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 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.
"Christmas in Evergreen"
Now that Christmas is mere days away, I can actually feel that childlike sensation of the holiday spirit filling my heart. But can my latest trek into Hallmark holiday movies – this time starring a magical snowglobe and actual Santa Claus – keep my spirit burning like chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Or would "Christmas in Evergreen" ruthlessly kill it like that time I tried to cook the turkey for Christmas dinner?
Mad Libs plot summary
A big-city and/or corporate doctor arrives in a small town in the hopes of waiting out a snowstorm that's cancelled their flight to Florida. In the process, he stumbles into a lovely local veteranian who's fallen out of love with the holidays thanks to she wants to move to D.C. with her long-distance boyfriend, but also is stuck in town thanks to the weather – and also she can't stop helping out with the town's holiday plans. Will he and she find a reason to stay in Evergreen, 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 daughter and Holly Robinson Peete ensue.
Ashley Williams plays our uber-smiley chief ambassador of Hallmark holiday cheer in "Christmas in Evergreen." Skimming her IMDB page, I found the usual stuff: a running gig on a daytime soap opera ("As the World Turns"), one-episode roles on both "SVU" and "CSI," probably an electric toothbrush commercial.
But then, hold on a second ... "A Most Violent Year"? The critically acclaimed Oscar Issac-Jessica Chastain crime drama? And "Margin Call," the Oscar-nominated Wall Street drama starring Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany and Jeremy Irons? What the heck is going here!? (It likely helped that Williams's husband is Neal Dodson, who co-produced both of those movies for writer-director J.C. Chandor. He also produced Chandor's "All is Lost," which Williams probably also would've snagged a role in, but the movie exclusively stars Robert Redford, the ocean and a big greasy F-bomb, so womp womp.)
But even excluding those productions, Williams's resume is above and beyond impressive for a Hallmark original holiday movie, appearing on hit shows like "Girls" and snagging one of the lead roles on "The Jim Gaffigan Show." Her most famous role, however, came when she played Victoria on "How I Met Your Mother"! Outdated spoiler alert: She was not their mother.
Then there's her romantic interest, Teddy Sears, who had long stints on both the critically-acclaimed show "Masters of Sex" and the fan favorite "The Flash" (as well as "24: Legacy," but WE DO NOT TALK ABOUT "24: LEGACY"). Those ... are like legitimate career benchmarks! This Hallmark movie's looking up already, and I haven't even hit play!
Meanwhile, let's see what the director, Alex Zamm, has been up to ...
Christmas is cancelled.
Holly jolly or holy hell?
So who would win out in a battle between a surprisingly overqualified cast and the director of "Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2"? Well, it's a Christmas miracle, because the former claimed victory. In fact, "Christmas in Evergreen" is kind of a perfect Hallmark movie. That's not to say it's actually GOOD, but it is the kind of perfectly mindless, high-saccharine and low-effort glob of cheery niceness that you come to Hallmark for this time of year.
Part of its success comes from that capable cast previously mentioned – in particular Ashley Williams, who may be one of my favorite performers I've seen on a Hallmark movie this season. I'm going to guess that's a pretty controversial statement – partly because, when I told my mom this #Hallmarkhottake, she did a spit-take with her wine. She's very smiley and chipper and loud, which I can see exhausting some viewers and hitting some as fake. But after last week's double dose of bland, it was nice to have a performance with some snap and pep to cut through the beige of your typical Hallmark plot.
And, in "Christmas in Evergreen," that Hallmark plot is very predictable and silly – even with the inclusion of a magic snowglobe. Allie (Williams) wants to leave the town of Evergreen with the wish of having the most romantic Christmas ever with her square-jawed boyfriend and have the most romantic Christmas ever; Ryan (Sears, winningly) passes through the town with his young daughter on their way to the airport. Thanks to nature, an old truck and a pregnant cow (not all at the same time) they, of course, get stuck in the magical town, where winsome holiday magic and festivities bring the two together.
Oh, and there's a legitimate Santa just strolling around with a jovial red face and huge white beard, giving free therapy sessions. AND NO ONE THINKS IT'S WEIRD. Everyone's just like, "Yeah, that's just a random, perfectly white-bearded guy who's come to town that nobody knows. SURELY NOTHING WHIMSICAL HAPPENING THERE!"
But I can't even make fun of "Christmas in Evergreen" that much because it's all sweetly done – and with even a touch of emotional depth beyond banging the usual Christmas spirit drum. There's a big "Inside Out"-esque monologue about how feeling sad is a normal part of life, and even though you know from around minute two that Allie's boyfriend (who may or not be a clone of Christopher Reeve) will show up in town right when sparks are flying, the resulting love triangle avoids the kind of dumb misunderstandings that dumped coal all over other Hallmark movies' holiday spirit. There's no contrived conflicts or bad guys, just people realizing they're in different places in their lives. HOW IS THE MAGICAL SNOWGLOBE MOVIE THE MOST REALISTIC HALLMARK MOVIE I'VE SEEN!?
Also, "Christmas in Evergreen" featured the most relatable moment I've seen in a Hallmark movie: A character has a panic attack while trying to organize everything for a perfect Christmas party. FINALLY! Every Hallmark movie is so blasé about every main character throwing a Martha Stewart Living-level holiday party; it's about time there's one that captures the stress of trying to not burn down the neighborhood. Now if only there was a scene of a character breaking down in the middle of a Target because he can't find a stuffed animal Porg, "Christmas in Evergreen" would basically be a documentary.
Even with all my mocking of director Alex Zamm, he even throws in some lovely snow-covered nature shots that complete the winning festive vibe of the movie. Plus, he prominently opens "Christmas in Evergreen" with a literal basket of adorable puppies. I take back everything: The director of the 1998 Carrot Top comedy "Chairman of the Board" is a cinematic genius.
Verdict: Holly jolly
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? Why are Ryan and Zoe fleeing to Florida for Christmas? Because they're running from the law, for twelve counts of cocaine possession! Nah, just kidding; his wife died! DRINK!
- Christmas-y main character name? There's a character named Nick, but he's literally Santa Claus so that doesn't really count. However, their walking panic attack of a mayor is named Ezra Green, so APPLY BOOZE TO THROAT!
- Fake Christmas tree disses? I was so ready for a fake tree gag. The movie's called "Christmas in Evergreen" for god's sake! Alas, no fake tree disses. This is getting ridiculous. Forget New Year's; I'm saving all my champagne bottle popping for when somebody makes fun of a fake tree in a Hallmark movie. In the meantime, STOP DRINKING!
- Newcomer in old-timey tradition? The whole movie is Zoe and Ryan stuck in a small town of cutesy holiday traditions so WE RETURN YOU TO YOUR DRINKING ALREADY IN PROGRESS!
- Hot chocolate? I'm quite positive that we got a quick hot cocoa cameo, but it appears nowhere in my notes, which means AGAIN WITH THE NO DRINKING! And yes, I said notes; I take my Hallmark duties VERY SERIOUSLY (*swigs an entire glass of red wine in one gulp*).
- Near-miss kiss? What good is having the little Christmas-loving Welch's juice spokesgirl if she's not going to kiss-block our two leads!? This is an outrage, Hallmark. Expect a very typo-riddled letter in the mail. ALCO-HALT!
- Product placement? Nothing – unless you count that basket of adorable puppies from the first five minutes. It was very effective; I now own seven puppies. But SERIOUSLY STILL NO DRINKING!?
- Snowball fight or ice skating? I got concerned when we had an extended sequence of playing in the snow – complete with snow angels, but not a single snowball thrown. Luckily, our two holiday lovebirds go ice skating before freaking Spencer McSquareJaw busts in. So JOY TO THE WORLD I CAN DRINK AGAIN! LET MOUTH RECEIVE MY BOOOOOZE!
- Ugly sweater or tie? My notes by this point are starting to look less like words and more like a very failed lie detector test, so I don't recall if there was an ugly sweater party – but there were definitely two people in matching ugly sweaters randomly falling in love. How sweet ... and how SWIG A DRINK!
- Big city person in small town? Even if you don't include Ryan, thankfully Spencer McChristopher-Reeve shows up so DRINnnkK!
- Caroling, tree farming or cookie baking? "Christmas in Evergreen" has got the complete trifecta, the Hallmark Holiday Full House. There's at least two scenes of carolers, a couple of tree farming sequences and, to complete the holy trinity, a whole cookie-baking montage that encouraged me to eat of the Christmas cookies in my household. Sorry Santa – and sorry, my liver, because DRINK! DRANK! DRUNK!
- Mistletoe? The most disappointing part of the whole "no missed kiss" part from above? There's a little scene where our two leads wind up underneath a mistletoe and it's perfectly set-up to be a missed kiss ... BUT NO, THEY JUST KIND OF LOOK AT EACH OTHER. Now I'm an angry drunk – and let's add some fuel to that dumpster fire! BOOOOOZEDRINK!
- Magic deal with Santa/angel? Technically the magical wishes are not made with ol' jolly bearded "Nick" roaming around the town, but Evergreen's famous magical snowglobe. I think that counts, so every time they give that Christmas trinket a shake, do the same to your cocktail shaker and DRRINK!
- Anytime time you hear "Jingle Bells"? Just when you think hope is lost, the final scene starts ringing in carolers singing "Jingle Bells." Thus JINGLE BOOZE, JINGLE BOOZE, POURING DOWN MY THROOOOAT!
- Snowed in? The whole plot is about being snowed in and stuck in Evergreen, so I just drank the entire running time. Somebody's getting coal for Christmas (from a stomach pump, not Santa). DRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRink!
Unfortunately, there's no Lacey Chabert and we used up all of our Bures last week in "Switched for Christmas," so there's no bonus shot. Also, there's no real Christmas cynics needing their hearts to grow three sizes, and it's snowing pretty much the entire movie – fitting for a movie about snowglobes – so overall, there's no bonus booze for this film. That's fine, though, because the movie's pretty pleasant even without the soothing help of getting completely sauced.
That being said, since the movie is called "Christmas in Evergreen," I thought it would cute to stay in theme and exclusively drink green liquors during the film. In related news: Is it bad to drink an entire bottle of absinthe in two hours?
Verdict: Christmas in Ever-inebriated
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.