Small Town Christmas (2018)

It’s too bad that Small Town Christmas is so forgettable because I really enjoyed the relationship between the two main characters. For most of the film, Nell (Ashley Newbrough) and Emmett (Kristoffer Polaha) are just friends, the plain old platonic kind. There’s not a hint of romance between the former coworkers who meet again after many years apart. It’s a refreshing change of pace and a reminder that it doesn’t have to be all romance all the time. Stories about deep friendships are just as moving as those about a pair lovebirds and certainly more relatable. I, for one, can’t picture being engaged to a boyfriend who I later find out is a prince, but I have longed to reconnect with people from my past.

Nell and Emmett get the opportunity when she visits his hometown of Springdale, which inspired her best-selling novel about a small town Christmas. When she swings by to drum up publicity and find new ideas for a sequel, she inevitably runs into Emmett. He’s been in Springdale this whole time taking care of his niece, Marnie (Bailey Skodje), and working at his sister’s bookshop. You’d think there would be a lot of bitterness and resentment, and the two do have to sort through the past, but the prevailing feeling is one of sadness. They regret their lost friendship and the memories they could have had. At the same time, it’s beautiful to see them reach out as changed people and see if they can pick up again.

That is story enough, but we get a secondary plot involving Brad (Preston Vanderslice), a developer who wants to turn Springdale into a holiday destination. His plan would mean buying up many of the locally owned stores and instituting flashy new traditions to entice visitors. The shop owners aren’t quite on board with the latter, but they find a big payout from his company harder to resist.

This idea has been done to death, and as much as I love small towns, I wasn’t persuaded to side with anyone in this fight. If you’re going to write a story about the big, bad developers coming in, something needs to stand out. The only character who left any impression was a pregnant woman, but I don’t even remember who she is or what she does. Even Nell and Emmett kind of fade after awhile. Though the mismatched casting of Newbrough and Polaha actually work for this story, they never quite overcome their characters’ awkwardness and seem to run out of things to do once the redevelopment plot kicks in.

Released: 2018
Dir: Maclain Nelson
Writer: Samantha Herman
Cast: Ashley Newbrough, Kristoffer Polaha, Preston Vanderslice, Bailey Skodje, Veronika Hadrava, Linda Sorensen, Daniel Bacon, Ryan McDonell, Debs Howard
Time: 90 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019