Hallmark Channel : Countdown to Conformity

 Hey. Do you know about Hallmark Channel movies? Specifically Hallmark Channel Christmas movies? Of course you do -- which is great because we don't hafta waste a buncha space explaining them. But, we are gonna discuss the hell out of 'em... sorta.

Holidays are, by definition, embedded in tradition, yeah? And it seems - particularly in this century - that we as a society keep applying new, fresh hallmarks (oops) to various old celebrations. And I don't mean any kinda major overhauls; in 19th century United States, Christmas was largely a day of drunken debauchery with farmers force-feeding booze to their slaves. Today, we might get a new flavor at Dunkin' -- that's the kind of changes I mean. And apparently, at some point in the last couple decades, Hallmark and Crown Media Holdings began producing a high volume of lite, white RomCom TV Movies with a broad (yet still very specific) appeal. The movies proved to be popular (and cheap) enough for Hallmark to establish their own channel, dedicated entirely to this content - and this "content" requires very little manipulation to be transformed into "Holiday Content."
To date, Hallmark has somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 Christmas movies in their filmography - which has managed to cultivate an avid fan base that has wholly embraced these movies as part of their own Holiday traditions. And that's notable, because it's not exactly like watching Christmas Movies at Christmastime, is it? Hallmark movies seem to have their own language - which is logical and valid. Consider the output of studios like Troma, A24, and everything in between; you sorta get a sense of what you're buying, so they don't offer much in the way of surprise, but rather provide a familiar comfort. And, if I had to guess, that is the major hook of these flicks: comfort.

I've seen my share, and I get it: they're all kinda the same story with the same tone, the same aesthetic, and the same message. So I attempted to approach one with the most objective frame of mind I could muster.

Spoiler: it didn't work.
If you can't already find these somewhere on the television, they sell for cheap at Wal-Mart. I aimed lower: I found a stack of Hallmark Christmas Movies for a dollar each at a thrift store. Now, granted, I'm always conscious of space in my living quarters, so I was purposefully selective in my choices: and the purpose was to select the films that I though would be the most challenging - meaning the ones that didn't look like they'd be that enjoyable for me. And amongst my choices was A Very Merry Mix-Up from 2013, bought solely for the reason that I find Alicia Witt to be a very, very poor actress. Not that this was any intentionally masochistic endeavor - I just wanted to see how well everything could hold up in spite of every single one of my preconceptions (which caused me to immerse myself in this thing with an extraordinary level of scrutiny, but without any sense of prejudice). 
Alicia plays Alice, who dispassionately accepts an engagement proposal from her inattentive, business-driven boyfriend Will (Scott Gibson). When she's forced to travel some distance on her own to introduce herself to his family, she experiences a clumsy 'bump-into' scenario with Matt (Mark Weibe), who not only turns out to be Will's brother, but as a person, he's a tall, handsome, educated man-boy who's also indefinably handy with every mechanism invented by humans and romanticizes the very concept of romance. Matt takes Alicia to meet his & Will's parents, all of whom share the same wise, optimistic take on the magic of life, love, and Christmas. Somehow, all of these people seem to be from a different world than her cold, boring boyfriend. This, most likely, could be the start of a very merry mix-up...
Even if I'm approaching this is an objective way, I'm still reminded of the structure of these movies: they are relentlessly fast-paced with boring dialogue scenes. I'm forced to wonder that, if they slowed down and allowed themselves some breathing room, they might come across as a little more astute and tactful. But, that would have to require a little more substance to the dialogue, which isn't present. Here's a sample:

"Matt, I've spent so much time lately pretending to be something I'm not, because I thought it was what I was supposed to be. I almost forgot who I am. I mean, I did forget who I am. I'm the girl who loves family. I'm the girl who loves romance, and antiques, and history. And most importantly, I'm the girl who loves you, Matthew Mitchum."

My opinions of Alicia were not swayed in either direction: this was an unfair assessment, as her character is so submissive and flaky that, just maybe, she played it perfectly. Hard to say -- in any case, the character is hard to warm up to. The promised "Mix-Up" was actually a clever and nearly-well-executed plot device - so much so that the entire script and movie was clearly built upon it; they had a good idea and fleshed it out, which is perfectly excusable. 
But it is Christmassy? I've seen a handful of Hallmark movies that incorporated real snow (most likely due to Canadian shooting locations). But we're not talking about those, we're talking talking about this, and this was not one of them. Some of their features go as far as to showcase Santa and the North Pole (see: Northpole) whereas some simply use the holiday as background noise. Mix-Up falls somewhere in the middle, stressing the idea of family and festivity, but utilizing poorly-dressed sets and costumes. I mean, look at this weird CGI tree:
I don't know if there was a lighting issue or they didn't wanna bother with decorating a large tree, but amidst the wrinkly fabric blankets of snow, I was forced to use my suspension of disbelief to feel appropriately merry. 

So, were this not lumped into literally hundreds of similar features, would it be fair to say that this is a worthy Holiday classic? When you (I) put it in those terms... quite possibly. There are enough weird deliveries and superfluous scenes and awkward moments and plot holes and pacing issues and inconsistencies and overacting to be interesting as a campy oddity, but there's legitimate value in that. But isn't this a great opportunity to point out how, when we immerse ourselves in something even remotely celebratory, it allows us to nostalgically revisit it for years to come? I, personally, would watch this again in the future and reflect on my journey in finding the Christmas Spirit via cable television.
But I don't see myself embracing Alicia Witt anytime soon.

- Paul

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