I always like Tatyana Ali even if I don’t always like her Christmas movies, and The Christmas Hotel is unfortunately one of her more lackluster films. She brings a lot of personality to the production as do the other cast members, but they can’t do much to dress up the dopey plot. The story centers around the titular hotel in Garland Grove, a pit stop of a place for folks who are on their way to the skiing. Erin (Ali), a manager at the Wyndsor Hotel in New York is hoping for a promotion to the chain’s Rome location. She gets a shock when she’s instead transferred back home to oversee the completion of the company’s newest hotel in time for its investors. The residents of Garden Grove, including Erin’s parents, don’t welcome her with open arms, however. They may be hurting for business and tourist dollars, but the last thing they want is a hotel chain sprouting up amidst the local shops.
There are a few details about these films that some may overlook but that bother the hell out of me. Wyndsor, a chain of luxury hotels, really has no business being in Garden Grove. Erin says as much when her boss gives her the new assignment, but Bianca Wyndsor (Erika Walter) is adamant about expanding into this untapped market. Fine, I’ll believe that; rich skiers have to sleep somewhere. What I’m not prepared to believe, however, is that some cramped filming location is doubling as an upscale hotel. The opening scenes prime us to expect the Peninsula or a Mandarin Oriental and instead we get a Holiday Inn Express. The filmmakers might as well have hit up the local Motel 6 since that’s the classy aesthetic they seem to be aiming for.
There’s a sense of carelessness here that takes away from the film as a whole. Some fundamentals of production, plot, and character just get ignored, like one turning point in the relationship between Erin and her childhood crush, Connor (Sean Patrick Thomas). As the leader of the protests against Wyndsor, he’s already helped drive out the hotel’s world-renowned chef and he has no qualms about taking Erin out too. Girl’s not going just going to stand there and take it though, so she reimagines the luxury digs, turning it into a year-round Christmas hotel with a lineup of festive activities. Talk about a fickle bunch. The holiday-loving residents of Garden Grove eat it up, and suddenly everyone wants to contribute to this project. Even Connor comes onboard when Erin offers him position of head chef. I admit his quick 180 surprised me. In a matter of seconds, he goes from leading the rebellion to giddily proposing gingerbread baking classes (also suggesting we get our homemade decorations from Etsy-dot-com). It’s enough to make you question the sincerity of his initial protest.
I’d love a better vehicle for Ali and Thomas, who have not aged one damn bit in the last twenty years. Both have a laidback, playing-it-cool vibe that comes through even when their characters aren’t so chill. It’s hard not to like them, and it’s especially hard not to give in to a bubbly Giselle Gant as Connor’s sister, Penny. I feel like they deserve something a little more unconventional, but The Christmas Hotel is as basic as you’re going to get.
Dir: Marla Sokoloff
Writer: Anna White
Cast: Tatyana Ali, Sean Patrick Thomas, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Giselle Gant, Telma Hopkins, Erika Walter, Nate Bynum, Stephen Jared, Cameron Kelly
Time: 90 min
Country: United States