Christmas movies

A Date By Christmas Eve (2019)

A Date By Christmas Eve doesn’t have much going for it. In fact, star Vanessa Lengies is about the only reason to watch this movie about a woman whose life goes topsy-turvy when she starts using an enchanted dating app. Chelsea (Lengies), a developer or marketer of some sorts, gives said app a makeover, redesigning the interface and substituting swipes for naughty and nice lists. When a colleague steals her idea and her promotion though, she gets some help from a mysterious Mrs. Kringle (Morgan Fairchild).

Lengies holds the movie together and makes Chelsea an instantly likable and sympathetic lead. The actor elevates her character to more than the basic nice girl. Chelsea can be generous to a fault, giving in to the whims of her needy roommate, Keegan (Katherine Bailess), and putting in double time to finish her work, but she’s also not the hapless pushover she could have been. While easily persuaded, she stands up for herself when it matters, even if she’d rather avoid a confrontation. After learning her boyfriend, Rod (Taylor Frey), is playing the field, on her app no less, she dumps the guy. Then she finds the gumption to call out her coworker, Blythe (Julie McNiven), when she passes off Chelsea’s upgrade ideas as her own.

The poor woman can’t get a break, until she meets the model for the app’s ad campaign. Mrs. Kringle sprinkles some of her magic Santa dust, and suddenly getting on Chelsea’s naughty or nice list has real consequences. Chelsea’s wishes for her friends and foes start to come true. Rod, for example, begins to appreciate her in ways he never did while they were dating, and Keegan breaks out in her new and confident self. While well intentioned though, these wishes lead to unexpected and not entirely welcome changes in Chelsea’s personal and professional life. They also wreak havoc on her relationship with her super nice and chill neighbor, Fisher (Evan Williams), the guy who clearly is the one for her.

It takes a while for Chelsea to see that, and meanwhile, watching the movie is just waiting for the script to hit all the marks. This is a tidy story in which every character neatly defined by their one or two signature characteristics. Chelsea finds a way to contain the mess, and things wrap up in a predictable but satisfying conclusion. Aside from Lengies’s performance though, there’s nothing special about this film. Chelsea’s kindness doesn’t resonate in any larger way. This story will warm you, since most stories about the sweet girl who tries to do some good and then has to patch things up when they backfire would, but the feeling disappears as soon as the movie’s over.

Alt Title: The Naughty List
Released: 2019
Dir: Jake Helgren
Writer: Jake Helgren
Cast: Vanessa Lengies, Evan Williams, Katherine Bailess, Julie McNiven, Morgan Fairchild, Nikki Soohoo,Taylor Frey, Michelle Mitchenor, Ashley Holliday Tavares
Time: 93 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Lifetime
Reviewed: 2020

Ghosting: The Spirit of Christmas (2019)

The folks at Freeform take some chances with Ghosting: The Spirit of Christmas. The movie is a wild spin – and one you must watch to the very end – but it also has a sticky-sweet heart that’s right for Christmas or any time of the year. The film skews towards a younger audience, but even I, of the pre-millennial group, have zero regrets about stumbling across it during a commercial break. This definitely beats all the party planner Christmas movies I’ve been watching with a story that is equal parts wacky and touching. Also, the lead cast are tops and the diversity is a fine, blessed flourish.

Aisha Dee and Kimiko Glenn play Jess and Kara. The best friends are trying to live their best lives in L.A. but still have a few things to figure out. Jess hops from job to job and loses yet another when she pushes female Santa cookies at the bakery where she works. Kara has more of a handle on her employment, brewing tea at a health food chain while concocting her own blends on the side. A hot date changes everything though, as in Jess dies. Her untimely end comes when she checks her phone after spending a night out with Ben (Kendrick Sampson), so yes, you’re also getting an anti-texting-and-driving PSA.

Poor Ben thinks Jess has ghosted him only to realize that’s literally what she’s done. At least they get a second date, which is weird because no one except him and Kara can see her. Cue some ghost-related humor, like Ben talking to himself and the couple trying to figure out if human-ghost sex is a thing. Some of the scenes feel like forced comedy bits, and the plot sticks to a conventional problem of Jess trying to figure out what she needs to do to cross over. However, this supernatural element also pushes the story and its characters into some unexpected emotional territory. Though Jess and Ben hardly know each other, their love is raw and intense. Something about knowing your time together is limited makes love run deeper than infatuation. Of course it doesn’t hurt when the other person is drop-dead gorgeous (and not a murderer).

Jess’s friend also gets in on the romance. Kara partners with Ben’s psychology student sister, Mae (Jazz Raycole), who thinks the two of them have dreamt up some batty coping mechanism by talking to invisible Jess. This relationship feels more contrived, as if the two are thrown together for convenience’s sake. Glenn and Raycole don’t have great romantic chemistry either, but both still carve out some room for their characters to grow. Kara and Mae counter Jess and Ben’s passion with something more grounded in the realities of, well, living.

The most satisfying love though is the one between Jess and Kara. Besides being effortlessly cool, they have a bond that literally transcends death. This isn’t just a story about Jess finding love but also one about Kara finding purpose. They support each other to those ends, holding the other to account even when it seems like it doesn’t matter anymore. They also share some of the most poignant moments in the film, when they say heartfelt goodbyes not knowing if it will be the last. Dee and Glenn are such refreshing choices for these two women. The actors portray their characters with such honesty, and Jess and Kara have a friendship that really capture all the messiness of young adulthood.

Released: 2019
Dir: Theresa Bennett
Writer: Laura Donney
Cast: Aisha Dee, Kimiko Glenn, Kendrick Sampson, Jazz Raycole, Missi Pyle
Time: 87 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Freeform
Reviewed: 2020

Christmas in Montana (2019)

The old save-the-family-business plot makes one final appearance before the close of the holiday season. While it’s not my favorite, it’s fine for a cold Monday night. Stars Kellie Martin and Colin Ferguson always turn in solid performances, and they deliver some heart to this otherwise mundane story about an L.A.-based financial advisor and her cattle rancher client in Montana.

Sara (Martin) finds herself in Bigfork to help Travis (Ferguson) streamline his business and secure a much needed loan during Christmas. She arrives ready to dig into ledgers and spreadsheets, but he works on Montana time. That means she’ll spend as much of her visit decorating a barn and riding horses as she does combing through the ranch’s books. While she pushes back, she can’t do much to slow the holiday preparations swirling around her.

It’s nice to see a pair who aren’t antagonistic from the start. Sara and Travis ultimately have the same goal, and so no one’s trying to undercut the other. Even when she defaults to some drastic cost-cutting measures that he refuses to entertain, she keeps trying to find another workaround because she respects his commitment. That makes her amenable to his plans to involve her in all the ranch’s holiday activities, which is at the core of the movie.

Other Hallmark films this year, like Two Turtle Doves and Under the Christmas Stars, have done a better job wrestling with grief and loneliness, but this is still a fair effort. Sara and her teenage daughter, Chloe (Ava Preston), have kept things low key since her husband died four years ago. Diving into all of Travis’s Christmas traditions and spending time with his family and friends, however, causes her to reconsider her own approach to the holidays.

The key, I think, is the maturity that the two actors bring to their roles. Both have the look of real sadness etched on their faces. Martin has played the distraught widow or fiancée countless times, and though Ferguson usually gets the pluckier part and does so again here, he also shares an affecting backstory about Travis’s relationship with his parents, his regrets, and his time as a lawyer in New York. Their characters have a depth of experience and emotion that allows the movie’s message about family resonate. In the end, it’s not so much about Christmas in Montana but about surrounding yourself with people who care for you. That’s what makes this holiday so festive for Sara and Chloe and why this movie still gets a nod of approval from me.

Released: 2019
Dir: T.W. Peacocke
Writer: Julie Sherman Wolfe
Cast: Kellie Martin, Colin Ferguson, Ava Preston, Art Hindle, Victoria Snow, Kayla Hutton
Time: 82 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019