedly broaches the idea of a book club for kids at Bea’s shop and chastises Mac when she initially suspects him of stealing. Things might be on the drab side though if it weren’t for Tremblay bouncing around – and yes, little Erica is Jacob’s sister, which you probably guessed because the two look and act exactly the same. Those who like a precocious kid will find the pint-sized Tremblay adorable, but if you don’t want your child actors so studied, she might be too much.
There haven’t been many standouts so far this Hallmark holiday season, and the station’s been getting some stiff competition over at Lifetime and Netflix. Hope at Christmas is Hallmark’s first solid film so far, however, ticking most of the right boxes. It’s a little somber and reflective but also chirpy and goofy. Did I mention the cast looks fab too?
Writer: Robert Tate Miller
Cast: Scottie Thompson, Ryan Paevey, Erica Tremblay, Colleen Winton, Peter Graham-Gaudreau, Nelson Wong
Time: 83 min
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries