An Unexpected Christmas on Hallmark Takes a Tired Premise and Makes It Wired
Hallmark’s launch of Thanksgiving weekend premieres continues with A surprise Christmas, another entry among the crowd “we have to pretend to be a couple so as not to spoil Christmas!” sub-genre. To do A surprise Christmas follow the recipe, or are there still some surprises to be found in this traditional holiday movie setting?
Gist: Bethany Joy Lenz plays Emily, a rising star at a marketing agency who is working on a big project that could take her career to the next level. The trick: the project will take her to Fulton, Illinois — the hometown of her ex Jamie (Tyler Hynes)! Emily is absolutely worried because “you can’t swing a candy cane without hitting a member of his family.” Jamie, BTW, is currently a speechwriter on the Illinois governor’s re-election campaign.
So – Emily’s fear is justified because as soon as she gets to the train station she sees not only Jamie’s entire family but Jamie is there as well. What’s even worse is that Jamie still hasn’t told his family that he broke up with Emily months ago! Now she has to play with Jamie’s lies (she has a reason, believe me) while Jamie does some serious introspection. Oh – and will these two fall in love again? Or did they fall out of love in the first place?
What movies will remind you of?: Certainly not the other Hallmark movies — which is a surprise since this premise is one of the network’s goals. The movie’s overall youthful, modern vibe reminds me of Netflix romantic movies like Holiday or Love much as I can (which, TBH, is part of this pseudo-relational subcategory). It’s still Hallmark’s version of those kinds of movies, so it’s still very TV-G — but cool TV-G.
Performances worth watching: Give it up for Alison Wandzura as Becca, Jamie’s sister! She has a degree in film, she is a single mother, she is a lesbians (!), and she knows how to put her wimpy brother in his place. The way Wandzura and Hynes interact, they really nail the dynamism of adult siblings. And unlike many side characters who are mostly just there to listen and present, Becca is actually a complicated character who pushes the plot forward and even gets her own romantic sideline. – although very small -.
Memorable dialogue: Jamie: “I’ll tell them.” Emily: “Yes, you will, because I’m not going to spend the next five nights doing some crap in your parents’ basement because you didn’t have the guts to tell them you dumped me. .” Jamie: “Can you talk to four people?”
Holiday traditions: Jamie’s family loves their holiday traditions, which include secret Santa and Christmas charades. Fulton has a tradition of its own; Every married couple in town writes their name on a stone and places it in the town’s big and fancy fountain.
Does the title make any sense?: Nothing. This title can be applied to pretty much anything not at all holiday movies, because no one made movies about Christmases as expected. A surprise Christmas produced by Sugar Surprise Company but it’s weird to name a movie after a production company. It’s very “Talk Talk” by the band Talk Talk. Anyway — what could this be called, I don’t know, Lies before Christmas, A couple for Christmasor (this is weird) A Conscious Christmas.
Our Take: You know, maybe A surprise Christmas is the right title for this movie because I definitely didn’t expect the movie to be this great. Well, the whole plot is Hallmark’s Mad Libs, from the fake couple to the Christmas-haunted small town to the big promotion that hangs in front of our leading lady. But what makes this movie feel incredibly fresh is the really witty script and the casual yet serious performances.
It’s not often that I’m really LOL with the jokes in the Hallmark holiday movies, but A surprise Christmas there are some exchanges that help me well. There is one that I mentioned above, and another between Jamie and Becca when he asked to borrow her car, I received two enthusiastic thumbs up. This is an eventful Christmas movie with characters that really talk about how people talk — not just people, but millennials. Thanks to Paul Campbell, mainstay of Hallmark, for getting behind the camera and crafting a great script.
And then there are the performances! Can you call the heroine of a Hallmark Christmas movie edgy or even cool? We get a lot of girls by our side, lots of Type A experts, even some nerdy scientists. Bethany Joy Lenz plays Emily with a legit swagger, making her feel like a lot of real women I know, you know, maybe you to be. Like, one of the first things she says in the movie, when she throws her clothes in the suitcase, is, “Unless it’s a date wrapped in bacon, I’m not interested.” I love her, and her annoyance at Jamie’s cowardice makes the premise a success.
As for Jamie, at first I thought he was boring – and then I remembered that Tyler Hynes used to play cool and confident roles. He can’t be here because it’s Lenz’s gig. Then I realized that Hynes really does a great job playing a guy who’s just a mess of insecurities and worries — which aren’t 100% the top men we get. be in these movies! Jamies is handsome because he has the same face as Tyler Hynes, but that’s all he’s got for me. The guy has real, relevant problems that he has to overcome for the relationship to work — and those problems aren’t related to the usual obstacles, like not having enough Christmas spirit. born.
Overall, A surprise Christmas really feels like the future of Hallmark holiday movies. It’s inclusive, witty, practical (well, realistic enough) and fun.
Our call: INSTRUCTIONS IT. A surprise Christmas is unbelievably great.
A surprise Christmas premieres on Hallmark on Friday, November 26 at 8 p.m. ET
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