By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Dec 05, 2018 at 7:26 PM

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

One year later, having learned absolutely nothing, he made the mistake all over again. 

These are the returning chronicles of Matt's Hallmark Holiday Hell.

"Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe"

With more than 40 new holiday romances to crank out for the Christmas season, it only makes sense that Hallmark would turn to one of the most famous literary romances for guidance. And so the Hallmark Channel turned to its bookshelf, eagerly pulled out "Pride & Prejudice" ... and threw it right out the window, just pulling out the usual Hallmark Mad Libs plot summary instead. Speaking of which ...

Mad Libs plot summary

A big-city and/or corporate Lacey Chabert arrives in a small town in the hopes of taking a break from her busy work life and helping her mom put on a charity gala. In the process, she stumbles into a handsome former debate team rival who's fallen out of love with the holidays thanks to nothing, though he's still banter-y rivals with his old high school nemesis, but also has a new restaurant to help cater her mom's event. Will she help organize the perfect Christmas party, while also thawing her own frozen, Grinch-like heart? And will they find the greatest Christmas gift of all ... love?

OK, so maybe Jane Austen isn't spinning in her grave, but she's definitely readjusted her position.

Who stars?

Lacey Chabert, duchess of the Hallmark Channel. Well, co-duchess with Candace Cameron Bure. Can you have co-duchesses? NEITHER "THE PRINCESS SWITCH" NOR "A CHRISTMAS PRINCE" ANSWERED THESE VERY IMPORTANT QUESTIONS! Anyways, I was not super impressed with her last year, especially considering her place in Hallmark royalty, but here's to second chances!

Serving as her Mr. Darcy is Brendan Penny, who appeared in "Fifty Shades Freed" as co-pilot Beighley. Ah, I have such fond memories of that trilogy. Remember when Christian offered Anastasia his big, hard ... pencil? Or when they negotiated sex acts? Or when this sexy, romantic franchise all built up to Anastasia turning into Liam Neeson in "Taken" and saving a barely-seen Rita Ora from a kidnapper? Boy, things really escalated from "I met a billionaire and he's into helicopters, 'The Chronicles of Riddick' and kinky stuff!"

Anyways, to balance out all of the time I've spent talking about the "Fifty Shades" franchise, here's a clip from another Brendan Penny film, "The A-Team," in which our big manly heroes fly a very masculine tank using a huge explosion-y gun.

Holly jolly or holy hell?

To be fair, "Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe" is not adapted from Jane Austen's novel but actually Melissa de la Cruz's novel of the same name – which makes sense as this isn't even a shadow of Austen's book. "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" was technically a closer, tighter adaptation. You can't just slap the names Darcy, Bennet and Pemberley, and call it a take on Austen's classic and iconic story. In that case, allow me to introduce my new script idea: Mismatched cops Detective Darcy and Officer Bennet fight crime in "Law and Order and Pride and Prejudice." I'll be waiting for your call, NBC. (I'm also willing to call it "Chicago Pride and Prejudice" to fit with 75% of your current primetime lineup.)

The most egregious area where "Pride and Prejudice" was clearly and painfully pressed into the Hallmark mold is with its heroine, Darcy Fitzwilliam. You might think that, with the name Darcy, she would maybe be a bitter upper-crust person who will learn lessons about class and her pride and prejudice in a gender-flipped version of the story. And you would be wrong.

So you might think that she'd at least be a strong female lead with the strength of her convictions at, considering the script's supposed Austen origins – but no, she's a typical Hallmark lead who clumsily pratfalls getting a tree (silly woman, should've taken the man's help!), as well as needs to learn to let go of her business-minded ideals and fall in love instead. (And also take the job at her dad's business. YAY FOR NEPOTISM!) And as played by Chabert, she comes off even more flimsy and timid, with even her strong-willed actions or ideas feeling soft-pedaled by her delivery. Even her supposed witty comebacks and line readings sounding more like questions that tart retorts. Her co-star Brendan Penny doesn't fare much better, but then there's not much to be done with bland attempts at banter like "You started it"/"Well, I'm going to finish it." It's the kind of movie where people say, "I want it to be more than food; I want it to be an experience" and characters lose their minds at the unprecedented creativity of "Winter Wonderland" as a Christmas party theme. What's next: James Bond 007 for a prom theme?!?!

So if you thought the ghost of Austen hanging over this project might possess it with some wittier-than-usual bon mots, well, you've thought wrong again. Basically, everything that could've gone in an interesting or inspired or creative direction didn't. This is just another Hallmark movie with a library card it doesn't use, that saw "Pride and Prejudice" was on TV but just read the menu screen plot synopsis instead.

Instead, we get Darcy going home to take a breather from her very important investment job, where she's trying to convince her partners into lowering investment minimums to allow us plebs to get 401ks instead of just rich people – and instead gets herself stuck in a office mutiny that's trying to toss her off the ship. The movie keeps coming back to this and trying to make the audience care, but if there's one thing I don't go to the Hallmark Channel for, it's retirement plan talk and half-hearted office intrigue. Stop pretending this is drama, movie; we all know she's quitting this job by movie's end to, I don't know, make custom Christmas trees or teach adorable orphans how to make ornaments or something like that. 

So let us never speak of that plot line again, and instead talk about her return home, where runs into her ex-boyfriend Carl. This guy is DEFINITELY going to ruin her blossoming romance in the third act – because that's what kind but not charming enough ex-boyfriends do in Hallmark movies. And also his name is Carl. Carl is such a perfect "I will mess things up" name for a cutesy Christmas movie like this. Four stars for whoever named this guy Carl. I can't wait to shake my fist at this guy an hour from now.

More importantly, however, she runs into her Handsome Local and new restauranteur Luke Bennet (SEE WHAT THEY DID THERE!? BENNET!? IT'S JUST LIKE "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE"!?) who looks like JJ Watt's less buff lost brother. They also used to be debate team rivals with in high school – and they haven't given up their bickering ways. A shame none of the bickering has any bite or laughs in it. 

Of course, this is not their only run in. Her mom is suddenly in charge of the town's very important Pemberley League Auction and in over her head, so she brings Darcy on to help organize the event and – go figure – Luke to cater the event, paying him in bonus coverage for his new diner. (Bold choice to name a small-town diner owner Luke. Thanks to "Gilmore Girls," the bar's set pretty high when it comes that very specific character.) And when Luke also busts out his INGENIOUS "Winter Wonderland" theme idea – much better than Darcy's slightly beige-er "A Season for Giving" concept – he's also matched up with Darcy to bring both ideas to life. SURELY NO ROMANCE WILL BREAK OUT HERE! (At least not if CARL HAS ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT IT!)

The two soon-to-be ex-rivals and newfound lovebirds team up to make the auction an event to remember. They come up with a brilliant auction item idea – custom-decorated Christmas trees – and even come up with a backup solution when their first tree place bails on them. Though, I must say, these are not the most exciting Christmas trees. I thought they'd do clever fun themes or make them unique, but nope, they just all look like Pier 1 decor. If your charitable organization was depending on these things to stay in non-profit business, you're prepare to shut down.

They book some cute caroling kids to sing at the event for bonus Christmas cheer – and when the wait staff bails at the last minute, they also make for cheap free labor! And with a title like "Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe," they walk under every piece of that dreaded holiday herb nailed around the city – including one time when a family member points it out, but not before walking into the area cell phone camera first. What kind of rude creeper does that? What a weirdo. Ban that person from your family. The two also lightly banter about the origins of mistletoe, because Darcy expects former debate champ Luke to have his research all ready to go. It's kind of cute, I admit – and also I'm intrigued to hear the origins of the magical Christmas kissing garnish.

To add to the cuteness, when the day of the event comes, the movie even gives the couple a classic "woman walks down the stairs in a beautiful gown much to the romantic lead's wonderment" moment. The two don't have a ton of chemistry, but by Hallmark standards, it's fairly sweet – and the party appears to be a sweet success. 

That is, until THE WORST PLOT POINT IN THE HISTORY OF THE ART FORM shows up uninvited, without a gift and probably drunk too.  

That's right: It's that classic third-act rom-com scenario – our romantic interest overhearing the wrong part of the leading lady's conversation with someone else, becoming a sulky child and assuming the worst from it – making a very unwelcome appearance. And who makes it happen? CARL!!!!!! I KNOW YOU'D SCREW THIS ALL UP, CARL! He takes Darcy aside to profess his love, but she politely declines. Of course, Luke doesn't hear that part, though; he only hears the part where she calls him a decent guy and therefore marches out of the party because IT'S ALL BEEN A LIE! Stupid Carl. YOU'RE NOT INVITED NEXT YEAR, CARL!

I preached this many times last year as well, but I truly, deeply belief that this lazy screenwriting plot point needs to be launched into space. Actually, LAUNCH IT INTO THE SUN. I don't want to risk it surviving. It's lazy, trite, predictable and always makes me hate our supposed charming characters because it's an easy misunderstanding that rational adults should be able to discuss away in .5 seconds but instead our leads storm off and it becomes a whole third act waste of drama. Points for this movie for not lingering on it too long, but still it makes Luke seem like an immature whiner who let one misheard third of a sentence ruin his entire opinion of a person. THAT'S WHAT THE INTERNET IS FOR!

Anyways, thankfully they recover – under a mistletoe, of course, which means Luke begins explaining the origins of the mistletoe. Oh cool; I don't often get to say that I've learned something from a Hallmark Christmas movie, but here we go. So the ancient Romans ... WAIT STOP KISSING HIM, LACEY CHABERT! HE DIDN'T GET TO FINISH! Dammit, fact-blocked. Now I'm going to have to do research and learn on my own time. UNACCEPTABLE!

At the end, save for that dreaded third act drama, "Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe" probably isn't any better or worse than your average Hallmark holiday movie. The problem is, when you bring a literary classic into the mix and call yourself "Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe," the expectations get all out of whack. Suddenly it's not enough to just be a silly, light and cheerful Hallmark movie; you have a legacy and ideas to live up to – and I'm just here to enjoy bland couples fall in love and look at nice Christmas decorations and cute winter coats and drink too much wine.

If you're not really committed to the bit, it just seems like you stapled the book title on without thinking or reading it – like throwing a "Great Gatsby"-themed party without realizing why you missed the point of the book. Just call it a '20s-themed party – and just call this "Mistletoe." There's plenty of that. "Pride and Prejudice"? Not so much. 

Verdict: One and a half Colin Firth as Mr. Darcys out of five. 

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 two 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!

(PHOTO: Brittany Graves Facebook)

  • Reference to a dead relative? Nope – unless you include any references to the very deceased Jane Austen. MORE LIKE SOBER AND SOBER-JUDICE!
  • Christmas-y main character name? There's obviously a bunch of Austen-y names here – even the villain, who's named Austin Avery. (All too fitting the bad guy is named after Jane considering the liberties taken with the source material.) But there's no actual Christmas names. NO-LIQUOR ABBEY!
  • Fake Christmas tree disses? Damn you, Balsam Hill, robbing me of both drinks and quality fake Christmas tree disses. PER-SOBER-SION!
  • Newcomer in old-timey tradition? Listen, I've spent far too long watching this Hallmark movie not throwing alcohol down my throat, so I'm saying coordinating this Pemberley charity night counts. FORGET MR. DARCY; CALL ME MR. DRINKY!
  • Hot chocolate? *Sighs* Lacey Chabert very specifically drinks tea at the beginning of the movie. YOU'RE NOT EVEN BRITISH! YOU'VE SOBERED ME, BODY AND SOUL!
  • Near-miss kiss? There's a whole freaking salad of mistletoe in this movie, and yet I cannot recall a single near-miss kiss. The two are too busy bickering to do it. And there's no adorable little kid to interrupt it? What kind of Hallmark movie is this?! I'll tell you: THE KIND WITH NOT ENOUGH DRINKING!
  • Product placement? There's a brief scene where the camera spends just a second too long admiring a Cadillac's fancy auto-closing trunk. That barely counts, but let's drink anyways as this is a great advertisement for other, better "Pride and Prejudice" movies. Oh, and roasted chestnuts. Lacey Chabert loves herself some chestnuts in here. MANSFIELD POUR-A-DRINK!
  • Snowball fight or ice skating? Oh, you know a movie with two former debate team members is going to have them put down the "barbed" "insults" and pick up some snowballs. But I've got real qualms with Chabert's snowball technique. She barely makes a proper wad of snow, instead just throwing ungathered snow dust. POOR FORM – and while we're on the topic, POUR ME A DRINK TOO!
  • Ugly sweater or tie? I'm telling you: Ugly sweaters are out, and ugly hats are in, at least if Hallmark is to be believed. Are they selling ugly hats at their card stores? Anyways, we've got one of those holly jolly fashion horrors as well as a dorky Christmas apron so DRINK AND DRINK-ABILITY!
  • Big city person in small town? Darcy goes from her big-city job back to her small, cozy town. "Lady Susan"? MORE LIKE THIS GUY'S BOOZIN!
  • Caroling, tree farming or cookie baking? No cookie baking (that was Chabert's movie last year) but we've got plenty of carolers and a tree farming scene! CALL ME MR. COLLINS – TOM OR JOHN COLLINS, EITHER WORKS!
  • Mistletoe? It's not called "Pride, Prejudice and Eggnog," is it? Nope! So, to paraphrase Jane Bennet, DRUNK! A THOUSAND TIMES DRUNK!
  • Magic deal with Santa/angel? Unless we're talking about a magic deal with the Jane Austen estate, there's none of that here. ELIZABETH BEN-NOT DRINKING ANYMORE!
  • Anytime time you hear "Jingle Bells"? We get a nice rendition of the famous carol – but we also get Chabert SLANDERING the good name of "Jingle Bells," turning it down and calling it "perfect for a third grade recital." I mean, sure, it's no "Silent Night" as sung by Kellie Pickler for the 127th time – BUT WHAT IS?! Caroline Bingley? More like CAROLINE BRING-ME MORE ALCOHOL!
  • Snowed in? More like snowed in by a poor imitation of Jane Austen's work, amirite? Heh heh ... heh *clears throat* well, anyways, NO DRINK AND ALSO I'M OUT OF AUSTEN PUNS!

As for the bonus categories, there's just the honorary shot for a Lacey Chabert starring role. That's it. Even if you were pouring yourself shots of pure unvarnished Kentucky moonshine, however, no amount of booze could blur your vision and bend your judgment into thinking you're watching anything resembling "Pride & Prejudice."

Anyways, I look forward to next year when the Hallmark Channel makes "A Holly Jolly Anna Karenina."

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.