Our First Christmas (2008)

If I’m going to compare Our First Christmas to a holiday dish, it would be my mom’s turkey. Both are things I want to enjoy but can’t because they’re very much on the dry side. This movie is filled with lovely sentiment and is a sincere story about a blended family trying to juggle their first Christmas together. It’s also different from the usual holiday romances that flood cable TV this time of year and focuses on the children and grandparents’ perspectives as well. However, it needs several boosts of energy to make it a truly uplifting story instead of the pleasant but forgettable one that it is now.

It’s not an altogether bad movie though, and if you’re tired of predictable love stories, then you might like one that’s already reached the marriage stage. Cindy (Julie Warner), a PE teacher, and Tom (Steven Eckholdt), a guidance counselor, work at the same high school and start a new family when they decide to be more than just colleagues. Their first Christmas together proves to be a challenge when their three children refuse to give up old traditions. Cindy’s daughter, Tory (Cassi Thomson), is adamant that she stay with her grandmother, Evie (Dixie Carter), on Christmas Day while Tom’s slightly younger daughter and son, Lily (Grace Fulton) and Jacob (Maxim Knight), insist on appearing in the Christmas pageant with their grandfather, Joe (John Ratzenberger), a retired minister.

You’d think that the script would resort to the usual scenes of bickering step-siblings and warring in-laws, but this movie is the opposite of that. Kids don’t always take the long view, and these kids think that sticking to tradition is the only way they can honor their deceased parent. Tory doesn’t want to give up the holidays in the cabin that her dad loved and Lily wants to show off the musical talents that her mother encouraged by performing in the yearly pageant. Rather than yelling about how much they hate everyone and slamming doors in each others’ faces, the new siblings instead come together and make a pact. They decide to pretend they are at odds so that their parents will have no choice but to separate and give in to their Christmas demands. The plan works a little too well, causing Tory, Lily, and Jacob to rethink their ideas about family and tradition.

What I like about this movie is something that I don’t see a lot of in Hallmark movies these days, and that is the depiction of relationships that don’t swing to one side or the other of the emotional spectrum. There’s a lot of discomfort, especially on the part of the kids as they try to adjust to new parents and siblings. Evie also finds herself in an awkward position since she is Tory’s paternal grandmother but wants to reach out to Lily and Jacob. Yet the film gives its characters ample room to grow into these new relationships in a way that is natural and endearing. I was touched by Tory and Lily’s friendship in particular and felt like I wouldn’t mind gaining a supportive new sister too.

The movie’s heartwarming moments can’t overcome the dry narrative though. It’s a bit of a slog and misses many opportunities for humor. I kept waiting for things to pick up with a burst of excitement here and there, but those never come. If you don’t mind a movie that’s a little slow, then this won’t bother you, but since I’ve been watching unhealthy amounts of Hallmark, Lifetime, and UPTV these last few weeks, I was hoping for something livelier to jolt me out of my stupor.

Released: 2008
Dir: Armand Mastroianni
Writer: Edithe Swensen
Cast: Dixie Carter, Julie Warner, John Ratzenberger, Steven Eckholdt, Grace Fulton, Cassi Thomson, Maxim Knight, Kat Graham
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2018