Trading Christmas (2011)

When it comes to pre-AirBnB home swap movies, I’m always going to go with The Holiday because, well, emotional Jude Law. But Trading Christmas is not at all a bad Hallmark option, and it’s a full 40 minutes shorter. Sure, we have to forgo the cute cottage in Surrey and that palatial L.A. mansion, but we still get two compelling couples and a satisfying Christmas reunion.

The serious, adult A couple are Emily (Faith Ford) and Ray (Gil Bellows), who meet when she accidentally sets off the alarm at his brother’s Boston condo. Emily has flown in from Washington to surprise her daughter, Heather (Emma Lahana), a student at Boston College. She doesn’t know that Heather is in Phoenix with her boyfriend (Andrew Francis), so she’s stuck alone in a stranger’s minimalist flat with a suitcase full of handmade Christmas decorations. Being the good guy that he is, though not one with a particular need for human company, Ray takes Emily out for dinner to get her mind off things.

Meanwhile, B couple, Charles (Tom Cavanagh) and Faith (Gabrielle Miller), are about to set each other alight at the other end of the country. Best-selling writer Charles is under pressure to finish his latest novel and seeks solitude at Emily’s home in Washington state. The jittery author does not handle it well though when Emily’s friend, Faith, barges in unannounced. She too has flown in for a surprise visit, only to find herself trapped with this haughty, Christmas cookie-hating grinch.

There’s a lesson here about better communication, but the great script and punchy cast take precedence. This is exactly the kind of movie I want to see more of from Hallmark, something with the requisite feel-good factor but that also one that doesn’t shy away from sadness and pain. For good measure, these emotions are handled with generous amounts of sensitivity and humor, thanks to the film’s writers and actors.

We get four distinct personalities who, in the best way, deserve one another. Emily and Ray don’t know it, but both are on a journey of rediscovery. When they’re together, they find what they’ve been missing, which turns out to be a lot of joy and color. The couple are affecting because of Ford and Bellows, who ensure that Emily and Ray are appropriately reserved and awkward, until they no longer need to be. At the opposite end of the spectrum are Cavanagh and Miller giving it their snappiest best. They deliver flashier performances (see also Cavanagh’s cockney Shakespeare) but no less moving ones. In a win for annoyed women everywhere, Faith roundly smashes Charles’s ego, and is skilled at it from the look of things. That critical and emotional pushback is something no one’s provided so far but promises to make him a better writer and person. In similar fashion, Faith can let go of her caretaker persona when Charles is around. At last she’s found her equal when it comes to firecracker wit and energy. It’s a perfect match, just like me and this movie.

Released: 2011
Dir: Michael M. Scott
Writer: Bruce Graham
Cast: Tom Cavanagh, Faith Ford, Gil Bellows, Gabrielle Miller, Emma Lahana, Andrew Francis
Time: 87 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2019