Mariah Carey, Lacey Chabert, Brennan Elliott, Kathy Najimy and 10-year-old Broadway sensation Fina Strazza star in “A Christmas Melody,” directed by Mariah Carey: “A Christmas Melody” revolves around Kristin (Chabert), a beautiful, stylish divorcee who is a talented clothing designer and her young daughter. Kristin has just had to close her small Manhattan boutique to return to her Ohio home town and live in her parents’ former home. It’s an adjustment for Kristin and Emily – especially when she runs into her former high school rival Melissa (Carey). Melissa is president of the PTA and tries to make Kristen feel as unwelcome as possible. Kristen and Emily struggle to find their new normal with the help of the hunky local music teacher Danny (Elliott) and Kristin’s Aunt Sarah (Najimy), the local coffee shop owner. With a little holiday magic and music, Kristin and Emily find that home is where the heart is.
Let me begin by stating from the moment Brennan Elliott tweeted about this film, I knew it would be my favorite of the season because it starred both him and Lacey Chabert. Since I saw them in All Of My Heart earlier this year, I have been enraptured with them as an onscreen duo. Of course, Brennan is in my top five favorite actors (maybe top three come to think of it), and anything in which he is featured is something I fully support. Not every actor receives that kind of devotion from me, but not only is he a phenomenal actor, but he is a kind, reciprocal guy who truly appreciates his fans.
Let’s begin by tackling the “monkey” in the room. When I found out Mariah Carey was directing this film (and it was her directorial debut), I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about that. Although I appreciate the talent Mariah has, I have never truly been a fan of hers. And then when I discovered that she was going to be featured in the film, I was even a bit more disquieted. In fact, I grew weary of the massive promotion for Mariah, and had I not come into this critique with the open mind of a reviewer, I may have felt the same about Mariah’s performance as many of my friends and devout Hallmark fans do.
In the role of the mean PTA mom, Melissa Atkinson, Mariah appears to be completely in her element. I have heard the stories about Mariah being a diva and many more untoward terms. But I also know that the media loves to major on the minor and embellish stories for press attention. No matter what, I believe Mariah had a blast playing this role, and for me, she never came across as fake. More than likely, Mariah has had the experience of having an “off day,” as we all do. How much fun would it be to portray a character who is like that all the time? I am convinced that most women would “kill” for a role like this, and although Mariah’s character only appears on screen briefly, she is memorable.
Some people complained passionately that Mariah’s character is unnecessary to the framework of the story, but I must step in and challenge this statement. In Hallmark films, there is typically some kind of villain who seeks to keep the main couple apart. Sometimes the character is male, and sometimes it’s female. Most of the time, it is a romantic attachment, and I rarely ever hear a complaint from viewers when this is the case. In the instance of this film, there is no one else vying for the attention of Brennan’s or Lacey’s character, and so that should be a relief to the viewers. Melissa is a vixen who gives her old schoolmate nothing but grief, and she is a music teacher’s worst nightmare. She still gets her due at the end, and I personally found her character hilarious. Without Mariah’s character, the film would not have the sparkle that we see. And I know I would have potentially been bored out of my mind. Mariah’s character adds that spice that propels the story to its heartwarming conclusion.
While I am not a professional critic, and I know very little about directing a film, I do know when a film is well-done, and this one certainly is. I have no complaints with Mariah’s directing, and to listen to Brennan and Lacey speak of Mariah, they were quite impressed. Since both Lacey and Brennan are industry professionals, I take what they say to heart and do not question it. Even though both would not say a mean word publicly about anything, neither of these actors are artificial, and the fact that both chose to speak so eminently (in no uncertain terms) of Mariah’s directing abilities gives me confidence that she is well on her way to becoming a well-respected director.
In the interest of being completely transparent, I told you of my initial distaste for Mariah, but it is amazing how dismissing preconceived notions and keeping an open mind can change one’s view. While I may not ever be one who goes out and promotes Mariah Carey to the degree that some will, my views on her have been adjusted positively. While there is much negativity out there about her, I cannot (and will not) deny her obvious talent, leadership skills, and effective professional capacities. I will not even criticize what some did regarding her age–could people possibly cease with dissecting every part of the film and spinning it negatively?
Now, I have never seen Fina in anything, and I was quite exhilarated to discover that she is a Broadway star (she was the youngest ever to portray Mathilda in the Broadway musical of the same name). And this young lady has it all–she is cute, competent, and can do anything that is asked of her. At her tender age, she is already a qualified professional, and I have no doubt that we have not seen the last of her.
Honestly, Fina is a marvel on the screen. My only criticism has nothing to do with her at all. It seems like when she performed that last number, they struggled to get her lips in synch with her voice. My mom was actually the one to point this out. And in Fina’s defense, first she has no control over any of that, and secondly, I doubt she’s used to the world of “music videos” since she is a Broadway star. So if that is my worst reproof of the film (which it is), that’s a minuscule thing.
Of course, Fina’s finest moment is that ending song as she is an absolute doll with talent that will dumbfound the viewers. But she is so much more than that stellar finale.
Whenever children are involved in films, I make it a point to watch how they interact with the main characters, and in this case, that happens to be Brennan and Lacey . My analysis? Fina is so accomplished, she could play opposite any star and completely rise to the occasion! She is extraordinary without being exaggerated (that’s really quite a compliment when one realizes she hails from the world of the stage), and I never distrusted her authenticity.
Not only is she never intimidated by the stars with whom she works, but they never have to cater to her as an actress. She does not come across as being a prima donna (some child actresses are), and I think that her talent is such that she can continue to be a star well into her adulthood as long as she remains as grounded as she is now.
Mark my words–we have not seen the last of Fina Strazza. She is only at the dawn of what I project to be a very long and vibrant career indeed.
Kevin plays quite the clever role in this film. He is the janitor, but we all know he really is Santa Claus. The powers that be have done such a clever job of weaving him into the framework of the story that if you blink, you may not catch on to his being the real Santa Claus. But pay attention to Emily (Fina), and you might find yourself reaching the same conclusion as she. And as Santa, Kevin is so much diverting to watch. I am unfamiliar with his works, but discovering his accolades for his stage work was quite a boost. Therefore, don’t miss his underrated, but spectacular performance as Kevin plays Santa Claus just about as credibly as I have ever seen. Though not easy to pretend to be this legendary character while pretending to be someone else, Kevin is up to the task and plays him brilliantly.
I knew I recognized “Aunt Sarah,” but is wasn’t until I spent the time researching that I discovered she appears in another favorite Hallmark film of mine, How to Fall in Love. And there is no doubt Kathy plays her part with humor, joy, and even sympathy when necessary. No matter what news she brings, we cannot ever hold her character responsible nor be genuinely upset with her.
After all, Kathy’s seamless portrayal is full of spunk, a little sisterly prodding, and a belief that whatever her sister chooses will be the right answer. She encourages her niece to examine her heart and to be true to herself. The last thing she desires is for her niece to give up true love in order to make a fast buck. And her joi de vivre penetrates her performance that you just cannot help but fall in love with her character.
Of course, this is Hallmark, and it is imperative that at the center of the film, we see a radiant couple who will eventually fall in love, but have their share of pitfalls along the way. And this couple, Lacey and Brennan, is one of my all-time favorite Hallmark couples (and even beyond). Quite seriously, if one were to look up the word chemistry in the dictionary, I would expect to see Lacey’s and Brennan’s name there. They are the epitome of the best of Hallmark romance, and they perform it effortlessly. In fact, I noticed in their first scene together, there is such a comfort between them that there is no “warming up” time. They have an instant chemistry that is one of the rarest things ever seen in the film industry. While many couples have chemistry, these two have that special magic quality that makes the viewer comfortable and warm with the hope and love of the season.
Because this couple doesn’t have to wrestle crazy exes, one might assume that their story will not have to overcome anything to reach the guaranteed happy ending. Unfortunately, this train of thinking is wrong. While these two are delightful with impeccable comedic timing, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have their share of issues to vanquish. In fact, in some ways, it is conquering their own insecurities, convictions, and dreams that put up barriers in their relationship more than anything else. But thankfully, Lacey and Brennan take us on a journey that is filled with laughter, charm, and grace. On more than one case, the dialogue is so sweet that I found myself smiling from the inside out. Incidentally, these two have the easygoing chemistry that never oversteps the bounds of decency nor discomfort. In fact, my 12-year-old daughter detests on-screen kissing, but her comment when Brennan and Lacey kissed was, “That’s a good kiss.” And she didn’t even look away as she is wont to do. So they never cross the inappropriate line, but I tell you, that kiss is still magnificent! I find myself longing to watch it multiple times as it is a masterful screen kiss. Again, the uncomplicated chemistry works to their advantage.
When it comes to Lacey, I cannot even begin to say enough about the massive talent this woman possesses. Lacey is a consummate professional who immerses herself completely in any role she is cast, and she is always a treat to watch on the screen no matter what. Lacey belongs to an elite group of actresses who are effortlessly authentic and luscious every time they are on screen. And while on screen, her prowess is so evident in that we never question her character.
In the role of Kristin, Lacey has demonstrated her prowess yet again. While her role is rather conventional, she is asked to go beyond herself by playing opposite Mariah’s character and even standing up to being bullied by said character. Lacey transports us on a thoroughly emotional journey and entertains us with an acting master class through her phenomenal depiction of the single mother who has to decide if she is willing to alter her dreams in order to embrace the true love she has found or if monetary/personal success is more important to her.
No matter what Lacey’s character does nor who appears opposite her in the scene, Lacey continues to give a thoroughly riveting performance of which most actresses merely imagine. Even if I didn’t like the character Lacey was playing, she has the knack to engender favor. Gratefully, I like Kristin, but Lacey’s performance makes me adore her character even more. I seriously believe Lacey could have any part in the acting world that she desired, and we viewers are so blessed to be able to see her on screen as much as we do. Oh, and did I mention that she is also humble and down-to-earth? Those are qualities in short supply in this day and age, but that is exactly what attracts viewers in droves to her side. As long as Lacey remains true to who she is, I predict she will always have an innumerable amount of people who will support her films and television performances.
And these two are the ideal mother and daughter combination. While there are plenty of splendid examples of mother-daughter portrayals in films, there is just an uncanny quality between these two that I just cannot describe. I think I forget that they are acting–they seem like mother and daughter and often remind me of the relationship my daughter and I have.
Of course, if you follow my feed on twitter, you will know exactly how I feel about Brennan Elliott. It has never been a secret that he is one of my foremost favorites, and he is the primary reason I tuned in to watch this film. And although I came in with an obvious bias, he even exceeded the high expectations I had for him and his character. Brennan is a master actor, in my opinion, and as I have had the opportunity to teach acting for the past two months, I have even developed more of an appreciation for this man who seriously has more talent than even I thought was possible to have in one human being.
Ever since realizing that Brennan played Warren in Cedar Cove, I have been a staunch supporter of his. As I have discovered his vastly diverse amount of works, I have never been disappointed. And this film is no exception. And since Brennan plays music teacher Danny, I was even more intrigued. In another lifetime (or so it seems), I was a music teacher. My days as a music teacher contain some of the most wonderful and most stressful moments of my teaching career, and so it was with great joy that I anticipated seeing Brennan in a role that is completely different from anything he has ever done.
From the moment Brennan appeared on screen, I was entranced with his character. And as I watched this band geek turned choir teacher, I was not expecting any real musicality to be displayed. I know Brennan was a gifted accordionist as a child, but I had no idea that he was going to sing. And I wasn’t overly worried as “band geeks” who go on to lead choirs can’t usually sing well (I speak from experience). Imagine my surprise when Brennan began singing as Danny and was on pitch and really sounded reasonably good (better than most band geeks). Additionally, Brennan’s take on this music teacher who invests himself in Emily but secretly (or not so secretly) rekindles his flame for Kristin is absolutely unerring. After all, music teachers often deal with parents just like Mariah’s character. And there is nothing more fabulous for a music teacher when he/she sees the fruition of his/her labors. And Brennan beams just like I always used to when a performance by the kids surpassed my expectations.
Brennan is just one of those actors who can do no wrong, and when he is cast opposite an actress like Lacey, who can do no wrong either, you have a genuine recipe for success, magic, and fun. Every time I see these two, I am more dazzled (but of course, my first allegiance goes to Brennan, but Lacey has certainly come to capture a bigger part of my heart every time I see her).
This was the film I most anticipated this Christmas season, and every scene of this film is sheer ecstasy. Lacey is beautiful, captivating, and incredibly talented. Brennan is dashingly handsome and always celebrates what is the sincere and genuine about each and every character he depicts. While I probably prefer seeing him as a “good guy,” he is one of the few actors who can actually incite compassion for the villains he plays (“Warren”).
While I know that I am incredibly prejudiced because Brennan is one of the gentlest, kindest, and most reciprocal actors in the entertainment world today, I still have to state this was my favorite of the Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas” films this year. No matter what one may say about Mariah’s acting and directing style, she contributed energetically to the strength and achievement of this film, and I applaud her first attempt (as I feel she succeeded in a significant way). And any time Brennan is put in any role in a film or television show, it’s a cause for celebration, and I look forward to seeing him in many more works in the future. I genuinely believe he will continue to captivate me with his ceaseless supply of talent, courtesy, and legitimate human spirit.
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