Thursday, December 24, 2009


My annual search for a halfway-decent made-for-TV Christmas movie almost came a cropper this year. Hallmark and Lifetime and ABC Family were full of them this month, but virtually all sounded exactly the same: a couple fall in love at Christmas. I found an interesting variation on DVD in a small indie movie called NOELLE, which I have reviewed elsewhere, but as it wasn't made for TV, it just wouldn't suffice here. There was great promise in a Lifetime movie called 12 MEN OF CHRISTMAS with the ultra-fabulous Kristin Chenoweth and the always-welcome Josh Hopkins (Swingtown, Cougar Town--the fact that this wasn't called Christmastown should have been a warning) but their combined talents could not save this dreadful romantic comedy which had almost nothing to do the holidays. In a small Montana town, city girl Chenoweth gets the hunky men of the local mountain rescue service to pose almost-nude for a fund-raising calendar, and eventually falls for rugged loner Hopkins. Don and I noticed that every time the plot seemed headed for any dramatic tension at all, it veered quickly away. The two actors tried, but the script was dreadful and the direction practically non-existent.

This Christmas Eve morning as I was about to give up, Lifetime gave me a little stocking-stuffer gift, WILL YOU MERRY ME?, a cute culture-clash comedy which actually premiered last year. Rebecca, a Jewish girl from L.A., and Henry, a Protestent boy from Wisconsin, meet cute in New York City while apartment hunting, move in together, and fall in love. On their 6-month "anniversary," he proposes to her, almost on a whim, and she says yes. This means heading off to his small town to spend the holidays with his folks, and having her folks fly in for a day before they go skiing in Aspen to meet the future in-laws. Of course, the culture clash is represented by the tired old Christmas vs. Hanukkah plotline, but it's treated very lightly here. His mom loves Christmas and stuffs the house with decorations and knick-knacks, while his dad turns the home's exterior into one of those ostentatious flashing suburban nightmares. As a nod to her folks, they put a fiddler on the roof (literally) next to Santa, and make half of their Christmas tree into a "Hanukkah Bush." Of course, her parents wind up stranded for a couple of days and they all have to celebrate Christmas Eve and the first night of Hanukkah together, not to mention that Henry has agreed to appear in a Christmas Eve pageant with his childhood sweetheart. Meanwhile, a second clash has emerged: Rebecca and Henry really don't know much about each other; as they realize that, they begin to have second thoughts about getting married. Can the parents band together to save their kids' relationship? Of course they can!

The plot traffics in all kinds of cliches but the movie manages to overcome most of them due to some clever dialogue and decent acting by some old pros (Cynthia Stevenson as Henry's mom, and the wonderful Wendie Malick, above right, as Rebecca's mom). The romantic pair, Tommy Lioutas and Vikki Krinsky (pictured at the top), are Canadian TV actors I'd never heard of, but they generate good chemistry and are mostly believable. There are some bizarre plot twists (a reindeer gets hit by a car, someone falls out of a window) and an amusing but very minor running gag involves Henry's (unseen) brother whom everyone has accepted as gay except the parents. I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would, maybe because it's Christmas Eve morning. It's no timeless gem, but it's harmless and elicits some nice chuckles. (And if you've followed my December thread over the years, yes, Lioutas, at left, is blandly handsome.)

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