There comes a point in the holiday season when I’ll pretty much like any Christmas movie that doesn’t involve a ski lodge or party planners. I seem to have reached that point, so here I am recommending A Very Vintage Christmas, a movie that not only meets my low standards but exceeds them with an engaging mystery and some likable characters. While it may not be the most polished film, it tells a heartfelt story and is just right for a cold evening in.
The puzzle begins when Dodie (Tia Mowry-Hardrict) finds an old box hidden in the back of a wardrobe at her antiques shop. It contains the things you’d expect to find – photos, letters, random keys, a second place ribbon for a gingerbread competition. Always one for a good story about old stuff, Dodie tries to piece together a narrative before returning the box to its owner. She enlists the help of a new friend, Ed (Jesse Hutch), who knows the town well and, more importantly it turns out, is a contractor.
Their search takes them throughout Mountain View’s Christmas past and present. Dodie and Ed eventually learn that they’re chasing a mystery couple named Ginger and Carl, but they need to work through some false leads and municipal bureaucracy before getting close to the truth. The story works better if you believe that people don’t move around all that much and that someone would work as a Christmas elf for the better part of four decades. It’s a well paced plot that keeps you guessing though, and there’s a level of excitement you don’t get often with these movies.
The film also takes advantage of its casting. Mowry-Hardrict and Hutch may not be the strongest actors, but they make a great team. They give their characters a young, playful relationship and balance things out with an opposites attract dynamic. Dodie loves anything old and worn – though the costume designers did her dirty and dressed her in granny clothes – while Ed prefers blank slates and his iPhone. The two aren’t constantly locking horns or dashing around in Ed’s reindeer truck, however. The script allows for some slower moments and gives the relationship plenty of room to develop.
The movie still has some faults, but they’re easy to overlook if you’re the forgiving type. Dodie and Ed could have solved the mystery of Ginger and Carl, for example, by asking a few more questions in the early going. There’s also the matter of Dodie’s shop, which she bought through a loan from her father. Her poor friend Olivia (Agam Darshi) seems to be the one doing all the work while Dodie’s traipsing through town with the cute guy. Darshi, by the way, would have been my choice for the lead role. She fulfills her duties as the supporting character but has too much personality to be pushed to the background. I think the movie’s weakest point though is Dodie’s naiveté about the past, a curious trait for someone who owns an antique shop. She likes to imagine the best possible backstory for an object, imbuing her finds with a romance and nostalgia that isn’t always there. The script counters that a bit but then veers back to a conventional framing. Everything eventually works out as it should, but I think a story sometimes needs to work out as life is and embrace some of that tragedy.
Writer: Duane Poole
Cast: Tia Mowry-Hardrict, Jesse Hutch, Patricia Richardson, Agam Darshi, Fred Keating, Dolores Drake
Time: 87 min
Country: United States