Monday, December 19, 2016


Since I seem to have seen all the classic-era Christmas movies, I'm going whole-hog for the TV-movies this year, all week long. This first one is a bland but harmless Hallmark holiday confection. Isabella (Haylie Duff), who works for her father as an estate assessor (with a specialty in rare books), is sent to the large old house of handsome but aloof Hunter (Nicholas Gonzalez). He is planning to sell his large inherited estate in California wine country because of sad memories of his grandparents, and he's also not into celebrating Christmas because of sad memories of his late wife. And he's not very happy to see an attractive young woman arrive to work on cataloging the estate and he's rude to her. Naturally, despite the tension, sparks soon begin to fly between the two until slimy Gaston, err… I mean, Tony butts in. He has been carrying a half-hearted torch for Isabella for some time, which her dad (C. Thomas Howell) has encouraged, and now he decides to press his case, which causes misunderstandings between Isabelle and Hunter. Can things be patched up by Christmas?

There is quite of bit of Internet commentary on this TV-movie, most of it negative. Yes, it's a re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast—specifically the Disney version—but that in itself is not a negative. The Christmas atmosphere is half-hearted at best, but even that isn't necessarily a deal-breaker (even the 1954 classic WHITE CHRISTMAS is only really Christmassy at the beginning and end). Critics find Duff and Gonzalez a little on the plastic side, but that's cable TV movies for you. Some even complain that Gonzalez has a couple of shirtless scenes—hell, that a big plus in my book. For me, the worst I can say is that the movie was completely average in all departments: acting, plot, dialogue, setting, atmosphere. One negative is the lack of interesting supporting characters. Sheree J. Wilson has a nice turn as an employee of Hunter's who helps Isabelle figure him out; Mark Famiglietti is serviceable as the bad guy; best is former teen idol Howell as the dad—he has aged gracefully, and I agree with some of the Internet critics that the character comes off as gay, and I wish this had been done on purpose for some intriguing backstory. But if it was, nothing is done with the detail. More fleshing out of any or all of these three (in place of some of the endless anguish scenes between the leads) might have made the movie memorable. It isn't really, but it's also nowhere near as bad as many online viewers have made it out to be. If you're a fan of modern Christmas romances, you'll like it. [Hallmark]

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