First of all, while I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, I have to say I am a little bit disappointed with Hallmark’s Christmas Keepsake Week programming this year. I live in California and out here, the holiday magic ran out around 7PM every day before descending back into that painfully familiar Golden Girls/The Middle/Frasier battery. Last year though, I’m pretty sure they ran Christmas movies until at least midnight, which not only worked a lot better with my own personal schedule but made the thing just feel more like a thing in general. I can’t imagine why they would deviate but if their own films have taught us one thing, it’s that this decision was almost definitely based on money somehow. Christmas’ old arch-nemesis, Money. Either repeated airings of those movies cost extra or the Golden Girls’ rerun audience is a much taller and more powerful order than we ever could imagine but in any case, there were no angels or Santa or lovable guy who builds things to save Christmas. This time it was the jerk boyfriend/girlfriend that our main character shouldn’t even have been with in the first place, who got the last laugh.
Still though, we were treated to one brand, new Christmas movie in July and that ain’t bad. This time it was even a legitimate Hallmark film. Which is not to say that last year’s Angel’s Sing was somehow less than. It was indeed a quality production with A-listers (relatively-speaking) like Harry Connick Jr. and Connie Britton but it was also a fish out of water, made for either theatrical release or whatever we would call straight-to-video now and thus, not necessarily fitting in with the normal Hallmark fare.
Family For Christmas is definitely no such fish. It stars Lacey Chabert, who is making a power play for the throne of Christmas Queen 2015 and with both Candace Cameron Bure AND Haylie Duff seemingly taking the year off (what?), she may even run unopposed here. Sure, CCB’s fellow former Full-House co-star Lori Laughlin could come out of nowhere to rip the crown from her in what I can only assume will be the juggernaut sequel to Northpole but this is a discussion for a later day (can’t wait!). Point is that Family For Christmas follows the TV Christmas playbook to a T and I mean that in the best way although I’m not sure if I should have said “T” or “tee” there. Lacey plays Hannah Dunbar, who decides to leave her boyfriend for 6 months to accept a job or internship or something at a news station in San Francisco. They seem to love each other but hey, 6 months is no big deal, right? They’ll be back together in no time and besides, he literally gives her the key to his heart as a present before she gets on the plane. I don’t even think that’s a metaphor.
But as we all know, 6 months can turn into a lifetime and here we are, 10 years later, and Hannah is a big shot at an SF news affiliate. So much so that the New York “bureau” wants to hire her as a special news correspondent, which didn’t make a ton of sense to me. They also don’t come right and say it but I think at some point, she won the lottery because her apartment in San Francisco would truly cost more than anyone at any level of local journalism could ever afford. So everything seems to be working out for Hannah and her lottery winnings. Except there’s just one problem. She has no love in her life. There is a boyfriend, I think, but he’s not even the classic dick boyfriend. He’s just so aloof and cool with her moving on to the Big Apple that I’m still not 100% clear on what their relationship is/was.
She does get a Facebook friend request from the old boyfriend though. The one she left 10 years ago with the key to his heart. This gets her thinking about what ever happened to him. And this thinking is all it takes for some kind of weird, Santa angel to infer that she has wished to find out what her life would be like had she not moved to San Francisco years ago and instead, stayed wherever the hell she was before and married the guy.
Coincidentally enough, she still moves to San Francisco in this scenario. And either she, or he, wins the lottery as well. Because Santa does grant Hannah her wish that she didn’t actually wish for and she magically wakes up in a new reality, right before Christmastime, where she is married to this old boyfriend, with two kids and dog, and they now live in the suburbs of San Francisco in a lovely home that in that area, if it were a real area, would be worth about 6-8 million dollars. She is a stay-at-home mom now and her husband is supposedly grinding things out at a “small shop” advertising firm so the only justification for their lifestyle is massive windfall.
In any case, it is a difficult adjustment at first. Not so much because Hannah has no idea who these children are and no memory of marrying this guy, giving birth, etc. but because both the hubby and kids seem like weird, Stepford robots. The children I can kind of forgive but the husband was too much of a distraction. Especially for a movie like this. The whole point is that he’s the sweet, loving guy she should have picked if she weren’t so misguided in the ways of the heart and Christmas movies but he comes off as an almost self-aware mannequin who filmed the entire movie in one of those motion capture sound stages, with no other actors actually on-set with him, and the plan being to superimpose his image into scenes that the rest of the cast shot later. I don’t even know if that makes sense but neither did his face. There was something vaguely inhuman there. And in the context of the story, this gave me the creeps.
Thinking about it more though, I am not sure I can forgive the kids either. They seemed human enough but too melancholy and strange. When this concept has been done before, the idea has usually been to show what a crazy, stark contrast this is for Hannah’s life. That it’s been turned upside down. She went from being single and living in this very adult, sterile life to suddenly having little paramecium children jumping all over her, desperately requiring mothering. That’s not what really happens here. Hannah’s hypothetical daughters don’t actually seem to need all that much, other than picking out marshmallow bits from their cereal while they stare blankly at her with sad, cold eyes. So I’m not necessarily blaming the actors. Maybe they were asked to be mandroids and melanchildren, then cast accordingly. But I think this decision is at odds with the overall story.
The money thing is too. Because the movie’s supposed to be about choosing love OR money. In this case it was about choosing money or some other money. Because Hannah’s doing pretty well in both scenarios. And love? I just never quite bought it. Of course one difference is that when Hannah chose Money 1, she was also personally successful as a news reporter whereas with Money 2, she doesn’t have such a career. Her assistant becomes the famous news reporter in the Money 2 scenario and just happens to get hit by a giant candy cane while reporting an Emmy-worthy segment at Hannah’s daughters’ school Christmas pageant. Hannah then instinctively picks up the microphone and starts reading the news herself live and on camera. I don’t know if her assistant was knocked out or dead via the giant candy cane but this gives Hannah the opportunity to have it all. Because in that brief little segment, it is clear that she is so good at news reporting, Channel 8 would be fools not to hire her. Now she can keep the family and money as well as get back to her awesome career.
Turns out, you can’t have it all. You can either have money and career but no love or money and what we’re told is love but definitely no career. The logistics would simply be impossible. But this whole thing was only meant to be a glimpse anyway A glimpse into what could have been based on a Christmas wish she did not make. But while we’re on the subject of Christmas wishes, I would like to close this review with a quick list of my own personal wishes that I actually want to wish for, seriously, when it comes to the barrage of made-for-TV holiday films coming this year.
#1) It goes without saying that once the season begins, Hallmark, I don’t want any more of this Golden Girls nonsense. Give it a rest for a couple of months and please keep showing your movies all night long. Anyone who watches Golden Girls unironically is in bed by 7 anyway.
#2) And since the movie season does officially kick off so early, on October 31st, it would be great to have some more Thanksgiving-themed flicks in there. I was totally on board with The Thanksgiving House, Love at the Thanksgiving Day Parade, and A Family Thanksgiving, with a plot suspiciously similar to the one I just reviewed, A Family For Christmas.
#3) More sequels! And, even better, in the vein of “Northpole 2: Open For Business”, I would prefer titles with words I understand but meanings that aren’t immediately apparent.
#4) Ion Television has set the bar very high for crazy. Don’t back away from that. Get even crazier. Merry Ex-Mas 2: Ex Marks the Spot!
#5) But what the hell happened to Lifetime? They started this whole game in the first place but have fallen dangerously behind in recent years. In output and quality. What’s worse is that I’m starting to get the feeling Lifetime believes they are better that this somehow. I wish for a Lifetime comeback.
#6) I want to see a Zunes (Daphne Zuniga) comeback too. While her reign as the original Christmas Queen may be over, I’d love to see her back for one, last big score. There is still plenty of time left in the quarter!
#7) Oops, I forgot to rate A Family For Christmas. It had flaws, there’s no denying that but you know what else has flaws? July. It’s too hot and I don’t trust all these youths running wild in our streets. I’m ready for Christmas and happy to give A Family For Christmas it’s own, real human family for Christmas, instead of a cold, creepy cybernetic one. Therefore my officially rating is….