Christmas at Grand Valley (2018)

If, like me, you’re watching this movie on Boxing Day and have been on a weeks-long holiday movie sprint, then Christmas at Grand Valley is the last thing you’ll want to see. There’s nothing grand about this film, which relies on every worn-out character and plot point it can find. If, however, you’re starting out your Christmas marathon and are feeling overly generous, you might be able to squeeze a little holiday joy out of this one.

It just takes a lot for me to get excited about the “save the farm/inn/diner/ranch” story these days. In this case, it’s the Grand Valley Lodge, a Wyoming Christmas destination with decades of history and memories but one that is in danger of closing due to falling revenue. Leo, who works for the company that owns the lodge, is sent to assess the property and determine if it’s worth keeping. As a perk, he gets to bring his two young children, Max (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot) and Emma (Hattie Kragten), who haven’t spent much downtime with their overworked dad since their mom died a few years ago.

Needless to say, the people at Grand Valley aren’t happy about hosting Leo in the middle of the holiday season. Mike (Chad Connell) has recently been promoted to manager and scrambles to get everything in top condition. He enlists his artist cousin, Kelly (Danica McKellar), to help out with the kid’s camp where she befriends Max and Emma. She has a frosty relationship with their dad though and doesn’t waste an opportunity to let him know how she feels.

It’s not hard to see exactly where this is heading, and I don’t dislike the movie for its predictability. Rather, it’s the fact that everything is overpolished. The characters and the story are fine-tuned to make us feel a certain way, but the whole thing is oddly void of emotion. Kelly, for example, is weary of the rejection she’s been getting from the Chicago art world. She doesn’t know if she should continue trying to make it in the big city or if she’d rather find inspiration at home where she’s at least surrounded by friends and family. I sympathize, but I have a hard time caring because it seems like she already knows what she wants.

Whenever there is a bit of passion, it ends up being the syrupy kind. The kids are uncommonly cheery. They’re so eager and well-behaved that if this were another kind of movie, you’d think they were evil robots sent to trick you into feeling warm and cozy before they kill you in your sleep. Everyone’s just so amped about snowmen! and ice skating! and carriage rides! If only that sense of fun translated into something more than empty exclamations. The movie could use a lot more humor or quirk. A subplot featuring Mike and a high school crush adds a little interest, but if you can figure out what makes this film special and really worth watching, well, kudos to you.

Released: 2018
Dir: Don McCutcheon
Writer: Mark Amato, Karen Berger, Sue Tenney
Cast: Danica McKellar, Brennan Elliott, Dan Lauria, Hattie Kragten, Gage Graham-Arbuthnot, Chad Connell, Zarrin Darnell-Martin, Angela Asher
Time: 84 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019