As the holiday season chugs full-steam ahead, seasoned Christmas-themed media consumers know this can only mean one thing: the Hallmark Channel’s “Countdown to Christmas” is in full swing.
A holiday mainstay both revered and reviled, the Hallmark Channel Christmas movie is a near inescapable presence each year. They air pretty much continuously through the month of December, giving Hallmark enthusiasts ample opportunity to pull reluctant family members onto the couch for at least one ‘Mark marathon. There’s even a Countdown to Christmas checklist app to aid die-hards in their quest to see as many of these things as possible.
Hallmark movies have come to occupy pop culture territory of the “so bad it’s good” variety, viewed through a lens of snide ironic detachment by many, but are earnestly, passionately loved by their dedicated defenders. While hardly peak cinema, and undeniably milquetoast in many respects, Hallmark movies have nevertheless found a responsive audience, providing a lot of people a welcome distraction from the calamity and stress the Christmas season often brings.
To really get at the heart of what makes these movies an enduring annual presence, I went directly to an expert on the subject: my own mother. We sat down together to watch a couple of Hallmark Christmas movies and discussed what all the fuss is about.
All right. What’s your name?
How do we know each other?
I’m your mother.
Now that’s out of the way, I think it’s fair to say you’re a big fan of Hallmark Channel movies. Would you agree?
Yeah. I do like all their movies, but the Christmas movies I think are really special. I love them.
What makes them special?
They’re very Christmas-y, number one, and they all have happy endings. It’s the way life should be in America.
So, it’s the aspirational or idealistic element that you really appreciate.
Do you have a favorite Hallmark movie? It doesn’t have to be Christmas themed.
A Bride For Christmas.
It’s a really good one. The plot is different than most of the Hallmark movies. It’s a good story. I want to watch it again, I haven’t seen it in a while.
What is it about?
This girl who runs her own business gets engaged a few times, but every time she plans the wedding, she winds up getting cold feet and ditches the guy. In the meantime, there’s this guy who’s a playboy type, and he makes a bet with his friends who think he can’t have a serious relationship with a girl. They see the main girl at a party, and he makes a bet with them that he can get her to marry him. They wind up developing real feelings for each other and get married for real by the end.
I think I have a few issues with that movie already, just based on your description, but I’ll leave that for another article. Let’s move on to the first movie we’re about to watch, A Godwink Christmas. What do you think it might be about, based on the title?
A Godwink Christmas? Something to do with the true meaning of Christmas. Obviously, God’s involved. Maybe God’s winking down at us. [laughs]
As Christmas approaches, Paula, a St. Louis antique appraiser, reluctantly accepts a marriage proposal from her boyfriend Daniel. Sensing her reticence, her Aunt Jane invites Paula to her Nantucket home. When Paula visits nearby Martha’s Vineyard, she meets a charming inn owner, Gery, and enjoys the celebrating the holiday festivities with him. Although Paula develops feelings for Gery, she moves forward with her engagement, but Aunt Jane reminds her that sometimes we receive messages from above to help determine which direction life should take. From author Squire Rushnell of the God Winks book series. Starring Kimberley Sustad, Paul Campbell, Kathie Lee Gifford.
You called it! I wasn’t expecting the title to be so on the nose. I thought “Godwink” might be the name of the central town, or —
Nope. I was right. [laughs]
What are your general impressions of this one?
I loved it. It really was about following your heart and not always doing what you’re “supposed” to do. It has your typical small town, and what I believe Christmas is all about and what America should be about.
Which is what?
People helping each other, working for the good of the community. Falling in love, following your heart and your true destiny.
In that case, would you say A Godwink Christmas is representative of what Hallmark movies are typically all about?
Yeah, definitely, especially these Christmas ones.
Is there anything about it you didn’t like?
Well, there’s usually a dickhead in there.
There was definitely a dickhead in this movie.
Yeah. There’s always a hero, always a dickhead, and always a damsel in distress to be rescued. Pretty traditional.
That brings up something these movies are often criticized for, which is that they’re very cookie-cutter and predictable and tend to follow the same formula. I can see how some people might find that charming or comforting instead of off-putting. Is that part of the appeal for you?
Yes. I think that’s one of the reasons they’re so popular, and why Hallmark does their Countdown to Christmas every year; viewership is up and all that, because people do want to believe all these traditional things. They do want to believe there’s good in people. People have gotten too cynical. We need to go back to family, helping each other out, celebrating Christmas.
To be fair, I don’t think Christmas is in any kind of jeopardy. People are not renouncing Christmas en masse.
Well, they haven’t stopped celebrating, but people are more cynical and jaded than they need to be.
One last thing I want to ask, because I’m curious about whether the next movie we watch will also follow this trend: do you think there’s an underlying reason so many of these movies feature travel as a central element of the plot? I mean, besides the obvious fact that people tend to travel during the holiday season, which makes for an easy plot device.
Because that’s what’s going on in the world today and people are so busy with their lives and their careers that they need to stop and smell the roses. It takes you back to a certain time, or back to your home, or back to your ideas and feelings as a child to get you focused on what’s really important in life.
A group of adults from different parts of the country have sworn off partaking in holiday events. Two of those people are Molly and Jared. Upon arriving at their destination, they discover it’s a Christmas themed ranch. With no flight out until after Christmas, the group ends up staying. The Christmas activities eventually melt everyone’s cynical hearts and Molly and Jared’s love blossoms. Stars Nicky Whelan and Josh Kelly.
So, you mentioned to me that you’ve seen this one before. How does it stack up?
This is a pretty good one. I liked it. But it might lose something a second time because you know what’s going to happen.
This one seemed a lot more dialogue-heavy than the first movie. The plot is propelled by exposition more than anything else.
There’s not a lot of action shots, but there was stuff happening; mostly about the relationship between the two main characters.
That’s fair. What did you make of those characters? Did you think their relationship seemed authentic in the way that it developed?
Yeah. The guy isn’t a jerk. They meet, and after their initial meeting, which is rough, they wind up getting along and their relationship develops.
Yeah, this movie breaks away from the standard formula of these Hallmark movies a bit, because often the plots revolve around an asshole boyfriend — a Grinch type — eventually being given the boot in favor of a nicer, pro-Christmas gentleman, but in this movie, there is no “Other Man.” This one has more of a “grandma’s about to lose the farm” sort of plot, with an opposites attract style romance unfolding around it.
Well, this is another recurring thing with Hallmark movies: loosing the farm, or the ranch. It’s all happening around the holidays, and we go back to the idea of the whole town pitching in to help to raise money and save the day.
And everything ties up a little too neatly at the end.
Yes. Which we know doesn’t always work out in life, but once again, it’s a nice thing to focus on the positive during the holidays [laughs]. This movie is more of the same. It has a happy ending, they end up together happily ever after. Which is corny, but it’s nice.
One thing I wasn’t expecting is that these two movies we’ve watched are more racially diverse than a lot of recent television series and films I’ve seen, in terms of their supporting casts. Which isn’t to say they were great on this front, just better than a lot of what’s out there.
Yeah, they bring a good variety of people in. Old, young, black, white, all kinds of people, which is another reason I like them.
It was a little surprising to me, honestly. I guess I made some assumptions about these movies, based on the demographics of their audience — i.e. older, middle-class white women who might not want to feel challenged by what they watch.
It’s not just boring moms in their mom jeans watching these movies.
Well, that about wraps it up. Do you have any final thoughts? Maybe some parting words for the Hallmark skeptics who might be reading?
Open up your mind and take [these movies] with a grain of salt. A lot of these movies are far-fetched, but that’s what makes them so nice. Don’t watch them with so much of a critical eye. Iron Man isn’t eeal and Wonder Woman didn’t end WWII, but people don’t have a hard time enjoying those movies anyway. It’s kind of like taking a break from reality and chilling out. Kinda of like yoga for the movie world.
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