Alex: Two of your favorites are back! Ion Television AND Haylie Duff!! You may remember Haylie from…I’m not really sure but she did join our little Christmas movie menagerie last year with All About Christmas Eve and is out to prove that it was no fluke. However, while that and plenty of these films take some wild turns, very few can compare to Christmas Belle. In a vast sea of insanity, it still manages to stand out from the crowd. That’s so often what I love about these things. While quote-un-quote “quality” pictures have an extremely limited box in which they must stay inside to still maintain that quality, bad films live in a world without boundaries. They can go in a million different directions and just when I think I’ve seen them all, something like Christmas Belle comes along to explore yet more uncharted territory.
The story is normal enough though. Duff works with her dad, appraising estates and antiques and whatnot. That’s 2 Christmas movie tropes right there – being in a family business and having a connection to antiques or anything vintage – and 3 tropes if you count the fact that the dad is very gay-acting (seemingly non-gay characters either being played by a gay actor and/or appearing gay is something we see in about 20% of these films). And the tropes just keep coming. There is a rich dude who is in love with Duff but the two have never actually been on a date. Although I will say that even though this rich dude is clearly not the one for her, he is not necessarily your classic rich jerk either. He’s just really into Duff and it’s not totally clear why. But before they can go out, she gets called away on business, to appraise some estate in Southern California wine country. Doing this job requires one to just spend the night at these estates indefinitely, I guess, and when Duff arrives at this latest place, she is greeted by an extremely cold, closed-off dude about her age named Hunter. Why so glum, Hunter? I’ll tell you why, it’s because this is a Christmas movie and therefore, somebody died. His grandparents, who originally owned the place died seemingly a while ago but I’m guessing that’s not what’s bumming him out. He had a fiance who passed away much more recently (though an actual timeline for this is never given) and this has led to him being sad, not wanting to celebrate Christmas, and deciding to sell his family’s estate so he can wash his hands of the whole deal. I’m sure it’s got to be tough for him but selling off the entire estate seems a bit harsh, don’t you think? I mean, it’s not like all that stuff would only remind him of the fiance he lost. It’s been in his family for years!
So Hunter’s not really thinking straight here and he’s equally out-of-line when he’s rude to Duff, for no good reason other than male and female characters being contractually obligated to despise each other before they can love each other. Makes the relationship seem much more significant and meaningful when you have to go from hate to love, rather than just love to more love. But I have to give it up for Duff here. She handles this rudeness like a champ. At first she just ignores it and when it gets to the point where she’s had enough, where Hunter actually starts to get a little bit scary and physical, she quits. Doesn’t get overly emotional or cry like too many of these girls do, she just puts her foot down and leaves. Way to go, Duff! And look out, Candace Cameron Bure, Nicole Eggert, and Elisa Donavan, because Duff has emerged as a legitimate threat to your titles as strong, Christmas movie queens.
Wait, Duff’s dad was played by C. Thomas Howell? Just saw that online. I didn’t even recognize him during the movie. Why is he gay now?
Anyway, of course we know Hunter and Duff are going to get past this little setback and fall in love. So what makes Christmas Belle so crazy? First and foremost, it’s the pacing. The kind of thing that makes you realize, once again, just how much can go into making a movie that most of us take for granted. The way stories unfold, scenes come together, etc. – it all seems easy but someone has to know how to do that stuff. Otherwise, you end up with Christmas Belle. Then there is the all-important category of time management. They clearly didn’t enough story to fill a 2-hour TV movie slot so they spent a lot of time showing people walk from their cars into building and vice versa. Here, I even made you a little medley of these examples so you can see what I’m talking about:
I also threw in those running scenes at the end because they also seemed to go on for longer than necessary. Then there’s that final moment, which hopefully speaks for itself. Another weird thing about Christmas Belle is the distinct lack of Christmas, though not totally for lack of trying. Like Hunter and Belle go to their little town’s holiday event thing and nothing has ever felt so lifeless and weird. They don’t even have real Christmas lights and use decorations that may very well be re-purposed too, which strikes me as odd because these things aren’t exactly super expensive or hard to find. Hell, Ion could have just asked if they could borrow my stuff and I would have been more than happy to oblige. Then all the extras walking around look like zombies but while zombies were once normal, alive people, these extras never were. One of my favorite parts of this scene too is where they discover that the town’s annual Christmas dance is canceled because they see a sign, one which was actually printed out, that just says “Christmas Dance Canceled.” Like they went to the trouble of going to the printers to make it but also couldn’t provide any more details. At least you know there once was a Christmas dance and that probably would have felt pretty festive.
Also on the topic of Christmasless, this is all clearly filmed during a heat wave, in the middle of summer. I do understand that logistically, most of these movies probably have to get made much earlier in the year to be done in time for the Christmas season but never have I seen a more egregious display of non-winter than with Christmas Belle. Besides the fact that all the actors are wearing things like tank tops and shorts and sometimes, unfortunately, even less, you can even see that the sunlight itself comes from that June or July period and everyone is kind of languishing under it.
Just in case you didn’t watch all of that video I linked to earlier (and no one would blame you if you didn’t), I want to call your attention to the final scene here. It’s what brought the whole experience together for me:
First Duff zigs, then zags, and the rich guy who likes her somehow gets totally faked out. She runs off the path and he’s just sitting there going, “Whoa! What the hell just happened?” Then Hunter comes running across the bridge and they have that amazing exchange and I wonder if I might just be dreaming the whole thing because it’s seems so ridiculous to me. This is the beauty of Christmas Belle. It makes you question reality. Its reality, your reality, and hey, maybe the two are even intertwined somehow? There’s also the reality of how I am going to rate this movie, which is equally strange and hard to define. It was very bad in a very good way but not necessarily a good way that would make me want to watch it again or recommend it or brake if I saw it crossing the street. I might just have to hit that thing with my car.
So if we’re just talking about the pure experience of watching it once:
But if we’re talking about anything else: