Jingle Belle (2018)

It’s about time we shine the spotlight on society’s real unsung heroes– jingle writers. How can you not sympathize with someone who has to squeeze “non-GMO” and “gluten-free” into a memorable ditty about cookies, which is what Belle (Tatyana Ali) struggles with in her latest Farmland Bakery campaign. The Julliard grad is one of the top in the business, but even she can’t muster a catchy song that will sell healthy baked goods. So her boss (Loretta Devine) sends her back to Masonville for some hometown inspiration, a move that’s also a boon for the small Ohio town. Masonville is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its Christmas concert, and the mayor insists on marking the occasion with an original song. Belle is disappointed to learn, however, that her high school ex and duet partner is in charge of the celebration.

Michael (Cornelius Smith Jr.), now the local music teacher, is just as hesitant to team up his former girlfriend. He’s still in a mood over the fact that she left town to study at Julliard instead sticking around Masonville to be with him and taking up music there. Can’t fault a woman for leaving a guy like that, but perhaps a second chance will help him appreciate Belle’s talents more fully. In any case, Michael is starting to realize his own music dreams and abilities through this project.

Their relationship is sweet, no more so than when the two are casually riffing on snowmen together. Then again, I’d just seen Ali in Wrapped Up in Christmas, and pretty much anything was going to be a step up. Ali shines when she gets a costar and story that plays up her vibrant personality. Keshia Knight Pulliam also adds more to her character than what’s in the script. She plays Belle’s sister, and I would not object to a sequel about just the two of them.

I have to admit my favorite parts of the movie though are the opening and closing bops. Lifetime movies are always improved with original music. I’d believe you if you told me the first song, which Belle sings with Michael when they are still high schoolers, is an original Ali number from the late 90s. Surely she sang that at her Disney Christmas concert with ‘N Sync. The song that they write for the anniversary, “Nothing Says Home Like Christmas,” is more mellow with lyrics that acknowledge warm Christmas feels despite changing times. It’s a good tune to add to the rotation if you can find it.

Released: 2018
Dir: Peter Sullivan
Cast: Tatyana Ali, Cornelius Smith Jr, Loretta Devine, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Tempestt Bledsoe, Dee Wallace, Valarie Pettiford, Obba Babatunde, Arsema Kayan Ellison, Blake Anthony Crawford, Clotile Bonner
Time: 86 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Lifetime
Reviewed: 2019