Matt's Hallmark Holiday Hell: "The Sweetest Christmas"
On November 9th, 2017, during an OnMilwaukee editorial meeting, pop culture editor Matt Mueller brought up the craze of Hallmark Christmas movies. It was a decision he would come to immediately regret, as he was quickly forced assigned to watch a new Hallmark movie a week during the holiday season and write about his discoveries and loss of dignity.
These are the chronicles of Matt's Hallmark holiday hell.
"The Sweetest Christmas"
My first excruciating excursion into the world of Hallmark Christmas movies wound up shockingly less excruciating than expected. But if that one managed to win me over, my second serving, "The Sweetest Christmas," looked even more digestible. After all, it's about cookies! And ... my god ... is that who I think it is?! Could it actually be?! LACEY "QUEEN OF HALLMARK" CHABERT HAS ARRIVED; JESUS CHRIST HAS RISEN TODAY!
Mad Libs plot summary
A big-city and/or corporate secretary and wannabe cook arrives in a small town in the hopes of winning the big gingerbread contest. In the process, she stumbles into a handsome old ex-boyfirend and restaurant owner who's fallen out of love with the holidays thanks to being too busy after his divorce, but also has the oven she needs to bake her cookies. Will she win the contest, while also thawing his frozen, Grinch-like heart? And will they find the greatest Christmas gift of all ... love?
Hot chocolate, chirpy relationship commentary from a best friend character and adoring looks from his adorable son ensue.
Before I knew of the cornball movie titles or the cheesy Mad Libs predictable plots, I knew that Lacey Chabert was one of the queens of the Hallmark Channel (her and the cast of "Full House"). And I'll be honest: I was kind of excited! After all, she's not the usual soap opera actress or fifth most famous person from a '90s show. OK, she was both on a soap opera ("All My Children") and was the fifth most famous person from a '90s show ("Party of Five"), but after that, she starred at the iconic Gretchen Wieners in "Mean Girls" and provided the voice for Eliza Thornberry on the Nickelodeon animated show "The Wild Thornberrys." Her star clearly burned much longer – and shined a lot brighter – than most Hallmark actresses. A plethora of cookies AND a genuine actress in the lead?! "The Sweetest Christmas" is going to be so fetch!
Meanwhile, in less important news, Lea Coco plays her romantic lead, Nick. He's had a small career in his own right, appearing in "J. Edgar" and "Sinister 2," but considering his name and that he's starring across Gretchen Wieners, I shall call him Glen Coco from here on out.
Holly jolly or holy hell?
I wasn't expecting to go into a Hallmark movie with expectations – and after "The Sweetest Christmas," I remember why I didn't. Not that it was particularly bad, it was just ... fine.
I'll be honest: I expected more from the patron saint of Hallmark, Lacey Chabert. I knew that she, alongside the "Full House" cast, was one of the channel's favorites – and that she had a more notable acting career – so I sat down on my couch ready for something special, something perfectly saccharine with maybe even a bit of that "Mean Girls" bite. And instead, she was ... fine?
Other than a brief freakout near the end where her motormouth Gretchen Wieners ways briefly burst out, she was merely blandly pleasant and giggly. This is the crown royalty of the Hallmark Crown? I was expecting more Lacey Chabert from "Mean Girls," not Lacey Chabert from "Christian Mingle: The Movie."
To be fair, it's probably not all Chabert's fault; a Hallmark movie relies on a cute and cuddly Christmas romance, and she's not given much to work with here. Glen Coco is nice enough, but toothpaste commercial bland, while Lane Edwards – Mr. Sowerberry from "Riverdale" – is suitably dopey as her always business-minded ex-boyfriend boss ... but almost too much so. Even though you know they won't end up together, you can't help wondering how they ever got together in the first place.
He's a doofus who thinks arranging a "very special" dinner that "has to be perfect," complete with rose pedals, for a job proposal instead of a wedding proposal is a fine strategy. Or that the best way to show you're rooting for her in the gingerbread contest ... is to bring in the world's best gingerbread genius to compete against her. Because of the marketing possibilities! Their first date must've just been talking about spreadsheets.
The best guy in the movie is unfortunately off-the-market: Glen Coco's lead chef and best friend Ralphie, who not only is the most fun of everyone in the movie but also has just the smoothest, silkiest voice thanks to veteran voiceover actor Jonathan Adams. Forget gingerbread cookies; this dude's voice is vocal caramel.
And speaking of forgetting about gingerbread cookies, WHERE IS THE FOOD PORN IN THIS FOOD MOVIE!? At worst, I expected several montages of delicious frosting seductively enrobing freshly baked cookies and batter lovingly poured into pans. I wanted to go through at least five trays of Oreos watching this thing. Instead, all I got was a few shots of dry-ass looking cookies and one decent montage of Kylie cutting out some fresh cookies that maybe forced me to eat one tube of cookie dough at most. I EXPECTING TO GAIN 50 POUNDS WATCHING IT. I even wore my stretchy pants.
This isn't to say that "The Sweetest Christmas" was painful or even bad to watch. Adams is a better than average sidekick character, and there's always the fun of celebrating the channel's classic cliches and treacly pleasantness in action, from the arrival of the old boyfriend to her boss's doltish attempts at romance and Kylie proclaiming, "I have to show him how I feel in the best way I know how: with gingerbread."
It's still that signature Hallmark soft and saccharine holiday sweetness – minus another terrible third act twist, originally just Kylie and Glen Coco splitting because of the stress of the competition (fair) but then contriving him to walk in on her as her boss proposes. And why is that her fault? Why does that deserve his scorn? It's not her fault her doofus boss proposed a week too late.
The result? "The Sweetest Christmas" is the Chips Ahoy of Hallmark holiday movies, sweet enough to technically sate your sweet tooth but not actually particularly good. So it's neither holly jolly nor holy hell. I guess I need a new ranking ...
Verdict: I should've watched "The Great British Baking Show" instead
Drinking game drunken-ness score
Not that I needed any more excuses to drink heavily while watching Hallmark holiday movies, but thanks to Wide Open Eats, I found this Hallmark drinking game created last winter by human saint Brittany Graves and posted on Facebook. So let's go through the checklist and see how crushed we can get off Christmas cliches!
(PHOTO: Brittany Graves Facebook)
- Reference to a dead relative? Glen Coco's mom died! DRINK! (uh, I mean, we're so sorry for your loss)
- Christmas-y main character name? Glen Coco's actual name in the movie? Nick. TAKE ANOTHER DRINK!
- Fake Christmas tree disses? Kylie takes a jab at Glen Coco's gas fireplace, but the Christmas trees are all real and decorated with plentiful paper tinsel. PUT YOUR DRINK DOWN!
- Newcomer in old-timey tradition? Not particularly. There's no real newcomers to the snowy heaven of ... Helen, Georgia?, so everyone's traditions are pretty common. CONTINUE ABSTAINING!
- Hot chocolate? Ralphie nicely fetches Kylie and Bobby some hot cocoa after grocery shopping, so WE RETURN YOU TO YOUR PREVIOUSLY SCHEDULED DRINKING!
- Near-miss kiss? Not one, but two – but don't get two excited; they're pretty weak. One comes after Kylie falls briefly off a ladder putting the angel on the tree and Glen Coco catches her (squee!) but they only match eyes for a second or two before friggin' Bobby calls them away (dammit!). Then they chat again and get, eh, moderately close before Bobby interrupts again. Weak fake kiss game, "The Sweetest Christmas"! I'd normally say two drinks for two near-misses, but these earn just one. REGRETFULLY DRINK ONCE!
- Product placement? So during that grocery shopping scene, the camera lingers a REALLY long time on a bunch of tin vats of classic olive oil that might be product placement, but after hours of mid-Thanksgiving research that my family LOVED, I couldn't find the brand anywhere. So maybe the director just really loved olive oil. Otherwise, unless the product is delicious gingerbread treats, there's nothing. RETURN TO SOBRIETY!
- Snowball fight or ice skating? Not just one but TWO snowball fights! TWO DRANKS!
- Ugly sweater or tie? There's some rough looking melted snowman cupcakes, but no ugly sweaters or ties. STOP DRINKING!
- Big city person in small town? Other than importing gingerbread champion Ina Bruckner into town for the finale, nope. STARE LONGINGLY AT YOUR BEVERAGE BUT DON'T TOUCH!
- Caroling, tree farming or cookie baking? Sure, there's some carolers in the background and a scene where Kylie fetches Christmas grump Glen Coco a Christmas tree! But my god, the cookie-baking scenes. It's pretty chaste when it comes to the food porn, but there's plenty of cookies popping in the oven, which means there's a lot of drinks popping down my throat! PUT THE DRINK TO YOUR MOUTH AND JUST LET IT POUR!
- Mistletoe? Dammit, no mistletoe. STOP DRINKING!
- Magic deal with Santa/angel? No magic here, except for the magic of baking. KEEP NOT DRINKING!
- Anytime time you hear "Jingle Bells"? Still nothing? DAMMIT, CONTINUE NOT DRINKING!
- Snowed in? Unless you mean snowed in by baking powder and frosting. COME ON, SERIOUSLY, STILL NO DRINKING?!
Unfortunately, there's no finishing your drink for the Christmas cynic (since there's not much of a Christmas cynic in this one) or snowing on Christmas, just a carousel ride instead. Luckily, since "The Sweetest Christmas" is blessed by the appearance of St. Lacey Chabert of Hallmark, you at least get to take a shot. Add in all the drinks for the cookie-baking, and you'll be just tipsy enough to find this lukewarm entry adorable.
Verdict: A Slightly Woozy Winter Wonderland.
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