Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I'm about to give up on my annual made-for-TV Christmas movie. They are virtually all romances, which would be fine if all I wanted was a blandly handsome male lead, but I'd really like more than that. This year's film is barely a Christmas movie--it's a matchmaker/Mary Poppins story set against the Christmas holidays. James Van Der Beek is a widower with two incredibly rambunctious kids; the fact he seems oblivious to their behavior is the first plothole; the fact that everyone else sees how rowdy they are but excuses them because their dad is a handsome good guy still in mourning for his dead wife is the second. We see Dad go through a series of housekeepers who quickly lose their cool and quit until, like magic, up pops Doris Roberts, a senior Mary Poppins (her name is Mrs. Merkle but the kids call her Mrs. Miracle) who says she comes from an agency, but isn't really. By the time Dad realizes this, she has becomes firmly established as a good influence on the kids. She also works her magic on Van Der Beek, getting him together with a pretty travel agent (Erin Karpluk) who has her own emotional baggage--her sister ran away with her fiancé many years ago and forgiveness is still not in the cards. Or can Doris Roberts work wonders with her as well?

Well, of course she can. The predictability is part of the charm of these stories, but even so, this one has a paucity of twists and turns with any degree of surprise. Cable TV movies tend to feature actors who are either on their way up or their way down. Van Der Beek is best known for the TV show Dawson's Creek, which I've never seen; in fact, I don't think I'd seen him in anything until now, even though his face is familiar; I suspect he's on his way down, or at least in a holding pattern. Karpluk is a Canadian actress who starred in her own show in Canada, but is still on the way up as far as Hollywood goes. She does a nice job; he sleepwalks through his part, though the two do show some chemistry together. Roberts, who is probably cursing Bette White for coming back and getting all the parts that Roberts wants, also feels a little low energy here, and the is-she-or-isn't-she-magical? part of Mrs. Miracle (the movie is based on novel by Nora Roberts) is too a little sappy for her--she gets an occasional wry line, but mostly is too soft for a good Poppins figure. The wrap-up to the "sisters feuding" storyline is satisfying, but little else is here. [Hallmark Channel]

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