It’s been a bad year for films slated to release in 2020, but a great one for people like me who can watch them from the confines of their homes, not having to pay exuberant prices for movie theatre tickets or snacks that look like chicken feed. However, after the Ghost of Christmas Depression came by, I was reminded of the misery unfolding all around me through this ghastly year. I needed some cheer in my life, and so, I looked up some easily accessible ways of feeling festive. Turns out, Hallmark Channel’s tried and tested formula of Christmas movies does the trick for many.
For the past 20 years, Hallmark has been dumping Christmas films during the holidays like it’s a Black Friday sale. And much like the sale, people turn up for these films in huge numbers. In 2020 alone, an estimated 36 million viewers tuned into the Hallmark Channel for their slate of Christmas movies. The model is now being adopted by streaming giants like Netflix and Disney+ because what are holidays if not an opportune time to manipulate gullible masses into believing everything is blissful while they take all our money? The only problem is, all these films look the same. And they all are as awful.
Some experts suggest that the reasons behind our voracious consumption of this asinine factory production of Christmas fare is because they offer a sense of certainty in very uncertain times (explains all those definite happy endings), that the unreal doses of positivity in such movies boost our morale (also explains why Emily in Paris did so well), and because we’re inherently attracted to simple solutions (explains why the plots never overcomplicate like reality does, and why many never question the first-world problems in these movies).
To know if these could even make the Grinch in me grin, I set a clear objective for myself: to get through as many of these films in one sitting as possible.
To narrow down my watch list, I looked for most movies that released in 2020 (except the last two on this list which are from previous years but on Hallmark’s schedule this year too), had diverse cast members (because if nothing else, Hallmark movies thus far looked like an endorsement for the purity of the Aryan race), and for stories that sparked my interest personally. And that was perfect because there was a lot of noise about a gay couple in one of their films, The Christmas House. So here we go:
Jingle Bell Bride
Plot: An event planner needs ultra rare flowers for her celebrity client’s wedding so she flies to a remote town in Alaska, where she ends up falling in love with a local man and learns the true meaning of Christmas.
What I enjoyed about the film: Jingle Bell Bride has decent production quality and actual good acting from the leads. It also helps that they are of non-Caucasian descent but...
What I despised about the film: Even when Hallmark casts actors of different ethnicities, they are essentially white—and you will know what I mean if you actually watch this film. It’s like watching Jordan Peele’s Us, but in the Hallmark universe, the experiments actually came through. So every person of every skin tone has a white soul inside them, which gets really creepy after a while. Also, the town our lead is stuck in has a population of 112 people. I’m pretty sure I spotted more extras in the background than 112.
How many minutes into the film did I check my phone: 16
My takeaway: “Mistletoe is actually pretty toxic, and people should stop making out under them.” Yeah, that’s a dialogue from the film.
Five Star Christmas
Plot: A career woman working in the big city visits her family home for the holidays, where she must help her father run his new bed-and-breakfast business successfully. In the process, she falls in love with a man who is an undercover bed-and-breakfast critic (that’s a thing I suppose?), and of course also learns the true meaning of Christmas.
What I enjoyed about the film: The older gentleman playing the lead’s father is a hot Daddy, if that counts for something. There’s also a grand Daddy if you’re into that sorta thing.
What I despised about the film: Unlike the first film, Five Star Christmas sees a major decline in production quality, dialogues, acting, and pretty much everything. It has such a terrible and generic comedy of errors plot that I called the whole movie out within the first 10 minutes. Fuck off, Hallmark. Also, this time around, there’s not a single person of colour in sight. It’s all beige and pastel for miles. And I think I puked a little when I saw the leads make out. It’s like watching two clay-faced statues boink jaws together.
How many minutes into the film did I check my phone: 7
My takeaway: If you have a lot of money, you can do whatever the fuck you want.
A Christmas Tree Grows in Colorado
Plot: The title pretty much covers it. There’s a tree in a town in Colorado, and the city council wants it for their town square by Christmas. A man who looks like a young Giancarlo Esposito owns the tree and we spend a good 90 minutes just going back and forth on the goddamn tree.
What I enjoyed about the film: The child actor in the film was way better than the previous ones. It’s maybe because her character of an adopted child meant all she had to do was be thankful that someone fed her, according to whoever wrote this script. The movie also has a small gay subplot, which was cute. Not overdone in any way.
What I despised about the film: There is no tension whatsoever in the whole thing. The tree is the main point of conflict, one that gets resolved pretty easily at the end.
How many minutes into the film did I check my phone: 24
My takeaway: Politics is hard, grow a tree instead.
The Christmas House
Plot: A Hollywood actor moves back to his hometown where his parents put up a big show in their house around Christmas. He reconnects with his former flame and realises the true spirit of Christmas. Why do I feel like I already wrote this? Oh, and his brother is gay and married and they want to adopt a kid and spend the entire runtime waiting on a call from the adoption agency.
What I enjoyed about the film: The Christmas House somehow surprisingly stands true to its name. They use a big mansion and deck its damn halls with lights and tons of decorations. It’s good to witness that level of commitment to set design in a Hallmark film mainly because most other films on this list look like they were shot on a soundstage behind a McDonald’s. The gay couple plot is okay, and it’s only thanks to Jonathan Bennett of Mean Girls’ fame that it’s even watchable.
What I despised about the film: For some reason, one of the main characters in these Hallmark Christmas films is always either a widower or a divorcee. So our main lead has an added conflict of accepting them even though they seem “tarnished”. It’s very hammily handled and once you notice it, it’ll bug you through the films. Another observation I had was the main lead (played by Robert Buckley) who is a Hollywood hotshot exclaims that he has 1.2 million followers on social media but the actor who plays him in reality has only 500k followers. Of course I took some time out to check this, and the fact that I did tells you what a wonderful movie-viewing experience this was.
How many minutes into the film did I check my phone: 13
My takeaway: Good things happen to white people.
The Christmas Cottage
Plot: I honestly don’t remember much of the plot. By now it’s crystal clear that the way these films are written is by adding “The/A Christmas” in front of a thing, and deriving the story from it somehow, milking it to its last drop. In The Christmas Cottage, there’s a titular cottage of course. It is supposed to hold Christmas magic, so people who sleep there overnight fall in love, like sexually. That is just extremely disturbing, What if there was a family camping overnight, with cousins sleeping in there?
Things I enjoyed about the film: I did chuckle at the title screen because the main lead is called Steve Lund (Lund is what we call “penis” in Hindi sometimes), but apart from that, this is just generic drivel.
Things I despised about the film: Despite my initial reluctance, I had to get through this utter garbage. I won’t call it a film because that implies there was some level of skill or technicality involved in putting this mess together.
The leading lady has to pick between two men (of course she does) and both her romantic interests look like deformed Armie Hammer clones so I don’t know what this bitch’s priorities are exactly. I genuinely think I developed nausea halfway through this movie, after watching so many scenes with people eating elaborate family meals.
How many minutes into the film did I check my phone: I picked up my phone as soon as the movie began because I had to google Steve Lund.
My takeaway: If you tell your current partner that what your ex and you had was better, he’ll quietly back off. Straight men are very rational that way.
A Christmas Duet
Plot: A famous singer gets stuck in a town where his former co-singer now runs an inn. There’s a storm, they have to sing together, and also organise a town Christmas party. The usual.
What I enjoyed about the film: The main song about Christmas (which was the movie’s big selling point) is actually pretty groovy, even though it only really plays towards the end. The chemistry between the leads is cute, but again watching two Black actors act so white makes my skin crawl. There’s a cute labrador though, in perhaps two scenes.
What I despised about the film: The line “home away from home” is so done to death by this point and is yet repeated several times in several variations throughout the film. It’s every hotel or inn-based film you will ever see. Also, the backgrounds in some of the scenes within this film are super fake.
How many minutes into the film did I check my phone: 17
My takeaway: Singers are asked to sing their famous Christmas song at every gig they do. Mariah Carey approves.
In conclusion, I have realised that Hallmark makes the same film with the same hollow characters over and over again. Someone is stuck in a small quaint town during Christmas, and they find love and joy and shit. None of the characters in these films really worry about finances because work isn’t everything, at least till January begins and you’re broke. And this stupid formula obviously works for them because they rake in an insane amount of profits from the Holiday season alone.
Hallmark’s Christmas films are their greeting cards personified in moving pictures. They have entire families that look like runway models, they have saccharine sweetness sold to a discerning Christian audience with a nice little bow of morals tying it together. So as long as there’s Christmas and capitalism, there’s a sense of fake, manufactured happiness that is still enjoyable in this world, if you literally have blinders on and don’t know what’s happening outside your wintry town full of Caucasian clones. Or maybe I am just being too much of a Scrooge. It definitely wouldn’t hurt to watch one of them with your loved ones this season, but maybe don’t punish yourself by going on a movie marathon like I did.
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