Sunday, December 2, 2012

Holiday Romances

Did you know there is an entire subset of the Romcom genre of simply holiday themed romances? There is!

This time of year, Hallmark Channel, Lifetime and ABC Family trot out some version of "25 days of..." involving holiday movies. Some of them are tried and true classics. A lot of them are produced especially for these networks.

Here's what I've gather about these made for TV movies: they're usually filmed in Canada with a (handsome) Canadian male lead and a vaguely recognizable to someone like me who watches oodles of TV American female lead or major supporting actor. Or with a female Canadian and recognizable American male. Or with all Canadians. It doesn't really matter. Attractive people, romantic entanglements, holiday setting.

They're standard plot: boy and girl meet and immediately hate each other but through the magic of the holidays find love with each other. Or: boy meets girl, likes girl, insane complications ensue, the holiday spirit brings them back together. Or: the holidays! Romance! All disposable supporting cast is awful.

These aren't complicated movies. And yet I'm, unsurprisingly, an absolute, complete sucker for them. Combine my already admitted love of the romcom genre (though most of these are straight romance and not so much on the comedy) with my other secret love: the holidays.

Yeah. I won't even pretend to be a badass anymore. If you know me in real life, you know that I'm cynical and sarcastic and the complete opposite of warm and fuzzy. (I recently turned to my mother in a movie theater when a character in a trailer said, "Yeah, we don't do hugs in this family" and told her I wanted to put that on an updated family crest. She asked what was wrong with me.) But most of you don't and so on here I come off as completely soft. And the holidays do it. I don't know why. I mean, crass commercialism and faux religious bent... But carols and Christmas lights and Santa and reindeer and baking and eggnog and dressing in glittery things? I love the holidays. Or, the holidays in theory? Because lord knows the actual time with family and scheduling just gets stressful. I counter that by blasting classic Christmas carols in the kitchen as I bake all the cookies. All of them.

Point being: when you combine my already admitted love of romance movies, even though I believe in that stuff happening NOT AT ALL EVER in real life, with being a sucker for the twinkling lights and general good cheer surrounding the holidays, chances are I'm watching all the lifetime/hallmark/abc family movies the genre has to offer.

Since I'm sick and it's been storming pretty steadily here the past few days (and I'm home alone meaning I can watch with impunity), I've been indulging in the holiday movies pretty hard core.

1. First I watched, instead of the SEC Championship game, a little bit of Mrs. Miracle. I couldn't take the football. I should have, it was apparently a fantastic game but, honestly, by the end of the season, I'm so drained, I passed. I wasn't invested in Mrs. Miracle and came in late. It had Erin Karpluk. I really like her. She's Canadian and was the title character in Being Erica, which I adore. Except that what little I saw of her character in this was similar to her one in that: a little whiny, where you just want to yell, "Get OVER it already!" The movie is, I guess, supposed to be more focused on the James Van Der Beek character. Who is more Dawson Leery in this role than the fun guy he's become in Don't Tell the B. And he gets an assist from a magical nanny played by Doris Roberts of Everyone Loves Raymond. Basically what I'm saying is this one, from what little I saw, wasn't that great. (Way to write a throwaway paragraph, writer girl!) However!

2. That Mrs. Miracle led into another movie starring our magical holiday helper Doris Roberts, Call Me Mrs. Miracle. It starred Jewel Staite, who most of you know from the space cowboy series Firefly and Eric Johnson who I know from Rookie Blue. It's set in Toronto/Vancouver/somewhere in America's hat playing New York City. Which is another common themes in these films. They don't just feature Canadians, they feature stand-in Canada. Thanks for your film tax breaks, Canada!

The story was: struggling department store manager (Johnson) receives help from magical employee (Roberts), while falling in love with dress designer (Staite) and helping her with her nephew whose father is serving overseas in the military. He (Johnson) already possesses the Christmas spirit and takes a long shot by not stocking the "it" toy of the season but only classic toys, to his father/boss's chagrin, who has lost the spirit of Christmas because his wife died years ago on Christmas Eve. Complications ensue for everyone, but all turns out well in the end.

This is the poor man's A Miracle on 34th Street with more immediate belief in holiday magic than that had and a dash of military pride thrown in for good measure.

My main take away from this film is: What the hell did Lauren Holly do to her face? She played Staite's boss and she looks nothing like she did when she was married to Jim Carrey. I've seen her in some other things recently and I always have to do a double take. "Wait. Is that...? How much surgery has she HAD?"

I mean, I also took away that a belief in Christmas and doing the right thing overcomes all but seriously, what did she do to her face?

3. I watched this bad Mrs. Nick Swisher movie called A Very Merry Daughter of the Bride. So bad. So so so bad. She runs a full service wedding planning company with her mom, because of course she does, who goes to Paris and meets the man of her dreams and wants to marry him after a week. Because of course she does. Mrs. Swisher of course objects (it's too fast! Dad was the best!) and gets help in attempting to ruin the engagement from future stepbrother Luke Perry. Only to find out Dad wasn't the best and Luke Perry is evil and come around to her mother's way of thinking while reconnecting with a former flame (Canadian love interest!).

I was halfway through this one when I realized I'd already seen it. I promise to read Tolstoy in January, you guys. In fairness, I got bored with it and fast forwarded to get to the conclusion. Which...doesn't really help my case. I'm turning into my grandmother.

My favorite part of this movie is when the mom is at one point crying about something, she's doing so with Christmas light earrings on, that light up and change colors. I may have been openly laughing. This was topped by her in the next scene wearing a 3D penguin beanie, with a red bow tie on it. I couldn't make this up if I tried.

I could never get past in this movie that future stepfather once played an evil faux movie director trying to blow up Chicago in an episode of Due South where he gasses a train full of Mounties into submission and when they take him down they do so on horseback in full red dress uniforms. You can see him lurking in this clip, wearing I think the same black beanie he wore in this movie.  Please watch the below song. It's amazing.

Tolstoy. I promise. (Or something as equally high brow.)

Aside: can someone put Paul Gross in a holiday romcom? I would DEFINITELY watch that. Not that I won't be watching a bunch more anyway...

4. After a brief break to watch the last twenty minutes of A Few Good Men, I dove into A Bride for Christmas, which gave me quite possibly my favorite line in any movie ever. This movie made the unfortunate mistake of setting Vancouver in San Francisco, which doomed it because, well, I live in San Francisco.

While our lead female (Arielle Kebbel of The Vampire Diaries), a woman who keeps saying yes to grand proposals she later breaks, is getting to know our adorable lead male (the handsome Andrew Walker of...handsomeness), to decorate his apartment (she's an interior designer), he says something about his mom and Florida and she asks if that's where he's from.

He says, "No. I grew up in Oakland, moved to San Francisco for college, four years at Berkeley, an MBA a ton of student loan debt..."

I listened to that four times, I kid you not, because it was so absurd I wanted to make sure I heard it correctly. Like, maybe he did undergrad in SF and then... But nope. That's how it was said. Did no one writing this movie bother to look at a map to see that that made absolutely no sense?

For my Louisiana friends it would be like someone saying, "No, grew up in Baton Rouge, moved to New Orleans for college, four years at LSU..." He was basically saying he moved across the bridge to commute back across it for four years while he went to college in the town NEXT TO the one he grew up in. Did he mean Oakland, Maine? Oakland County, Michigan? Otherwise that's just silly. Someone should pay ME to write these. I'd put Paul Gross in the starring role. And not screw up basic geography.

Oh, and of course this being romance movie land, he lives in a giant loft like apartment and is a stock broker.

This is actually when I started to lose it and realize I'd watched too many romcoms. The tropes in this one were pissing me off. The women always have slightly less serious or flighty jobs like interior designer or in fashion or event planning or pastry chef/baker IF they aren't the bitchy overworked character type (usually lawyer) and men have serious business jobs. (Everyone always has too much free time in romcoms but we'll let that go.) (I'm also not saying the jobs are flighty in the real world, but they are treated much more lightly in the movies than any male profession.)

Men in these movies are also always astounded and impressed to find a girl who eats real food. He was excited she wanted a burger and not Thai or sushi. That's pretty much exactly what he says to his friends on the matter in the movie. A twitter friend and I watched 12 Dates of Christmas together, tweeting about it as we went, (which was actually super fun because we had essentially the same comments/complaints) and our main guy in that movie, played by Mark Paul Gosselaar says, "I like a hearty eater." These movies might as well just say, "Hey, lonely home alone women who are definitely our demographic! You're okay JUST the way you are! Some handsome man will love you! Even if you eat cheeseburgers! Especially if you eat cheeseburgers!" Which is when I want to yell at the TV, "Fuck you, yes we eat burgers and other actual food and don't subsist on lettuce and raw fish. Though maybe if I did..."

Seriously, watching too much of these movies starts to fuck with your head. Especially when it's rainy, you're home alone sick, and you feel like the guy in that "these aren't slippers, these are cats" commercial because you're using your dog as a foot warmer. Hypothetically.

She's initially a bet for him to get engaged to because his friends contest that he's not the marrying "type". We find out later that's because of his parents bitter divorce. Except he calls off the bet when he discovers their mutual bond over burgers, horror movies, and dogs as pets mean he's actually falling for her, despite her oh so scary issue of *gasp* having previously been engaged three times. She then, of course, finds out about the bet and call things off after she takes the bold step of asking him to marry her. Dun dun duh!

There is then a surprise wedding to get her back (No. Never. Nothing about that is a good idea.) and a hideous engagement ring before the movie ends with them and their newly adopted dog.

Ugh. The worst. The worst worst. Except for Andrew Walker who I would like to make out with. (Not saying much, as someone once said, "Your who wouldn't you list is probably shorter." Fuck you, I like kissing.) (I should probably find a better way to phrase that last sentence but whatever, I'm leaving it.)

5. Then my faith was restored. Truly. Not even being sarcastic. Love at the Christmas Table was, despite a suspect title, so good my main complaint is that I wished it was longer. I would have paid to see this movie. Seriously. It had not one trope-y thing going on. Okay fine, there's a dead parent but that's it! It basically looked at all the other holiday romances and did the opposite. I should have known that when Winnie Cooper, math smarty Danica McKellar is involved, she wouldn't accept some sappy, cheesy, poorly acted romance.

First of all, it was from the male perspective, not the female one, which seems to be a lot more standard in these things. He's narrating the story. Oh, the he was Dustin Milligan. You'll be shocked to learn he's...wait for it...Canadian! Five out of five movies on this list feature Canadian romantic interests. Moving to Canada, y'all. And being from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories sounds rugged but is probably not and shut up, I don't want to know.

I was only familiar with him from briefly checking in on the first season of the new 90210, in which he wasn't impressive. (Because that show sucks. Not that I've watched it since then I would like to make clear!) Um. He was a revelation in this. He was nuanced and clever and not jocky. He had the thinking job as a journalist, she worked with her hands building custom furniture. The movie follows them from childhood, where they know each other because their parents are business partners, through adulthood as they meet up each Christmas. Their problems feel real and their issues are those people actually encounter, in some form, and there's no magical interference, just a couple trying to make it work without it being overwrought or annoyingly dramatic. She's not a series of ridiculous female stereotypes and neither is he. Male ones, that is. They're treated like equals who have actual conversations. What. A. Concept! (That's the name of an architecture firm, huh? One run by Ted Mosby, no doubt.)

It was really really really sweet without being treacly and felt genuine. I may have cried a little bit at the end but I'll deny it. Truly a beautiful moment. I also like that in real life our male lead is eleven years younger than our female lead. Screw you, casting directors! And the supporting cast was great including Luke from Gilmore Girls and Lea Thompson and that guy that's in that thing that I don't quite know but I liked him, which is the complete antithesis of everything else I watched.

I may be a slight sucker for the "since childhood" stories, and sometimes wish I had that, but my childhood crush moved away when I was ten and is now married with four kids. So. Not in the cards. But even stipulating that, this was an excellent way to cap off this particular evening of holiday romance watching and I may be recording this to watch again but I'll deny that too.

Some additional notes:

First off: to continue on the romance theme: our favorite hexenbeist, NorCal native, and maker of the most adorable NFL pick'em videos, Claire Coffee is going to be in one of these holiday romances, Holly's Holiday. I think it's on Lifetime next weekend. Let's all watch it. Together. We can comment on the twits. And support Claire because we like Claire even if we don't in real life know her but she responds to tweets and that's cool. Oh, and Captain Awesome is playing the love interest. Who isn't Canadian. Weird.

Now: Because I watch grown up movies from time to time, Netflix had some new offerings and I watched, years after everyone else, The King's Speech and Hugo, when at the beach house a couple weeks ago. They were both, obviously, excellent. And while these movies seem to have nothing in common, they do one thing: time period. Both are set in 1930's Europe right before WWII and for whatever reason, watching them back to back I suppose, that gave me pause and I thought about what a terribly difficult time that was in history. You've just come out of one world war, for which most of Europe, if not the world, is reeling, and you're trying to get back to some sense of normalcy with no real knowledge that you're about to enter a second one that's gonna be worst than the first. Yikes.

There's not much to say about The King's Speech other than it was great, Geoffrey Rush in particular was excellent, and I now know what everyone is talking about when they talk about the swearing scene. Oh, and I recognized Wallis Simpson's diamond necklace immediately from having seen it on display at the Palace of Legion of Honor which made me feel not completely brain dead and ignorant. It's a diamond tassel that zips and is meant to be worn with a backless dress. Oh to rock that some day...

Hugo, since I know someone was interested, I was gonna be a sucker for. Paris + whimsy is the Amelie formula, and is also applied here. It also has that same sort of wonderful melancholy tone as Amelie. It's visually stunning and the story was a lot more than I expected. It's all at once Martin Scorsese's homage to film as an art form and a really touching story of an orphan in Paris. Having spent some time in Parisian train stations (ugh I hate when I drop "well when I was in Europe" anecdotes. But it's true! I had one of my best meals in Paris at Le Train Bleu), this film evokes them quite well. Obviously more romantically, because train stations are much more utilitarian these days, though they remain beautiful buildings in most cases. Other than the neat bow the movie gets tied up in, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, Sascha Baron Cohen's schtick leaves a little something to be desired. For me, anyway. But that's easy enough to overlook in the grand scheme of a really beautiful movie.

Now that I've just described several movies I've seen over recent days, I'm gonna go run eight miles and do...stuff. AHAHAH! Just kidding! I'm still sick and my gym is actually closed this week. Which is such BS. I even, putting my law degree to good use, pulled up the contract to see if they owed me a week for being closed. They can have "reasonable" (ugh) closures without affecting the agreement. That's all it says. There's a pure adhesion argument to be made regarding that clause because I think this last time I re-upped with my gym, I truly just signed on a computerized pad without initializing sections or even being given a hard copy of the contract. But. I should probably put my law brain to better use than getting a free week out of my gym which would come to...not even $4 if my math is right. I think writing this paragraph is probably worth more than the $4.

Actually, I have jury duty tomorrow. Civic duty blah blah...wish me luck on getting out of that. I sat on one in '10. I should get credit for that. But don't. So, off to 400 McCallister to see the wheels of justice move ever so slowly.

And next week I'm off to Disneyland with the family. There will likely be LOTS of tweets from there and since we get free Wifi, I'll be bringing my computer and blogging in an effort to not murder the people I'm related to. Something about picking friends and noses and not family...

Happy holidays, everyone!

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