Hallmark’s Holiday Movies of 2018 #5: It’s Christmas, Eve

Hallmark has done pretty with movies starring well-known singers, and this year they have a couple of them on the roster. First up is the LeAnn Rimes vehicle IT’S CHRISTMAS, EVE. Rimes plays the titular character of course, and when we meet her she is driving through a snowy small town. Her destination is her mother’s house, and when she gets out we are informed that she will be there for only three weeks.

Being places for short amounts of time is kind of Eve’s specialty. She’s a travelling school superintendent who goes from district to district sorting out their financial messes. Basically, this means she comes in and decides who to fire, and so she is not very popular and suffers from feelings of guilt because she is constantly ruining people’s lives even though it’s not her fault that so few people in America value education enough to devote adequate resources to it while simultaneously shoveling piles of cash at things like football programs.

While unloading her car at her mother’s house, Eve cannot help but notice that the people who lived next door have moved out since her last visit and the place is now occupied by an attractive man just about her age who is wearing a dubonnet shirt. This man’s name is Liam, he is our male lead, and he is played by Tyler Hynes. Also, he has a daughter named Abby.  Liam, not Tyler. I don’t think Tyler is married or has any children.

Inside Eve’s mother’s house (her name is Nella, by the way, so let’s call her that because it’s shorter) we are informed that Eve loves Christmas, although you wouldn’t really know it because she’s still looking kind of glum. She also doesn’t seem all that enthusiastic about John, the man who is sharing Nella’s house. Maybe she’s just really bummed out that she has been left out of helping to decorate for the holidays. Possibly the long drive and thinking about why she’s back in town is weighing on her. Whatever the reason, she is not acting terribly excited to see this guy, which made me think he was not her father.

Over in Liam’s house, Liam is helping Abby pack a bag for a sleepover. It’s very clear that he is a single dad, which is very convenient given that he’s starring in a romance, but we have yet to discover if he’s dealing with the emotional devastation of recently losing his wife or the ongoing stress of being divorced and having to think about where things went wrong. Abby seems pretty happy, and isn’t staring longingly at any framed photos on the mantelpiece, so I suspected divorce and not a mommy who was an angel in Heaven now.

Since Eve has now been home for five minutes and they have wrung all they can from the “How was your drive?” question, her mother decides to grill her about her love life and ask her why she hasn’t settled down. As a result of this, we learn two things. First, when the job in town is finished, Eve is hoping to take another short-term job in San Diego. Second, we find out that the man living with Nella is in fact not Eve’s father and that her father dead. Then Eve looks out the window and sees Liam and Abby having a snowball fight.

Eve wastes no time getting to work on ruining the lives of the local schoolteachers. Up in her room, she looks over the budgets and sees nothing but bad news. This makes her tired and she goes to sleep. She’s still tired the next morning and needs coffee, so she goes to the bakery her mother owns to get some. As she walks in, she is cruised hard by a man coming out, who because he is busy wondering if the woman on the steps is really LeAnn Rimes or just looks like her bumps into a second woman and spills coffee all over her. Right at this very moment Liam appears and says “Uh-oh. Now they’ve done it. This is a classic meet cute.”

For those of you who do not know, “meet cute” is a term generally used only by romance professionals to describe a charming incident in which the two leads are introduced to one another in a lighthearted, often accidental way. That Liam is using such specialized terminology means that he is definitely an expert in romance, or at least has watched a lot of Hallmark movies or read a lot of romance novels, and Eve should take note of this because it means he knows his stuff.

Liam further indicates that he is an expert in love by telling Eve that maybe the meet cute was meant for her and she has just missed it, which is obviously a genius piece of writing and what we’ve come to expect from Tracy Andreen, who wrote this movie and some of the other really great Hallmark holiday movies. This is not even to mention her clever use of the comma in the movie’s title, which very clearly should win an Emmy for Best Use of Punctuation in a Title.

I neglected to tell you something important, which is that in this scene Eve is wearing dubonnet gloves and that her scarf has dubonnet accents. Dubonnet is actually everywhere in IT’S CHRISTMAS, EVE (even her car is dubonnet) and it ought to have been titled DUBONNET CHRISTMAS but then we would not have gotten to enjoy Tracy Andreen’s revolutionary grammatical flourish and so I am glad they didn’t do this.

Now that Eve and Liam have had their meet cute without them even knowing it, Eve says bye and goes to sit with her friend Darcy, who looks a lot more relaxed and happy than she did when she was part of the weird Baltar cult on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and constantly getting into fights with people and I was pleased to see that she had worked all of that out and become a realtor. Liam is also sitting with a friend, and both friends want to know who the cute guy/cute girl are and Liam says “I am both a single dad and in charge of the school’s big Christmas program and do not have time for cute girls, especially ones who I will shortly learn are here to eliminate my job.”

For her part, Darcy reminds Eve that she has a beautiful singing voice and should go back to singing, and Eve says “Traveling school superintendents do not sing” and then goes to meet with a woman from the schools who is wearing a dubonnet jacket and I think is named Penelope, but I might be getting her mixed up with someone else. Eve informs Maybe Penelope that she recommends the schools eliminate all nonessential jobs and programs, even arts and music, and hands her a list that you know full well has Liam’s name on it.

Music continues to be a theme as Eve and her mother have a conversation and we find out that Eve’s father was a musician and Eve is tense about this and Nella says “It was no coincidence that you stopped singing after your dad passed” but does not explain WHY it was no coincidence and I was hoping this would turn out to be a more interesting story but it did not.

Having presented her recommendations to one school official, Eve now has to meet with the heads of several local schools, one of them being the principal of the school where Liam works. When she gets there, everyone knows that she is the Angel of Death and gives her the cold shoulder, so she wanders around while, in his classroom, Liam and Abby are singing a duet on a song he wrote called “You and Me and Christmas.” Abby asks why he doesn’t write or sing for people anymore, but we do not find out why because right then the school secretary comes in and says “The Angel of Death is here and we need to drive her out with magic words and salt.”

Liam rushes off, leaving Abby unattended and she starts to play the piano. Eve, who is still wandering the halls, hears her and comes into the room to get some answers. Abby asks Eve if she plays the piano and Eve says not anymore and we learn that her father played trumpet in a jazz band and so now we have a little more information about that. Abby attempts to get Eve to return to her musical roots, but Eve deflects the attempt by saying that she would rather hear Abby play some more and then Liam stumbles in and says “So YOU are the Angel of Death” and Eve admits that she is and Liam tries to get her to tell him if he should be looking for a new job but Eve is stubbornly professional and says she cannot talk to him about it.

That evening, while Liam and Abby are making the last real dinner they’ll probably have before they have to start eating nothing but ramen and ketchup packets they steal from fast food joints once Liam is unemployed, they discuss getting a Christmas tree. Then John (Nella’s husband and Eve’s stepdad) comes in behaving in a furtive manner, which raises questions in Eve’s mind because she happens to be peering out the window when this happens and sees it all.

Eve pushes these questions to the back of her mind long enough to go over to her friend Darcy’s house and look at their old high school yearbook. We also discover that Darcy has two boys named Wyatt and Tate, and that is about two too many whimsical names to have in the same family and so it is something of a relief when her husband’s name turns out to be plain old Brad. There is dubonnet everywhere, and Darcy tells Eve that she will sell her a house RIGHT NOW and that she needs to stop being a tumbleweed.

Back at Nella’s house, Eve is home when John comes slinking in from his visit to Liam. Eve, who is a very straightforward kind of a woman except when it comes to admitting that she needs romance in her life, asks him what he was doing over there and John reveals that he is not very good at lying by saying “I was just being neighborly and I need to go now” in a clearly deceptive manner.

The next morning, Nella wants to go get a Christmas tree for the bakery, so she and Eve head off to do exactly that. In an amazing coincidence, Liam and Abby are doing the very same thing, and in an even bigger coincidence he and Eve select the VERY SAME TREE. Eve decides to be competitive about it until Liam looks at her and asks the entirely reasonable question “You would deny a child her tree?” and Eve realizes that she is not making a very good impression on her future stepdaughter and backs off, but not without looking very displeased about being thwarted in this way.

A minute later, realizing that jealousy is not a good look especially given what she is doing to Liam’s employment situation, she apologizes to Liam right before a bunch of Liam’s students show up and one of them says “Who are you? Are you Liam’s girlfriend?” and Liam and Eve look at their feet. Then the kids talk Liam up, saying he is the greatest teacher of all time, and it is subsequently revealed that Liam used to be in a rock band called Bingo Jones which was named after a dog and it didn’t work out and that’s why he is a teacher now.

Now that they have made up about the whole tree incident, Eve helps Liam take the tree into his house and set it up. About thirty seconds later they are putting lights on it, and this is totally wrong because everyone knows you cannot just bring a tree in out of the cold and start decorating it. You need to let the branches settle. But we do not have time for this because we need to see Abby and Liam decorating the tree with dozens of tiny musical instruments and a herd of silver deer, which just reinforces how much they love music and how tragic it will be when the music department is cut from the school budget, which happens about ten seconds later in the form of a text Eve gets from the school board and now she feels like a jerk and she should. Somewhere in here we also find out that Abby’s mother and Liam’s ex-wife is a heart surgeon in Chicago and that they all get along even though there was a divorce.

Eve is still feeling horrible while she talks to Darcy on the phone and watches from her mother’s window as Liam’s students congregate at his house to rehearse for the Christmas concert that they are about to find out is the last one they will ever have. Then Eve looks through a box of her father’s old stuff and finds both his trumpet and the sheet music for a song he wrote called “It’s Christmas, Eve” but it is unfinished. Her mother informs her that he could never figure out how to end it, and then Eve doubles down on being kind of a jerk by suggesting that her mother doesn’t miss him all that much if she could just go and remarry and her mother shows great restraint in not telling her that mothers have needs too and to get out.

Now there is another tree decorating, this time in Nella’s living room, and they seem to have moved past Eve’s unnecessarily rude comment about Nella and John’s relationship, so much so that now they are discussing Nella and John’s own meet cute moment, which involved John being a fireman and helping put out a tiny fire at the bakery and lighting a new fire in Nella’s heart. Nella also mentions that their anniversary is coming up and that she thinks John is planning something, which makes both Eve and us wonder if that has anything to do with John sneaking off to see Liam the other night.

She wonders this again shortly thereafter when, while wandering around outside thinking about how tiring it’s become being the Angel of Death, she sees John once again going to Liam’s house. This time she decides she wants answers, so she knocks on the door and goes right in. There is really no way for John to weasel out of it this time, as he’s sitting right there on the couch holding a guitar, and he admits that Liam is teaching him a song to sing to Nella on their anniversary. John even wrote the song, which is so romantic and wonderful that Eve’s heart melts, and even though she says “I don’t do that anymore” when John asks her for help with the song, it gives her an idea.

Her idea is that they might be able to save the art and music programs at the schools if they can raise enough money themselves to cover the costs. She informs Liam of this plan while they are at an ice skating rink. She also tells him that she doesn’t trust anyone who doesn’t like marshmallows in their hot chocolate and Liam doesn’t trust marshmallow haters either and this is common ground and now they are a team.

Eve’s big idea for raising money is to hold a concert. She also comes up with the idea to launch a website where they can post a wish list for the schools and people can donate money. Darcy’s husband Brad says he can do that for them, which is really great considering all the other things Eve and Liam have to worry about, the first of those things being Mayor Snodgrass, who isn’t really very keen on the whole idea until Liam says “You are Dwayne Snodgrass’s aunt, right? He is the best tuba player in the district and if you agree to do this I will give him a solo in the concert.” Mayor Snodgrass then shows herself to be an expert negotiator because she says “Okay. But it will be a vocal solo not a tuba solo” and Liam is like WHAT? and Eve is like “Sure, we can do that” and they have a deal because that is how politics works.

They need a name for their Christmas concert, and this discussion becomes an opportunity for us to learn more about Eve’s father dying when she was 16 and how that made her want to leave town and never settle down lest she become mired in memories. She tells Liam about the job she might get in San Diego, and he suggests that maybe the universe has other ideas about that and then Eve says “Christmas Under the Stars” and now they have the theme of their concert.

Things speed up now, and after Eve gets final approval for the show from the school board there is a montage in which they make lots of plans while Liam is wearing dubonnet pants. Eve hears John practicing his song on the guitar and offers to help him, and so we know she is thawing. She continues to thaw as she looks at the sheet music her father wrote for the song about her, and she goes over to Liam’s to ask if she can borrow his piano. She and Liam work on the song, which Abby sings, and as Eve watches silently LeAnn Rimes registers an entire lifetime of emotions on her face without saying a word and THIS IS CALLED ACTING. Honestly, she has been really great throughout the entire film, and this moment is perfection and I watched it three times and might have cried a little bit.

When she is done emoting and Abby is done singing, Eve tells Liam that he should finish his song for the concert and he looks like he might throw up. Then Abby freaks out that maybe she won’t be able to sing when her big moment comes and Eve gives her a pep talk and it is very authentic, probably because LeAnn Rimes got mega-successful with her song “Blue” when she was only 13 and knows a thing or two about being a young performer and dealing with the pressure of performing. Abby is so grateful for this reassurance that she invites Eve to join her and her father at Cinema Club, which turns out to be this thing they do where they sit outside in the cold watching an old black-and-white version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Abby says it’s her favorite version even though it isn’t the good one with Alastair Sim, then shows herself to be a little liar because she falls asleep. Eve uses this opportunity to confess to Liam that she likes to eat peppermint ice cream and then says that because she shared a deeply personal fact about herself Liam needs to share one about him and he says that he gave up music because he was too busy taking care of everyone else and had no time to chase his dreams and Eve says “You are an amazing writer” and Abby wakes up before they can kiss.

Back at home, Abby is refreshed from her nap and has had time to think about things, and what she thinks is that she is sad that Eve will be leaving after Christmas. I think Liam is sad too because he sits down at the piano and starts to work on his unfinished song.

The next day, Eve is in her mother’s living room wearing dubonnet pants and looking at a Christmas card from Liam and Abby and her mother walks in wearing a dubonnet dress and Eve says “I’m glad you’re happy.” Then we go to a commercial and when we come back the action has shifted to the bakery for the big anniversary surprise. John is nervous, so to calm him down Eve says “Thank you for loving my mom.” John might also be nervous because there are candles EVERYWHERE and he can’t help thinking about how it was a fire that brought him and Nella together in the first place. Then Nella arrives and Eve leaves with Liam so that Nella and John can be alone. John plays his song, and it is kind of terrible and he is not a great singer but SO TOUCHING that you don’t even care, because not many of us get to have someone write a song for us and sing it to us in a bakery that could go up in flames at any moment.

Eve and Liam are happy for John and Nella and drive around grinning like idiots, and here it gets a little weird because while they are driving a LeAnn Rimes song called “The Gift of Your Love” plays and neither Liam nor Eve acknowledge that she is really LeAnn Rimes and SITTING RIGHT THERE. This reminded me of the time many years ago when I wrote an article about Joan Jett and at one point found myself sitting in her manager’s office with her sitting not three feet away from me on the very same couch and yet nobody acknowledged that it was her and we never spoke to one another and it was deeply disturbing because I think Joan Jett is fantastic and wanted to tell her that but could tell that I was supposed to pretend she wasn’t there, so maybe this scene was giving me flashbacks to that and wouldn’t bother anyone else.

We still have the big Christmas show to get to, and now Liam and the school kids set the stage up while Eve talks to a reporter. Darcy shows up and she is wearing an absolutely HUGE scarf that was so fantastic I actually paused the scene to stare at it for a little bit in awe and wonder. While they are talking, Eve slips up and says something about how “next year” they will do things differently and Darcy is all “I heard you say NEXT YEAR, EVE and I know you are changing inside and won’t be a tumbling tumbleweed much longer” only she says it with her scarf and not words. Then we are finally introduced to the mysterious Dwayne Snodgrass and Dwayne announces that for his solo he wants to sing “Silent Night,” which is supposed to be ironic because no one has ever heard him speak before.

Remember the couple who had the meet cute at the coffee shop that was also Eve and Liam’s meet cute even though they didn’t really know it? Well, as Liam and Eve are standing there, that very couple walks by and now they are very obviously in love and this is an omen. But a good one, not like an albatross or a three-eyed carp or whatever.

Everything is now in place for the big show. The only potential sticking point is that Brad, Darcy’s husband, is concerned that the website he has created for accepting donations might not survive the initial surge of traffic. This causes some low-level alarm, but we do not have time to dwell on it because it’s time to put on makeup and light the lights. Eve kicks things off with a little speech asking people for money, and then Mayor Snodgrass hits the switch to light up the big Christmas tree. Then there is a lot of singing and Eve gets a call from someone in San Diego telling her that she’s got the job. Liam, who is putting elf hats on children, knows something has happened because Eve looks happy. Then she sees him looking at her and looks sad and we cut to commercial so that she can process all of these conflicting emotions.

When we return, the concert is still going on. The website has been flooded with donations, so apparently it survived the initial surge and things are looking up. Then there is a moment of enormous tension because it is time for Dwayne Snodgrass’s big solo and it turns out that Liam never had a chance to rehearse with him and so this could all go horribly wrong. Thank the Baby Jesus there is a Christmas miracle, and Dwayne does a fine if not particularly memorable job. Because he is so relieved that Dwayne didn’t crash and burn, Liam hugs Eve and says “Are you going to San Diego?” but there is no time for Eve to answer this potentially soul-crushing question as it is time for Liam and Abby to go on.

The only problem with this is that Abby, who is suddenly overcome with stage fright, has disappeared. Eve finds her and tells her to pretend that she isn’t onstage in front of lots of people but is in the living room singing just to Eve. Abby takes this a little too literally, and when she walks onstage she drags Eve with, so now they are both standing there and Eve has no choice but to sing “You and Me and Christmas” with her and just like in the car when she was driving around with Liam it turns into a LeAnn Rimes concert only with Abby as a kind of guest star performing backup vocals.

The concert is a rousing success, raising $162,500, which is apparently enough to pay for all the art and music anyone could want and then some, as the woman from the school board who initially hired Eve to fire everyone now says they can afford to hire her full time if she wants to think about staying in town permanently. Eve does think about it, but she is still unsure and we have five or six minutes to kill and so she has a talk with her mother and John. She tells them about the job offer in San Diego and John says “Hey, that’s great. Congrats!” and Nella gives him a look that says THAT IS THE WRONG RESPONSE and he leaves so that they can have a heart-to-heart.

Eve admits that she is confused, which is not exactly news, and Nella tells her she needs to listen to her heart. People say this a lot, not just in movies but in real life, and Roxette even had a #1 hit with a song by that name, but I am not so sure that it is the best advice, because a couple of times I myself have listened to my heart and ended up eating an entire pie or deciding that I can pull off interesting facial hair, only to regret it all not long after, and so I think people should reconsider this as a decision-making method. Eve also seems to be reconsidering it, because even though her heart tells her to forget San Diego, she walks right past Liam’s house and goes into her mother’s house.

There she finds a present waiting for her. It is from Liam and Abby, and not only is it wrapped nicely, the top and the bottom are wrapped SEPARATELY so that she doesn’t have to rip the paper off she can just remove the top, and wrapping a box like that takes a great deal of commitment and shows that Liam and Abby think very highly of her and she is moved. She’s moved even more by what is inside, which is the sheet music for the song her father wrote for her. Liam has completed it, which we know because Eve sings the whole song while fighting back tears and looking out the window at Liam’s house where she is not. Then she is running out the door accompanied by a professionally-recorded version of her real-life LeAnn Rimes self singing the song.

For some reason, Liam and Abby are still hanging ornaments on their tree even though they were supposedly done with this a few days earlier. Eve interrupts their decorating to announce that she opened their present early and that she isn’t going to San Diego after all. Then she asks Liam if the drink in his cup is hot and he says no and she takes the drink and throws it on him because that’s what should have happened when they met at the coffee shop in the first place if their meet cute had worked out the way the universe intended it to. It took both me and Liam a moment to realize what was happening here, but then we both got it and were relieved that Eve wasn’t losing her mind and maybe going to, I don’t know, rip all the ornaments off the tree or something and instead wanted to kiss and be a family.

A final word on this one. Y’all, LeAnn Rimes is really great. I know I shouldn’t be surprised. I mean, she’s been in the entertainment business for years, and has been in a couple of other movies before this one. But I still never expect a whole lot when they focus movies around singers. Mostly I’m just relieved when they aren’t terrible actors and manage to get through their lines. But Rimes is genuinely fantastic here and has some lovely moments. I hope they come up with something else for her to do next year. IT’S NEW YEAR’S EVE, EVE would be awesome.

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