[“Dashing in December” is the last film of my “5 Queer Christmas Films for 2021” post. To read the previous review, “City of Trees“, click HERE.]
I nearly overlooked “Dashing in December” amid all of the other new queer Christmas films last year. A TV Movie produced by Paramount, it didn’t get much attention. Which is quite unfortunate because it’s a great queer Christmas film! There is some amazing characterisations along with a storyline that touches on real life issues such as family, loss, and even running away from your problems. Yet in the end, romance blossoms and we get our happy ending. (with the help of a deus ex machina!) It IS a queer Christmas film, after all! Let’s break it down further.
Synopsis of “Dashing In December”
Detailed synopsis… to be written…
When Wyatt Burwall finally returns home for the holidays in an effort to convince his mother Deb to sell the family’s Colorado ranch, a romance unexpectedly ignites between Wyatt and their dashing new ranch hand Heath Ramos, who dreams of saving the beloved property and the ranch’s magical Winter Wonderland attraction while reawakening the spirit of Christmas in Wyatt’s lonely heart.
Before I start to rave about the good bits of “Dashing in December”, let me quickly surmise the few issues I had after watching the film a couple times. The two are actually connected: some script issues and some editing problems. While we could get nit picky on how the gist of the film’s storyline follows the over-used trope of a successful son/daughter coming home for the holidays to “fix” the mess back home, ending up falling in love, and staying at home. But that’s actually not my problem. The trouble is that it feels like there are some scenes actually missing! And no, I don’t mean that we are missing on some backstory or there’s a scene that I envision that would make the film better.
There are two specific moments where the forward movement just stops abruptly; almost as if there is more to the scene that got edited away for some reason. (Thus why the issue is both with the script and editing.) The first is right after the bar dancing scene. Wyatt and Heath have started to relax around each other as the night unfolds. Yet suddenly it’s the next morning and Wyatt is waking up in his bed? Huh? I understand that it’s a bit early for their first kiss, but it really feels like something is missing to wrap up the evening. The other scene is actually more obvious. It’s after mass at church when they are all talking to the realtor about selling the ranch. Wyatt has his say about already having a potential buyer – then bam, new scene! Am I being nit-picky? Perhaps. But as I quite enjoy “Dashing in December”, it’s the small things like these that are hard to miss – or ignore.
Now that that’s out of the way – onto the good parts! While the storyline has been done to death in Christmas films, it hasn’t been used for gay or queer Christmas films. And it’s used a lot because it tells a good story. However, writer Jake Helgren gave Wyatt’s character an arc that really shows a range.
We want to hate him at the start, and in fact Heath kind of does between the remarks about the horrible wine and horses showing emotion. Yet it’s really when Wyatt starts to relax and soften that his good side starts to shine through. By the end, even though it’s a very rapid romance, it’s quite clear that Wyatt is in love with Heath. But also part of Wyatt’s character is that he runs away from difficult situations. Before the film begins it’s his father’s passing; during the film, it’s from a potential relationship with Heath that requires him to give everything up to pursue. Of course, as he’s headed out the door on a new potential, cue up the deus ex machina solution that solves all of their problems and let’s him stay. (Because it IS a romantic Christmas film, after all!) This of course results in a rather beautiful, almost sappy, happy ending as they share a kiss riding off in the sleigh ride. Awww!
But before I move on, I also want to address the fact that neither Wyatt nor Heath fit a stereotypical gay character. It’s clear that Wyatt is not out at work when his boss presumes his ex Lindsey to be a woman. Even Heath, with a more feminine voice and gestures, clearly is at home working on a horse ranch. This extra characterisation helps give a breathe of fresh air to the over-used plot. However what really makes it all shine is how well both Peter Porte and Juan Pablo Di Pace bring their respective roles of Wyatt and Heath to life. And how well they both work opposite each other. While they don’t always see eye to eye on things at first, as they bond throughout the film they each realise there’s something special about the other which brings them closer together.
But let’s not forget the rest of the incredibly talented cast! Andie MacDowell does an amazing job bringing Deb to life as Wyatt’s mother. It’s clear at the start that she’s barely holding things together, having pushed any option for personal happiness away due to her husband’s passing and troubles with her son. Yet Andie brings something special that gives Deb that constant footing of hope; that everything will work out right in the end. That is echoed not only by Heath, but also by the strong acting chops of Caroline Harris as Blake. In fact, Caroline really shines during the more heartfelt moments when she finally gets to let Wyatt know she felt after their breakup in high school. It’s clear that she holds that hurt inside even after these years.
Before I start dragging this out longer than I should, all of the other elements work well in “Dashing in December.” (Other than the noted script & editing issues above.) I absolutely love that the film takes place on a Western ranch with horses. Perhaps it’s going back to my family’s roots in that area, but it gives a magical setting to the film while also hinting at another successful gay romance, “Brokeback Mountain.” Add in the Christmas snow setting, and you had me hooked! (Although a few reviewers have noted that the fake snow is a bit “too fake” – but hey, it IS a TV movie, not a big-budget Hollywood film!) Yet the part that really helps the film shine in this Western setting is an often overlooked aspect: the musical underscore. While we absolutely have to have western music playing at the bar during their dance scene, it’s the obvious tones of Western music weaving through the rest of the film that tie it all together.
Even though I had to knock off an entire rating point because of script and editing issues, I truely enjoyed watching “Dashing in December.” I honestly feel like it is the film that everyone should have been talking about last year instead of the sidelined-queer storyline in Hallmark’s “The Christmas House” or “Happiest Season”. Not only is this a heartfelt romance, but it’s also a Western Christmas film – what more could you want? If you haven’t seen this queer Christmas film yet, you need to add “Dashing in December” on your watch list immediately!
Queer Relevance of “Dashing In December”
Even though Wyatt may be closeted in New York at his office, he is certainly gay. And so is Heath. Throw in a budding romance between the two and “Dashing in December” is certainly a queer film. But why is it relevant to the LGBTQ community?
Well, while the focus last year went to Hallmark and Lifetime for their “first” gay Christmas films, this was Paramount Network’s addition. Yet another network is producing queer seasonal films, showing just how far the representation of LGBTQ folks on screen has come. We certainly can get improved stories and better quality films! But the more films that show queer characters living the same lives as our straight, cisgendered ones, the better off the next younger generation will be due to improved representation.