Christmas Camp (2018)

It has been a few years since we've done more than a smattering of Hallmark Christmas movies, so this year we're taking a relatively random sample to see what's been going on in the most generically inoffensive place on earth. 

This movie has a predictably bonkers premise, although the execution was surprisingly low-key. I can't decide whether or not that was better than the alternative. 

The movie centers on Haley, your stereotypical workaholic go-getter. (In the opening scenes she literally tells her assistant that she's canceling a date because she wants to concentrate on work.) She works in branding/marketing, and she wants to land a new account with a big toy company - part of her plan to land a big promotion.

Her boss, however, says that the toy company is all about holiday traditions and Haley doesn't understand those, so she sends Haley to "Christmas Camp." 

Christmas Camp, it turns out, is a one-week special event run by an inn in Western Massachusetts (Hailey lives in Boston). If you complete it, you even get a "certificate."

When Haley arrives at the weird, small-looking building we briefly wondered if the movie was about to take a hard left turn into horror. The innkeeper, Bob, just seems creepy from the get-go.

The movie almost plays into this for a hot second as Haley is visibly concerned about staying in "the Angel Room," but the decorations she's reacting to are actually pretty sparse for a Hallmark movie. 

From the boss' description I thought Christmas Camp would be a bigger deal, but it's apparently just this one guy and the decorations his late wife collected and the one woman who works for him at this one inn. Oh, and the guy's son appears with standard love interest timing.

Jake (the son/love interest) brings Haley the list of things to do to get the certificate, and they're all vague things like "joy," not actual tasks like "wrap a present." It turns out later that every day at camp has a theme, and the things on this list are the themes, but we were very confused for a while.

Next, let's meet the other campers! All... six of them? And this is the only week of Christmas Camp? This is a really small operation. 

A pair of newlyweds are here because they're struggling to blend their two families' holiday traditions (this might actually be relatable if their families weren't described as bizarre caricatures of "sports fans" and "traditionalists"). A dad and his two kids are looking for some bonding time for their first holiday after the divorce. An older woman is hoping to recapture the magic of bringing her son here years earlier (her now-grown son is currently serving in the military overseas, and you get no points for guessing we'll see him before the end).

And then there's Haley, who just wants to get inspiration for her job. The clear implication is that she's there for "lesser" reasons, but she's kind and friendly to everyone, and no one (other than Jake) seems to have a problem with it.

Everyone has to give up their cellphones during activities, which should really be in the introduction, not sprung on people. I understand wanting people to disconnect, but the way this is framed feels more like something a cult does to control people.

The first few days of camp pass and Haley and Jake hit it off. They both work in Boston and are passionate about their jobs, and they seem to appreciate this in each other. All of the writing and acting with the other campers is incredibly stilted and wooden. 

They go to "the woods" (obviously a Christmas tree lot) to cut down trees, and there's a hilarious cut to the scenery they're supposedly looking at, which is 100% not Western Mass where this is supposedly set. This same Christmas tree lot will be used as the "woods" just outside the inn several times, although the first time we see it it's supposedly a long drive away.

Another high point of unintentional hilarity was when the campers were doing the "Giving Back" activity. They were at what might have been a church, packing food into boxes. Okay, making up donation boxes is a real volunteer activity (e.g., each family in need gets a box with a turkey, bread, sides, dessert, etc). But putting a pile of what look like pies all into the same box, half of them sideways, is not the way to do it. 

A comment here about genre. We realized at some point that this is a romance, but not really a romcom. It's not funny (I mean, it's not intended to be funny). It has a few moments and side characters that are probably supposed to be funny, but they're clearly comic relief for the romance plot, not key parts of the movie. 

Also, all the Christmas stuff is surprisingly grounded. There aren't that many decorations in the inn, and the activities for the "camp" don't actually seem to take up that much of each day. There could be a lot we're not seeing, I guess, but there's no montage or anything that really expresses that. This is bizarre to me, because here in the real world, there are plenty of places to go where you can fill your itinerary and more with holiday activities; this place is just a bed-and-breakfast with slightly sanctimonious homework. 

Haley gets some inspiration for her work project and works mornings and nights remotely with her assistant getting the pitch ready. She's late for a few activities and once sneaks her phone out of phone jail without permission when an emergency work message comes in. Jake is disappointed in her, but she's an adult! Adults are allowed to have emergencies, even at your dumb event! Honestly, I'm impressed that she's able to coordinate her work from afar and get as much of the holiday stuff in as she does. This is a woman who knows how to schedule and caffeinate. 

Jake and his dad have an ongoing disagreement about the future of the inn. Jake wants his dad to sell and move to Boston, the dad admits that business isn't great, but the inn is important to him. Haley proposes a solution to the dad where he could license his Christmas Camp to other hotels. 

Now, this is a dumb idea. How on earth would you even sell a series of vague events and a kitschy certificate? How would you copyright "help people rediscover Christmas"? But in the world of the movie, we pretend this is plausible. 

By the last night of camp, Haley is excited about work and Christmas and a possible romance with Jake, because people can care about more than one thing. But Jake finds out about the franchise/licensing pitch and freaks out. This complication to the romance is right on schedule, but it might be the dumbest, most unrealistic bit of dialogue and acting in the whole dumb movie.

Haley is sad, but a week later, back at the office, she's fine. She lands the toy company account, then she suggests that she should share the work and prestige with a qualified coworker. Her boss declares that her teamwork has landed her the promotion. And creepy innkeeper guy shows up to tell her that he's booked some of the franchise opportunities she helped set up, so the inn is saved too. 

They go to a party/reunion with the other campers. (Side note: they knew each other for a week and it's been one week since then. There's so much "I'm so happy to have met you" dialogue and all of it is implausible.) And obviously Jake is there, he apologizes, she apologizes a little too, although that's less justified, and they kiss. Cue CG snow.

So what's the final verdict on Christmas Camp? A lot of the writing and acting is mediocre at best, although the story is much less bad than some of the older Hallmark movies we've seen. Haley ends up balancing her work and her life more by the end, but she doesn't have to leave her job and move to nowheresville for a boy. She gets the promotion she wanted, and it's presented as a good thing. So that's a point in its favor. 

The problem is that the premise (the camp) is stupid, but they didn't really have fun with that stupidity. There could have been more decorations or sillier activities, or something...? I don't know if that would have made this a better movie, but it might have been a little less bland.