It’s that time of year again. When jingle bells chime, the ground gets blanketed with snow, and romance is in the air. Not in real life, of course. In real life it’s 40 degrees and raining, romance is sharing a jar of mentholatum and the only thing ringing is my ears; Which is probably why I find myself drawn each holiday season to the romantic holiday movies of the Hallmark and Lifetime channels.
I don’t normally watch either of these channels. During the rest of the year Lifetime seems to be filled with stressful movies about abusive husbands or psycho mistresses. Hallmark isn’t on my radar at all. But come the first weekend of November, you will find me glued to the TV.
As a seasoned (pun intended- nearly every movie title has a pun or a play on words. All part of the fun!) viewer of these movies, I have a few tips for the newbie.
1. As with any contrived romance, you must suspend any scintilla of disbelief. If you go into watching these movies thinking you will get a dose of reality, you are barking up the wrong Christmas tree. (See what I did there? ) Everything must work together to make a happy ending. There will be twists… oh yes. But the twists will always lead to the final climactic scene. As Parker said the other night when the show went to a commercial, “Oh yeah. They’re totally gonna make out at the end.”
2. There will be a giant snowstorm. (See above photo)This facilitates our protagonists being stranded together.
3. Often, our PROtagonists will start off with ANtagonism. After all, what makes a better romance story than two people who hate each other so much that they fall madly in love? (Once, of course, they’ve been stranded alone together long enough to determine the other person is really lovely and has simply been misunderstood the whole time) Also, there is usually a jerky boyfriend or girlfriend who makes their rival suddenly look sweet.
He’s a historian who believes her house is sitting on the site of the first Thanksgiving. She thinks he’s trying to tear down her family home. He is. But he’s still nicer than her work-obsessed sleazy city boyfriend.
4. There is a good chance that our heroine is named Holly or Carol. They were born to have something interesting happen to them at Christmas time because of their names. Occasionally someone will have the last name Kringle. (Have you ever known anyone in real life with the name Kringle? Me either. )
5. When you spend an entire weekend watching these movies, you will likely see the same actors and actresses in different roles. I believe the pool from which these roles are cast is very selective. There is an unusual amount of redheaded women. Once you have finished one movie, you must completely let it go before moving on to the next, otherwise you might get confused like my husband who kept saying, “And then he’s going to close down the library.” To which I would respond, “No, that was two movies ago.”
5. I would not advise watching two Billy Ray Cyrus movies in a row, even if the second is a sequel to the first. Pace yourself. DVR the second Billy Ray movie and switch to the Lifetime channel where you can cleanse your palate with a nice “I’m bringing home a fake fiance’ so everyone will stop bugging me to get married” movie.
6. Wine is the preferred accompaniment to Christmas romance movies. You will get inebriated more slowly than if you take shots when playing the Hallmark/Lifetime Christmas movie drinking game.
Oh, so you’ve never played?
Here are the rules:
One sip every time a Christmas ghost appears.
One for every silly misunderstanding.
Take one sip every time someone is about to lose their home or job right before Christmas.
One chug for each time a couple goes ice skating in Central Park.
Finally, one tiny sip for each “almost kiss.” This should have you good and schnockered by the time the real one happens.
7. Don’t let them mislead you: The majority of these movies, regardless of where they say they are taking place, are filmed in Utah. I lived in Utah for 5 years. Utah in no way looks like Chicago. I’m not sure who they think they’re fooling, but it ain’t me. And now, it ain’t you either. (This is also probably another reason the plots tend to be so wholesome.)
8. These movies are usually a stepping stone for unknown actors and an attempt to breathe life into dying careers for C and D list actors. I don’t know what favors Shannon Elizabeth had to call in to sing her own songs in “Catch a Christmas Star” (She plays a pop star… play on words. But you knew that, right?) but her version of “I heard the bells on Christmas day.” was not great. She’s beautiful, and I liked the movie ok, but the singing… good Lawd. She’s beautiful (Remember, she played Nadia in the American Pie Movies) and her acting isn’t awful. While I haven’t officially confirmed it’s her singing, it sounds like her speaking voice and I can’t imagine them hiring someone that sings that flat to do a voice over.
9. There WILL be a grand gesture- and it will probably be the man making it. In “Christmas Star,” our man a) realizes he’s going to lose the best thing that has ever happened to him b) drags his extended family to the concert where he c) bribes an employee to give him his hat so he can d) sneak backstage and finally e) go on stage in front of thousands of fans to declare his undying love for the woman of his dreams, where they will make out in front of everyone with no thought to privacy. Or the fact it’s making everyone uncomfortable. The grand gesture can also come in the form of changing his mind about destroying something that our heroine has been fighting for, dressing up in a Santa suit to save the parade, or actually deciding to marry the fake fiancée … right there, on Christmas day, in her parents’ living room. (He brought his own minister, who apparently had nothing better to do on Christmas morning.)
What guy hasn’t placed a bet with his buddies that he could get a random girl to agree to marry him by Christmas? Spoiler- they fall in love and marry on Christmas Day. In her parents’ living room. Told you.
He’s a rich developer who once was an orphan. She is obsessed with the Thanksgiving parade in “Chicago” (Utah) that he wants to shut down because financially it’s not feasible for the city. Bonus: She likes to wear only vintage clothing in the hopes one day she will be wearing an item that belonged to the mother she lost as a young child.
10. Our heroes will either be rich, frozen-hearted businessmen who only need the love of a good woman, or widowers; Never divorced- that would be too messy. Our female lead must be able to swoop in with her natural mothering instincts and make the kids fall in love with her first, so that they can then manipulate situations to bring the two together. And the kids are ALWAYS cool with the soon-to-be stepmom.
As cynical as I may sound, it certainly won’t stop me from watching. I may make snarky comments throughout, but deep down the idea of happily ever after is certainly an appealing one. So it’s not realistic- it’s not meant to be. It’s fantasy. I’m willing to suspend reality for a few hours in anticipation of that long-awaited kiss. And it usually is long-awaited. There is wooing, and effort made. The women are never desperate, they know their value, and they expect the man to prove to her that he’s worthy of her. The men then live up to her standards. Unrealistic? Maybe. Probably.
But a girl can dream, can’t she?