Hello again, friends! Can you believe it’s less than ten days until Christmas?! If we were living in a Hallmark movie, which we are not, we’d be well into Act 2 and on the verge of a Christmas tree lot almost-kiss!
It has been brought to my attention that laying around watching Hallmark Movies alone may not be enhancing my personal Christmas spirit so we fixed that. Now I'm laying around watching Hallmark Movies over the Internet with fellow Christmas rom-com aficionado, Diana Cameron McQueen.
Anyways, we're here to present to you A California Christmas. I will preface this by saying that Diana cautioned me that this film may not work for this series as she expected it to be legitimately good. I had some unvoiced ideas to the contrary. Who was right? Read on dear reader, read on.
With his carefree lifestyle on the line, a wealthy charmer poses as a ranch hand to get a hardworking farmer to sell her family’s land before Christmas.
"Waitasecond!" you say? "This is no HALLMARK movie, TIM."
A common misconception which I will now disencumber you of.
You see friends, hallmark Christmas movies (lower case "h") are not a collection from a channel, but a genre. Netflix wisely seized on this idea and have been pumping out hallmark movies of their own for years. (They also made Klaus. The best holiday movie of the last decade, possibly the century.)
While not part of the Official Hallmark Christmas Cinematic Universe, Netflix does have the bonus of watch parties with a chat which is handy for writing one of these with someone remotely. The following is the result of a chat that was about 2200 words after I deleted our names and all instances of "lol." Here we go:
We open on The Wolf of 34th Street. He's a poor man's Tony Stark that looks kinda like Chris Pine and he's bailing on some chick he just nailed. He's not gonna call her and he's not even gonna pretend. What a jerk or possibly savior of the universe. It's hard to say at this point. We'll check back in with him after 23 movies worth of character development.
The Wolf of 34th Street is headed into work on his motorcycle (important!) to check in with his mom/boss, Lord Business. Lord Business tells The Wolf of 34th Street he needs to go kick some Bumpkin off her farm or he's not getting promoted at the Christmas Party. (See! This is a hallmark movie! HR makes all their important decisions on Christmas in hallmark movies. Also: ending becomes evident at the nine-minute mark.)
Lord Business tells The Wolf of 34th Street that he's a womanizer and that's good because he can womanize this Bumpkin into giving up her home and livelihood with his muscle definition and eyebrows. This is a very common practice in the financial and real estate markets in case you didn't know.
The Wolf of 34th Street is off to California to womanize like he does but doesn’t go to the cool part of California. There are no avocado toasts or start-up bros anywhere. It's all open fields and horrifyingly graphic cow births.
The Wolf of 34th Street is all ready to serve Bumpkin her Christmas eviction with his classic womanizing charm but she mistakes him for a farmhand that she hired under the table. Bumpkin's business practices are way below board. No wonder she's about to be womanized right into homelessness. In a decision that I found completely befuddling The Wolf of 34th Street decides to roll with this hilarious misunderstanding and pretend to be a farmhand. Diana claimed that there was a shotgun in the background and that Bumpkin did say she was gonna deal with this city guy when he showed up but I still say this is a ridiculous storytelling device even for a hallmark movie. However, Diana has seen WAY more rom-coms than me so we will defer to our guest, dear readers.
Netflix hallmark movies are clearly the DCEU to Hallmark’s MCU.* You can tell because it's more "edgy." For example, this is the point at which we pointed out that it's usually the woman who is the fish out of water in these stories. Bold storytelling choice, Netflix.
(*I assume that analogy is going to track for everyone here as I am surely not the only one who can tell you the precise location of any of the infinity stones in any given Marvel movie AND exactly when Cadence Cameron Bure is gonna kiss that guy.)
Back to our story:
The Wolf of 34th Street has a problem. What happens when the REAL farmhand gets there? Lucky for him he has a Happy Hogan to his Tony Stark. He calls Happy Hogan and says "hey man you gotta find the real farmhand and pay him off to not come here." This sounds like an impossible task but don't worry, it's actually super easy. Barely an inconvenience. The farmhand is sitting right next to him!
Here, dear readers is where the movie kicks into high gear, for Manny the farmhand is one of the greatest characters in the history of fiction. It's basically Batman, Ron Swanson, Manny. Manny knows what's up and he's like: “Cool, you can pay me off to chill for a few days Happy Hogan but know this: MANNY IS IN CHARGE NOW.” Thus begins the best subplot in any hallmark movie ever.
Ungh. Now we have to go back to the farm and I have to write about side characters like Detective Cockblocker, the precocious kid sister, Cancer Mom, the mom with cancer, and Friendzone, the local dude not getting it (or a clue) from Bumpkin. All of these characters are not Manny and I don't care about them.
Meanwhile, The Wolf of 34th Street is getting better at farm stuff! Apparently, it was his shirt that was preventing him from milking that cow properly. Next time I encounter a challenge at work I think I'll pop my top off and see if that helps.
After several arduous minutes with the main cast we're back to Manny and Happy Hogan and they rollin'. Manny just wanted to take Happy Hogan's SUV for a spin because he is super fun and loves life. God bless your heart at Christmas, Manny.
Some other stuff happens with the main cast but it's lame. Cut to Manny and Happy Hogan, playing video games in matching tracksuits. Manny hadoukens a nearby vase IRL because his zest for being awesome all the time gives him that power.
We also find that Manny is a sommelier savant. Happy Hogan is like "have some wine bro" and Manny immediately rattles off the precise tasting notes. It's no surprise that this purest of souls has the palate of an angel. Is he Dionysus come down from Olympus? Hopefully, we will find out in the upcoming Manny spin-off movie which I repeatedly asked Netflix for. (I just assume they were reading the chat.)
At this point, A California Christmas is totally a buddy comedy with nary a ROM to its COM in sight. At the 34 minute mark we finally ROM it up with a wistful stare between The Wolf of 34th Street and Bumpkin. It's about time. I mean, if you were invested in that relationship. (Spoiler: I was not.)
Bumpkin also tends bar at night as all good country girls do. The Wolf of 34th Street heads there to keep the ROM flowing. He shows up in Cowboy Curtis cosplay. It's unclear what his plan is here as Bumpkin has not once brought up Pee-Wee's Playhouse. (Just another reason why she's kind of a drag.)
Just when you think you're going to be stuck watching these two try and flirt, Happy Hogan and Manny burst on the scene. They heard there was a party and if there's a party you KNOW Happy Hogan and Manny are gonna be there. Happy Hogan is wearing an even MORE spangly cowboy outfit than The Wolf of 34th Street but he makes it work because of his effortless cool. This is to say nothing of Manny who is rocking his flame shirt as he rips off his famous catchphrase: "I AM A DRAGON!" What an awesome catchphrase for an awesome dude.
Against the will of the viewers, The Wolf of 34th Street ushers Happy Hogan and Manny out so Bumpkin doesn't figure out his farmhand scheme. They exit only for Friendzone to arrive. In this moment he reveals his true nature as Assholezone, the creepy guy who does not respect consent. The Wolf of 34th Street tries to punch him for being a creep but mostly just hurts his own hand. At this point, one of us said: "punching people fucking hurts" in recognition that they too had engaged in physical violence. There's a 36% chance it was me.
Bumpkin manages to clear everyone out and in the best joke of the movie, the local musician exclaims: "let's hear it for testosterone!" before launching into the theme from Rawhide.
The next day The Wolf of 34th Street is just a hot mess from punching dudes and doing farm stuff but he still makes some time to demonstrate that he's good with kids and also has a churchy moment. Cancer Mom drops in to bum us out. I appreciate the efficiency with which these writers are checking off the hallmark boxes. Too bad that pacing doesn’t last.
Some bad music starts that is not Christmas-y at all but I correctly called it: the Christmas Magic Montage! Lots of staring and shirtless farm work ensues.
MEANWHILE: Happy Hogan and Manny are straight-up living their best lives. They're doing facials and drinking wine and putting on a two-man show of Cats.
The Wolf of 34th Street and Bumpkin are basically in love now after that montage but there's a ton of runtime left, so now what? Mostly, it's The Wolf of 34th Street trying to decide how to tell Bumpkin that he's a liar and an agent of Lord Business and Bumpkin driving around the farm in Norman Schwarzkopf's golf cart. We also find out that Bumpkin's dad and her fiance died in a car accident. Like she wasn't enough of a bummer. On the plus side, we discover that the back of the farm is a secret winery (of love) and the ending becomes extra evident at the 58-minute mark. (This movie is super long at 1:47)
The Wolf of 34th Street keeps trying to tell Bumpkin that he's awful but then she's like "let's make out." The Wolf of 34th Street is hoping to close the deal but right as he's rounding third Cancer Mom ruins it all with her cancer. Thanks a lot, Cancer Mom.
The Wolf of 34th Street is sorry that Bumpkin's Cancer Mom keeps having cancer so he fixes her dad's old motorcycle (told you that was important!) and then steals it. This is an odd move for a grand gesture but it works like a charm.
At this point, Happy Hogan and Manny haven't been seen in what feels like forever. Why would this movie grace us with these amazing bros for life only to take them away?
Forced to deal with the A-plot, we see The Wolf of 34th Street tear up the evil papers from Lord Business. Big mistake, The Wolf of 34th Street. Lord Business immediately senses a disturbance in the Force and makes for Bumpkinville USA. At the same time Assholezone is being an asshole and a villain team-up ala Batman Forever is very apparent in the offing.
While the villains marshal their forces, The Wolf of 34th Street and Bumpkin have a conversation about their dead fathers which immediately puts them both in the mood. Oh my! This is the edgy DCEU because that's no G-rated make out! After a brief bra-removal tutorial they totally do it on a picnic blanket in a field. (Which sounds pretty prickly and uncomfortable to me.)
And then the movie continues on some more. Assholezone finally reveals to Bumpkin that The Wolf of 34th Street is a lying liar. The Wolf of 34th Street tries to mop it with some smooth talk that did not work for me but I guess might work with real women. The chat transcript when The Wolf of 34th Street says "I didn't know who I was" read as follows:
Diana: I like this part
Again, we're going to defer to our guest here, dear readers.
To make matters worse, Lord Business shows up and is like "take our buyout or hit the road, Bumpkin! I don't care how much cancer Cancer Mom has!" What a jerk.
Luckily, after what feels like eons, Happy Hogan and Manny come flying in to save the day. Manny verifies that the wine from the winery of love is dope and thank God, we can finally see the climax in sight.
Some snooty wine guys come in and buy up all the wine of love and want to buy the vines of love too and guess what y'all: the day is saved. Finally. Apparently, 40 cases were enough to save a whole farm. I've sold liquor and that's bullshit but I was so relieved to be done with the A-plot I didn't care.
The Wolf of 34th Street and Bumpkin rekindle their love over some manual labor and Assholezone is like "sorry guys I'm going back to being Friendzone now" and even Lord Business is like "GOOD. Stay in the country, The Wolf of 34th Street. See if I care."
Everyone parties down at a barn that has been secretly renovated (which we've established is do-able) and the movie is finally over. Oh - but Cancer Mom died of cancer off camera. WHY? This character was The Christmas Shoes but a person.
Mercifully, we get one epilogue of Manny being gifted a sweet crib full of video game stuff and just being 100% full of joy. My Christmas wish is that this is the setting of the Manny Saves Christmas spin-off.
The Manny and Leo subplot really is both charming and hilarious. I loved every precious second of it. The rest of the movie is super long, trying too hard to not be campy and failing. Plus the whole thing is barely Christmas-y at all. SKIP.