' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Hot Toddy: Nostalgic Christmas (2019)

Friday, December 06, 2019

Friday's Hot Toddy: Nostalgic Christmas (2019)

Really, every other Hallmark Channel Christmas movie could be titled “Nostalgic Christmas.” Because even the ones that are not about a career-minded single woman returning to where she’s from and remembering not how good she had it, necessarily, but how empty her current reality is and why it’s probably best for everything to return to the way it was tend to ensconce themselves in nostalgia anyway. Going somewhere different and finding a fresh start in Hallmark-land always feels conspicuously like re-discovering what seemed long gone rather than finding something truly new. That’s why the particulars of “Nostalgic Christmas” don’t matter much, mostly the same-ol’ same-ol’ about a mill that’s about to close and a dad’s shop that needs to get sold, following the blueprint of a hundred Hallmark Holiday movies before it, which, come to think of it, invite nostalgia themselves. And that’s why even if “Nostalgic Christmas” is not an official sequel to Brooke D’Orsay’s “Christmas in Love” (2018), just as “Christmas in Love” was not an official sequel to Brooke D’Orsay’s “Miss Christmas” (2017), they are nevertheless all of a-yuletide-piece.

Though most of “Nostalgic Christmas” takes place in Maine where Anne Garrison (D’Orsay) returns to help her father sell his toy shop specializing in wooden carved items, she comes from New York, the universal emblem of how she needs to exit the rat race and settle down. That is accentuated, as it generally is, by her early leopard-print outfit, code for the Hallmark Whore of Babylon, before transforming to the seasonal standard-issue reds and greens, communicating how the spirit of Christmas is now enveloping her and she is ready to secularly repent. She is spurred along, of course, by the handsome fella who unexpectedly emerges in her life – Keith, in this case, who works at the mill that is on the market which will inevitably cause the whole town to go under.

Keith is played by Trevor Donovan – at least 75% of the time with his hands in his pockets, like he doesn’t know what to do with them – a sort of Channing Tatum-lite who looks less like a mill worker than an L.L. Bean model in a Mill Worker Henley. Then again, the mill itself looks more like the leftover set for Reindeer Lodge. In any event, through a twist hung out to dry because the movie never makes the characters comic foils and because D’Orsay and Donovan are too muted, Anne and Keith wind up in charge of putting on the town’s Christmas pageant. This turn of fate allows all the narrative details to converge, each one stacking the deck in favor of nostalgia.

“It’s not me anymore,” Anne says of small-town Maine. But that’s the thing, all evidence shown throughout “Nostalgic Christmas” suggests that this exactly who she is. No matter how many times she admonishes everyone that she still has a life in New York and will be returning to it promptly, the less convincing it sounds. This isn’t new. These movies rarely sell this supposed tension between Big City and Small Town values because they are so firmly in the latter camp, whether for budgetary or ideological reasons or both. As such, it’s left to the performer to exude that tension and D’Orsay, hearkening back to “Miss Christmas” where she could suitably convey longing for her sweet Chicago home. And yet.

There is a moment when Anne, lightly called on the carpet about her feelings about Trevor after giving him a hug, dismisses that embrace as “A doesn’t mean anything hug of good tidings.” It’s not the line; it’s the line reading; it’s D’Orsay suddenly, comically, incredibly ushering all the character’s supposed insecurities to the forefront and making it feel as if her arc is no longer set in stone but up for grabs. It’s like a Hop Along song where Frances Quinlan’s voice cracks and the tune’s floor gives way and you’re plunged into these astonishing oceanic depths heretofore unknown. “Where did THAT come from?” I literally asked aloud. Alas, as quickly as D’Orsay’s vocal inflection appeared, it was gone, as if she was suddenly plugged back into the matrix.

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