It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (2019)

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas really tries to live up to its name, premiering just days before December 25. It comes rather late on the Christmas movie calendar though, after we’ve had a couple months to soak in the festive cheer by watching multiple iterations of the same few plots and character types. At this point in the season, I need something truly extraordinary to give me that final Christmas boost. This movie about dueling mayors, however, is not it.

Though the story is a bit fun and different in concept, the execution is as unremarkable as ever. The script sticks to the usual rather than find new ways to highlight the rivalry between Sarah (Tricia Hefler) and Liam (Eric Mabius). The mayor of East Riverton and West Riverton, respectively, find themselves locked in yet another intense battle this holiday. Both compete to have a candle from the Stratford Candle Company named after their town and, in the process, try to convince the owner to build a new distribution center there.

It’s endless decorating contests and Christmas fun fairs but not much of that ubiquitous Christmas magic. The story stalls before it even has a chance to go anywhere. In order to win the competition, each town must make it through three unimaginative rounds, the first of which is to decorate the mayor’s residence. There might be fascinating ways to discuss twinkling lights and giant plastic bells, but you won’t find them here. Nor are the second and third rounds much of an improvement. The remarkably vague guidelines are to show how much fun Christmas can be and then to plan an event highlighting the meaning of Christmas in the community. That’s just lazy code for back-to-back shots of townspeople eating cookies, singing carols, and strolling through tree lots though. The movie creates an impression of holiday cheer and spirit but doesn’t deliver on it.

Too often, the plot seems to be going through the motions rather than trying to get to some emotional core of the story. At least Hefler and Mabius give it a shot and do what they can to ground their characters. The longstanding rivalry between Sarah and Liam, which started in school, has some real bite, and one reason for that is their friendly relationship with everyone else in their orbit, like her ex-husband (Peter Benson) and son (Nolan Hupp) and his parents. There’s obviously more to these two, who can go from snapping each other’s heads off to selfless generosity towards the other’s family. Yet as hard as the actors try, Sarah and Liam simply don’t have enough spark to keep me interested in their relationship. Ideally, I’d be rooting for both characters to win this candle contest, but instead, my mind wandered off to some fantasy sequel about their squirrely assistants, Yale (Raf Rogers) and Kendall (Aliza Vellani), who have more spunk between the two of them than everyone else in the movie combined. If only Hallmark would cast these two in their own Christmas movie next year – but that’s clearly a Lifetime film waiting to happen.

Released: 2019
Dir: David Weaver
Writer: Rick Garman
Cast: Tricia Hefler, Eric Mabius, Peter Benson, Nolan Hupp, Raf Rogers, Aliza Vellani, Michael Kopsa
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2019