A successful New York businesswoman learns her beloved late Grandmother has left her ‘Christmas Land’, a magical Christmas themed village in the country side.
Let me apologize in advance. I suspect that it was not the best decision to air this film after one of the most outstanding nights in Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas.” In many ways, this is a potential disenchantment after the massive promotion for Mariah Carey’s directorial debut and her Christmas special. This may be considered a bit anticlimactic. And regrettably, anything that follows this grand night will probably be viewed that way. However, in another sense, things are winding down for Christmas, so maybe this is the perfect film to sit back and relax with the family while sipping hot cocoa and devouring a colossal bowl of popcorn. And thankfully, this film still has Hallmark’s charm, wit, and guaranteed picture-perfect ending. And in the words of my mom, this film is “cute.” I just don’t want anyone to feel disappointed if they are expecting more than what they will receive from this film.
Well, this film begins with an especially familiar face–Maureen McCormick–viewers may know her as “Marcia” from The Brady Bunch. She plays the grandmother of Jules, who is responsible for leaving Christmas Land to the granddaughter who promised to never forget Christmas Land. Although Maureen isn’t on screen long, she is memorable. I didn’t immediately recognize her, but now I see it. I tip my hat to Hallmark for completing the season with this iconic actress who still so beautiful, talented, and noteworthy.
In her debut performance, Shayla portrays young Jules alongside this legendary actress. Shayla’s role is tiny, but here’s hoping we will so more from her in the future.
Unprovidentially, twenty-five years pass, and Grandma is deceased, and we are now left with her granddaughter, Jules, who has grown up and forgotten the true spirit and joy of Christmas. As per normal in these films, Jules is all about making money no matter what.
With very few credits to his name, Wes is an absolute natural in the role of “Uncle Frank.” I figured he was a qualified professional, but at least from what I could tell, he’s a relative newbie. Let’s hope that Hallmark and other networks find plenty for this guy to do. Indeed, his imposing personage could fill out a variety of roles.
These spunky ladies certainly brighten up the screen, and their respective experience is varied (although they are perfectly matched in this film). Annette has been featured in tiny roles in a couple of Hallmark films, but this is the first time I have seen her in a role with a smidgen of substance. She is exemplary, and she matches Chonda’s portrayal of Gretchen to a tee. In fact, they are like the proverbial “old lady gossiping friends” who are almost always seen together and invariably are aware of everything happening in the town (actually, if they don’t know, they probably fabricate it). Chonda doesn’t have a lot of experience as an actress, but her writing and comedienne credits are well-known. No matter their experience, they are an absolute delight on screen, and I anticipate more from both in the future.
As per Hallmark style, there is “the other guy,” and he is played impeccably by Jason-Shane Scott. Now, I have not seen this veteran actor in anything else that I can recall, but his experience precedes him. He fits exceptionally well as the handsome, successful, but not entirely candid Mitchell. While he is more of a two-dimensional character, that is all Mitchell requires (or deserves). He seems so suave and debonair, but he’s also slick and shrewd. It’s difficult to despise Jason in the role, but once his true colors are revealed, it becomes much easier to disregard him and his paltry feelings.
The moment Richard walked onto the screen, I knew I recognized him, but I couldn’t place him until I did some research. How could I not recognize the guy who played Al Borlin for so many years on Home Improvement? And then I’ve seen him also on Last Man Standing–but I know exactly why I did not readily identify him. I am so used to seeing Richard portraying a good guy that it is a bit harsh to see him as a bad guy. Well, not necessarily a bad guy, and that is why Richard plays this character so well. The character of Mason seems like a truly decent guy, and I struggled to see him as a villain even before I recognized him. Richard has a benevolent disposition that he carries with him to every role. Now, maybe he can play a genuinely diabolical character, but I have not ever seen him in any such role. He engenders sympathy for his character in this film even when he’s being a good businessman and making the demands that he feels he must. If it were not for the fact that he knows what he is potentially giving up, I don’t believe his character would have demanded of Jules what he did. No spoilers, but pay careful attention to him near the conclusion of the film, and I think you will definitely see that signature kindness radiating through. Regardless, I applaud Hallmark for giving him a momentous role that shows us a different side of him. And, of course, Richard lives up to our expectations without a fault.
At the heart of this film is this couple, Tucker and Jules as depicted by Luke and Nikki. I couldn’t place Luke at first, but I have seen him in The Memory Book. Alas, I felt I should know Nikki, but I don’t recognize any of her listed credits. Nevertheless, this couple is exactly what Hallmark viewers ordered–charming , unembellished, and visionary.
Through Luke’s influence, we see the transformation that Jules makes as she is exposed the unpretentious joys of the community where Christmas Land is located. The wonder of Christmas returns to her, and she remembers what she promised her grandmother so long ago.
Together, these two transport us on the typical journey of Hallmark love, but it is credible and authentic without being overdone. Their chemistry is never artificial, and it is evident that there is a magical force that is drawing these two together (maybe it is the force that drives Christmas Land itself).
As we travel this film through the eyes of Nikki’s character, Jules, we viewers are treated to a plethora of emotions as she embarks on her own self-discovery voyage. To look at Nikki, we might expect her to be the conventional, run-of-the-mill Hallmark actress who can deliver a solid performance with a moderate amount depth. However, that would be an incorrect assumption. While Nikki plays an ordinary Hallmark heroine, she immerses herself fully in her character, and she lends her skill entirely to this complex character.
As her character ripens and changes, we see the undiminished spectrum of emotions as only a capable actress who has sincerely connected with her character can give. Do not underestimate the caliber of this actress. If not for her stirring performance, I may have somewhat lost interest in the film, so I applaud her legitimate talent.
However, I would be remiss without mentioning and praising the talent of Luke as Tucker. Although he may not be as celebrated in Hallmark circles, he is the distinctive leading man in this genre with an uncanny knack for infusing genuine emotion and warmth into the character which he depicts. For his character, Jules is the only woman he has ever loved, and every mannerism–whether facial expression, gesture, or vocal inflection–assures us of his undying devotion to her. He grapples with doubts about her sincerity and only longs to believe the absolute best about her. When he believes that he may lose her, his performance is precise that we want to get in his face (just like Gretchen does), tell him off, and literally drag him to her to “kiss and make up.” Though he may appear mediocre, don’t belittle Luke’s gift for acting. His refreshing appearance and prowess are exactly what makes a film like this become unforgettable.
As a finale to Hallmark’s star-studded and extensive “Countdown to Christmas,” this is like coming home. Don’t expect a story that will challenge your beliefs nor send you into the throes of sorrow. Instead, expect a story that will gently tug at your heartstrings and remind you of cherished moments and the joy of the holiday season.
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