Welcome to the second review of Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas film series! It’s called Christmas Joy. Here’s the synopsis:
Joy Holbrook is an intuitive market researcher in DC who has captured the attention of the account’s CEO and is about to get a sweet promotion, just in time for the holidays. She receives an urgent phone call from home and she rushes back to Crystal Falls, NC to help her Aunt recover from surgery and is reunited with her former crush, Ben. To keep her Aunt focused on healing, Joy volunteers to take Ruby’s place with the town’s legendary baking competition, the “Cookie Crawl,” much to the amusement of Ben who knows Joy has absolutely no idea of the Herculean task before her. Though Joy initially refuses Ben’s attempts to “co-captain,” she begins to soften and let him in, all the while remembering that there truly is no place like home. Starring Danielle Panabaker and Matt Long.
I’ve had my coffee so let’s get this done.
We open with exterior shots of snow in the Big City and Christmas music. This film’s heroine is window shopping or window gazing as she presumably walks to work. She enters a grand hall and is greeted by lady named Renee. Our heroine’s name? Joy! The title of this film makes so much sense now. It wouldn’t have otherwise.
Joy is a marketing person and is holding a focus group for her client Weathertons, a department store. I believe this focus group is made up of Weatherton moles, because every one of them is gushing about how this department store makes them feel “warm.” Watching Joy is Poppy Weatherton, the owner. She has some nice words to say about our marketing heroine and then exits abruptly.
When the focus group wraps up, Renee and Joy have a chat about Joy’s job situation. She’s been focusing grouping for aaages and is a shoo-in for a promotion. Renee is certain it’ll be announced at the Christmas gala. So we’ve gotten down to the crux of Joy’s character: a hard working gal that lives in the Big City. The ladies decide to go dress shopping for the gala now that work is over.
Joy sees a THE dress for her, saying it’s the same color of a Christmas ornament she got from her mom as a kid. Mrs. Weatherton once again appears out of the blue to say that the dress is pretty and ask about Joy’s thoughts on the focus group. Joy says roughly two lines about the focus group and then proceeds to tell a personal anecdote about her mother driving to Weathertons and the magic of Christmas consumerism. The way Joy talks about her mother makes me believe she is dead. There’s always an insidious sense of tragedy in these films. It’s like a Shirley Temple movie.
Later, Joy gets chewed out by her boss Margie since Joy ran her mouth to the client. That’s not marketing agency protocol, Joy. Margie explains that Weathertons is thinking of expanding its brick and mortar operations which is a big no-no because “cyber shopping is the arc of the future.” Apart from the fake holiday Cyber Monday, does anyone actually say cyber? And isn’t cyber shopping already a big thing? The future is happening right now. Anyway, I agree with Margie. Big department stores are not the arc of the future. Joy doesn’t believe this. She thinks Weathertons is extra special. Apparently, Margie has also heard the “my mother drove me to Weathertons” story because she brings it up and summarily squashes it, telling Joy not to let her sentiments get the best of her. Margie is probably meant to be the bad guy here, but she’s objectively correct.
We move onto a guy driving a giant truck driving through a quaint snow-covered town. The driver, Ben, is a hospital administrator at the local medical center and he also loves Christmas. He’s not a children’s doctor which is incredibly unusual for a Hallmark Original. We do a weird scene change to Joy literally holding a Hallmark card and then another weird jump to an old lady stepping precariously on a step ladder so that she can open some boxes. This all happens in a span of 30 seconds.
After that weird collection of scenes, we find Ben seated in his very festive office. He’s discussing work with his pregnant sister/co-worker. I suspect this pregnancy will come into play at some stage. Ben is distracted though. He’s thinking about the town’s annual Gingerbread Contest. Ben needs to take part in it this year since it’s a big deal for Mama Ben. He doesn’t seem too enthused though.
In Big City Washington DC, Joy gets a call saying that her aunt Ruby isn’t doing too well. Her aunt is the old box lady and she broke her ankle after falling from the step ladder. Joy is distressed by the news and makes a whirlwind decision to fly to Crystal Falls, North Carolina.
Joy arrives at the way-too-overly-decorated hospital. It’s so decorated that she gets tangled up in the Christmas lights which must be an official Health & Safety Violation. A man donned in Santa hat helps her out of the lights. Turns out it’s Ben! And they know each other from their youth! Ben points Joy to her aunt’s hospital room. Joy beelines to see her auntie so that she can give her the gift of product placement.
Ben pops into the room and he and Joy talk about where they went to college: Columbia and Georgetown. This means they’re smart. No state universities for these two! Aunt Ruby interrupts to ask how they’re going to deal with the annual Cookie Crawl event now that she can’t walk. I’m not sure if this is the same thing as the Gingerbread Contest, but I’m sure I’ll find out even though I don’t care at all. The group leaves to think this over and so that Ruby can eat an ice cream in peace.
When Joy tries to exit the parking lot, she ends up reversing into Ben’s truck. Ben makes fun of the fact that Joy comes from the Big City, has a Big City car, and doesn’t understand small town ways. Never mind that when we first saw Ben, he was in a brand-new GMC pickup truck that retails at about $30,000 to $50,000.
Joy arrives at her aunt’s place to see that her Southern Living subscription has been put to good use. Christmas has arrived and it vomited all over the house. On the other side of town, Ben visits his parents and the conversation turns to Joy. Ben references the Big City for the thousandth time and we’re not even 20 minutes into the film. We need new insults, Ben! Ben’s mother defends Big City women because they’re not all “you know who.” It appears Ben is projecting his issues onto Joy. Mom changes the conversation to guilt Ben into being her teammate for the Gingerbread Contest. They haven’t been partners for four years since he took over Gingerbread Contest judging duties. It means so much to her, Ben! Give the goddamn woman her gingerbread house!
The next morning, Joy is on the farm. Did I mention auntie’s house is a farm? She goes to get her morning coffee and manages to bump into Ben once again. They go together to visit Aunt Ruby who is moaning about not being able to partake in the Cookie Crawl. I still have no idea what this crawl is. Is it a pub crawl with cookies? If so, this is the best idea to come out of a Hallmark movie. Joy volunteers to do Ruby’s duties. It’s a Christmas miracle™! Or is it? Ben says this is a two-person job, so they must work together to get this done. However, Joy is an independent woman that don’t need no man so she refuses. Ben drops an overwhelming amount of Cookie Crawl info on Joy and walks off, smug in the knowledge that she will fail. He’s Prince Charming. Joy leaves to start going through Aunt Ruby’s stuff.
Ben stops by Joy’s residence to drop off the Crawl decorations. He’s getting into creepy territory here. He manages to judge Joy’s planning process as well as take offense when she playfully offers him money for his help. Ben reminds her he comes from a small town where people aren’t only motivated by money.
Joy juggles work and Cookie Crawling. It’s overwhelming. To be fair, she’s not a party planner like Elizabeth. She gets another coffee and bumps once more into Ben the stalker. She apologizes. It is here that a bombshell drops: BEN IS A DIVORCEE! Wow, Hallmark is really bringing its films into the 20th century. His ex-wife was from the Big City and he’s got baggage. The conversation is interrupted by phone call whereby Ben learns his pregnant sister has had her baby! But Ben isn’t happy. His sister’s rude baby is preventing her from judging the Gingerbread competition which may mean he’ll have to judge, leaving his mom sans partner. This is a cookie disaster! But Joy reluctantly saves the day. She will judge in exchange for Ben’s help with the Cookie Crawl. It’s all coming together.
Joy is back on the farm and while digging through the Crawl decorations, she finds the ornament that matches the dress she wanted from Weathertons. Ben saunters onto the scene once again because we can’t go on one minute in this film without seeing stalker Ben. Joy enters another judge-y conversation with Ben, this time about baking. Swoon.
After baking, Joy and Ben start brainstorming theme ideas for the Cookie Crawl. In the middle of this back and forth, Ben breaks Joy’s precious ornament which is very much in character for him. This guy sucks and Joy dies a little inside. Ben tries to make it up to her by paying for her car repairs.
Joy gets a message from the premier dough guy in town and meets him for a coffee. He’s got a binder full of rules for the Gingerbread Contest judges. Joy is not impressed and tells Ben that he owes her dinner. It appears Ben already had that planned because rather than taking her to a last-minute Denny’s meal, he takes her to a cozy, romantic dining establishment.
After dinner, Boss Margie calls Joy to tell her that she needs to deliver a project by noon the next day. Meanwhile, Ben kept some pieces of the ornament he broke and goes into his workshop/garage to mull over how he’s going to make it all better.
The next day, Joy takes Ben to the local ice-skating rink to do a bit of wooing herself. After skating and telling Ben she’s single, they go on a walk through the Christmas tree lined woods. And with that, they land on their Cookie Crawl theme: nature. The romantic-day-that-wasn’t-actually-meant-to-be-romantic-because-ok-sure is capped off with a Balsam Hill decorating spree.
Joy expresses that today has been super fun. They almost kiss, but Ben pulls back. Probably because of something Big City related. Joy is left blue baubled. She consoles herself with some cookies, but whoopsie, she doesn’t close the outdoor fridge correctly which ruins the cookies she made for the Cookie Crawl (even though it’s freezing outside, but I don’t know anything about cold temperatures). She calls Renee to tell her that this mistake will probably affect her work. Renee is worried because Boss Margie isn’t pleased with Joy being away. This may jeopardize the big promotion.
Aunt Ruby finds out about the cookie dough disaster and the info ends up in Ben’s creepy hands. He and half the town rush over to help Joy with baking.
It’s Gingerbread Bake-Off Day! And the winner is…Ben and Mama Ben! Quelle surprise. After the Gingerbread Contest, Joy heads off to the big city to attend the Christmas Gala. Ben makes sure to give her a gift before she goes. She’ll be back for the Cookie Crawl so this is just Ben being dramatic. Ben continues his dramatics and pensively stands alone in the woods. Ben’s dad catches him and basically tells him to just talk to Joy instead of being a big baby.
Joy makes it back to DC in time for the Christmas Gala. But before she goes, she opens Ben’s gift.
But, wait, what’s this? Is Ben in a car going to the Big City?! And in a little tux, too.
At the gala, Poppy Weatherton directly thanks Joy for all of her work. She then abruptly leaves almost mid-thought. It’s jarring. Boss Margie quickly approaches Joy to tell her that the company has lost the Weatherton account and that Joy needs to work double-time starting tomorrow. Joy protests and Margie gives her a veiled threat about her promotion. Joy quits.
Ben arrives in his wreath adorned GMC to crash a company party. Jesus, Ben. Small towns don’t teach manners. But as soon as he enters, he’s mistaken for a waiter! This happens to be my favorite part of the film. This mix-up crushes his small-town heart so he just straight up leaves after two minutes. A total waste of petrol. He also starts ignoring Joy’s calls.
The next day or so, Joy is back in Crystal Falls, helping clumsy Aunt Ruby into her house. Joy decides to tell her aunt the whole Joy-Ben saga and that she’s staying in Crystal Falls since she is jobless. Ruby is delighted to finally get some sweet sweet gossip. She quickly shares this info with Mama Ben. Mama Ben yells at Ben for ignoring Joy. Ben basically says “whatever, mom” until she tells him that Joy is moving to Crystal Falls. You got your stupid way, Ben.
It’s time for the Cookie Crawl. By the way, it’s not really a pub crawl. People just come to Aunt Ruby’s house and eat cookies. I’m not even sure they pay for it. That’s pretty good, I guess. Everyone has arrived, even Renee and Poppy Weatherton! Poppy offers Joy a job in the nearby city. Joy was unemployed for about 8 hours. Good thing she wasn’t a coal miner. Ben finally arrives and confesses his feelings for Joy. They kiss. FIN.
This wasn’t nearly as bad as the first film. But they really drove the big city-small town chat home. FYI: If you’re from a city, you are part of the devil’s cohort. Also, was it just me or was Ben negging Joy the whole movie? If he didn’t have Ken Doll looks, this would not have ended the way it did. Hopefully, Chad Michael Murray is better in the next Hallmark film.
- I’m from the south. Some of these shots have way too much snow. How do people survive?
- “Are visiting hours over?” “Visiting hours are never over. This is North Carolina, Joy. Not DC!” It’s comments like these that have led to a rift in the nation today.
- One of the greatest joys of Hallmark movies is the knock off Christmas songs. Truly a delight.
- I tallied at total of 3 Oh Gawd’s, 2 Jaysus’s, and 4 exasperated sighs over the course of this film.
- It is constantly snowing in Crystal Falls. There is not one scene where the snow isn’t falling.
- I couldn’t ever remember Joy’s friend’s name so in the draft form of this review I called her “Another Lady”
- Ben took Joy out to a movie when they were in college. The film? Love, Actually. I hate you, Ben.