' ' Cinema Romantico: Miss Christmas

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Miss Christmas

Hallmark Holiday movies are inherently conservative, both thematically and narratively. Because even if they, more than most genres, provide leading roles for females, those roles are almost always reduced to old fashioned sorts of binaries, where a career-oriented, single woman must learn to give up her career to find love and a family, and where a shield against the spiritually sanitized version of Christmas must eventually crumble to dust, and where even costume design tends to put the woman in either a Black Coat (career-oriented) or a Red Coat (festive and down-home). No matter how absurd a Hallmark synopsis, and some of them are impressively absurd, they always return to these antiquated values, and if you are nevertheless willing to roll with them then their enjoyment level correlates to just how well the movie paints between those rigid lines. Mike Rohl’s “Miss Christmas” paints pretty ordinarily, aside from one extenuative actorly flourish.

Like most of these movies, it moves quick at the start to ensure leisurely sofa watchers want to stay tuned in, underscored by an Aaron Sorkin-ish walk & talk where aptly named Holly Khun (Brooke D’Orsay) and her aide-de-camp Erin (Fiona Vroom) unleash all necessary exposition – that is, the Christmas tree they wanted for Chicago’s historical Radcliff Tree Lighting is no longer available which will fuel a desperate pre-Christmas search, while the latter also picks and prods at Holly regarding her pitiful dating life, which she apparently has no time for on account of her demanding role as Miss Christmas even though what she does the other, say 345 days of the year is never really explained.

The answer to their prayers arrives in the form of a letter from little Joey McNary (Luke Roessler) advising of his beautiful, towering tree right off the National Lampoon Christmas Vacation backlot in appropriately named Klaus, Wisconsin, where Holly swiftly goes, outfit in thigh-high boots betraying her city-slicker status. Once there, however, she runs into trouble in the form of Joey’s father, Sam (Marc Blucas), a farmer, though his farmhouse looks more like a New England bed & breakfast and the only “farming” ever glimpsed is him moving bales of hay from his truck to the garage, a standoffish Scrooge who refuses to part with the tree. Then again, this refusal connects to the tree’s past, which means something to him in the wake of his divorce, which is a nifty flourish that gives “Miss Christmas” some points. His ex-wife did not perish, which is usually how these things go, a means to automatically engender mounds of sympathy. No, their marriage just didn’t work, which suggests something like, dare I say, a muddled (egads!) reality.

Blucas’s performance emits that same idea too. I swear it does, and I swear because layered performances are atypical of Hallmark Holidays. Indeed, though Holly, in falling for Sam, is supposed to struggle in deciding whether to spurn the Big City for a Small Town, D’Orsay’s nearly-omnipresent smile, stretched to absurd proportions, siphons so much credibility from that struggle. At the same time, there is little push and pull in Holly deciding to give up her Career for Sam and his Family, as Joey and his aunt and his granddad just sort of intrinsically adopt Holly without her even realizing it, emblemized in the movie’s Last Half-Hour Reversal, which is really just a Misunderstanding, driven by a phone call overheard at just the wrong moment, a weak bit of plotting even by Hallmark Holiday standards.

Blucas, however, utilizing edgy eyes and a derisive little chuckle, emits a refreshingly contrary air, particularly in playing off of D’Orsay’s enthusiasm, resisting the binary from Grinch to Believer with all he’s got, like a dental patient resisting the drill, and his pained expression when his character is forced into an archetypal ugly Christmas sweater looks like a dental patient resisting the drill. Or maybe, it looks like a soldier in a foxhole. Because if everyone is always prattling on about a war on Christmas, he believes the exact opposite, that it’s a war against those who think the war on Christmas is a cheap charade and that the reason for the season is too self-servingly nebulous. Resistance is futile, of course, particularly on the Hallmark Channel at the Holidays Christmas, and Blucas plays it like Sam knows it, even though he fights, dammit, ’til the bitter end.

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