I don’t like to admit that I’m a sucker for Christmas TV movies, but I’ll gladly own up to watching them when Broadway stars are involved. So it’s without shame that I share my love for Sweet Mountain Christmas, starring Megan Hilty of Wicked and Smash fame. It’s not the best film of the season (that would be Two Turtle Doves over at Hallmark – I don’t care that it’s still early November), but Hilty’s winning performance glosses over the story’s imperfections.
The actor plays Laney Blu, a Malibu-based country singer going through a rough patch. Her last few albums have flopped prompting her to pivot towards a pop sound, one that necessitates a wardrobe change and some tricky choreography. She’s scheduled to launch her latest song at a holiday extravaganza in New York City but manages to squeeze in a quick visit home before Christmas. That quick visit turns into a longer one when a storm hits and she gets into an accident with a snowplow, a snowplow that happens to be driven by her ex-boyfriend, Robbie (Marcus Rosner).
Unfortunately, there’s only one road in and out of Baxter Mountain, a “beautiful little snow globe of a town,” so Laney is trapped and will likely miss her show in New York. That’s great news for her mom (Teryl Rothery). She’s super excited that her daughter finally gets to spend more than one day at home, and I can relate because, well, my mom complained until I moved in with her. Laney finds that the rest of the town isn’t altogether thrilled about her return though. Aside from a few wide-eyed strangers, most of her old friends and acquaintances are ambivalent and feel like she abandoned the town long ago. But after Robbie puts her to work rounding up performers for a Christmas show, everyone begins to warm up to one another.
The movie sort of adopts one of those “small towns are better” plots. Laney comes home and discovers what she’s been missing all this time. As a rule, I hate these stories. They’re reductive and perpetuate a false narrative that cities are horrible and your far-flung podunk town represents all that is right in the world. I come from one of these towns and can tell you that all places kind of suck. Laney is not unaware of this. She reflects knowingly on how she would have been desperate to leave Baxter Mountain if she had stayed. That’s not her though, so now she just writes songs about people who are desperate to leave.
Thankfully, the story doesn’t lean too heavily into this, and her journey home is more of a way for Laney to get in touch with who she is as a musician. She doesn’t forsake her career and fame for Mr. Snowplow because she knows important life decisions are not so black and white. Without that needless wrangling, the story and characters have room to breathe. Sure, the supporting characters could be more dynamic and a subplot about developers building holiday homes gets dropped, but Hilty makes up for it. She gives Janey plenty of charm; the superstar is easy to like but also lets ego get in the way every now and then. Her snarky relationship with Robbie adds some crackle and pop too. My favorite moments though are when Hilty sings. Whether it’s a short, sweet rendition of “The First Noel” or that final number whose title I can’t find, her voice is a real holiday treat.
No trailer but here’s “The Christmas Song” from Hilty’s 2016 Christmas album:
Writer: Gregg Rossen, Brian Sawyer
Cast: Megan Hilty, Marcus Rosner, Teryl Rothery, Brittney Wilson, Kate Isaac, Lina Renna, Sebastian Billingsley-Rodriguez, Latonya Williams
Time: 83 min
Country: United States