Format: Amazon Watch Party
Director: David Winning
At some point we had the Up! Network, which was all positive vibes and Christian messaging, if memory serves. Basically Hallmark Network, but a little more toothless and less competent. During the Christmas Movie Wars of a few years back, when Hallmark was running 3 networks 24/7 from October 20th on, Lifetime was in the game, and one or two more - UP! showed up with its offerings which somehow were the Dollar Store equivalent of Hallmark Channel's Target merchandise. With both Netflix and Amazon in the game now, I'm not sure Up! is still playing, but in 2014 - they reached for the brass ring on the tiny shoulders of Lacey Chabert.
Lacey Chabert, the Queen of Nice and a Hallmark staple, was clearly shown the money by Up, who lured her in for The Tree That Saved Christmas. Which is a confusing movie.
It feels like an alien watched Hallmark movies, took random bits from them, missed some key bits, wrote a script, and then the aliens deeply underbudgeted and no one had any money after getting Chabert.
Let's start with: Hallmark movies look like they're taking place inside a Christmas fever dream. Pretty clearly, there's a directive that all rooms will have garland, wreaths, ribbons and *especially* soft glow white lights in every shot. And, exterior scenes will (as of a few years ago when they quit shooting the films in LA in summer) have snow. Unless it's, like, "A Mesa, Arizona Christmas", in which you'd get a few magical flakes in the final scene. But interiors, even the cold, gray halls of corporate buildings, will be festooned with Christmas shit.
This movie took a long, contemplative look at the Hallmark Christmas aesthetic and said "no, thank you". It is aggressively undecorated. Even the one location they have which is clearly an AirBnB does not get the Hallmark interiors treatment. Instead, they scatter a few U-Haul boxes around and say "the parents are packing all their shit despite the fact they haven't sold, don't want to, and this is the last Christmas in the ancestral home with their kids, who are losing their inheritance". Even the titular tree that saves Christmas doesn't get any decorations until the final reel. It just leans against a wall for 75% of the runtime.
Other locations are decoration free. And I'm pretty sure the weirdo small piles of "snow" in the background is the stuff people use for those miniature villages people put out at Christmas. Snow doesn't fold.
The movie also gets that there should be two men vying for the lead's attention, but this movie doesn't understand how that works. Firstly, Chabert IS a big city business woman, but she doesn't come to buy the farm and get shown her city ways are wrong. Her family owns the farm, and she abandons her big city duties (including supposedly supporting her boss through an acquisition while he sits in The Azores - a somewhat bizarre Christmas destination, and I assume there's a story there). And she just leaves! And breaking all movie rules, after threatening her and seeming like a jerk Christmas-movie city-man, he just says "oh, fine".
And for some psychotic reason, the boss's kids hate their exotic destination and want to hang out with their babysitter on Christmas, so the boss - without asking - just shows up to her family Christmas with kids in tow *despite* the fact Chabert has made it clear she's in crisis. It. Is. In. Sane.
Less crazy is the reconnection with an old boyfriend. But rather than an earthy laborer type, he's now cowed by his rage-aholic father and works for him at the bank - which is trying to repossess the farm.
But... the film doesn't do much to rekindle the romance between the former flame and Chabert, and positions the very, very wealthy boss as a potential rival until he (and I missed this and Jamie had to tell me he'd said it) says "you're the daughter I never had"! So - he does *love* her. Just. Not in that way? (The actor is about 15 years older than Chabert, which is TV/ movie age-proximate.).
The movie is also deeply invested in believing 12 year olds act like six or seven year olds. This includes both flashback-Chabert and present-day Chabert's boss's kids. In the flashback, young Chabert cries over trees being cut down on her family Christmas tree farm (?), and the clearly in middle-school daughters believe in Santa. Which, I guess if your dad is that rich, he could provide all sorts of illusions?
Like a Hallmark movie, incredibly basic (in the meanest use of the word) gestures and activities are seen as heroic, from Karening at City Hall meetings to filling a courtyard with garbage someone is going to have to clean up, making everyone go outside at night (no one would follow Chabert to a second location), to doing the basic job of selling Christmas trees at a Christmas tree farm.
Look, I don't want to be mean about anyone's hobbies - but one of the absolute lowest bar hobbies is "photographer". It requires enough money for a camera and an eyeball to look at a thing. The rest is up to you, buddy-boy. And this movie literally states that the dream of the male romantic interest was to "move to New York and shoot pictures of skyscrapers". And that tells us so much about this movie and how much it starts to feel like the writers hate this movie, because they *have* to indulge in the Hallmark brand of making people good at a hobby, but it's always a super achievable hobby our audience might already do or be considering in their New Years Resolutions. Baking? Decorating? Writing short stories? None of this stuff is, like, "gonna make a house with my own hands" type stuff. Or "in my spare time, I'm building a web application to mine bitcoin and transform that into money which in turn feeds the homeless".
But, yeah, all of the problems are resolved deus ex machina style when the rich boss just declares "I'm going to bail out your parents, whom I just met and who have shown no ability to dig themselves out of the hole they're in." Further complicating things: the parents will want to retire within a couple of years. And they could have with the sale. Or at least not had the albatross of a Christmas Tree farm as their only means of support dangling around their necks, with retirement now hopelessly out of reach.
By the way - the leads returning to their hometown (Chabert and her brother) mention how dead the town seems. And, hey, if they sell the farm - someone will build a resort there which would provide hundreds of jobs. But, nope. Lacey Chabert cannot tolerate change, so. You know. No retirement for parents. Economic collapse for rural smalltown America. And, she's clearly not moving back, so now her banker boyfriend who just quit his career is... going to do what?
I mean, in, like, a week, Chabert and her brother have created absolute mayhem in this town and for their own parents.
But as long as 12-year-old-you is happy, I guess.
I haven't gotten into many, many other factors that are just baffling choices in the movie (the boyfriend's dad's mustache in the flashback scenes!). I just can't.
But the more I think about it - I think someone was working against this movie from the inside.