Christmas Bells are Ringing (2018)

In subsequent years, when Christmas Bells are Ringing appears during Hallmark’s holiday marathon, few who have seen it will remember anything about it, I suspect. It’s so forgettable that I didn’t even remember seeing it, and that was less than 48 hours ago. The title has nothing to do with the story, though I suppose it’s an allusion to wedding bells since the film features a Christmas wedding. I was expecting instead a story about a Christmas bell store about to go under or a special Christmas bell heirloom found in a New England mansion inherited by the protagonist.

I prefer the first plot to the one we actually get, which is about a Boston-based photographer who returns to Cape Cod for a Christmas-themed photo shoot. Sam (Emilie Ullerup) hopes the essay will win her a permanent job at a newspaper, and she gets some help from local lad and erstwhile boyfriend, Mike (Josh Kelly), who goes out of his way to take her to lighthouses and ice rinks for the best views and shots. Sam agonizes a bit over the death of her mother, also a freelance photographer, some time ago while Mike agonizes over a new job opportunity in London.

That is all. Nothing else happens. Rather, things happen but nothing feels particularly urgent or consequential one way or another. Sam might have been anxious about her big opportunity, and she does furrow her brow every now and again to show she’s really focused on getting that touch-up right, but otherwise, she’s carefree and living it up in Cape Cod and her dad’s huge ass home. Nor does Mike ever show how conflicted he is about his move abroad. The film goes to great lengths to demonstrate that he is needed and loved by the community, but seeing him fix leaky ceilings and organize charity drives is not the same as revealing his see-sawing emotions and rationalizations over his decision to relocate.

The only moment in this entire movie that felt special was one shared between Sam and her soon-to-be-step-mom, whose name I don’t even remember. Just before the wedding, Sam gives her a handmade bracelet that she had once given to her mother, a touching gesture that beat with more emotion than anything else in the film and a nod to accepting change and looking ahead. The unfortunate thing is that nameless step-mother by herself has little personality. Besides knowing that she is a retired art teacher, we don’t get much else from her, though that’s no fault of the actor. Step-mom just moves from one scene to another like an automaton, there to go through the motions of getting married. Had she shared more scenes with Sam, we might have gotten a better sense of Sam’s struggle to find closure over her mom’s death or what role a new mother figure might play in her life.

The pleasant, easy-going nature of Hallmark movies can be a disservice to the story they are trying to tell, and in this case, eliding meaningful conflict makes for a boring story. Ullerup and Kelly are lovely, and I wouldn’t mind if they were my tour guides during my daytrip to Cape Cod. That’s different from sitting on my couch and watching them for an hour and a half though.

Released: 2018
Dir: Pat Williams
Writer: Nicole Baxter
Cast: Emilie Ullerup, Josh Kelly, Mark Humphrey, Rebecca Staab, Cameron McDonald, Roz Murray, Hamza Fouad, Leana Yu, Brenda Crichlow
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019