Jessy Schram closed out Hallmark’s 2017 holiday movie season starring in ROYAL NEW YEAR’S EVE, where she played a fashion designer who captured the heart of Jeffrey, the Crown Prince of Wallingford. Sadly, that fairy tale apparently didn’t work out, because this year she’s back to a regular job, working as a television producer for Julia Wise, a Martha Stewart stand-in played by Teryl Rothery, who we also saw last year, as the eccentric Mable in A BRAMBLE HOUSE CHRISTMAS. I enjoyed both of those movies, so this was a very promising way to start off this road trip.
We start off at the annual holiday party for Julia Wise Lifestyle. Now, Julia is all about elegance and class, which maybe explains why everybody is dressed like they’re about to shoot a spread for an article on “Dressing for the Corner Office You Want, Not the Cubicle You Have,” but the lack of color and absence of even a single construction paper stocking or ugly Christmas sweater was disappointing, and I feared Julia was going to be one of those people for whom Christmas is more about making perfectly-iced gingerbread houses than, say, eating enough sugar cookies to go up three pant sizes.
This fear intensified when Julia asks Maggie to stop by her office later as she “has something she wants to run by her,” because when the real Martha Stewart said that to a friend of mine who worked for her, it ended with him having to go to her house in Connecticut and give her chickens baths and blow-outs so they would be appropriately fluffy for the annual Christmas card photo shoot, and while that might sound fun in a theoretical way, the reality is that getting poultry ready for holiday portraits involves a lot of unhappiness for everyone involved.
What Julia wants to talk about is her upcoming Christmas Eve special. Maggie is producing it this year, and she has gotten the fabulous idea to do it live from a location in Vermont. She feels this is very modern and forward-thinking, and she might be right about that, but Julia is obviously on the fence about it, probably because she saw that live SOUND OF MUSIC thing with Carrie Underwood and has doubts about how charming it is to face an audience of millions with no safety net and the looming threat of Nazis.
While Maggie is waiting to talk to Julia, her parents call. Amazingly, they are both alive and well, and so that is a nice surprise. They live in Nebraska, and are baking cookies, and seem really sweet. But before we learn much more about them, it is time for Maggie to fret. She does this in the studio lobby, where she sits underneath some ominously-placed mistletoe next to a good-looking guy who is also waiting to talk to Julia because he is her son. Only Maggie doesn’t know that, and so she isn’t as charming to him as she might otherwise be.
When Maggie finally talks to Julia, we learn that the network president has some concerns about the concept of a live show. Julia has therefore asked the producer of her previous Christmas Eve shows to come in to offer a hand. This producer happens to be her son, Danny, who now walks in and says to Maggie, “Didn’t see that coming, did ya?” Only he says it with a charming smirk and not words, and Maggie replies with an eyebrow lift and an expression that says, “I think you are a jerk right now, but by the end of the movie we will be kissing.”
Because she is upset, Maggie goes and talks to her friend Stacy, who is wearing the most bizarre pants I have ever seen. Seriously, I cannot even adequately describe the weirdness of them, and because I can’t find a photo of them anywhere online you will have to watch ROAD TO CHRISTMAS just to see them. They look as if it took an entire crew and some scaffolding to get into them, and I really want to know more about them, so if anyone is in touch with the wardrobe person, please set that up. I have questions. So many questions.
Instead of getting any answers to the question of Stacy’s pants, we get to watch Julia give a speech about how family is the most important part of Christmas and Danny looks wistful in a manner that suggests there is some relevant family backstory that will be revealed later. Or maybe he was upset about Stacy’s pants, or the lack of general holiday festiveness at the party.
I’m guessing that Maggie played lacrosse in high school, or possibly basketball, because she is very competitive, and this aspect of her personality comes out now in a major way. She obviously feels threatened by Danny’s presence, for which I can’t blame her one bit, and decides that she needs to come up with some brilliant ideas to prove that she is a better producer than he is. And her idea is that she is going to surprise Julia by reuniting her three sons for the Christmas Eve special.
This is a spectacularly bad idea, but as Maggie tells Stacy, she has not had a date in more than a year because she works all the time, and therefore cannot be held responsible for her poor decisions. I call shenanigans on this excuse, because I have not been on a date since 2001 and even I know that reuniting the three Wise men is going to cause some issues.
What’s that? Yes, I did say the three Wise men. In addition to Danny, there are Derek and David. And if you think this is the last nativity-related pun we are going to get, I have a surprise for you in a little bit, so keep reading.
First, though, we have to go to Colorado to visit a Christmas tree farm. This is because Danny thinks they need to film a series of segments that can be inserted in between the live portions of his mother’s Christmas Eve special, to give her time to pee. Maggie insists on going with him, even though Christmas Eve is only a few days away and maybe she should really stay there to make sure things run smoothly and solve the mystery of Stacy’s pants. But then we would have no movie, and so off she goes.
When they arrive in Colorado, Maggie is wearing a camel-colored coat. This was very worrisome, as after the appearance of camel in CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY MANOR I feared that it might be this year’s Unifying Color, and this seemed to confirm it. I started to wonder if, like Julia, the design team at Hallmark had decided to go for an understated palette this year. This is totally their prerogative, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. And I don’t.
The camel coat is just the first problem. The second is that the woman Maggie and Danny selected to host the segments has a cold and therefore can’t perform. However, there might also be good news here, because the woman (I think her name is Lucy, but I wasn’t really listening when she said it) is wearing a beautiful ruby-colored coat. Or maybe it’s garnet. Or port. Or wine. I think I’ll go with ruby, but I am open to discussion on this matter because it’s one of those colors that could go a couple of different ways. Anyway, it’s really pretty, and it has a matching scarf, and that made me wonder if THIS might not be the Unifying Color, which would be awesome, and so I started to get a little more into the whole story.
Maggie is in a bad mood because Maybe-Lucy has put her in a pickle and has a much prettier coat than she does, and so she says some condescending things about how Danny abandoned his mother’s show to make nature films. Danny corrects her by saying, “THEY’RE DOCUMENTARIES,” and I am on his side about this because, honestly, I think recording the migratory habits of badgers is probably more important than showing the world how to bedazzle a pomegranate. And that makes me wonder if we shouldn’t call the Unifying Color pomegranate, but I’ll stick with ruby for now so that nobody gets confused.
Speaking of the Unifying Color, I started to think that this really might be it when the action cut to a scene of Stacy video conferencing Maggie to check in and she’s wearing a ruby sweater and not those hideous pants, which I hope she packed in her luggage for the trip to Vermont and that her luggage was lost and never found so that she is never tempted to wear those atrocities again.
It’s now time for things to happen to push Maggie and Danny together, and so while they work out how they’re going to film the segment on the Christmas tree farm, we learn that when Maggie was in college her family didn’t have enough money for her to fly home at Christmas and so she spent it alone in her dorm, watching a Julia Wise Christmas Eve special and deciding she wanted to be a television producer. Then the absolutely adorable couple who own the Christmas tree farm ask Maggie and Danny how long they’ve been married and everyone is uncomfortable.
Eventually, a tree is cut down with a chainsaw and affixed to the roof of Maggie and Danny’s rental car. We are then treated to a charming sort-of-animated bit which shows a car driving across the graphic of a map to their next destination, which is a hotel. Danny doesn’t understand why they’re going there instead of to the airport, but he figures it out when his brother Derek walks out and says, “OMG, it’s you!”
That is not the only surprise. I have not mentioned this, but Danny is your typical Hallmark leading man, which is to say a White Guy. Derek is not. He’s an Asian Guy. He’s played by Cardi Wong, who is also a returning player from last season, where he played Garrett in CHRISTMAS IN THE AIR. I think now that he’s proven himself in supporting roles, they really should give him a lead next time around, as he is totally charming and nice to look at.
It is now explained that the three Wise boys are all adopted. We also learn that they’ve had a bit of a falling out due to their mother’s Christmas specials, and haven’t spent a holiday together in years. Also, their father is dead, which was sort of inevitable given that both of Maggie’s parents are alive and so is Julia, so there was no one left to kill.
Derek is not interested in Maggie’s plan to reunite the family for the holidays. However, he agrees to do it if Maggie and Danny will participate in the hotel’s Snowman Relay, an event that is overseen by a woman wearing – that’s right – a ruby-colored coat. This involves making the three balls that comprise a snowman and rolling them from one place to another. It’s all very silly, and is mostly an opportunity for Maggie to be competitive some more and for Derek to say to Danny, “I know you like that girl because you’re wearing cologne.”
By the end of the snowman-building, Derek is back on board for the trip to Vermont, which makes up for the fact that their team does not win the Snowman Relay, and so Maggie is not as irked as she might otherwise be at not being the Best At Everything. But the good news is short-lived. While everyone is having fun, a snowstorm has been brewing, and now it causes some issues for our cast. Unable to fly, they are forced to drive. Maggie is very tired what with all the Christmas tree cutting and snowman building, and so she falls asleep. When she wakes up, it is her turn to be surprised, because Danny has driven her to her parents’ house in Omaha, and if you have ever gone to sleep in one place and unexpectedly woken up in Omaha, you will relate.
This is perfect planning, because not only does it give Maggie a chance to see her family at the holidays when she thought she wouldn’t, it gives Danny a chance to film their annual White Elephant gift exchange for one of the segments of his mother’s special. If you have never participated in a White Elephant gift exchange, it is a supposedly-fun thing that is actually not fun at all, involving a participant choosing a gift and opening it before the next participant chooses a gift and then decides to keep that one or steal the one the other person has. This goes on and on, with everyone becoming more and more miserable as good gifts are stolen for horrible ones, until eventually a fistfight breaks out over a ceramic gnome and a pair of slippers.
Danny and Derek get to participate in the White Elephant horror show because even though they arrived emptyhanded, Maggie’s mom is almost as perfect at entertaining as Julia is and has an entire cupboard crammed with emergency gifts. This ultimately results in Danny choosing the literal White Elephant, a stuffed pachyderm that each year’s “winner” signs. It also means that he has to come back the next year to enter it back into the game, which if you ask me may be a bit of foreshadowing.
We also discover that Derek is a vegetarian. Then Maggie and Danny go outside to get some wood for the fire, and while reaching for the same log, their hands touch. This causes Maggie to start to have feelings, but then Julia calls and says, “I love the Christmas tree farm segment that Danny sent to me without your input and I want more of those and less of this live nonsense,” and so now Maggie is mad again and it starts to snow.
Next, our trio heads to Connecticut to find the third Wise man, David. They find him at a pet grooming or boarding facility. Something like that. It’s never clearly spelled out. But that is not the important part. The important part is Bradley. Bradley is a winsome young man who, when introduced to Maggie and the others, says, “We own this place TOGETHER” in a Very Meaningful Way before we learn that he also has a theater degree and is responsible for arranging the annual Puppy Party that is soon to take place.
Now, these may or may not be clues. Hallmark is not always as progressive as some of us would like them to be, and the presence of out gay characters in their holiday movies has been, well, nonexistent. And it’s not as if David and Bradley are wearing matching wedding bands, or have framed photos of themselves enjoying their last Atlantis cruise sitting around. Still, there is an undeniable Bert & Ernie vibe about them, and this was refreshing. When Hallmark is ready to give them their own starring Christmas movie, they should call me, as I know exactly what to do with them.
Maggie does her best to convince David to come with them to Vermont, telling him that the real message of the story of the Three Wise Men is that you need to be willing to change your plans and go where you’re needed. And he almost gives in. But then Bradley comes in with a surprise box of kittens that have just been found abandoned in a park, and David is all, “Sorry, the kittens need me.” And then it snows even harder because once that metaphor started there was no way it was going to stop before reaching blizzard proportions.
Maggie, Danny, and Derek decide that they’ve had enough of driving, so they get on a train, which is forced to stop in New Hampshire because of the blizzard. There, they meet a young couple whose names are Marisa and Joey, and even though Marisa is hugely pregnant and about to give birth, they are not at all supposed to be Mary and Joseph. Sadly, they could only get one ticket on the train, and are sad. But then Derek gives them his ticket, which is super-nice of him but means that he’s going to miss the tree-lighting ceremony that night and that Maggie’s surprise, which was only 2/3 successful to begin with, is now not successful at all.
Finally, we get to Vemont, where Maggie and Danny are met at the train by a horse-drawn sleigh whose driver is wearing a ruby coat. They arrive at the house where Julia and the crew are holed up, then proceed to decorate a tree with the biggest ribbon you have ever seen, as if they are the Christos of Christmas. Julia joins them and presents Danny with a box of ornaments that were his father’s favorite. She also gives him a ukulele, which is a whole thing I didn’t get into earlier so just trust me when I say that it has meaning and involves Derek not being able to sing and is partially to blame for why the brothers had a falling out.
This is all well and good, and things seem to be progressing. Then Julia flips the switch to light the tree, and the power goes out. It comes back on again, though, and Maggie and Danny sit on the couch and he shows her some video he took back in Omaha of her mother talking to Derek about how proud they all are of Maggie. Then Maggie and Danny almost kiss and Julia interrupts them and accidentally reveals that Danny can’t possibly return the white elephant to Maggie’s parents’ house next year because he’s going to be off filming whales or whatever and will have forgotten all about her.
For someone who has resented Danny’s involvement in what was supposed to be her producing gig, Maggie suddenly gets irrationally upset when she finds out that Danny will be moving on after Christmas, as if he’s just announced that he’s volunteered for a one-way mission to Mars and will never be coming back to see their yet-to-be-conceived child graduate from kindergarten. She storms off and calls her sister, who seems to have had a lot of experience talking Maggie down from her emotional mountaintops because she basically says, “The two of you are perfect for each other and I have to go wrap some last-minute stuff” and hangs up.
Meanwhile, Julia is in the kitchen cutting leeks aggressively, and when Danny comes in it’s awkward and she tells him to get out because she knows she’s ruined everything. Also, Stacy is wearing another ruby-colored sweater and Maggie offers Danny some rosemary and feelings are shared.
Now it is time for the live show, which we know because the giant countdown clock affixed to the wall suddenly jumps from seven hours to two minutes. Then the power goes out again. Then it’s back on again. But the taped segments that were stored on the computer are gone because power surge, and this is kind of a problem.
Julia starts to freak out, then stops and concentrates on the goose she’s supposed to be cooking live on the air in about three seconds. This is the biggest goose you have ever seen, and I do not even think it’s really a goose at all. I think it’s a pterodactyl. It’s actually a little disturbing.
But never mind the goose, because there is something even more important. And that is the arrival of Derek and David in a sleigh, because apparently family is more important that orphaned kittens. David then quotes IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE in a very dramatic way that suggests that Bradley is not the only theater queen in that relationship, and Maggie surprises everyone by kissing Danny much sooner in the script than usually happens, and this was a bold decision because it removes the incentive to watch the remaining twelve minutes of the film.
Except you should, because if you do not you will miss the part where there is a sudden knock on the door and LIVE AND ON TELEVISION Julia answers it and sees her sons standing there, which makes her incredibly happy. You would also miss Derek playing the ukulele and everyone singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” I was actually not a fan of this part, because that song should only be sung by Judy Garland while staring forlornly out the window and thinking about what might never be again while a little girl beats up a snowman. It is a very, very sad song, and ukulele-ing it up removes all of the pathos from it.
Everyone else seems to enjoy themselves, though, so good for them.