Hallmark’s Holiday Movies of 2017 #10: COMING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
This week I got caught up in trying to figure out if Nigella Lawson needs us to put real currants in her figgy pudding recipe or if she’ll be okay with us using Zante currants which are really raisins pretending to be currants, so I’m a little behind on my
tour burma movie viewing. But she still hasn’t replied to my email and I’m tired of worrying about it, so I got back to watching the cinematic equivalent of eating sugar cookies. Plus, I was pretty stoked about COMING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS anyway because it stars Danica McKellar, who as everyone knows was Winnie Cooper in THE WONDER YEARS and also is a genius and the author of KISS MY MATH and other books for smarty-pantses who are into numbers, so I am completely not her audience as far as the books go. I mean, I’m happy for her that she’s super smart, and I should be more interested in her thoughts than in superficial things like her acting, but mostly I was excited because she was Winnie Cooper, the most perfect girlfriend in the history of television.
In this movie, Danica is not Winnie Cooper, she is Lizzie Richfield. Lizzie majored in art history in college, but like many of us who have degrees with very little practical application, she works in insurance. Well, worked, because she’s recently been laid off. This is a bummer, but the good news is that she got a severance check, which she has used to buy some very realistic looking pine boughs from Balsam Hill, which we know because the movie opens with a close-up of a Balsam Hill box, leading us to think that they might be a sponsor of CHFC. Coincidentally, I recently looked at the Balsam Hill website because I was in the market for a new artificial Christmas tree, and I can tell you that their products are not cheap, so Lizzie must have done pretty well in the severance department.
While she’s decorating with her Balsam Hill products, her mother and sister are trying to cheer her up by telling her that this is an opportunity for her to figure out what she really wants to be. But Lizzie says, “I don’t know what fills me up” and does not know that the correct answer to that is either “wine” or “pie.” She also knits her eyebrows together the way Winnie Cooper always did when Kevin Arnold asked her a question like, “If you were a flavor of Kool-Aid, which one would it be?” Then her mother announces that she has made a chocolate Yule log, which if you have not had one, you are in for a treat because they totally look like real logs but you can eat them.
Lizzie’s check must have been bigger than I thought, because in addition to purchasing that big honking box of fake fir from Balsam Hill, she now goes shopping for even more things. In the store, she runs into her coworker Carla, who pulls a fairly sizable box out of her coat pocket and says, “I got this for you.” Lizzie knits her eyebrows together again because 1. She has nothing in her coat pocket for Carla and 2. She thinks maybe Carla, who is now also out of work, means she shoplifted it. But she doesn’t ask any questions, and takes the box outside to open it out of sight of the security guard just in case. Inside is a silver bell inscribed with, “Look up at the stars, not down at your feet,” which as far as inspirational sayings go is not the greatest. But it will have significance later on, so just accept that it’s happened and move on.
As I mentioned, Lizzie’s sister, whose name is Meg, is a realtor, which happened to her because she allowed chance into her life, which she says Lizzie should try. She has recently been hired to sell a house belonging to the Marley family, who have a lot of money. Whether they are related to Jacob Marley from A CHRISTMAS CAROL, I do not know, but I think it’s safe to say that he was a major influence on someone involved with writing this film. Their house is called the Ashford Estate, and I also do not know if that name is significant because nobody ever says why it’s not called the Marley Estate, which would make more sense, but at least they didn’t go with Cratchit Corners or Fezziwig Farm.
What IS significant is that the sale of the Ashford Estate is being overseen by Robert Marley. Robert is no stranger to drama, as the actor who plays him also played Tyler Meade-Hartley in UGLY BETTY, where in addition to being given up for adoption in South Dakota so that he would never know that his father was a billionaire was also a recovering alcoholic and accidentally-on-purpose shot Vanessa Williams, who totally deserved it and lived anyway so it wasn’t that big a deal. He is also 6’ 3” and in real life attended a “leading Canadian Boarding School,” so he knows all about the world of wealthy white people and this is excellent casting.
Robert is the grandson of the current occupant of the house, Pippa Marley. Pippa does not want to leave the house, and is annoyed that Robert is selling it out from under her, so she has basically locked herself in her room and is in a bad mood. Robert just wants the whole thing over with as quickly as possible, and he has asked Meg to help him find a house manager to take care of things like getting the grand piano tuned, finding someone to fix the broken stained-glass window, and organizing the annual Christmas party that is held at Ashford Estate every year.
Robert himself is not a fan of Christmas. This is because like 99% of the leads in Hallmark Christmas movies, his parents are dead. (So is Lizzie’s father, in case you were wondering why I haven’t mentioned him.) Robert is mostly interested in wearing suits and reminding everyone that he can’t wait to get back to his office in Washington, D.C. So when Meg suggests that Lizzie would be the perfect person to help him out, he says fine whatever, and somehow forgets to tell her that the last three house managers have all been fired by his grandmother within minutes of setting foot in the house.
Danica McKellar was a child actor and did not attend boarding school, so Lizzie is not used to dealing with rich people and thinks she can just be her naturally effervescent self when in fact there are rules. She first discovers this when she approaches a gardener who is misting a poinsettia and attempts to engage him in casual banter. He looks askance because he assumes that she is an Upstairs Person, and is afraid to talk to her lest he be sacked. Equally nonplussed by Lizzie’s bubbly personality is Gerard, the butler. If this was a Disney film, Gerard would almost certainly be a talking clock. But it’s not, and so he conveys his bemusement with a discretely raised eyebrow when Lizzie estimates the size of the house at 6,000 square feet and he has to inform her that it’s actually 20,000 square feet, so now we know that Danica McKellar is not bringing her math skills to her performance, which I think actually shows her range because it must have been hard for her to pretend not to be able to calculate square footage.
Lizzie attempts to make nice with Pippa when she sees her wandering around the house in one of those nubby Coco Chanel suits all rich old women wear, but Pippa give her the stink eye and stalks off. Then Lizzie meets Robert and can’t help noticing how striking his blue eyes are and how he’s way better looking than he appears in the poster for COMING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS. Then she almost blows the whole deal when she says, “What this house needs is more Christmas,” and if Robert had any other candidates, he might have gone with one of them. But he doesn’t, so he tells Gerard to take Lizzie’s suitcase upstairs. It’s a very small suitcase, more of an overnight bag really, and I’m not sure why Lizzie is staying at Ashford Estate anyway, since she lives right in town.
Gerard shows Lizzie to her room and says, “By the way, this is actually Robert’s room, but he never stays here at the holidays because they bring him pain, and so there won’t be any incidents of someone being in here when they shouldn’t be, oh dear, was that a spoiler?” And now Lizzie is living at Ashford Estate too.
I have to tell you that I have an issue with Ashford Estate. It’s supposed to be this grand old house, but it’s actually a really boring brick-and-column cookie cutter house of a type you see all over Virginia, which is where this movie is set and where I lived for a while (across the street from Stephanie Petreas) when I was a kid and so I know. The rooms have zero character, everything looks new and not like it was built when everyone wore hoop skirts, and there are tape-mounted plastic bathrobe hooks on the backs of the bedroom doors. I sincerely doubt that a home of this type would have cheap bathrobe hooks and no crown molding, and it crossed my mind that perhaps to save money the production team used some kind of model McMansion in a newly-built community as a filming location, which is disappointing.
Now that Lizzie is working for the Marleys, she is given permission to utilize their personal chef, Anna, who offers to make Lizzie an omelet. Lizzie says she’s not hungry, but would love a cup of coffee. And then the best part of the movie happens, because for the first time this year we get a lingering close-up on a giant container of Folgers coffee. Last year, Hallmark was all about the Folgers. Seriously, the product placement in every single movie was off the charts. This year, we have had no Folgers at all, leading me to believe that either their marketing budget shrank or that appearing in Hallmark Christmas movies had no discernible effect on sales. This has been a big disappointment, so I was really excited about that can of Folgers and rewound the moment eight or nine times as if it was Ryan Reynolds’ nude scene in DEADPOOL.
It’s obvious that Lizzie and Robert are going to end up together, but we’re only about 20 minutes into the film and so there have to be complications. The first complication arrives in the form of Josh, the ex-boyfriend Miranda blabbed the secret of her parentage to in ENGAGING FATHER CHRISTMAS. At first I thought that Ashford Estate is where Josh drove to after Miranda told him she was in love with Ian, but then it’s revealed that on the way from Vermont to Virginia he morphed into his new incarnation as Kip Marley, Robert’s younger brother.
Kip is the exact opposite of Robert. This means that he likes fast cars and uses a lot of product in his hair. But he still looks like Josh, and the characters are so similar that I kept forgetting what movie we were in, so Hallmark should consider allowing each actor to be in only one movie a year. Unless the actor is Candace Cameron Bure, who should be in every Hallmark movie ever made because she is a national treasure.
Kip takes an immediate shine to Lizzie, but we know his interest is superficial and that it will come to naught. Still, he’s likable enough and Pippa adores him the way everyone always adores the man-child who needs to be saved from himself. What Pippa doesn’t like is every theme that Lizzie suggests for the Christmas gala, which include Winter Wonderland, Martinis and Mistletoe, Polar Express, and Jingle Mingle. I’m with Pippa on this one, as these are horrible, although Jingle Mingle would be an excellent name for a dating site that caters to people who like Christmas and Hallmark movies. But I’m giving Lizzie a break here because she was off her game a little bit as Pippa has been giving her the cold shoulder and also because one of Pippa’s first questions to her was, “Why aren’t you married?”
Lizzie then thinks back to the gift Carla gave her and suggests that they go with a theme of Silver Bells, which Pippa thankfully says is acceptable in a way that suggests there is More to the Story. With much relief, Lizzie then gets 30 minutes to sketch before she heads off to Mood to look for. . . Sorry, I mean before she shows the sketches to the staff so that they can get busy making her vision a reality. Then Kip says, “Hey, we’re going out to this really expensive restaurant tonight, ostensibly to try out their food and see if we want them to cater the party, but really because I want you to be impressed by my money.” To which Lizzie says about six million times, “Okay, it’s a date, but not a date-date,” because she knows trouble when she sees it.
Meanwhile, Robert has gone back to Washington, where his office Christmas party is happening but he is hiding in his office not being Christmassy. Mostly this scene is interesting because Robert has this awesome statue in his office of two lions standing on their hind legs and holding up a crystal ball or some kind of glass orb. It looks really expensive, but with a little searching I found one almost exactly like it online that was only $152, so it’s possible to get the look of Robert’s office in your own home for not a whole lot of money. And then Robert looks into the glass orb and sees the future, which is Lizzie and Kip getting together while he dies alone, and he goes to see if anyone has spiked the eggnog at the party.
When Lizzie gets home from her not-date with Kip, she goes to her room to go to bed. Only it’s not her room, remember, it’s Robert’s room, and Gerard has failed to remind Robert that Lizzie is sleeping in it. So now we get to see Robert in his pajamas, and he looks better in them than he does in those suits because the suits are basically armor he uses to keep people on the outside, while it’s hard to be aloof when you’re in pajamas.
Robert, who looked into the lions’ crystal ball and knows Lizzie went to dinner with Kip, is upset about that but can’t admit it, so he asks Lizzie how her date was in kind of a snide way that suggests she might have loose standards. But Lizzie informs him that she doesn’t care for expensive restaurants, she’d rather have a $20 dinner made with love, because when her parents first went out her father made her mother grilled cheese sandwiches and that’s romantic. Now, I’ve made a whole bunch of grilled cheese sandwiches in my life, and none of them cost anything close to $20, not even the ones with gruyere and fancy ham, so I’m not as impressed by this as Lizzie is, but it makes Robert realize that she’s a woman of quality, not quantity, and he lets her stay in his room. Not with him in it, of course, because they’re not married yet. He goes somewhere else.
The next time we see Robert, which is after the commercial break, he is back in a suit. He is also stringing a popcorn garland, because Lizzie has bewitched him with her Christmas spirit. Then Kip wanders in and, seeing what’s happening, announces that he LOVES fun and joins in. This vexes Robert, and they have words, which ends with Kip saying, “You may be the executive of this house, but you’re not the executive of me!” (which is a great line) right before two little blond boys run in and prevent things from progressing to fisticuffs.
The little boys belong to Robert and Kip’s sister, whose name is Sloane. Sloane and the boys are there for Christmas, but Sloane’s husband, Jackson, has not come with them because he’s ashamed of being unemployed for a long time and is at home feeling inadequate that Sloane has had to dip into her trust fund to support the family. This all comes out after Lizzie discovers that the reason Robert is selling Ashford Estate is because Pippa’s health is declining and she soon won’t be able to get around as easily, which leads Lizzie to arrange a family dinner for everyone at which she introduces them to the joy of a chocolate Yule log.
She also decides that the house needs to smell like pine, so Kip, sensing an opportunity, offers to help her find and cut down a tree. Only Kip oversleeps and Robert, who is always up by 5:00, is the one who goes with her. The trek to find this tree is apparently of similar length as the journey from the Shire to Mordor, because Anna has packed them a lunch. When they stop to eat it, Robert tells Lizzie that he’s been thinking about her $20 date idea. He then tells her that his date would include watching the sunset at the pond, then dancing to his mother’s favorite song, followed by a homemade dinner, and wrapping up with him picking a white rose in the solarium.
What happens next is important. Lizzie asks Robert what his mother’s favorite song was, and he says, “Silver Bells.” Can you even believe it? Lizzie can’t. I sort of can, but I’ve seen a lot of these movies and Lizzie has maybe not. Once she gets over the shock, she tells Robert that it’s okay for him to have feelings about his family and the house, but before they can kiss Kip shows up with an axe and says, “I am here to ruin everything. Now, let’s chop down this tree.”
Lizzie’s words have had a profound effect on Robert, which we know because the next time we see him he’s wearing an open-necked shirt and a cardigan. With Robert you can gauge his emotions by what he decides to put on, and this ensemble suggest that he’s becoming more comfortable with Lizzie. Sloane is also having profound feelings, but of a negative kind, and Robert further shows that he is evolving by telling her to go home to fetch Jackson while he watches the boys.
There is now a long montage of Robert and Lizzie making a snowman with the boys, followed by a snowball fight and everyone making gingerbread houses. This includes Kip, who keeps butting in and preventing Lizzie and Robert from getting TOO close. He also keeps bringing up the fact that he loves Athens because it’s filled with art and history, and will be going there again soon.
Pippa is also getting a little weary of Kip’s shenanigans, as well as of Robert’s inability to kiss Lizzie already, so she takes matters into her own hands. She invites Lizzie to her room to try on dresses for the Christmas party, and because she’s old and doesn’t have time for games she says, “I know you like my grandson.” She also says, “I like the first one better,” meaning the dress Lizzie tried on, but we have only seen the SECOND dress that Lizzie has tried on and so we don’t know whether or not we agree with Pippa on this. If she was talking about grandsons, there would be no question. But she’s not, or maybe she IS, and so we have to wait to find out.
Christmas Eve day arrives, and it’s time for the party. Lizzie finds Robert sitting in a gazebo, and he finally gets up the nerve to tell her he loves her, but at the crucial moment he’s interrupted by Meg, who arrives to tell him that Ashford Estate has been sold, and so now there’s a lot of pressure on everyone because that night’s Christmas gala really will be the last hurrah. Back at the house, Lizzie oversees the final decorations, which are a lovely blue and silver color that perfectly match Robert’s eyes. Kip notices this, sees his chances slipping away, and asks Lizzie to save a dance for him, which causes her to knit her eyebrows again and say, “Okay, it’s a dance, but not a dance-dance.”
Also blue is the first dress Lizzie tried on with Pippa, which we discover because she’s now wearing it and it’s really pretty and Pippa was absolutely right. Pippa, on the other hand, is wearing a black dress, which I guess is supposed to be symbolic of her sadness at losing the house but feels unnecessarily harsh. Also, and please don’t tell Lizzie I said this, but the party itself is a total snooze. Kip demands his dance, and Pippa comes to the rescue, dragging him away so that Robert can step in and dance with Lizzie to, you guessed it, “Silver Bells.” But then Kip runs back in and once again ruins things by informing Lizzie that there is a dessert emergency and that she has to come with him.
Once they’re outside, Kip gives Lizzie a Christmas present, which is a ticket to Athens. Robert, who is watching this happen, hears Lizzie say, “Kip, I would love to come to Athens with you,” which makes Robert sad and he storms off. Sadly, Robert has also not watched enough Lifetime movies, otherwise he would have known that the number one rule of eavesdropping on the woman you love talking to your competition is ALWAYS WAIT FOR THE COORDINATING CONJUNCTION.
In this case, the coordinating conjunction is “but,” as in, “Kip, I would love to go to Athens with you, BUT I’m in love with Robert.” Having now ruined Kip’s Christmas, Lizzie goes in search of Robert to tell him the good news. Instead, she is waylaid by Gladys Vanderton, of the Virginia Vandertons, who wants to hire her to plan a Valentine’s Day party for 200 guests. This is great news, but it delays Lizzie’s search for true love long enough that Robert has time to run back to Washington and put his suit back on.
Robert keeps declining Lizzie’s calls, so Lizzie spends Christmas morning with her mother and sister, wearing matching pajamas and talking about how she doesn’t need Robert because she now has her new party-planning business, Events by Lizzie, which is a terrible name. Pippa and Gerard spend Christmas morning going to Washington to find Robert, who is sitting in his office being sad because the lions’ crystal ball now says MY SOURCES SAY NO. Pippa gives Robert two gifts. The first is the news that Kip has flown off to Athens alone. The second is an actual gift that Lizzie left for him under the tree. This turns out to be a Christmas record that contains a version of “Silver Bells.” I’m a little confused about this part because the name of the artist on the album cover is Diana Gurqu-something. You can’t see the last bit because one of Robert’s stupid fingers is covering it, and there’s no version of “Silver Bells” by an artist with a name like this, so that’s annoying. Also, when Robert finally gets around to actually playing the record at the end of the movie, it’s a man singing the song, so this just gets worse and worse.
Anyway, the gift unlocks Robert’s heart and he rushes to Lizzie’s house, where she’s just sitting down to dinner with her mother and Meg. Robert informs her that he’s not selling Ashford Estate after all, and Meg shouts, “There WILL be penalties, Robert!” because she was counting on that commission so that she could buy a Balsam Hill tree next Christmas. Robert invites Lizzie to come with him, and she agrees but says she needs to be back in time for Christmas dinner with her family, so apparently her mother and Meg are sitting at the table because they’re going to play Parcheesi, not to eat. Not that it matters, because in the next scene her mother and Meg are sitting at the dining room table at Ashford Estate and Gerard and Anna are looking on as the Upstairs People celebrate the fact that Lizzie has come home for Christmas. Then there’s yet a third chocolate Yule log, which is at least one too many because they’re cute but not THAT exciting, and everybody lives happily ever after.