My primary takeaway from this movie is that I too would like a magical wish-granting snow globe. Also a trip on an old timey train with lacquered wood seats. The rest of the film, the second in the Christmas in Evergreen series, I could do without. It’s exactly the kind of thing people expect when you mention Hallmark Christmas movies, and everything from the plot to the dialogue drips with sap, the effect being not so sweet as it is gooey.
The fire engine red Mercury M-100 truck and said magical snow globe are back in Letters to Santa, but a new set of protagonists sweeps into Evergreen for this holiday story. Allie (Ashley Williams), the vet with the unmistakable truck, is out of town for the week and lends her motor to Kevin (Mark Deklin), a roving contractor visiting his dad, Henry (Daryl Shuttleworth). Also home for the holidays is Lisa (Jill Wagner), who left Evergreen as a kid but has always longed to come back. She’s disappointed to learn that her favorite Christmasy place, Daisy’s General Store, has shuttered and that its beloved owner (BJ Harrison) has passed. Her homecoming is further spoiled by news that the building will be turned into a chain store if a local buyer can’t be found.
Thankfully, Lisa has experience convincing buyers to purchase whole ass stores. A stager with aspirations of opening a home design business with her partner (Andrew Francis), she knows just how many Christmas trees and homemade ornaments Daisy’s needs to attract the right owner. But first she has to get the place cleaned up, and so she turns to hot contractor. Kevin is reluctant to accept such a rushed job, but he’s also loathe to turn down the woman who’s super hyped and begging for his help. After they get to work, they realize that her interior design skills and his construction know-how might not be enough to sell the store. When Lisa finds a decades-old letter to Santa, she decides on a new strategy. She figures a buyer might be convinced if they saw Evergreen in all its Christmas glory, so she enlists the help of her new friends to revive some old traditions, like a candlelight procession, carol singing, and church bells – all the things you’ll have on your Hallmark bingo card.
Letters to Santa manages to keep its focus despite an ensemble cast and sprawling subplots; the school principal (Holly Robinson Peete) takes a chance on a handsome stranger (Colin Lawrence), and a kid (Marlon Kazadi) hunts for the lock that goes with his special key. However, the movie never breaks past the façade of Christmas cheer, and much of the excitement looks and feels superficial. Warner sets that tone with her depiction of Lisa, yet another one of the actor’s polished, can-do characters. Lisa’s the sort who can problem solve her way out of any mess, and that leaves little room for vulnerability, even when she reaches a difficult decision regarding her job and her feelings for Kevin. Deklin, on the other hand, gives a far more nuanced portrayal. Kevin clearly has some issues to work out with his dad, and his character is the only one for whom Evergreen’s nostalgia trip might prove transformative. There are just too few characters one can connect with though. The filmmakers seem to have taken a page from Lisa’s playbook, thinking that the right props – Santa’s letter box, a church choir, a frozen pond – will be enough to sell their story, but it doesn’t quite have the warmth of being home for the holidays.
Dir: Sean McNamara
Writer: Zac Hug
Cast: Jill Wagner, Mark Deklin, Holly Robinson Peete, Barbara Niven, Michelle Martin, Chris Cope, BJ Harrison, Andrew Francis, Rukiya Bernard, Colin Lawrence, Marlon Kazadi, Daryl Shuttleworth
Time: 84 min
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel