A high-powered marketing executive is on her way to a client’s wedding when her plans are derailed by car trouble. When a fork in the road leads her to Christmas Valley, a town in love with Christmas, her unexpected journey will leave her wondering what her life has been missing.
So the question is–can you ever “best” the combination of Hallmark and Christmas? Honestly, I don’t think so. From the end of October until almost all the way up to the big day, you can watch a new “Countdown to Christmas” movie on the Hallmark Channel that features outstanding actors, heartwarming stories, a little bit of romance, and most importantly, a tribute to the true meaning of the season. While each film is family-friendly, wholesomely entertaining, and sentimentally enjoyable, there are always those ones that stand out for whatever reason. Maybe it’s the storyline. Perhaps it’s the star potential. It could even be the beautiful scenery. But when all of these elements come together (and it stars one of my all-time favorite leading men on planet earth), it can be described as none other than the sensational Love You Like Christmas movie which stars the winning trio of Brennan Elliott, Bonnie Somerville, and Madison Brydges. When the screenplay is also written by the same woman who penned the fan-favorite All of My Heart (Karen Berger), you can count on this becoming an instant classic, especially within the Hallmark community.
One of the things I so appreciate about Hallmark (and I say this quite regularly) is how they feature virtual unknowns in their films, and they are often willing to give newcomers a chance when it may be difficult for these same people to land work with other studios–or at least memorable work that is beyond a glorified extra or tiny speaking role. The loyalty of Hallmark is practically legendary.
Almost from the opening frame, I found myself drawn to Maddie’s assistant, Roz. Upon further examination, I discovered that Miku was not new to Hallmark. Viewers had the pleasure of seeing her featured in Christmas at Cartwright’s as well. She has the foremost smile, and she plays her role perfectly as she navigates the ups and downs of Maddie and her job. In fact, her perkiness and joy are in such stark contrast to Maddie’s fastidiousness and stress-laden life. I hope to see Miku in future works on Hallmark and elsewhere as she appears to be one who acts fluently in whatever role she is placed.
Another remarkable character is that of the vivacious and energetic Holly. Lo and behold, imagine my surprise when I discovered that not only is the actress who portrays her (Sadie LeBlanc) a veteran of Hallmark films, but the last Hallmark film in which she was featured was directed by the director of this film (Graeme Campbell, Be My Valentine). However, I do believe that this film has cemented the fact that Sadie is indeed a master of facial expressions that inform the audience of exactly what is going on her character’s head. And who couldn’t like the owner of the local diner who is ready to put into practice all of Maddie’s marketing wisdom?
Of course, what is a small town diner without its wise-cracking, but very kind chef? Another actor who was featured in Christmas at Cartwright’s plays this lovable role, and I hope to see more of Andre. He characterizes the role of Luke with plenty of fun and a bundle of energy. His character is not quiet nor shy, and he is not afraid to share his opinion when he feels it is warranted. In fact, the more I examine this cast, I realize that the common denominator seems to be the phenomenal director, Graeme. Again, another trademark of Hallmark projects–amazing fidelity amongst crew and cast alike.
Taking a moment to head back to the New York portion of the tale, Landy plays one of Maddie’s high-profile clients, and this versatile actor already has a resume featuring several well-known shows and works, including Hallmark’s Good Witch series. Though gracing the screen but a short time, Landy is the ideal client who is taken not only with Maddie’s marketing experience, but there is no doubt he is eyeing her for more than just business reasons. But not to worry. This is Hallmark, and the ending is never in question, right?
And what about the owner of this car, that object that causes nothing but havoc to poor Maddie? Though new to Hallmark and only appearing briefly, Geoffrey has enjoyed a lucrative career and will continue to do so, for sure. Without this classic car that seems to have a mind of its own to keep Maddie where she is destined to be, the movie story would suffer. So here’s hoping we see more of Geoffrey on the Hallmark network soon.
As her boss, Robert Warren, can you get any better than Romano? Not only his body of work impressive, but his demeanor and presence on-screen are undeniable and unforgettable. Perhaps we’ll see him in even more Hallmark works. I do appreciate the diversity I am beginning to see within the Hallmark casts, and I believe we will only see more as the months and years pass.
Within the boarding house, there are also a couple notable characters–Pam and Bob. Again, they are played by very skilled actors.
We are introduced to Pam, the owner of the boarding house where the seemingly unfortunate Maddie must remain while her car is undergoing reparations (on more than one occasion). Precious is one who fits this role of small-town girl with a “mom and pop” business that sincerely appeals to the locals and visitors alike. As this seems to be her first Hallmark work, we can certainly hope it won’t be the last, as it would seem that her career is beginning to take off based on the works listed in her resume.
Even if you do not recognize Richard Waugh’s name, no doubt you recognize
him from other Hallmark works (and I knew I recognized him–Designated Survivor). He fits any role in which he finds himself–something expected from a seasoned actor as he with such an extensive, renowed list of credits to his name. I am certain we will continue to see him in diverse places on our screens in the near future, whether Hallmark or elsewhere. He is definitely a favorite, and in this role, viewers will be able to discover exactly why. He is the very epitome of professionalism and master acting.
Yet another celebrated feature of Hallmark is the music they choose to feature in their films. Graham does an exceptional job of jumping in as the local auto mechanic with aspirations to become a professional musician. Graham’s music is a welcome component of the film, and even if we don’t see him acting again (he honestly does a good job, especially since it’s his first film), I am sure we’ll hear from him musically.
And now we get to the stars of our show, starting with Madison. This is a girl whom I had the privilege of interviewing before the movie aired. Her co-star, Brennan (whom I will discuss later) was the one who pointed out what a brilliant and professional actor she was, and finding her on twitter was one of the best moments of my life. I say that sincerely. Although I hadn’t seen anything else that featured Madison, I was immediately impressed with her excitement about the job and her willingness to learn as much about the business as possible. She seemed like a proverbial sponge with the uncanny ability and drive to soak up and learn all she could about acting, the actors with whom she was featured, and her fans.
In this movie, Madison portrays Kevin’s daughter, Jo. Although I am often somewhat partial to child actors, there is something about Madison that just makes you instantly love her. I’m not sure if it is her bright-eyed expressions, her naive charm, or her endearing smile (maybe it’s all the above), but I was taken with her. I could barely keep my eyes off her. She infused such sweetness and credibility into her character, that I was indeed dazzled by her. And it would seem the other actors were as well.
The interactions between her character and Bonnie’s (who played Maddie) always had an air of authenticity laced with copious amounts of merriment. They interacted as a mother and daughter would have from the beginning. Bonnie never appeared the reluctant mother with Madison. I think they were a perfect fit on screen. And this was exactly how the characters were supposed to be in the story, so I would call that effective casting on the part of Hallmark.
Her scenes with Brennan were always top-notch, and Madison couldn’t say enough about her “television dad.” She continued to tell me on more than one occasion that the person you see on screen in Brennan is exactly who he is in real life. While I have never met Brennan, I have had the privilege of interviewing him and interacting with him regularly, and I know Madison is correct in her appraisal of this fine and upstanding man, but I never tire of hearing this from others with whom he has worked. And in Madison’s case, this is even more special because one thing about children is that they are usually quite forthcoming and don’t attempt to conceal the truth as so many adults have learned to do.
No matter the scene in which Madison’s character is seen, I just couldn’t help but love her, and it seems that Hallmark fans agree with me. In a business where reputation is everything and can make or break an actor, Madison has learned at her tender age just how important it is to make connections with everyone and keep those consistent and unspoiled.
Madison is an exquisite actress whom I greatly anticipate seeing much more from in the months and years to come. I frankly hope that Hallmark realizes what a gem they have in her and continues to use her in more holiday films and elsewhere. In my humble opinion, she has joined the ranks of my favorite child actresses of all-time.
No stranger to television/films and definitely well-loved by the Hallmark brand, Bonnie gives what I can easily say is my most favorite performance of hers as Maddie, the fashion marketer who adores the big city, but finds what she has been missing in her life once she is stranded in the small town of Christmas Valley, Ohio. Not only is Bonnie stunning and resplendent in every one of her scenes, she is sweet, comedic, strong and independent. She is the classic Hallmark heroine who has to learn her lessons the hard way, but in so doing, she impacts and is impacted by a wide variety of people.
Bonnie is faultlessly cast in this film, and every interaction she has is genuine, credible and appears effortless. Some of my favorite moments are the ones she shares with her young co-star, Madison. Whenever an actor works with a child, I watch closely to see how they connect. Some actors are rather loathe to act with children, lest the young person steal the limelight. There’s that old adage that says to never act with a child or an animal, but in this film, Bonnie does both with relative ease.
And the bond that she, Brennan, and Madison have formed seems to be as real on screen as off. Bonnie readily fits into what soon becomes a favorite on-screen family unit even before her character realizes it has happened. Bonnie seems to have a blast with both of her co-stars, and that translates onto the screen exceptionally well.
And I cannot say enough about her pairing with Brennan. While I often will say that Brennan has an easy chemistry with all of his leading ladies, it’s a two-way street. While there are always those actresses with whom I prefer to see him, mainly because they have made more than one movie with him, Bonnie is such a pro that she seems to click with him from the beginning.
Whether they are romantically entwined, bantering in the local diner, or making a holiday craft or food, they appear to be comfortable with each other regardless of the setting. And with the central trio, it must be an equal partnership on screen as well. And Bonnie more than carries her role with brilliant acting while infusing her character with just the right amount of “big city” swagger and unquestionable hunger for a simpler life. Maddie could come off as being a little bit cruel if not played by an expert like Bonnie, but because of her attention to detail and her willingness to immerse herself in the role, there is no doubt that she is the ideal fit for this darling and enjoyable partnership she has formed with the other two actors on screen.
Here’s hoping we haven’t seen the last of Bonnie on our Hallmark screens. I would be in favor of seeing her in more holiday films and shows. I was relatively unfamiliar with her work up to this point, but because of her fine performance, I plan to check out her past and future works.
For those who follow me closely, they will know exactly how I feel about Brennan Elliott as an actor and as a person. He has held a special place in my heart since his Cedar Cove days, and anything in which he appears is something that will receive my unmitigated support. And in so doing, his works have only introduced me to the most exemplary actors and actresses in the business as he is always circumspect about shining the light on his co-stars who appear with him in both Hallmark and other projects. For me, Brennan Elliott is the epitome of the master actor, and sometimes I marvel that he is not a more popular and more sought-after actor than he actually is. His versatility defies description as he can play any role into which he is cast and do it with such colossal giftedness that few actors possess.
In this film, Brennan does not disappoint. Even though, by his own admission, he had never played a farmer before, he immersed himself in this role with the same energy and attention to detail as he does all of his roles. I never questioned whether he was from Christmas Valley nor if he was comfortable swinging an ax. He made it look effortless.
Seeing him with Madison was also a treat. Since he is a father, I would say that his on-screen interactions with her always rang true and brought the level of their interactions to an even higher plane. I think that any actor who is a parent off-screen has the knack for portraying a parent with even more dexterousness once they have become a parent themselves. Speaking from experience, being a parent typically makes one an even more humble and more unselfish human being, and I would say that is true in Brennan’s life as well. And that does resonate on-screen when he plays Kevin, Jo’s father.
Again, Brennan makes an incredible and significant contribution to the on-screen trio. Although I am certain Madison and Bonnie have superb comedic timing, Brennan’s is always so childlike that I think he brings the best out of his co-stars in this area. I can only imagine how much fun the three of them had on set together, but Brennan is one whose antics are always a veritable treat to behold on screen. While I know the majority of actors can project humor and frivolity in a scene, the way in which Brennan does it is unique and always projects well in whatever scene he appears. Not all actors can make me laugh in quite the way Brennan can. And I believe his fans would agree with me on that point. As would many of his co-stars over the years.
Whether Brennan is in a tender, emotional scene where his character has to wear his heart on his sleeve or whether he has to stand up to an opinionated New York businesswoman, Brennan is able to portray Kevin with the kind of validity that few actors in this day and age can. I realize that he would be quick to give the credit to his co-stars, the cast, the crew, etc., but there is also no doubt that Brennan is where he is for a reason. He is phenomenal at what he does, but he remains as humble as can be. In fact, his characteristic humility and the way in which he interacts with others often blows my mind. It is truly an anomaly in the business today to have someone as talented as he with the kind of upstanding character he has.
It’s amazing to me how loyal his fans are as well. And his loyalty is just as unswerving. Rarely does one find an actor who takes the time to respond to as many of his fans personally as he can. He remembers many a detail about them, and he even prays for them. For me, my support of his far extends beyond his work on the screen. He is a spectacular, awe-inspiring actor, but more than that, he is a tremendous person, and if you have not seen this film (or any of his works), I would invite you to look him up. You will not be sorry!
If you have not seen Love You Like Christmas, be sure to tune into the Hallmark Channel beginning on Christmas Eve as they are replaying all the “Countdown to Christmas” premieres without commercial interruption.
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