By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jan 14, 2021 at 8:01 PM

On Nov. 9, 2017, during an OnMilwaukee editorial meeting, 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 punished assigned to watch a new Hallmark movie a week during the holiday season and write about his discoveries and loss of dignity.

Three years later, having learned absolutely nothing, he made the mistake all over again.

These are the never-ending chronicles of Matt's Hallmark Holiday Hell.

"A New Year's Resolution"

You know the part in a horror movie when our brave hero thinks he's vanquished the evil and survived his ordeal, only to discover with terror that the monster or serial killer is still alive and attacks one final time? That's me right now. I thought I had survived Hallmark holiday movies. I thought I'd put the trauma behind. The menace was over. OR SO I THOUGHT! Turns out they were just waiting to attack one more time – and to bring that attack on my comfy, once-safe home turf of Milwaukee at that. Hey Laurie Strode: Wanna switch places?

Anyways, let's get this over with: "A New Year's Resolution," a Hallmark holiday movie that's a tedious speedbump on the way to better things – not painfully bad but more just annoyingly ... there. Call it the Detroit Lions of Hallmark movies. 

Who stars?

Speaking of horror movies, our star here is Aimee Teegarden who got to be one of the killer's first victims in the fourth "Scream" film – though most people probably recognize her as Julie Taylor from the popular TV sports show "Friday Night Lights." So she speaks fluent football – a requisite if you're going to play a Wisconsinite.

She'll be falling in love with Michael Rady, who's popped up in all sorts of television shows – from "Jane the Virgin" to "The Mentalist" and "UnREAL." However, his most important role – outside of the brilliantly titled Hallmark romance "You're Bacon Me Crazy," which I believe swept all the Oscars last year on the power of that pun alone – was his breakout role in the "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" movies playing Kostas, basically a one-man marketing campaign for the Greek tourism department. 

Perhaps he can work his same magic on the great city of MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN, the location of this particular Hallmark movie and the true star of the film. Look at those majestic B-roll shots of the Milwaukee lakefront and Red Arrow Park and ... oh, that's it? Just more B-roll of the lakefront? Because the film was, like just about every Hallmark movie, actually filmed in Canada? Welp, I guess we're getting the "Bridesmaids" treatment once again. The only good news is that this means there's still hope for my own Milwaukee-centric Hallmark screenplay: "A Racing Sausage Romance." Listen, if they can make a Hallmark movie focused on bacon, they can make one based on a speedy brat with legs!

Holly jolly or holy hell?

(*Sigh*) I honestly left this holiday season feeling pretty good about my annual Hallmark movie marathoning ways. Most of them were honestly pretty charming, making Matt's Hallmark Holiday Hell more of a Matt's Hallmark Love Story Limbo, not great but could've been far worse. But unfortunately, thanks to "A New Year's Resolution," I'm actually ending my otherwise pleasant Hallmark run on a slightly sour note with a movie that was just a slog to get through, with not enough conflict or dramatic push, not enough goofy antics with its premise and, of course, nowhere near enough Milwaukee. DANG IT, 2021; CAN'T YOU DO ANYTHING RIGHT?!

At least the movie starts well: scenic shots of Milwaukee's lakefront – fairly new shots as well featuring the new Northwestern Mutual Tower so congrats to Hallmark for being more on top of things than most sports channels when they cover Milwaukee. There, we meet Kelly (Aimee Teegarden), an overachieving producer at the local morning TV show "Wake Up Milwaukee" – not to be confused with the very real FOX6's "WakeUp News," but it's close to the same thing featuring playful conversations as well as lifestyle and culture stories from around the city. It seems perhaps the writer – who actually wrote the delightful "Oz"-themed "If I Only Had Christmas" this past season – did her homework on Milwaukee, especially after Kelly and her work colleagues discuss doing a story on tailgating, football and brats in the early going. All they're missing is a piece on the Milverine or about how much people hate a new roundabout, and they've got Brew City down pat!

Eventually, thanks to Kelly's excellent news sense, the team decides on their big running story for the new year: following somebody through the first month of the year with their new year's resolution. It's a professional win for Kelly – but unfortunately, she follows it up with a personal L as she gets lost in her work and arrives late (again) for a holiday gathering with her growingly frustrated best friends. This is the most accurate thing ever portrayed in a Hallmark movie: Never be friends with people who work in the media. We are the worst, and we are never on time for anything. I'm running late for a haircut AS WE SPEAK.

Anyways, while Kelly promises to dedicate more time to hanging out with her friends – sure hope a worldwide pandemic doesn't muck up those plans! (*laughs, but then takes long drink of alcohol*) – across town, Tom Kostas (Michael Rady) is pitching his bank's sponsorship plans for the holiday season to his boss, who wears an unfortunate hairpiece. That's ... a choice. But whatever, in the name of building more trust in the community, the bank agrees to throw their logo and money at the New Year's plunge and other fun festive winter events, much to Kostas' glee. 

You keep waiting for the inevitable meet-cute to happen, but "A New Year's Resolution" takes its tedious sweet time in overlapping its two stars' lives, finally bringing them together at a New Year's dinner sequence. Even then, it takes a while as the two are at separate tables, minding their own business with their friends. Kostas is wondering what's the point of a New Year's resolution while Kelly and her friends are making theirs. One says she's cutting down on coffee, one's going to finish his book, one's going to spin class more and Kelly decides she's going to say yes to every invitation she receives because she says no too much. Finally, a movie about a woman learning to be more submissive to others' wants and expectations!

Suddenly, their night is interrupted by a lawyer for the 2008 Jim Carrey movie "Yes Man," handing Kelly and company a lawsuit for having a VERY similar premise. Then the credits roll – THE END! 

OK, that doesn't happen – but somebody does interrupt their dinner: Kostas, who comes over to debate the premise of resolutions, guess everyone's vows for the new year and, of course, to fall in love at first sight with Kelly. It's fairly charming – and Rady and Teegarden actually spark pretty well – but this would all be much cuter if this was taking place at a bustling New Year's bar. Instead, it's all taking place at a fancy restaurant with everyone at their tables – not exactly the atmosphere for a stranger to barge over to a random table to overtake the conversation and play a VERY dangerous game of "Guess The Resolution." One wrong "resolve to work out more" guess, and that chat ends QUICK. But it works for Kelly and Kostas – and while she passes on celebrating the New Year with him so she can stick with her friends (she still has a few minutes, after all, before the resolution kicks in), she does sneak him her number. 

So we have our premise: A straight-laced person suddenly has to say yes to everything she's invited to. So what crazy shenanigans are we getting into!? Unfortunately not many. The wildest thing Kelly ends up doing comes right at the beginning: participating in the New Year's plunge, an off-brand version of the polar plunge here in Milwaukee. And it didn't even look that cold (I yelled, while sitting warm and dry under a heated blanket on the couch). Otherwise, the rest of her crazy adventures barely qualify as whimsical or kooky. She takes on an obstacle course that's clearly supposed to be one of those Tough Mudder competitions but instead just looks like some playground equipment in a small backyard. (Also: She definitely cheated and started before the whistle – UNACCEPTABLE!)

Her workplace gets wind of her resolution and decides that she's the perfect subject for their running series, so they book her for challenges like going curling – OK, that bit was fun, but how can you not love a real sport that combines oversized hockey pucks and cleaning? – and facing her worst fear: magicians. Somebody did NOT like "The Prestige." She even goes speed dating – though save for some pratfalls while curling, none of these adventures feature any jokes. There sure seems like there should be some fun to be had here, but instead it's too tame to take advantage of its high-concept premise. 

But hey, most of these Hallmark rom-coms are more comedies in name only anyways. The romance always is the star – and in that regard, "A New Year's Resolution" actually isn't too bad. Rady and Teegarden are actually quite charming together, and the movie actually does feature the most realistic and relatable relationship moment I've ever seen in a Hallmark movie: two working professionals trying to find an open night for a date, only for them both to constantly have conflicts.

It's a shame that realism doesn't extend to the overall plot, which can't come up with a reason for the two to not date so it comes up with some strange artificial boundaries for the two. Kostas' rationale almost makes sense – he wants to ask her out when she can give a genuine yes, not a resolution-enforced yes – but Kelly just ... doesn't ask him out. Sure, she has her work that tends to overtake her life, something that makes her pessimistic about a relationship lasting, but it always comes off as a script contrivance keeping them apart as opposed to a real issue – especially as the two keep going out anyways, such as a trip to a not-Milwaukee Admirals game at the Not UWM Panther Arena. I actually apprecate a movie trying to avoid contrived drama – I was afraid that the movie would pull the "I'm hiding something from you" card that always sours rom-coms, which it thankfully doesn't – but the film never comes up with anything to keep the story moving, slowing the movie to a frozen Lake Michigan halt. 

Actually, the script does come up with a conflict: BANK FRAUD AND JOURNALISTIC ETHICS. Ah yes, because nothing screams cute fluffy holiday love story like banking malfeasance, corporate whistleblowers and morning show news ethics. I'm just saying that, around this point, the amount of Milwaukee B-roll on screen is down to nothing, so I think the amount of Brew City in a movie and the quality of said movie are clearly connected. 

As it turns out, multiple customers tip "Wake Up Milwaukee" off to unapproved bank accounts opening under their name at Kostas' bank. Why they're taking this huge news story to the silly morning news program's New Year's Resolutions Correspondent instead of a local newspaper or actual news program, I am not sure – but it certainly makes Kelly and Kostas' burgeoning relationship trickier. I applaud the movie, again, for not having Kelly keep their investigation a secret and centering the third act falling-out into an easily avoided lie, but this odd detour into account fraud is a strange and complicated fit with the rest of the movie without being any more engaging. 

To crack the case, Kelly sends Kostas investigating, and while talking to two "Wolf of Wall Street" rejects, he discovers that the company is indeed fraudulently creating accounts under people's names. But since he truly believes in his company, he tells his boss before Kelly, giving them the heads up to make the faulty accounts (at least the ones people know about) disappear and blowing her big story – all while the company pretends that nothing happened and tries to brush the situation under the boss' bad rug. With his job turning out to be a lie and Kelly heartbroken, Kostas decides to quit and go on "Wake Up Milwaukee" to blow the whistle on the case talking live on air to Kelly's boss, River Tamland. Hold on: RIVER, ARE YOU RELATED TO FELLOW NEWSMAN BRICK TAMLAND!? Is "A New Year's Resolution" secretly a part of the RBCU: The Ron Burgundy Cinematic Universe?!

These questions unfortunately do not get answered. Instead, Kostas and Kelly get back together after he shows up to her live storytelling session at a local board game coffee bar and the two reconcile ... and move to Chicago at the behest of Kelly's friends. You see, because Kelly wants to become an Emmy-winning producer, and apparently you can't do that in lowly ol' Milwaukee. Plus, good friends always love talking their friends into moving further away from them – CLASSIC FRIENDSHIP! So in the end, the Milwaukee-based Hallmark movie was about getting the heck out of Milwaukee. Whatever – they didn't even pronounce Wisconsin right anyways. (It's not WES-consin.)

That's not the biggest sin of "A New Year's Resolution," though. I can handle Milwaukee mishaps; Hollywood practically never gets the city right either, so Hallmarkywood did no worse. (Maybe even a little better; after all, they did know that there's a Six Flags between Brew City and the Windy City.) The movie's biggest problem is, much like its version of Milwaukee, the movie is just bland, dull and barely there, landing in an awkward middle ground between its high concept rom-com premise and a realistic and natural romance about two people just trying find love in their busy lives. It may take place in Milwaukee, but it really takes place in an entertainment no man's land. 

Verdict: Not Milwaukee's best

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 several winters ago 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 – and if you have your own drinking game, pass it along! After all, tis the season for sharing (and getting sloshed)!

  • Reference to a dead relative? Though the movie does have scenes taking place around Christmas, I doubt we're gonna get many drinks from our Hallmark holiday drinking gaYES, KOSTAS BRIEFLY REFERENCES HIS DEAD GRANDMA! YA YA, DRINK MILWAUKEE!
  • Christmas-y main character names? Unless I really want to stretch and say Kelly could be reference to kelly green, which is kind of a Christmas shade, neither Kelly nor Kostas (nor his character's actual name Tom) are Christmas-y. But seriously, what's the deal with Brick and River Tamland? Is Kostas' boss secretly a relative of Wes Mantooth!? I LOVE LAMP AND NOT DRINKING!
  • Fake Christmas tree disses? This category, such a disappointment. The "Eric Bledsoe in the playoffs" of Hallmark holiday drinking game rules. And in case that wasn't enough, it will not surprise you that the New Year's themed Hallmark movie doesn't have a fake Christmas tree joke. CONTINUE DRY JANUARY!
  • Newcomer in old-timey tradition? While jumping into freezing cold lake water to celebrate the New Year certainly SEEMS like a dumb new trend, it actually goes back more than 100 years in Milwaukee history. Now I'm laughing, imagining fancy sepia-toned men and women in knickers, bloomers and galoshes diving into cold water, freezing icicles hanging off the men's old-timey mustaches and monacles. I'm also laughing because ROLL OUT THE BARREL, WE'LL HAVE A BARREl OF BOOZE!
  • Hot chocolate? Near the end of the movie, Kostas takes Kelly on a date to his kid niece's birthday party – because why not bombard your new potential girlfriend with just your family on the third date when you can bombard her with your family AND some strangers' children too! Anyways, they have hot chocolate there – probably with a little something extra in it to make the kids' tolerable. Plus, there's a hot cocoa stand in the background of one scene, so MILWAU-KEEP DRINKING!
  • Near-miss kiss? Kelly and Kostas keep threatening to kiss throughout this movie, and Kelly just keeps ... not doing it. For no reason, either. She's into him; he's into her. WHAT'S GOING ON HERE?! It's the movie's annoying attempt at conflict except it's not dramatic or logical. Anyways, I deserve alcohol for putting up with it. MILLER PARK THAT BOTTLE OF BOOZE IN MY MOUTH!
  • Product placement? I wish I could say that Milwaukee gets its money's worth of free advertising from the movie, but unfortunately there's very little Milwaukee here – plus the movie ends with our couple happily bailing on Brew City. FINE, I DIDN'T NEED THEM OR ALCOHOL ANYWAYS!
  • Snowball fight or ice skating? Hey, look at that, it's Red Arrow Park and its popular ice rink in some B-roll – which means HEY LOOK AT THAT, IT'S BOOZE O'CLOCK!
  • Ugly sweater or tie? No ugly sweaters or ties – quite the opposite actually as Aimee Teegarden does get to wear several fetching winter coats. I will miss Hallmark's coat porn – almost as much as I ALREADY MISS MY DRINK!
  • Big city person in small town? While I do appreciate that the movie shows that Milwaukee with big buildings and businesses, not some farm town, I don't appreciate that this cliche doesn't make it into the script. Which means I don't appreciate the LACK OF ALCOHOL GOING DOWN MY THROAT.
  • Caroling, tree farming or cookie baking? Since this is a New Year's movie, not a Christmas movie, all three of these are no-shows. BREW CITY? MORE LIKE BOO, PITY ... THAT I CAN'T DRINK!
  • Mistletoe? We do finally get a kiss between Kelly and Kostas at the very end of "A New Year's Resolution" – but unfortunately, there's no holiday lettuce involved, just storytelling and board games. Which honestly sounds better – but it tastes like NOTHING BECAUSE NO DRINK!
  • Magic deal with Santa/angel? This is a no – which I'm actually thankful for because my "A Racing Sausage Romance" script features a mystical Bernie Brewer who sends our main character back in time. Good news for my screenplay – and good news for my liver because NO BOOOOZE!
  • Anytime you hear "Jingle Bells"? I don't even think we get an "Auld Lang Syne" in this New Year's movie. Let auld acquiantance BE SOBER AND LACKING IN ALCOHOLIC ENJOYMENT! 
  • Snowed in? There's barely any snow in this supposedly Milwaukee-set movie. There's a few requisite piles of the white stuff at Kelly and Kostas' weird Tame Mudder obstacle course date, but nowhere near enough to snow anyone in. FEER THE LACK OF BEER!

In case somehow all of this has convinced you that you need "A New Year's Resolution" in your life, the movie airs again on Sunday at 1 p.m. I believe it was actually supposed to air early evening on Saturday, but it was seemingly removed from the schedule – perhaps because it would've been competing with the Green Bay Packers playoff game. Huh, maybe this movie knows Wisconsin better than I gave it credit for ... 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.