“Albert Einstein would get lost if you took him more than four blocks away from his house.”
“But he had other strengths, relativity speaking.”
The Christmas Ornament combines the joys of the holiday with a slowly building love story. It’s effective due in no small part to the chemistry of the two leads, along with a strong supporting cast. I can see myself re-watching this during holiday seasons to come.
Kathy (Kellie Martin, E.R.) is a widow who lost her husband in February. Now it’s the Christmas season, and with a mere two weeks to go she’s finding it next to impossible to engage in the holiday. Her late husband used to the love the holidays, and everything about the traditions which comprise the season brings back memories. The one tradition she’s willing to participate in is baking cookies, which happens to be a lifelong passion of hers. Her best friend Jenna (Jewel Staite, Firefly) hates to see Kathy shutting herself off from just about everything positive life has to offer, and her attempts to draw Kathy out include a surprise trip to a Christmas tree lot. An obviously upset Kathy refuses to look at the Christmas trees and instead goes into the adjoining gift shop, where she meets the owner of both the lot and gift shop, Tim (Cameron Mathison, All My Children). With our “meet-cute” firmly established, we continue on the well-known road.
Every year The Hallmark Channel programs something they call “Countdown to Christmas.” Just like with every other aspect of the holiday season, it seems as though preparing each year begins earlier and earlier. I won’t be surprised to one day find my Valentine’s greetings being accompanied by suggestions for Christmas gifts. So 2014 finds The Hallmark Channel beginning their holiday programming in November with weekend showcases of Christmas-themed movies, and The Christmas Ornament is but one of the many offerings being presented as part of “Countdown to Christmas.”
The Christmas Ornament goes to a place not too many other holiday films will, attempting to juxtapose the grief of losing a loved one with the joy inherent in the holiday season. When I first realized this, I will admit to some skepticism. Given the plot’s own time constraints, it seems there would be too many coincidences and impossibilities for this couple to find their way to one another in a convincing way. And yes, there is one of those self-same coincidences lurking ahead, but because of its placement you don’t mind.
This film works because it isn’t about falling in love again. It’s about accepting it can happen. The Christmas Ornament is a slow building film, and the fact the filmmakers aren’t trying to convince us this couple is anything but two people who recognize the potential for their relationship to be more is a major selling point. Care is taken to infuse as much believability within the storyline as possible, relying as much on the characters as the situations in which they’re placed. For example, Tim and Kathy meet at Tim’s tree lot, a fact made all the more believable when we learn Kathy is a small business owner herself and thus her best friend wouldn’t take her to a large commercial lot, knowing that would be an automatic deterrent against Kathy enjoying the experience. Tim and Kathy become friends first, and that tie of being two small business owners works as a thread binding together many of the duo’s interactions. The Christmas Ornament is as much about learning to open yourself up to life as it is finding a new relationship to cherish.
The movie rests on the strength of its cast. No amount of well-written prose can disguise a lack of chemistry, and this film has it in spades. Not only do we believe Tim and Kathy’s slowly progressing relationship, but we also accept Kathy and Jenna’s friendship. Jenna isn’t a token character just there to push Kathy into situations, but rather serves as the audience’s window into Kathy, allowing us to understand how Kathy’s behavior is typical or not. She provides a sounding board and, yes, occasionally a push to Kathy as well, but she’s grounded enough it feels organic instead of forced.
I enjoy The Christmas Ornament for many reasons, from the strength of the writing to the demonstrable chemistry shared by the leads and echoed through the supporting cast. But perhaps my favorite thing is it allows me to appreciate the traditions inherent in the holiday season by witnessing them through the lens of someone who has chosen to be a mere observer. Kathy’s reluctance to fully embrace the season helps the customs become something we yearn to see instead of fading into the scenic background as they can often do. It’s definitely a standout in the Hallmark canon and different enough from other holiday fare to earn a recommendation.
The video is a 1.78:1 aspect ratio transfer, which can show a bit of artefacting around the texts, which thankfully are mostly prominent in the opening and end title sequences. Otherwise the palette tends to favor green and red, unsurprisingly, and care is taken to make sure the many Hallmark ornaments showcased look their best though the video can occasionally show some grain. The audio is a surprising Dolby Digital 5.1 track, meaning both the dialogue and the Christmas carol covers are amped up above what you would expect. The mix does a good job of drawing attention to the songs and then pulling the levels down in such a way that it sounds gradual instead of abrupt, providing a nicely balanced soundscape.
The lone special feature is a behind-the-scenes featurette wherein there are interviews with Kellie Martin, Jewel Staite, and Cameron Mathison.
The Christmas Ornament is the kind of feel-good movie which is easy to watch as a family, a couple or solo. All that’s required to enjoy this film is a desire to capture some of the sentimentality which only seems to permeate the viewing landscape and general atmosphere around the holiday season.