Hallmark’s Holiday Movies of 2018 #3: Marrying Father Christmas

The FATHER CHRISTMAS movies are some of Hallmark’s most popular, and the trilogy that began with FINDING FATHER CHRISTMAS in 2016 and progressed last holiday season to ENGAGING FATHER CHRISTMAS comes to its inevitable conclusion with this year’s MARRYING FATHER CHRISTMAS.

In the first movie, interior designer Miranda (Erin Krakow of the popular Hallmark series WHEN CALLS THE HEART) followed a series of photographic clues to beautiful Carlton Heath, Vermont, where she discovered that her birth father (her mother is of course recently deceased) was noted actor James Whitcomb, who is also dead, although not so recently. Unfortunately, Whitcomb was married to someone who was not her mother and who is still living, and the news of her parentage is distressing to Whitcomb’s widow (played wonderfully by the always delightful Wendie Malick wearing a parade of aggressive jewelry) and son. In addition to upsetting the Whitcombs, Miranda also managed to fall in love with hunky local handyman Ian (Niall Matter). This story continued into ENGAGING FATHER CHRISTMAS, set one year later, in which Miranda managed to blab her secret to an ex-boyfriend in an airport food court and cause all kinds of trouble for herself and her newfound family, although by the end everything was fine and she was engaged.

Ian and Miranda have now been together for two full years. I point this out because the FATHER CHRISTMAS series is based on some novels by Robin Jones Gunn, who is an author of faith-based stories in which maintaining purity before marriage is of utmost importance. This means that whenever Miranda visits her family (and, most importantly, Ian) in Carlton Heath, she stays at an inn owned by Ian’s parents. The two of them spend virtually no time alone, and when they do, there seems to be an invisible electric purity fence between them that causes them each physical discomfort if they do anything more than rub noses. Also, Ian spends a LOT of time splitting wood.

MARRYING FATHER CHRISTMAS gets this backstory out of the way with a cute opening in which Miranda wanders around her hometown of Boston delivering Christmas gifts to various people and telling each of them part of the story of how she and Ian met and fell in love. She does this while wearing a camel coat, which if you have read previous recaps you understand is upsetting to me because I have been waiting for confirmation of this year’s Unifying Color and have some concerns that it might actually be camel, which would be absolutely horrible because that is not at all festive and it is not 1982.

Now that everyone is caught up on their backstory, Ian phones Miranda and they talk about how the miss each other and love each other and you know what, whatever, we already know how this ends because it’s right there in the title, so let’s move along.

The impending wedding is obviously the focus of the story, and naturally the characters talk about this endlessly, starting with Ian’s mother, who wants to know about the dress and the cake and everything else. Then Margaret (that’s the name of James Whitcomb’s widow) calls to tell Miranda that she has invited some of James’s old friends to the wedding, and for some reason this upsets Miranda and I don’t really know why because she’s spent the last two movies trying to get Margaret to warm to her and so therefore should be pleased. But she’s not, and she makes this face that will become way too familiar after about 45 more minutes.

Ian is having troubles of his own, as he is supposed to be writing his wedding vows and can’t come up with anything. Instead, he splits more wood, which seems to be his go-to activity when he’s frustrated. This is actually fine, as he looks good with an ax in his hands, but honestly, how much wood does he need to warm the cottage where he lives? It’s not that big. Maybe he’s selling it, as he doesn’t seem to have an actual job.

Back in Boston, Miranda is getting ready to leave for Carlton Heath. Before she can get out the door, though, a man she has never seen before walks in and asks for her. She assumes he’s a potential client, and says she’s really sorry but maybe she can give him a call after the holidays if he leaves his name and number. He declines, saying that he’ll get back to her, and if Miranda thought at all about the things that happened to her in the first two movies, she would be very nervous right about now because this seems to be the Start of Something Unpleasant.

Instead, she drives to Vermont and we get an overhead shot of a snowy road that I’m fairly certain was used in about three other Hallmark movies last year. Because she can’t shack up with Ian yet in the cottage, she checks into the inn her future in-laws own. Then there’s a reunion with the children of her half-brother, Peter, and I immediately remembered how positively manic the little girl (her name is Julia) became at the prospect of being Miranda’s flower girl in ENGAGING FATHER CHRISTMAS. She’s still being manic a year later, maybe even moreso because she’s been thinking about it for twelve months, and she is absolutely the best thing about MARRYING FATHER CHRISTMAS. She’s positively quivering with flower girl energy, and she is perfection and I love her.

After this, Miranda goes to meet with the pastor who will be marrying her and Ian, and he asks her why she ever thought it would be a good idea to get married on Christmas Day, when obviously everyone would rather be at home in their pajamas opening presents and seething with resentment and unmet expectations. Miranda tells him that her mother loved Christmas and because she’s dead and can’t be there, getting married on her favorite day is the next best thing. Then she and Ian wander around town so that we can be reminded how quaint Carlton Heath is.

As I mentioned, Miranda’s father, James Whitcomb, was an actor. What I didn’t mention was that he was best-known for his performance of Scrooge in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. This is such a big thing that he built a theater in Carlton Heath, where every year they put on a production of the play because why not. Miranda stops by the theater, where she greets Margaret and her newest piece of aggressive jewelry is informed that even more of James’s old friends will be coming to the wedding. Miranda says “great” in that way that really means “What the hell, Margaret?” and then Ian drives her home and Miranda says “What if something happens?” because something is about to happen.

First, though, Miranda visits a flower shop and discovers that Margaret has been telling everyone that because so many new guests are coming to the wedding they will need to change the venue and not hold it at the charming cottage where Ian and Miranda want to have it. This makes her super-tense, she makes The Face, and then she gets even more tense because now the something that might happen happens and she sees the strange man who came to her office in Boston walking out of the theater her dead father built and she knows this is not good news. When she asks Peter, James Whitcomb’s son and her half-brother and the father of Julia the Manic Flower Girl, who the man is, he says he doesn’t know but the man wants to make a large donation to the theater because he remembers James Whitcomb fondly from their acting days, and so maybe he’s an actor. Also, he is staying at the same inn that Miranda is staying at, which isn’t really much of a surprise because I’m pretty sure it’s the only inn in Carlton Heath.

Naturally, Miranda goes straight to the inn, where she finds the mystery man sitting in the parlor. Ian’s mother offers her some scones, which is something she did a lot in ENGAGING FATHER CHRISTMAS and so apparently this is her way of coping with stress in the same way that her son copes by pounding wood. Then we find out that the mystery man is named Mr. Finley. Miranda, who is having flashbacks to the previous two movies, says “This is about my father, isn’t, it?” This is a logical question, as the other two films WERE about her father. But things are different now, and Mr. Finley says “No, this is about your mother and we need to talk.” This is followed by a commercial break, and the suspense is practically unbearable.

Miranda has had a number of shocks in her life when it comes to her parentage, and so she is kind of an old hand at this. But she is not prepared for what Mr. Finley has to tell her, which is that he is her uncle. Nor does she believe it, because her mother never, not once, mentioned having a brother, even on her deathbed, which would have been the perfect time because it would have been totally dramatic. At this point if I were Mr. Finley I probably would have said “Well, she never mentioned that your father was Ebenezer Scrooge either, did she, Miranda?” Instead, he says “Yes, well, I am. Also, your mother’s last name wasn’t really Chester. That was her middle name. See you later.” And he leaves because Miranda is obviously not ready to process any of this like a mature adult and frankly is being kind of a brat about the whole thing.

Now there is an interlude in which Ian’s mother tells a boring story about cookie baskets and raccoons and Miranda isn’t listening because she’s got her own problems. So she excuses herself and goes up to her room, where she takes out a photo of her and her mother and stares at it in a manner suggesting that everything she’s ever known is a lie.

Remember how Margaret has been inviting everyone who ever knew her dead philanderer husband to the wedding of his bastard daughter? Now one of them shows up. His name is Thomas Reid, but Margaret calls him Tommy and they seem really happy to see one another again. But before much can happen with them, Miranda chases after Mr. Finley and says “How did you know I was Eve’s daughter?” and he explains that he saw the article written about her. That’s something that happened in ENGAGING FATHER CHRISTMAS, and if you want to know about it you can go back and read my recap of that movie, because it’s too long to get into. The important part is that Miranda wants more proof that he’s really her uncle and he says “Your mother loved Christmas” and that is such a very specific piece of personal information that there is no way he could have guessed it by accident and so Miranda is almost certain he is telling the truth.

Then we have another interlude in which Margaret and Tommy talk about how they have missed each other and it is clear that they have feelings that will soon be expressed in more direct ways.

When we next see Miranda, she is wearing a new coat, and I am delighted to say that it is ruby-colored. This is what I have been hoping the Unifying Color is this year, and now that it has appeared in two movies, I am fairly certain that it’s here to stay. Although I’m still not sure ruby is the right word. I looked at a couple of color charts, and garnet seems more accurate, although it could also be currant. Currant is more Christmassy-sounding, so I might go with that, although I fear currant has more purple in it than this color does. Anyway, she’s wearing the coat and telling Ian about Mr. Finley and Ian is very skeptical. Then she and Ian go to the cottage, where they practice dancing and almost kiss but are thwarted by the invisible electric fence that separates them and discourages fornication.

The wedding preparations continue apace, and now we have the fitting for the dress. It’s apparently gorgeous, because Margaret and Ellie (that’s Peter’s wife, and Miranda’s soon-to-be stepsister-in-law) assure Miranda that it is, but we don’t get to see it yet. Also, Margaret talks a lot about Tommy and Miranda is so happy for her that she can’t bear to say tell her that she doesn’t want to get married in a tent.

Ian, probably due to the unbearable frustration of almost-kissing the night before, splits more wood, and when Miranda stops by she has ditched her ruby/garnet/currant coat for a boring gray one to indicate that she’s worried about something. She and Ian deliver cookie baskets, and when she gets back to the inn there’s a package for her containing lots of photos of her mother as a young girl. This spurs Miranda into doing a Google search for Charles Finley in California, which is where Mr. Finley supposedly lives, and she comes up emptyhanded. I don’t know why, because when I did the same Google search I came up with 60 different Charles Finleys in California, and so I found this part of the movie a test of my suspension of disbelief.

Fortunately, it is time for the annual tree lighting, which is an excellent distraction. Tommy shows up, and for reasons I do not understand, as she’s the one who invited him to the wedding and Carlton Heath is not all that big and it’s not like there are competing tree lightings or anything, Margaret is totally shocked to see him. Then Ian and Miranda arrive dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus and just like last year the village children are too dazzled by Christmas to realize that it’s them. Julia the Manic Flower Girl is particularly excited by all of this and I feared she was going to faint, but she holds it together.

There is a party after the tree lighting, where there are lots of cookies and ruby sweaters. Also, Peter informs Miranda that Mr. Finley’s donation came through and tells her that maybe the reason she couldn’t find anything when she did her googling was because he was using his middle name and not his full name. Armed with this new information, Miranda does some more searching and this time she finds what she’s looking for.

Before she can pursue this lead, however, she and Ian must meet with the pastor again. The pastor is wearing a ruby sweater vest and Ian is wearing a ruby shirt, and I think by now we can assume we have confirmation of the Unifying Color, because it has now appeared on a religious figure and there’s no going back from that. Then the pastor asks if there are any issues with the wedding and Miranda makes The Face and blurts out “I want to invite Mr. Finley.”

Ian is not down with this, and the drive home is very tense. Now, I have to stop here and say that one of my big problems with the FATHER CHRISTMAS movies has always been that people get unreasonably dramatic about things that in my opinion aren’t really a big deal. I get that the whole faith-based nature of them means that their intended audience might be more sensitive about things like affairs and babies born out of wedlock and engaged people sleeping in the same house and whatever, but still. And Ian has always been the one character who is pretty chill about everything. So why he’s so upset about Mr. Finley maybe being Miranda’s uncle, I have no idea. Personally, I think he’s just super horned-up after two years of getting nothing but pecks on the cheek but doesn’t want to say anything because he fears that would seem aggressive and he is, generally speaking, nothing but understanding and supportive in a flannel-wearing Vermonter handyman kind of way that earned him the #5 spot on my ranking of Hallmark Christmas Movie Leading Men last year.

Whatever it is, he’s upset, so Miranda apologizes for the millionth time and goes up to her room in the inn. When she wakes up, Julia the Manic Flower Girl is there with crazy eyes, saying that nobody will bake cookies with her and she wants to die. So to keep her from dying, Miranda agrees to bake. Meanwhile, Ian is trying on his tux with his father, who is wearing a ruby shirt. Ian is still being dramatic, and also he can’t breathe because he’s not used to wearing his shirt collars buttoned, and this makes everything worse.

While Miranda and Julia the Manic Flower Girl are making cookies, Julia confesses that she has concerns about executing her duties on the Big Day, and Miranda tells her a story about Ian and right in the middle of the story IAN CALLS and this is the most astonishing piece of magic that Julia has ever encountered that she practically dies despite having been allowed to bake cookies. And then for some reason we cut to Ian and Margaret talking about love and I got bored and didn’t pay attention, but the upshot is that Margaret is lonely and wants Tommy to smooch her.

Having put Julia the Manic Flower Girl into a sugar coma, Miranda escapes to her room and calls the phone number she got from all of her online searching. It turns out to be the number for a church, and she thinks she must have reached another dead end. But no, she has not. It turns out that Charles Finley is, in fact, Pastor Charlie. This revelation short circuits Miranda’s brain for some reason, and she leaves a message and then calls Ian to tell him the news, but he’s still suffering shortness of breath from his tux collar and makes it all about him.

Everyone is pretty tense at this point, and so when Miranda next sees Margaret, Margaret exclaims “We need to tell the tent people something by this afternoon!” and Miranda explodes like a piñata stuffed with feelings and says “I want to get married in the cottage!” before running upstairs to look at those photos of her mother some more. Margaret follows her and they make up, although it’s pretty clear Margaret never really cared about the tent anyway and is more interested in the photos Miranda is looking at. To her credit, she doesn’t rip them to shreds when she finds out that they’re of the woman her husband cheated on her and made a baby with, although this may be because Miranda distracts her by telling her about Pastor Charlie and then says “I didn’t want to tell you earlier because I can tell you’re falling in love again and I want you to be happy.”

The drama is becoming tiresome by now, so when Miranda and Ian rehash the whole Pastor Charlie thing again, it’s annoying. Equally annoying, when Tommy stops by to see Margaret, she suddenly stops calling him Tommy and calls him Thomas with a chilly air that suggests that there is a problem. Tommy – sorry, Thomas – senses this too and tries to get her to loosen up, but Margaret shakes her head and says “I need to focus on my family.” This is ridiculous, which Tommy points out by saying “Look, woman. We are old and could die at any second, so I suggest you get over yourself and enjoy some cuddles.”

Miranda, wandering around Carlton Heath looking for answers, finds one in the form of Mr. Finley, who has apparently received her message from his secretary at the church and come back to talk to her. They have this talk inside a church, where Miranda asks him why her mother never mentioned him. Pastor Charlie reveals that, like every single person in Carlton Heath, he too might be slightly overdramatic and judgy. Specifically, he was judgy about his sister being involved with a married man, and told her that he wanted nothing more to do with her because that was a sin.

Whatever. Frankly, at this point I was tired of everyone being so upset about things, and didn’t really care who was whose uncle or who was getting married or whether or not Margaret and Tommy got together. I just wanted the whole thing over with. Instead, Miranda and Pastor Charlie go off to the theater to watch the production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and meet Ian.

It is now mentioned that a snowstorm is approaching. Miranda invites Pastor Charlie to spend Christmas with them, but he says no because then we wouldn’t have the dramatic ending we need later on. Given that he’s been a pastor at his church for more than 20 years, you might think it’s because he needs to be there to attend to his own midnight candlelight service or something, but this is not it, so I guess they got someone to fill in for him.

We have not seen Tommy since Margaret refused to get over herself, but now he shows up. Margaret sees him pacing outside her house taking to himself. Worried that he might be having a stroke, she goes outside to see if she needs to call the paramedics. Tommy is fine, though, and he tells her that even though she’s kind of a pain in the ass he thinks he might love her, but if she just wants to be friends then that’s better than nothing, to which Margaret says “Why don’t you spend Christmas with us and we can talk about it.”

That threatened snowstorm swoops in now, with two positive consequences. First, it means a white Christmas and a lovely backdrop for the wedding. Second, it means Pastor Charlie couldn’t get out of town. Miranda finds him in a church again, singing carols with some other people who have nowhere to go, and brings him home.

Finally, it is Christmas Day and time for the wedding, and we are all relieved. I am particularly relieved because Ellie and Julia the Manic Flower Girl are wearing ruby dresses and Pastor Charlie and Tommy are sitting together because they are the Odd Ones Out. It’s all perfectly delightful.

Except that when Julia the Manic Flower Girl comes bouncing up the aisle, she doesn’t throw any flower petals. I don’t know what this is about, and not one person comments on it, but I found it very disturbing. I mean seriously, Julia? You had ONE JOB. And you had a year to practice. A YEAR. Although I probably shouldn’t talk. When I was Julia’s age I had to play French horn in the school band. For the annual Christmas concert, I had a 6-note solo in the middle of one of the songs. I practiced and practiced. And when it came time for my big moment – I froze. I didn’t play a note. So I get it, Julia. Sometimes the pressure is just too much.

Anyway, nobody seems to care that Julia the Manic Flower Girl has ruined things utterly. Probably because Miranda appears and her dress is stunning. Really, it’s beautiful and you need to see it. Best of all, Margaret walks her down the aisle, which is sweet given their past history. Although I did wonder why Miranda didn’t ask Pastor Charlie to marry her and Ian, which would have made it all even more weep-inducing. I mean, she’s only met the Carlton Heath pastor twice, and he probably would rather be home playing with the Lego Nativity set Santa brought him anyway. And it would have been totally symbolic having her newly-discovered uncle marry her on her mother’s favorite day. But she doesn’t, and so we are left to imagine what might have been.

At some point Ian managed to write his vows, and all of the wood chopping must have freed up something in his brain, because they’re very heartfelt.  “You make me fearless with love” he tells Miranda, which is a pretty good line to use on your wedding day if you ask me. Miranda’s vows are perfectly fine. They’re basically a recap of the first two FATHER CHRISTMAS movies, but nobody really cares because, just like in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, throwing the ring into Mt. Doom isn’t as much the point as the journey to get there is.

Now that they are finally married, and the invisible electric fence has been turned off, Ian whisks Miranda away in a carriage, presumably to go back to their cottage and get busy on UNWRAPPING FATHER CHRISTMAS.

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