These days, you don’t turn to Hallmark if you’re looking for something bleak. It’s not a bad quality when it comes to Christmas movies though, and casting a more somber tone sometimes helps to bring out the true meaning of the season. There’s nothing wrong with a movie that fills us with hope while also challenging the very idea of it, but you won’t get that with Hallmark movies now. They’re polished, but they don’t exactly reflect reality, even if the loss of a business or the death of a loved one are actual difficulties.
That’s why I kind of like The Town Christmas Forgot. It’s not a good movie and sticks with familiar tropes and a predictable plot about a town in decline, but there’s a scrubbiness to it with characters who really carry the weight of their troubles. Hallmark movies today have a slick, slapped together appearance, but Nowhere, the forgotten town of this film, looks like almost every town within a fifty mile radius of me. We don’t have wreaths on every lamppost or cute bakeries with festive holiday sweets. No, it’s just a crumpled poster for a Christmas pageant that might not happen and a dim string of lights dangling across the door frame.
That’s about all the festivity the people of Nowhere can muster. The closing of the coal mine has hit the town hard, and just getting through the day is a chore. Those who are left must pick up the slack where they can, which is how you end up with people like Coleman (Phillip Jarrett), a mechanic who also does hair and guards the empty mine. It’s drab everywhere you go, and one of the saddest sights is a papered up toy store called Toy Town. In order to lift people’s spirits, café owner Samantha Bee (not that one but Stephanie Belding) decides to put on a Christmas pageant and showcase Nowhere’s finest talents.
Unfortunately, few town share her enthusiasm, and the highlight may be two trained chickens since they at least have some skills. So it’s perfect timing when the Benson family get caught in a snowstorm and have to wait it out in Nowhere. They venture into town so they won’t go stir-crazy sitting in their motel room, and each finds him or herself engaging with the community in a special way. Dad Charles (Rick Roberts) tags along with Coleman, the children (Torri Webster and Azer Greco) stumble into the high school, and mom Annie (Lauren Holly) unexpectedly plays choreographer.
The story relies on the tired idea of city slickers coming in to save, literally at times, the sheltered coal country bumpkins. I could do without the generalizations of either side when they’re done for laughs. We get it; the rural diner does not serve a sugar-free vanilla soy latte. But sometimes the contrasts are a gut punch. One of the best scenes is when Annie gets drafted into helping Samantha’s dance group, though the group is more like a few friends who shuffle to music. Samantha convinces Annie to give them pointers, reasoning that she’s the only one who’s ever seen a real musical. It’s probably true, which makes the comment both funny and sad. Samantha knows the limitations of Nowhere, but she also just accepts them and gets on with life. Her optimism isn’t naïve or foolish but sweet and endearing. She’s honest with others and herself. It’s what I like about her and this movie.
Dir: John Bradshaw
Writer: Jim Makichuk
Cast: Lauren Holly, Rick Roberts, Torri Webster, Azer Greco, Stephanie Belding, Joe Pingue, Phillip Jarrett
Time: 84 min
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel