Our reviewer tests her marriage with a Hallmark Christmas movie
By Diana Beechener
It’s been an unusual year, readers, so your moviegoer thought she’d offer an unusual review. Hallmark Christmas movies have long been a staple of the holiday season—they’re also a staple of July for some reason, but we’ll let that go. Though I usually put them on while decorating the tree or baking cookies, I’ve never sat down and actually watched a Hallmark film all the way through.
So, my intrepid editor set a challenge: Sit down and actually watch a Hallmark Christmas movie, then report back. Because I never like to do things the easy way, I decided to force my husband Jack (whose idea of a Christmas movie is Lethal Weapon) to help me with the review.
Let’s take a look at what almost got me a divorce for Christmas, shall we?
Christmas She Wrote is about popular Manhattan columnist Kayleigh (Danica McKellar: Matchmaker Mysteries), caught in a round of layoffs orchestrated by incoming editor-in-chief Tripp (Dylan Neal: The Gourmet Detective). Heartbroken, she returns to her small California town near Lake Tahoe for a family Christmas. Tripp, who apparently didn’t check readership numbers or read the paper before taking it over and making blanket layoffs, realizes that Kayleigh was the linchpin of the paper and he’ll be fired if he doesn’t get her back. He jets off to woo Kayleigh back, and finds that the charming writer might be able to teach him the true meaning of Christmas.
The first problem we spotted was the clunky writing. Kayleigh is stopped on the streets of Manhattan by a woman who’s grateful for a column celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah. The woman speaks of the Jewish festival of lights as if she’d never heard of such a thing. It’s an odd moment in Manhattan, where the Jewish community makes up 20% of the population.
Also odd is the fact that a corporate businessman would take over a paper without knowing anything about the actual paper—not even a budget report.
I hit pause.
“Why would he fire the most popular columnist in his paper without consulting the publisher or checking the numbers on her column?”
Jack hit play, sighing, “Why are you making me watch this?”
I hoped the movie would win him over but it devolved from there. The real problem with the movies on the Hallmark Channel is the lack of care. These films may be all about slowing down to enjoy life, but the production values are surprisingly slapdash. I can set aside CGI snow that looks like a SnapChat filter, but the acting is rushed. Neither performer is bad, but it feels like a lot of these scenes were done in one take with no rehearsal. The Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR) was egregious as well, the audio clearly being replaced by a studio recording and then slapped into the film with little care. The result is audio where the background noise drops out and the voices are oddly loud.
I hit pause again. “I can’t get over how shoddy the filmmaking is.”
“I can’t get over the fact that you’re making me watch this…and stop pausing this thing!”
I can only assume that the budget that could have gone to basic film-making was spent on copious Christmas decorations. Every room in Kayleigh’s home is decorated. Fresh garlands are in her bedroom with small trees and Christmas lights. When her niece complains that the family hasn’t decorated a tree yet, my husband flailed dramatically at the screen remarking “WHERE WILL THEY FIT A TREE IN ALL THIS?”
It was true, there was nary a frame that didn’t have a distracting amount of décor (all available at your local Hallmark Store). The two-person household (hosting Kayleigh as a guest) had an indoor and an outdoor tree, about six small trees, and enough fresh garlands to create an ecosystem of its own. Surely there were no trees left in the mountains after this family rolled through.
Still, the main actors found the true spirit of Christmas, kissed, and the credits abruptly started rolling. My husband leaped from the sofa as if he’d been set on fire.
“Oh, come on, Jack, that wasn’t too bad!”
The glare I received was not a ringing endorsement. I asked if he’d like to watch another movie. He muttered something about cleaning the kitchen before absconding from the room.
And I think that’s the key to enjoying Hallmark movies—a lack of focus. If you’re scrolling through your phone, putting up your holiday decorations, or baking cookies, the terrible ADR, shoddy writing, and wooden performances won’t bother you. These are great Christmas movies because you’ll get things done. These aren’t films so much as motivational seasonal background noise. If you’ve put off wrapping presents, try watching a Hallmark movie and you’ll be done before the credits.
Great Holiday Fare If You Need to Get Chores Done * TV-G * 120 mins.