Nostalgic Christmas (2019)

If you’re idea of a nostalgic Christmas includes wood mills, wood toys, and wooden acting, then…watch this movie. I don’t mean to take a shot at Trevor Donovan; the Chris Pine-adjacent hottie tries his best, and you can’t really hate a guy who loves dogs as much as he does, but I’m having a hard time buying his lonely widower in Maine act. Donovan plays Keith McClain, a doting father to a middle school daughter, Jessie (Jenna Weir). Unfortunately, his vibe is less dad and more surfer uncle from California who has to babysit the niece he hasn’t seen in five years.

Still, one can overlook this casting hiccup. Donovan doesn’t phone in the part and gives his face a workout, providing a good facsimile of proud, glum, and shocked dad or whatever else the script requires. He also gets on with costar Brooke D’Orsay, who plays department store toy buyer Anne Garrison. The two grow close when both are roped into organizing all of the town’s Christmas festivities.

There’s a workable plot in this, one in which Anne and Keith stumble their way through a Christmas tree lighting, a carnival, and a pageant. The idea’s not fresh but the two leads have enough chemistry to add some spark to the proceedings. The story falls apart though because it’s contrived to the point of distraction. Anne is home to help her soon-to-be-retired father and Keith is preoccupied with the impending sale of the mill where he works. Both agree to contribute to the holiday festivities in some way but find their generosity taken advantage of when one disaster after another strikes. What started as a job perhaps manning the hot chocolate stand turns into a full-time gig where they must oversee everything. The writers could try to make this pile-on more believable but are meh about that. There are apparently no townspeople willing to shoulder some responsibility, and Anne’s best friend (Tara Joshi), who suckered her into this gig, is happy to leave everything to the novices.

The other plotlines unfold much more organically at least. Anne thinks she’s making a quick detour to North Bay to help her dad, Bill (Ron Lea), close shop and move out. A woodworker who still enjoys making and selling traditional toys, Bill’s reluctant to let go of his store even if it means spending more time with his daughter. Anne appreciates her father’s craftsmanship and dedication but isn’t itching to leave that New York life or her Bluetooth and wifi-capable toys. With Jessie taking up some of Anne’s old hobbies though, like carving Santas and other decorations, maybe there’s another way forward. Meanwhile, Keith’s boss is contending with a similar problem on the other side of town. She’s wrestling with a decision to sell the mill, which would put half the town out of work, and Keith finds himself caught in the middle.

I’m disappointed that the movie doesn’t create a story and mood worthy of its lead actors. D’Orsay and Donovan make a happy, resilient couple and they should be given more to do with their characters. They deliver strong performances when it comes to weighty family affairs but are a bit lost amidst the holiday organizing.

Released: 2019
Dir: J.B. Sugar
Cast: Brooke D’Orsay, Trevor Donovan, Ron Lea, Jenna Weir, Tara Joshi, Chad Willett, Vanessa Burns
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019