' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Hot Toddy: The Christmas Ornament (2013)

Friday, December 13, 2019

Friday's Hot Toddy: The Christmas Ornament (2013)

The open secret about Hallmark Christmas movies is that given their swift production turnaround, a whole new slate always needing to be prepped for the next holiday season, they are generally filmed in the summer. That’s why those patches of snow along sidewalks look so fake, the sun appears so high, and characters, even ones ostensibly in Alaska or at the North Pole, leave their jackets unzipped, their hands free of gloves, and keep their scarves loose. In this light, Hallmark has essentially rigged it so that Christmas lasts year-round, and not just on their movie sets but on the TV too, rebranding July as Christmas in July. And it’s why, out of the hundreds and hundreds of these things produced over the years, if one truly encapsulates the Hallmark mission statement, it’s 2013’s “The Christmas Ornament.”

Then again, Mark Jean’s 2013 film does deviate from normal Hallmark values in so much as its main character, Kathy (Kellie Martin), while single, is not hard-charging or career-oriented. The bike shop she runs, in fact, isn’t hers but her late husband’s and she feels dutybound to keep it going even as it struggles, two layers of grief that Martin conveys without melodramatically wallowing in it. And the Christmas miracle, in this case, involves not finding way to keep the shop open but getting out from under it, which is a little more emotionally knotty than you typically get in these straight-forward affairs of sentimentality, a miracle tying back to Christmas ornaments. If once these were totems of love between Kathy and her spouse, this Christmas season she has tucked them away in her basement, leaving her home undecorated, and in one scene, as Kathy returns to her dwelling, she looks over her shoulder at a grandly festooned house across the street. It evokes the standard-issue shot in movies where a family-less person sees a family and longs for that love and affection except that here all she longs for is your standardized, all-the-fixings Christmas.

This sort of all-encompassing seasonal sensation is precisely what makes the holidays hard for some people, of course. Rather than acknowledging that difficulty, though, Kathy’s best friend (Jewel Staite) mostly just tries to force joy on her anyway, like those people who can’t understand how anyone couldn’t be happy at Christmas, frequently imploring her to start dating again. That fierce encouragement wouldn’t be so weird if, as we learn, her husband had not merely passed away eight months ago. That’s eight months. I don’t know any other way to say it except like this: that’s flat-out disturbing. Let a person grieve! And it’s no wonder why when her best friend dispatches the dashing, ice skating enthusiast, Tim Pierce (Cameron Mathison), in charge of the local Christmas tree lot to deliver a fir, Kathy remains standoffish.

Tim, of course, becomes not just a conduit to new romance but to the holiday Kathy once loved. And though Tim admirably gives her space, his air is so cheerily insistent that he can’t help but feel partially invasive anyway; he’s like the living embodiment of Perry Como’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?” endlessly playing in December at malls. Kathy’s introduction to Tim happens inside the souvenir shop attached to his lot, reminiscent of Michelle Yeoh’s overstuffed twinkly bonanza in “Last Christmas”, where we see Tim enter through the door behind Kathy, unaware of his presence. We see him in in long shot, beaming, so well positioned for sneak attack that, I swear, if you twisted the tone dial one degree that this scene could pitch right over into “Silent Night, Deadly Night.” Rest easy, though, because his faraway eyes don’t denote serial killer tendencies, just a zany earnestness, which Mathison positively effuses in every scene.

That zany earnestness denotes The Magic of Christmas, which isn’t my phrase but Hallmark’s, a magic less about the supernatural than an unwavering faith. Not faith-faith, mind you, but a faith in secular Christmas, where Santa Claus is the reason for the season. And even if no one in “The Christmas Ornament” proves to literally be Santa Claus, as is sometimes the case in these movies, Tim comes across like a version of the jolly old elf anyway, not only restoring Kathy’s conviction but seeing through a longstanding dream of turning his rural tree farm into a year-round holiday attraction. In the end, Christmas never has to end again.

1 comment:

mercatiwriter@aol.com said...

The dashing, ice skating enthusiast is one of the funniest lines ever written about a hero.