During the Christmas season, a struggling New York actress returns to the small hometown she once left behind to follow her dreams of performing on Broadway. Feeling that she’s failed everyone’s expectations, she hides the reality of her difficult life from her former high school friends, until she finds herself opening up to a very special old acquaintance. When they start to fall for each other, she must decide if chasing her dreams in the big city can really compare to the unexpected happiness-and love- she’s found right at home.
POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT: I really don’t believe this is necessary with this review, but in the event that I accidentally reveal something the spoils the story, consider yourself warned.
When I began watching this film, I’ll be honest–I was afraid I was going to be bored. While it was a nice, light Christmas film, I couldn’t see any depth or anything truly exciting about it. But for the sake of the actors whom I had promised a stellar review, I kept an open mind. After all, at the end of the day, this is the movie that kicks off the holiday season.
Thankfully, as the film progressed, I found myself becoming intrigued with the story and the way in which this simple (but relatable) story was progressing. No longer was I bored, and I now believe I can give this fantastic film the kind of review it deserves.
From the beginning of the film, I was captivated by two characters whom I credit with stealing the show. While the main actors are brilliant and will receive a full review later on, sometimes the “minor” characters can be so memorable, and in this case, when I reflect on the film, these two come to mind.
The first character that truly captivated me was Santa Claus as played by Garry Chalk. I most closely associate him with the Sheriff Troy Davis in Cedar Cove, but his resume is quite extensive. From the moment he appeared on the screen as Santa Claus, I was entranced. His voice and look were so impeccable that I was ready to affirm with Virginia of old that there is indeed a Santa Claus. As the story advances, I came to the unmitigated conclusion that Garry is potentially the foremost modern Santa I have seen in any film or television series. In the future, I am certain I will find myself comparing Garry Chalk’s Santa to the other interpretations which I will witness (especially this holiday season). And as far as I’m concerned, he has set the bar rather high, and it will be difficult to find someone to surpass his characterization and portrayal of this role.
The second “minor” character who captured my attention was that of Nicole as played by Anna Van Hooft. From the time I knew of her work on Cedar Cove season three, I have been following this actress. While it took me awhile to become accustomed to her “Linnette” character, but in the end, I genuinely admired the way she played this perky, always trusting, unpretentious roommate who ultimately discovered her parents had lied to her all her life. When I first saw her as Nicole, I didn’t readily identify her. For this role, she has been glamorized from the sweet and fresh Linnette. Her features are more pronounced, and though absolutely gorgeous, her makeup is much more pronounced.
As Nicole, she exemplified this role to perfection. Nicole is Beth’s successful Broadway star friend, and in my opinion, this character is a much more substantial role than I am used to seeing her play. She comes off as being intense, sophisticated, and absolutely certain of herself and what she wants in life. In Cedar Cove, we were only treated to her saucier side during the finale, but this role lends itself to quite a commanding performance. And no doubt, Anna is definitely up for the task. Again, though it is a small role, it is memorable. I hope to see Anna tackle even more roles with such singular depth in the future as she is indubitably an emerging actress who is only beginning to display her prowess.
As the Beth’s former boyfriend, Andrew delights us with his portrayal of Barry. As my daughter and I examined his resume, we discovered she recognized his voice work, and I was familiar with his other works (Cedar Cove included). And as I witnessed his accomplished proficiency, it was clear to me that he is a natural in this role. And when Jessica Harmon is added as his character’s wife, Eileen, the scenes with these two become even more enchanting. Eileen is the perfect fit for Barry, and there are no difficulties because he is Beth’s old flame. But I will say that because Andrew is noticeably handsome, I think the audience sympathizes with Beth when she realizes what she has lost in Barry. Andrew and Jessica relate well together as husband and wife on the screen, and they are the couple to which Beth aspires. She observes in that couple the opportunity she has passed over in the pursuit of her dreams, and these two effortlessly symbolize that life for which Beth secretly longs.
Not a stranger to playing the mother of Hallmark leads, it is a true joy to see Gwyneth in this role of Beth’s mother. Without a doubt, she is perfectly doting, amazingly sweet, and certainly not past her prime. She never prods Beth to make an immediate decision, and no matter what, she always supports her daughter. Gwyneth is completely credible and delivers her lines exactly the way a encouraging mother should. While she may appear to be typecast, this actress is able to make even the most potentially mundane mother radiate relevance and modernism.
As one of most compatible couples on Hallmark movies, Brendan and Sarah are impeccably cast. While I am not familiar with Brendan, I have seen Sarah in various roles in recent years. These two have such a spark between them, but it is not an instant inferno. These talented actors are able to take the audience on a virtual journey that celebrates the growing attraction between two old friends. It is unmitigated rapture to view the love blossom between them, and by the time their love has matured , the magnetism is unstoppable. In most Hallmark films, chemistry is sweet and sometimes relatively restrained. With these two, their chemistry is a bit more impassioned than most Hallmark films. I would compare their chemistry to what viewers witness between Jack and Olivia of Cedar Cove. Still endearing, but their physical attraction wastes no time once it commences.
As Dean, Brendan plays the ideal hunk who has loved Beth since high school, but he assumed he had no chance with her. After all, she loved Dean, and then she fled to New York to chase her dreams. How could Dean set his sights on a woman like that, amazing though she is? He is often unsure of himself and whether he should trust his heart lest it get broken. All of his mannerisms and tone inflections demonstrate all of these insecurities in the most exquisite way. The one thing of which Dean is convinced is that he desires to remain in the town where he serves the community with his life-saving skills. Dean is one who is not apprehensive in wearing his emotions on his sleeve, and this means that when he hurts, so does the audience. Although Brendan plays his role as a sensitive guy, we never question his strength and masculinity. It is not every actor who can achieve that feat.
Equally up to the task of portraying the driven and sometimes conflicted Beth, Ashley is perfectly cast. Achieving the balance of pursuing her dreams and pursuing true love is not an easy thing to exhibit on the screen, but Ashley is ideal in this role. Beth is one who often dismisses her legitimate emotions lest they get in the way of what she really longs to accomplish in her life. As one would expect, this causes much consternation and strife within her, and Ashley is able to infuse that into Beth’s interactions with the other characters and even within her character’s own mind. The audience sympathizes with her inner turmoil, and we connect with her readily as we comprehend what it is like to be faced with potentially life-changing decisions that sometimes leave us unsure of the direction to which we should go.
Even though the ending is never in question, the journey is fraught with emotion, and on occasion that emotion is raw. Both Beth and Dean tend to be inflexible even if it costs them forever love, but this is Hallmark, so any worries can be laid to rest.
Since this is the film that inaugurates the holiday season, there truly could be no better story nor actors with whom to welcome this magical time of year. So be sure to sit back with your popcorn and enjoy the show.
While there won’t be any mysteries to be solved, and there will be no proper moments of emotional catharsis, I can promise you entertainment, ecstasy, and Christmas wishes and blessings in overabundance.
For more information on this exquisite film, please check out the following links: