' ' Cinema Romantico: Notes on Hallmark Christmas Movie Set Design

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Notes on Hallmark Christmas Movie Set Design

My mom, a playwright, published and performed many times over, at one point in the past had a show of hers put on by a Des Moines, Iowa high school that shall remain nameless. Set in a high school, there is a pivotal moment late in her play when one character confronts a bully. But if this moment was written on the page as a dramatic one, and if the staging of it in other productions rendered it dramatic too, in this nameless school’s hands it became something else. One of the actors onstage, playing a stereotypical nerd, positioned himself between the bully and the character confronting him and nodded along with the latter, a goofy grin on his face, like he was the sheriff’s deputy, or something. This yielded laughter rather than rapt silence. My mom was incensed. And this was a formative experience for me, a distinct lesson in how the slightest shift in tone can entirely alter a scene in a play or a movie, not necessarily for the better and not necessarily in a way that’s true to the artist’s intent. Of course, in a movie you have more control over tone. This should not be an issue, really, the artist and the finished product tonally harmonizing, so long as everyone is on the same page anyway. And that, friends, brings me to Hallmark’s “The Christmas Bow.” 

The title’s pun means the focus is not on, say, a department store gift wrapper but a violin prodigy, one who, alas, has lost the love to play. She will find it once again by the end, of course, duh. Still, despite that duh, serious shout-out here to Lucia Micarelli playing prodigy Kate. This is Micarelli’s only acting credit aside from a few appearances on “Treme” and one on a TV show called “Manhattan” as it seems Hallmark was more determined to cast a true violinist, lending authenticity, the latter of which Micarelli, to her immense credit, evinces as much in her performance as her instrument playing. I have seen some good Hallmark Holiday performances over the years but those hue closer to rom com territory; Micarelli goes the other way, giving a quiet performance of a more indie kind. You rarely believe that people in movies like this have lost the love of their chosen profession but Micarelli brings it to life. She’s burned out and closed off, her speaking style befitting someone who doesn’t want to talk about it. That means when, in the movie’s climax, she takes to a stage and finally performs again, it feels emotional, not obligatory, a deft feat in Hallmark-land. Except.

Who did this? Whose idea was this? Who on the set design team thought it wise to have the backdrop behind our intrepid violinist include that ginormous grinning Santa Claus? Did they not see it on set? Did the cameraman not pick it up through the viewfinder? Micarelli must have seen it said, “Guys, what’s the deal?” Rarely have I seen such an egregious invasion of a triumphant character’s space. Here she is, at the pivotal moment, playing violin again (!), and the whole time your eyes are unwittingly drawn toward this overly jolly St. Nick. 

It’s a travesty, surely, but perhaps an appropriate too, crassly emphasizing the eternally looming tyranny of Christmas cheer. 

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