Not every Hallmark movie needs to end in a holiday romance, and in fact, the absence of one allows stories about other kinds of relationships to be told, like that between two strangers in The Christmas Note. Neighbors Gretchen (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) and Melissa (Leah Gibson) are the type of people who will exchange polite “hellos” in the driveway and leave it at that, careful not to intrude on each other’s personal life, until some unexpected news brings them closer together.
Gretchen and her son, Ethan (Dylan Kingwell), move back to her hometown after her husband is injured during a second tour of duty. Ethan wastes no time exploring the neighborhood and practically invites himself over to Melissa’s house despite her desire to keep a distance. She doesn’t get a chance to tell the kid to back off though because she soon gets news of her mother’s death. Alone and without any friends or family, she turns to Gretchen. They discover a note from her mother and learn that Melissa has an older sibling who was given up for adoption.
Melissa’s efforts to reconnect with her lone family member and to find out more about her estranged mom lead down a compelling path, but problems in this movie have a way of sorting themselves out too cleanly. Little Wilsonville has all the connections, and if an old roommate or coworker can’t help Melissa, they know just the person who can, and he or she happens to live up the road. The movie also assumes a cloying optimism that doesn’t quite line up with a story so filled with pain and regret. I’d expect someone in Melissa’s position to push back a little, but every time she finds out something new about her mother or is disappointed in her search, she quickly picks herself up and moves on. I thought surely she’d fire back at Gretchen or Gretchen’s mother (Lynda Boyd) for spreading her business all about town. At the very least, I figured she’d have a word with Ethan about boundaries, whether or not he barged in with a plate of cookies.
Yet for all its overripe cheer, I appreciated the performances and a story that wasn’t centered around romantic love. The movie still rests on finding love in a small town, but that idea is manifested in different ways and expands Hallmark’s usual notions of loss and loneliness. Rather than recycling the same narrative about someone who’s recovering from a break-up or who’s at a juncture in her career, or who’s just inherited another bloody inn, The Christmas Note is more flexible in its concept of family. Melissa discovers she is not alone and finds mothers and sisters in her new friends.
The movie also shows sensitivity in dealing with grief and loss. One of the best moments in the film is when Gretchen delicately breaks the bad news to Melissa. Sigler allows us to empathize with Melissa through her own character, and Gretchen demonstrates compassion for a woman she has no connection to but whom she knows is in need of a friend. She and her son give Melissa space to grieve but also make sure they provide concrete support. I liked how Gibson moves through her character’s grief as well. Melissa has cut herself off emotionally for so long that seeing her rediscovering joy gives me the same feeling too.
Dir: Terry Ingram
Writer: Wesley Bishop, Jessica Scott, Erik Patterson
Cast: Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Leah Gibson, Lynda Boyd, Dylan Kingwell, Barclay Hope, Nicola Cavendish, Lochlyn Munro, Zachary Gulka
Time: 83 min
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries