Monday, July 8, 2024

Christmas in July Watch: Miracle in Bethlehem, PA (2023)

Watched:  07/07/2024
Format:  Hallmark
Viewing:  First
Director:  Jeff Beesly

So, someone in our house is sick, so I was trying to make her fall asleep by putting on the soothing screen-saver that is a Hallmark movie (no, really, this works like a damn charm).  It's currently the annual "Christmas in July" deal Hallmark does where they say "ah, we know what you really want", put the Golden Girls reruns on pause, and roll out their Christmas line up for a while (I have no idea if it's a couple of weeks or all month).  

But, yeah, along with Canada Dry, saltines and grilled cheese, when you're not feeling great, I can't recommend these movies enough.

I'd actually meant to watch Miracle in Bethlehem, PA (2023) last year. One of my criteria for actually putting one of these Hallmark holiday films on is if it stars anyone related to Superman media, and - lo and behold - this one stars former Smallville actress, Laura Vandervoort.  

One must bust out a very specific rubric to discuss a Hallmark movie, and among these movies, this one was not a complete trainwreck.  It has some things it keeps harping on that make it... creepy?  But our lead is charming enough and is a better actor than the material probably called for, that she basically papers over some faults.

Oh, to kick off the movie, our male hero is getting yelled at by the girlfriend who breaks up with him because he seems happy sitting on the couch with his large yellow dog (Donkey), playing video games instead of whatever nonsense she thinks he should be doing.  He picks the dog.  And they finally made a Hallmark male lead I could find buyable.

So - the premise:  Mary Ann is an attorney who is living in the aftermath of a divorce and, in her depression, has pulled away from her own mother, while also trying to adopt as a single woman.  On Christmas, she's given a chance to adopt a baby girl who is only a day or so old, and she rushes to the very real Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (played here by Manitoba because Hallmark) - which you may know from the famous Bethlehem Steel and that company's role in the building of America in the 20th Century.

Our Mary, with child, finds that she is stranded in Bethlehem on December 23rd, and, alas, there is no room at the inn.  The innkeeper calls her brother, Joe(seph), and he and his dog, Donkey, take in Mary and her newborn child.  GET IT???  DO YOU GET WHAT THEY'RE DOING????  IT IS VERY SUBTLE.

The challenge is that we need for a few things to happen.  This is still a movie where Mary and Joseph need to fall in love, and she has to fall in love with Bethlehem/ Joe's family.  This leads to two things:

1)  I am not a parent, but I know some parents and people who have been children.  I don't recall any of these people saying "the week I brought home a newborn baby as a first-time parent was the time I was most mentally ready for romance."  Yet, our two leads, by sharing space, do go for it.  To make this work, so they can speak gently in front of soft, white lights, the baby is not in the room.  The baby is always asleep (mostly buyable in that first week!) but instead of our new mother hovering over said baby making sure the helpless people-larva does not die, the legal guardian just leaves her new baby to sleep in the other room while she gets made-up, looks like a million bucks, and flirts with Joe.

I'm not worried about believability, exactly, in these movies.  But I did find it... entertaining(?)  that they had this very specific set-up and then had to basically pretend newborn babies are super easy so they could work in their romance plot.  And we're not to worry that this lady seems to have chucked her new baby in a corner as soon as a dude enters her line of sight.

2)  Joe's family surrounds Mary, insisting she join them, smiling dead-eyed at her when she says she has to get back home, and then asking her to stay.  For how long?  We do not know.  They essentially love-bomb Mary Ann in a way that feels very, very much like what you read about when you learn how people get talked into joining cults.  She's estranged from her family, and they clearly offer to fill that gap.  They tell her how great she is, etc...  It's absolutely weird.  And, to boot, they also keep talking about how great this "community" is, and I think they're just talking about Joe's family and maybe the church they go to?

Were this not a Hallmark movie, the third act would absolutely be how she has to kill all these people to escape with her baby.  But, instead, is just her deciding to stay, and invite her mom to the cult Bethlehem, PA to make amends.

I will give the movie props for doing something I always wonder about in Christmas movies - especially when it comes to Hallmark movies.  Christmas is a Christian holiday, no matter the secular trappings around it.   Many, many people celebrate Christmas because of their religion, not because of, say, Santa.  But good luck finding a movie, Hollywood or Hallmark, that worries about this aspect of the holidays - not when you can worry about yard decorating battles, baddies shutting down Santa, etc... 

The characters here actually go to church and they have brief, semi-meaningful conversations (by Hallmark standards) about their faith as it relates to Christmas.   And it's not cringy or embarrassing.  It doesn't go on long, and it doesn't have that sugary evangelical vibe you can get in so much Christian media.  I was in utter shock for a minute there.  

Maybe that's the titular miracle.  

It's not a requirement for a good Christmas movie, but so many *bad* Christmas movies seem to have some positively odd ideas about Christmas, sometimes seeing "oh, yeah, people basically just eat a meal, hang out with family and hit Midnight Mass" is not the worst thing in the world.

Anyway, the movie is... fine.  It met my needs for something to have on where no one raises their voice, there are no sudden loud noises, and people mostly just get along.  

No comments: