Entertaining Christmas (2018)

Among our various yuletide pursuits this year, we're trying to catch up on a number of Hallmark movies. Basically, we realized we'd more or less neglected the company for the better part of a decade due to, well, having better things to do with our lives, and - because there's obviously something wrong with us - we decided we should watch a handful of these in an attempt to recalibrate.

So far, it's not going particularly well. That's not to say these movies are especially bad; the ones we've seen so far are a modest step up from those we saw back when we started this blog. It's just that I don't feel as though I'm learning much from the experience. I'd hoped to get a sense of the company's output by watching four or five movies, and it's starting to feel like I'd have to sit through forty or fifty before actually understanding what the hell these are evolving into.

To be clear, we don't have that kind of time this year. Or at least, we don't have that kind of time to invest on Hallmark movies.

I picked Entertaining Christmas more or less at random. It's a 2018 romantic comedy starring Jodie Sweetin, a.k.a. Stephanie Tanner from Full House. Apparently, this is one of several Hallmark Christmas movies she's done since then. If IMDB is right, she also voiced Sally Brown in It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown, the 1992 special in which Shultz openly parodies Linus's speech at the end of the 1965 classic.

In this, she plays Candace Livingstone, daughter of successful craft and cooking mogul, Liz Livingstone. Basically, she's playing the child of a fictional version of Martha Stewart who never went to prison (side note: I've got a GREAT idea for a sequel - call me, Hallmark execs!). At any rate, Liz is getting ready to retire and wants Candace to take over as CEO of her company. The board of directors isn't convinced, nor is Candace, who feels like a bit of a fraud. She didn't inherit her mom's near superhuman talents for cooking and crafts, and she lives in constant fear of disappointing people who assume otherwise.

Their company receives a request from a young girl in Vermont requesting help planning a party for her father's Christmas return from serving overseas. Liz is already committed for another event, so she sends Candace in her place, pointing out it will be an opportunity to prove to the board that she's a good fit for the company, something Candace herself is more than a little skeptical of. So Candace heads out with a social media expert who both documents the trip and steps in to help her fake expertise when she's called on to demonstrate various skills the townsfolk expect her to know.

Weirdly, no one seems disappointed that Candace shows up instead of her more famous mother. Apparently, Liz Livingstone is so famous that even her daughter is a major celebrity. And when the returning soldier's flight gets delayed, Candace has to decide whether to stick around and continue the charade or return to the big city. Spoiler: she doesn't want to disappoint the kid, so she stays.

Also, the kid has an uncle named John, because there has to be a love interest. John is a reporter tasked with interviewing Candace for the local paper. So Candace is lying about her skill, or lack thereof, at cooking, sewing, and decorating gingerbread while the reporter she's interested in is sniffing around.

Because this is Hallmark, there's no actual conflict. The reporter more or less figures out that Candace isn't a home ec master, but he's more interested in all the things she does well: she's kind, good with people, and smart. And Candace realizes that less artificial perfection would probably be good for their company's brand, anyway. So... really, it's just a matter of realizing the skills she already has are valuable. Also, there's of course an inevitable third act misunderstanding with the attractive reporter that gets worked out in the space of five minutes. Candace gets the company, learns her mother understands and respects her, and gets the guy.

Again, as far as these things go, this isn't awful. But it's certainly not good, either (these things never are). If you're looking for a technicality to penalize this for, it's that Candace is never really given much of a meaningful goal. She doesn't seem particularly interested or disinterested in the prospect of taking over for her mother. It's not something she aspires to, but she seems fine with the idea by the end. For a while, I thought they might be building the social media expert up to be the one who actually takes over as CEO, but instead they wrote that character out halfway through.

It's a structural flaw, but I'd be lying if I said it matters. These things aren't built around plot: they're an excuse for lightly comedic misadventures to unfold around Christmas decorations. Does the central character's arc work? Not really, but I don't think it would be any more or less interesting to watch if it did.

Likewise, the premise is of course nonsensical. Stars like Martha Stewart have assistants who handle this kind of thing, freeing up the personality to be just that. The idea the CEO, public face, and designer has to be one person who also does the day-to-day work is absurd. But I'm not going to pretend this was going for realism.

Tonally, it was a bit bland, but I've yet to come across one of these that isn't. Hallmark specials want to be comfortable, not exciting. They want to make you chuckle, not laugh. I understand there are people who love these - I am most certainly not one of them.

That said, I did find Candace's internal conflict a bit more interesting than other Hallmark and Hallmark knock-off productions. I wouldn't call it good, but it could almost make out the form of something vaguely human in its construction. The character is essentially working through a version of imposter syndrome, and Sweetin does a solid job conveying that. The situation this arises from is completely unbelievable, but the emotions being portrayed come through all right. That's not nothing, and it's in no way guaranteed in these movies.

But obviously, you don't need to watch this, or any other Hallmark movie, for that matter. There's no shortage of actual Christmas romcoms out there, with developed characters, believable relationships, and actual conflict. I'd always take one of those over one of these aggressively G-rated monstrosities.

But, hey. I realize these have fans. And, for what it's worth, this really does strike me as better than movies produced fifteen or twenty years ago where women were supposed to throw away their careers and settle down with some guy they met a week earlier. I don't entirely understand the appeal of these movies, but this was quite a bit better than it might have been.