Another Christmas Angel? Inconceivable.

Gather ’round, children. Closer, closer. I have a little bit of bad news, and then some very good news. First, I have to tell you: Santa isn’t real. I know, I know. It’s tough to face the truth. But there’s something else, something even better, that IS real.


And that’s why, since Santa is a completely fictional construct, there ain’t no reason that Santa can’t be a woman. (Miss me with that Mrs. Claus bullshit. Do you even know her maiden name? DIDN’T THINK SO.)

In Christmas at Cartwright’s, single mom Nicky (growing Hallmark staple Alicia Witt) loses her job before Christmas when the dress shop she works at closes. She’s determined to stay positive and find a new position with the holiday hiring upswing, but nothing has worked out so far. She’s dodging her landlady, explaining to her daughter Becky’s teacher why she can’t afford a reading tutor, and certainly not putting any effort into dating, though Becky is determined that a love match is just as important as a job match to make her mom’s life great again.

One evening, Nicky and Becky are walking home when they find an odd sort of silver coin on the ground, one with an image of an angel on it. Becky is sure this will be good luck, and indeed, Nicky soon finds that her neighbor and friend Liz has a tip about a job at Cartwright’s, an upscale department store. She goes to the interview with high hopes.

While waiting for the interview, Nicky starts chatting with a cute manager named Bill who finds her dropped resume (get it together, girl). This turns out to be bad, though, because the lady exec conducting the interview, Fiona, clearly has a crush on Bill, and thus develops immediate, utter contempt for Nicky (everyone knows only whores chat). That good luck from the coin seems to have run out already.

Or has it???

While trying to leave the store, some sort of elevator malfunction dumps Nicky on an Employees Only floor. As she tries to find the way out, she stumbles on a room full of Santa costumes and gets locked in. She hears a voice outside, asking her if she’s put on the suit yet. The kids are waiting! And by the way, being store Santa is a really great job that comes with all sorts of benefits!

Who is that voice outside the room? That elfish man who bears a strong resemblance to the angel on that silver coin? IT’S MOTHERFUKKIN WALLACE SHAWN.

Literally the only way I could have been happy about a third “angel helping on the ground” film in this year’s line-up is by having that angel be Wallace Shawn. Well played, Hallmark. Well played.

Nicky makes a snap decision to go with this weird situation, pitching her voice low and slapping on the beard before anyone can see her. Soon her slim, “new, modern, healthy-looking Santa,” as Harry the Christmas Consultant slash Angel describes her, is a huge hit with the kids, especially since, with Harry’s winking help, Santa seems to be almost psychic about what the kids want. Peg, the store’s longtime Head Santa’s Helper, is beyond happy with this new guy who takes the job so seriously. But Bitchy Lady Exec Fiona is livid to have had her pick for Santa replaced, and also deeply suspicious about the new hire, who’s gaining popularity while failing to push expensive gifts on the kids and parents. She demands a background check on this man Nicky Talbot.

Meanwhile, in her non-Santa guise, Nicky keeps running into Cute Manager Bill. In the coffee shop, in the tree lot, in the elevator: he’s everywhere. And a much better prospect than the sad single dads determined Becky gathers to introduce to her mom at her school’s Open House. They finally make a dinner date, and all seems to be working out beautifully. Except, of course, the fact that she still has to hide her job from him.


This becomes an issue on the date, when he confides in her about a past fiancée who cheated on him, and how it’s made him value honesty. Uh oh. Panicked over the fact that she’s lying to him about her vague “holiday” job, she pretends that a call from Liz is a huge emergency and flees. Liz’s advice for a sad and guilty Nicky is to just make it through the next week until Christmas and then try again to go out with the dude. Ah, logical.

BUT there’s still that pesky matter of Fiona. Harry has angel-ed away the background check several times, but this is only causing her ire to grow. And when Harry gets called away on some other angel business, the shit hits the fan. A store security guard catches Nicky in the Santa dressing room and assumes she’s stealing, dragging her to Fiona for some reason. She recognizes the name “Nicky Talbot” from the background check, revealing the Santa lie to everyone (including a disappointed Cute Bill), and fires her, vaguely citing bad publicity for the store.

Nicky’s very upset about the situation, but then Liz, a former publicist, gets her story of being fired for being a woman — despite being the most popular Santa the store’s ever had! — on the local news. Getting a story of injustice on the local news is, of course, the only thing it takes to right a wrong. (Hey feminists, have we tried this in real life?? So easy!!!)

Back at work, Nicky apologizes to Bill for lying. His response is that he’s not so much mad that she kept the truth from him, but that he wishes she’d given him a chance, and not assumed he would equate cheating in a relationship with a mother desperately trying to take care of her child. Ouch, Bill. Ouch.

Meanwhile, the big boss Mr. Cartwright is pissed that Fiona fired Nicky, so he fires her. Nicky tells him about Harry helping her, but — SHOCKING — he’s never heard of the guy. She finally puts two and two together, and soon discovers that Becky was way ahead of her the whole time. She recognized her mom in the Santa outfit when she went to the store (thank god; only a true idiot wouldn’t know their own mother just because of a fake beard) and had a secret talk about it with Harry. She knew he was an angel all along. So she may be a bad reader, but she ain’t dumb. (Oh and she’s also been getting extra reading lessons from her teacher at recess as a Christmas gift to her mom. HEARTWARMING.) Mr. Cartwright offers Nicky Fiona’s old job as Head of Special Events, and all seems right with the world.

Except she hasn’t gotten her man yet!!!

Luckily, Peg has gone above and beyond in her Santa’s Helper duties once again. She convinces Bill to give Nicky another chance, and he stops by Nicky’s place that night, having come to his senses about how awesome a lady Santa is. (You know you guys are gonna have some fun with that suit, come on.) They kiss, everyone gathers by the tree, and Wallace Shawn creeps outside the window, admiring his handiwork.

This silly but well-done movie was a much-needed tonic after the last dreadful movie featuring an angel. (Sidenote, is Christmas the only time angels can help people? Are they on vacay the other eleven months of the year? I don’t think there are this many angels running around when it’s Valentine’s time on Hallmark.) And bonus fun fact! The screenwriter, Margaret Oberman, was one of the few women writers on Saturday Night Live in the ’80s, and she also co-wrote Troop Beverly Hills! TROOP BEVERLY HILLS, people! Bow down, bow down.

Countdown to Christmas scorecard:
*female lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 4/10 films
*female lead gets fired: 3/10
*male lead has sad childhood Christmas memories: 3/10
*romantic ice skating scene: 3/10
*romantic tree decorating scene: 7/10
*character comes to senses after heart-to-heart talk with father figure: 4/10
*dead parents: 5/10


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