I think that is so special.
Is it wrong that I enjoyed two out of three of these movies? They're Lifetime movies and yet none of them were as bad as, say, Bride Wars (2009) or Valentine's Day (2010). Though, The Twelve Weeks of Christmas (2014) was worse than Someone Like You... (2001). Not only were A Country Christmas Story (2013) and Kristin's Christmas Past (2013) tolerable--I didn't even scoff out loud...well, maybe once or twice--but I'd go so far as to call them decent and entertaining. None could or even attempted to be considered works of greatness. These are all churned out products from the movie mill at Lifetime. But I hazard a compliment when I say whoever is choosing the properties over there have come a very long way since The Last Prostitute (1991). [I immediately apologize to all involved in that project for judging it based purely on the misguided vainglory of its title.]
A Country Christmas Story
Grace (Desiree Ross) comes forward and sings a beautiful solo part in the church choir, but mother Jenny (Megyn Price) seems ambivalent. Jenny sees the talent and pleasure and knows where that can go. Clearing out the absent father's stuff, Grace finds a guitar and wants to learn how to play. Jenny is fervently opposed. You see, the reason the father, Danny (Brian McKnight), is absent is that he's out there still livin' on a prayer that he'll make it in the music industry. "It doesn't matter if you're good," Jenny says, "nobody makes it." But Grace is an independent young woman and hides the guitar at grandma's house, taking lessons from her choir director (Ross McCall), and working to enter Dolly Parton's truncated, country-style American Idol-like program. You can probably take it from here.
Like the rest of these films, you get the feeling that you've been here before. As I said, this is a movie mill and that means rigid structures and oft-used tropes. Somehow 80% of the film seems fresh. It isn't just that Grace is of mixed race wanting to be in country music. That's just fodder only for the stupid, in-movie audience--the first line of the review comes when an administrator first meets white mom. So the movie gets to play both sides in mocking the country world while also claiming to belong there. Up until the family sings through "Amazing Grace" for what seems like an eternity, it was playing like a well-grounded drama that gratifyingly avoided any suggestion that something terrible was going to happen involving the young choir director and a search for the G-chord. Then it showed its colors--along with the random "Jingle Bells" and "Silent Night" outro.
The Twelve Trees of Christmas
Cheri (Lindy Booth) is a librarian in New York City. Her library--very near 60th street and yet unaccountably with a full lawn and surprisingly few homeless people--is coming to the end of their 50 year lease given to them by the owner's charitable foundation. It will close soon, be demolished, and turned into condos--condos I tell you!--by the ambitious but rakishly handsome rich boy Tony Shaughnessy (Robin Dunne). But Cheri isn't going to take this lying down. She's going to organize a competition--funding?--whereby the frequent guests of the library will decorate twelve--Funding?--enormous trees--FUNding?--and get prizes--FUNDING??? But really that's just a ploy to impress grandma Shaughnessy (Dawn Greenhalgh), the current director of the foundation, into renewing the lease. Did I mention that Tony was going to decorate one of the trees?
This one pissed me off. It was kind of fine for a while and I didn't really mind that this was a Two Weeks Notice (2002) ripoff, but it was when the librarian described her cult of pulped wood products when I turned. That oh-so-organic alchemy of holding a block of glued paper--not the content of a book--is what makes Dickens worth reading. All you need is a little change in perspective to make something ugly. This library, to exhibit its love of books and quirky personality, stacks them in piles all over the place suggesting that this might be the most dreadful circulation desk in the city. It also seems surprisingly well stocked with law reporters, which really really look like books but are actually of almost no use to anyone without a digest and property dispute. But the icing on the cake was when one character scolded, "You know what nostalgia means? It's just a fondness for the past." Yes...and...
Kristin's Christmas Past
We're back in New York, but a recognizable one this time and with a very recognizable setting. Kristin (Shiri Appleby) is coming to the middlest of her thirties with only a best friend (Will Kemp) and a student debt to show for it. [For New York, I'm going to call that a win.] But facing a Christmas capital-A Alone, she takes a swig of some magical bubbly and wishes she could go home for Christmas. Voila! She wakes up back in 1996 in her old bed with her much younger self (Hannah Marks). Of course, this is where she can set her life back on the right track with her family and economic situation. But with her older eyes and more impartial position, she sees things rather differently. The old resentments with her mother (Elizabeth Mitchell) are the result of decent-seeming parenting combined with contrarian teenagerism. Let's see what happens next.
Despite this being prime Lifetime morality fodder--gee mom was right--and yet is the best executed of the three. It's also the most dedicated to its Christmas-ness. One could quibble with the incredible speed with which young and older Kristin understand and acclimate to the time-traveling--i.e. instantaneously--but this isn't neorealism. The film focuses on older Kristin seeing her mother as a person for the first time. She sees where her seemingly harsh parental choices originate whether to justify them or, at least, excuse them.
"Lifetime Holiday Triple Feature" is on sale November 4, 2014 and is not rated. Drama. Directed by Eric Bross, Jim Fall, Michael Decarlo. Written by Steven Peros, Kevin Commins, Rachel Stuhler. Starring Desiree Ross, Elizabeth Mitchell, Lindy Booth, Megyn Price, Robin Dunne, Shiri Appleby.