Hallmark may have the holiday TV movie market cornered, but I’m not sorry Lifetime is making a push and poaching their competitor’s talents. In the last few years, we’ve seen the likes of Niall Matter, Nicky Whelan, and Rachel Boston migrate over, bringing fans including myself along with them. I’m not sorry for wanting to jump ship though because Lifetime is doing something that Hallmark hasn’t done for years, something that has nothing to do with storytelling. It’s an attempt at diversity, not a great one, but a noticeable one nonetheless, and I support. Both channels will give you predictable romances that inevitably wrap up with a tidy, feel-good ending, but only Lifetime is making some attempt to break from the token black boss or black best friend.
I noticed the effort in the opening minutes of Snowed-Inn Christmas. The brother-in-law of the main character is Eric (Aaron Radwanski), a black guy who shares a biracial daughter and a physically affectionate relationship with his white wife. The other person of color is Simone (Tasha Smith). She spends most of the film as the token black boss, but Lifetime surprises with a short twenty second scene at the end, showing her enjoying Christmas with a houseful of relatives. It’s not strictly necessary – the scene, which involved a work-related phone call, could have played out anywhere to the same effect – but it gives these characters an interior life instead of just using them in sterile, perfunctory parts.
Of course, these aren’t the main reasons to enjoy the movie. Andrew Walker and Bethany Joy Lenz are always worth watching even if their movies don’t match their charisma. The two make a feisty team of dueling magazine writers trying to save their jobs. Both are sent to an Aspen resort over the winter holiday and tasked with writing an online feature. The assignment comes with a twist though. The magazine needs to make cuts, and their editor, Simone, can only afford to keep the writer whose article attracts the most readers. With Christmas just one week away, this doesn’t seem like great planning on Simone’s part, but it all works out in the end because her two writers, Kevin and Jenna, take a detour that saves more than the magazine.
They end up in Santa Claus, Indiana after bad weather prevents them from continuing on to Aspen. An old couple, Carol and Chris Winters (Belinda Montgomery and John B. Lowe), offers them a room at their inn, and Kevin and Jenna try to make the most of it when they realize they’ll be there for awhile. Indiana clearly rubs Kevin the wrong way, however. He’s mum about the reason, but it seems related to his dad. Meanwhile, Jenna loves the inn’s history and happily digs through crates of old ornaments and photos. Things take a strange turn when she finds a picture from the early nineteenth century, one that appears to show Carol and Chris. But before they can solve that mystery, the writers are drawn into the Winters’ fight to save their inn, which is due to be closed and redeveloped within the year. The couple need documentation proving they own the historical landmark, but their real identity complicates things.
If you’re feeling the Christmas spirit and are looking for a movie that asks you to believe the unbelievable, this is one to check out. Walker and Lenz are by far the best part of the film, and their firecracker chemistry helps the story push through the duller midsection, when they’ve decided to give up their hyper-competitive ways. I wish Lifetime and Hallmark would get their collective heads together and come up with more challenging storylines though. Kevin and Jenna are roles that the two actors have played countless times before, and all I want for Christmas is a little change of pace (which I know I can do by changing the channel).
Dir: Gary Yates
Writer: Carley Smale
Cast: Bethany Joy Lenz, Andrew Walker, Belinda Montgomery, John B. Lowe, Tasha Smith, Stephanie Moroz, Aaron Radwanski, Susanna Portnoy
Time: 86 min
Country: United States