LLL 001: "I guess wishes do come true."
Fake reporters, 365 days of Christmas, and a Build-a-Bear original.
Well hello there! 💁🏻♀️
I am very happy (ecstatic, even!) to welcome you to the first-ever issue of the Leading Lady of Lifetime newsletter. TBH, after the week (month? year?) we’ve had, this newsletter almost didn’t happen — what do we need holiday cheer for when democracy is on its death bed? However, now that things are 🤞 looking up, I’m feeling a bit more festive.
So, between now and 12/23, I’ll be watching, recapping, and reviewing ~every~ made-for-TV holiday movie released by Lifetime, Hallmark, and, of course, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Every week, you’ll get an email with ~8 of these movies analyzed, unpacked, and celebrated. Critiques worthy of the beautiful art they are critiquing.
Your Leading Lady of Lifetime, Sarah
1. Christmas on Ice ❄️
We’re starting off strong with a tale of nepotism, small business struggles, figure skaters versus hockey players, and oops-I-dropped-my-papers meet-cutes. Courtney is a former figure skater who runs a quaint lil’ skating rink, and Noah is a famous hockey player who owns a big ol’ skating complex nearby. The mayor says the city can’t pay for the dinky rink-y anymore, so Courtney tries to figure out a way to save the day. Noah likes the skating classes Courtney offers (his daughter’s a student!) and decides to help. They start falling in love, Courtney realizes Noah’s the mayor’s son-in-law (this causes some conflict), and she manipulates (just being honest here) the mayor into memorializing the rink — and funding it with a separate, underused budget — in honor of his daughter who passed.
More important than the plot is what’s become even more clear in my THIRD year of watching these movies: The actors, location, and other specifics are all meaningless and interchangeable. They are but a blank canvas for a random combination of tropes to be haphazardly flung upon. Lifetime (and Hallmark) know what the people want. FORMULA. REQUITED ROMANCE. PEOPLE WHOSE MOST SUBSTANTIAL PERSONALITY TRAIT IS LOVING CHRISTMAS.
This one was fine enough, but I was confused by two main things: Why is the mayor’s assistant or whatever a part-time, very emotionally (and seemingly financially) invested elf and no one ever questions it? Why oh why is the town newspaper called “Telegram and Gazette”? Perhaps this confusion is the real meaning of Christmas.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 ❄️
2. Jingle Bell Bride 🔔
I hate to be losing my edge so early on, but this one was pretty delightful. This, of course, fell into many, MANY of the tropes — but I have to give it props for the casting and the ending.
First, the two main characters, Jessica and Matt, are played by people of color — something that’s VERY RARE for Hallmark. Second, almost all of the made-for-TV movies that start with a woman in a big city who has a HIGH-POWERED CAREER and NO TIME FOR SENTIMENTALITIES like CHRISTMAS OR FAMILY culminate with the woman leaving her career and city behind to live in a small Christmas town with a man who has an appreciation for the simple things.
TBH I have no idea if Jessica continues her career as a wedding planner after her boss and co-worker screw her over — they kick her off the planning of a wedding when she’s literally TRAPPED in the Alaskan town she went to for the bride’s STUPID CHRISTMAS FLOWERS — but Matt leaves the small Christmas town behind and moves to New York for HER (and also the university job he left behind after a painful divorce).
Also, the two leads generally didn’t suck and weren’t too boring. This is pretty much as good as it gets for Hallmark.
Rating: 3.25 out of 4 🔔
3. Christmas Unwrapped 📰
Nothing delights me quite as much as a made-for-TV holiday movie with a character who’s a “journalist.” Charity (wow) really wants to become a REAL JOURNALIST, but she’s historically just been a BLOGGER. Apparently she was hired by this newspaper (which might be the New York Post?) without her editor ever having read her writing. It also appears the world is like reverse Toy Story and nobody has their own lives outside the main character.
Now, it’s important to first understand that Charity believes in COLD HARD FACTS, NOT Santa. Anyway, Charity’s first writing assignment is this exposé about this guy who runs a charity (WOW), Erik, and where he really gets the money for the countless gifts he hands out every Christmas. Turns out the benefactor is Santa (THE Santa), but Charity’s editor thinks there’s something FISHY going on. After Charity finds out the truth, she doesn’t want to write an inflammatory article and quits the paper, but the editor writes and publishes her own (mean) article under Charity’s name. There’s some momentary drama before the stars reconcile, but, of course, they’re completely in love by the end of the 12 days of Christmas. Charity writes a blog post about believing in Santa, it goes viral, and she gets an offer from “The Times.”
Things I learned about journalism from this movie: Sometimes speculation is enough, you can get hired as a reporter without ever doing any reporting, and the New York Times will hire you in a heartbeat if you very publicly believe in Santa.
Rating: 1.75 out of 4 📰
4. Forever Christmas 📹
Fun fact about this one: It was actually released in CANADA in 2018 with the title “Mr. 365” and it was SO BELOVED that they brought it stateside to Lifetime with the title “Forever Christmas.” What’s especially fun about that fact is that they say “Mr. 365” a whole lot, which works a lot less with the new title. Why the new title at all? Did it somehow add value to the movie? I would say no. Also, a cursory search led me to believe that the original movie was a bit more SENSUAL. That’s too bad because that’s really what was missing from this iteration. I think I disliked this movie more because it had been deemed worthy of revival two years after the fact.
One interesting aspect was that the lead actress was on the TV show “Unreal,” which is about what goes on behind the scenes on shows like the Bachelor — this movie was about ANOTHER REALITY SHOW. The reality show appeared to only happen like once every few months, though, because they had a Christmas episode followed by a Valentine’s Day episode. Maybe they’re mini docs?
Anyway, the reality show focused on this guy whose entire house is always decorated for Christmas, so he essentially celebrates Christmas 365 days a year (Mr. 365, forever Christmas, etc.). The “Unreal” actress plays Sophie, a producer who’s on the cusp of career failure — and THIS SHOW IS HER CHANCE to MAKE GOOD. She is a terrible producer, but she obviously does a fantastic job in the world of the movie and she and Mr. 365 fall in love. It was touch and go for a moment there, though, because Mr. 365 felt used after seeing a very inflammatory first cut of a trailer featuring a therapist making a judgment about him. (It was, no exaggeration, the worst trailer I have ever seen in my entire life.) Sophie takes over editing the episode (which seems to be about two minutes long) to save it (she does) and then quits because she apparently had no idea that lies and manipulation were a part of producing reality TV.
As trash as the movie was, there was one truly masterful line: “If you’ll have me, Sophie, I’m yours. 365 days a year.” Pure poetry.
Rating: 1.75 out of 4 📹
5. Christmas Tree Lane 🎄
Another classic tale of SMALL, FAMILY-OWNED BUSINESS meets BIG BUSINESS — or in this case… BIG INVESTMENT FIRM? But that’s not all: It’s also the story of a woman, Meg, who decided long ago to give up on her dreams of becoming a songwriter and teach music instead. (Someone mean in the music biz told her she couldn’t have a singing career with her Joni Mitchell-wannabe songs. Which, fair — they’re not great.) Anyway, Meg’s small, family-owned business is a music shop where she also gives hybrid voice/piano lessons, and, get this — it’s on a street called CHRISTMAS TREE LANE.
Apparently Christmas Tree Lane is a historic street (that can’t possibly have any value outside the Christmas season) and the big bad investment firm thinks it’s old news. The guy who runs this company is pulling a Benny and wants to replace the stores on the street with a cyberland or something. As luck (or not!) would have it, investment firm boss’ son, Nate, keeps bumping into Meg. At first, he doesn’t realize his dad is trying to ruin her life.
Meg leads a street-wide operation to prove that people still like Christmas Tree Lane, and Nate helps out. There’s a brief snag when he tells her he’s working at the big bad investment firm with his dad, but then his enlisting of an ex lover/current lawyer to help makes it all okay. The operation culminates in a live concert, of course, and you won’t believe what happens next: MEG SINGS and EVERYONE LOVES IT. (Is it good? No. Does anyone care? Also no.) Investment Dad gets sentimental because of the concert (and some pastries he bought on Christmas Tree Lane as a child?) and agrees to meet them halfway. CHRISTMAS TREE LANE IS SAVED! I imagine the same thing happens again when literally no one shows up starting December 26th.
Rating: 2 out of 4 🎄
6. Chateau Christmas 🎹
This movie opens on Margot, a famous pianist living in New York City. She can’t go home for the holidays because of her VERY BUSY concert schedule. Unfortunately, the venue for one (all?) of the concerts has some electrical issue or something and she ends up surprising her family at the hotel they’re all staying at in their hometown.
I never would’ve seen this coming, but Margot’s ex, Jackson, is also at the hotel. He somehow gets guilted into saving the hotel’s Christmas Eve concert after a bunch of musicians drop out. Naturally, Jackson eventually asks Margot to star in the concert. She’s hesitant because a big critic wrote that she had technical talent but NO HEART after a show back in New York City, making her doubt her career entirely. After some urging, she agrees, and they work together to organize what is apparently THE HOTTEST TICKET IN TOWN.
They go to this little shop to get sheet music and Margot recognizes the owner as a FORMER MUSICIAN FROM A FAMOUS QUARTET. They of course have to have the quartet participate in the concert, but one member died, one is the shop owner’s long-lost love, and one is just generally MIA. The romantic leads lie to everyone (well, except the dead guy) and say that the others will participate in the concert if that person agrees to. The lying works, the long-lost lovers reconcile, and Jackson steps in as the fourth musician in their quartet.
The PR guy at the hotel (a college buddy of Margot and Jackson’s) innocently invites the critic who BURNED Margot to the concert and she LOVES Margot’s SOULFUL rendition of “O Holy Night.” Margot confronts mean critic and she acts like her mom and is like, “I just knew you had more in you that you were holding back.”
Even though Margot and Jackson had initially broken up because they wanted different things (she wanted career, he wanted family), the exes obviously realize they’re still in love and that they can have it all.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 🎹
7. Deliver by Christmas 🐻
Now, THIS one was truly remarkable for one reason and one reason only: It was the first movie produced by Build-A-Bear Entertainment. That’s right, folks — Build-A-Bear started their own production company.
This was the most seamless product placement I have ever encountered. Yes, there was a bear — and yes, a child may have built it. (Although, TBH, I don’t believe anyone mentioned Build-A-Bear explicitly or specified whether or not it was a DIY bear.) The Build-A-Bear in question was a “Christmas Wishes” Build-A-Bear (yes, you can buy them) owned by the son of Josh, the main guy. (“Christmas Wishes” also seemed to be the theme of the town at large.)
While the bear wasn’t itself a love interest (sadly), the “Christmas Wish” the son requested via bear was for Josh to be happy again after his mom died while on deployment. Happy dad = dating dad, which means the bear’s wish gave him the courage to pursue a relationship with Molly, the friendly baker he was unknowingly having two simultaneous flirtations with (one was in person and one was on the phone in what was essentially a prolonged CX conversation). Anyway, everyone gets their “Christmas Wishes,” the end.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 🐻
Where to even begin? This one was a favorite trope of Hallmark: a mission to return a recently found, very old object (in this case, a letter to Santa and a rare coin) to its original owner. The setting of much of the story is in a craft store which also doubles as a seller of very old things + donation depot. (But because this was not The Christmas Bedbug, there was no mention at all of the dangers of bringing strangers’ items into your home.)
The lead characters, Mandy and Jonah, really couldn’t have had less charm or charisma, and they truly did not seem to have any defining characteristics beyond generous and kind. They also spent a lot of time using every search method other than Google, and even when they did use Google, they were VERY bad at it.
What struck me most by this movie was all the lengths one man will go to to ingratiate himself to someone he finds attractive. There’s no end to what he’ll do! Thankfully, there was a moment of conflict when Mandy accused Jonah of maybe taking the (very valuable) coin because he’s had money troubles. BIG MISTAKE. She eventually gave a worthy apology only once she realized the coin had been in her store the whole time.
Classic Lifetime vanilla mediocrity.
Rating: 1.75 out of 4 💰
The last line 🎬
Just like each made-for-TV holiday movie wraps up with an empty romantic platitude or each Jerry Springer episode closes with his “Final Thought,” I’ll end each issue with my biggest takeaways from the week’s festive binge.
Most common tropes:
“Do this by [holiday] OR ELSE!” (x5)
“You look… wow.” (x5)
An idyllic Christmas town (x4)
Small business versus big business (x2)
Local man shows city woman the beauty of ~slowing down~ (x2)
Representation (not a strength for these channels, but they claim to be working on it):
3/8 had a lead character who was a person of color.
0/8 had a lead character who was LGBTQ+.
0/8 had a lead character who was bigger than a size 2.
0/8 had a lead character who was differently-abled.
0/8 centered on a holiday other than Christmas.
The actual last line: Most of these were pretty bad, but their predictability and resolution in under two hours is the perfect salve for 2020. 💫
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