[“The Christmas House” is the third film of my “5 Queer Holiday Films for 2022” post. To read the next review, “The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls”, click HERE. To read the previous review, “Happiest Season“, click HERE.]
Back in 2020, Hallmark created QUITE a stir after first promising a gay holiday film in their annual Countdown to Christmas lineup, then “forgetting” to include it when the released the lineup – before finally caving and throwing together “The Christmas House” last minute. Starring out actor, Jonathan Bennett of Mean Girls fame, Hallmark proudly claimed that “The Christmas House” was their first film to feature a LGBTQ+ storyline. But given that we barely caught a glimpse of Bennett’s character in ANY of Hallmark’s promo material, we were left wondering how “central” the gay storyline actually would end up. (It screamed “gay best friend/sidekick/brother” sideline story instead!) So how did they do? Well… not so great on their promise of a gay Christmas film. And Hallmark films themselves aren’t not for the best quality of films. However despite these flaws, the end result is still quite a good film! Let’s break it down further.
Synopsis of “The Christmas House”
“With only two weeks to go until Christmas, Phylis and Bill Mitchell, now both retired, this Phylis’ first year from teaching following Bill’s retirement a few years earlier as a contractor, have just decided to revive the twenty year dormant family Christmas tradition of “The Christmas House”, which basically entails gutting their Hudson Valley house in upstate New York to turn it, inside and out, into a Christmas wonderland, a process that usually took more than a month to accomplish even with all hands on deck. As such, their two sons, Hollywood television series star Mike Mitchell and Denver bakery owner Brandon Mitchell, and Brandon’s husband Jake, head back to New York earlier than originally planned for Christmas to help.
One part of that tradition which will not be revived is “Majestic Mike”, Mike’s magic act that he did at the first night open house alongside his childhood friend, Andi Cruz – “Awesome Andi” – despite learning that now divorced Andi, whose mother Elena Cruz still lives next door and who broke Mike’s heart unintentionally and unknowingly in high school, has recently moved back into town with her adolescent son, Noah Cruz, to who Mike will turn over such reigns in Noah showing interest in performing magic.
As this collective goes through the labor intensive process of transforming the house, Mike, who can admit to himself that those feelings for Andi still exist upon reconnecting with her, can feel that something is not quite right with everyone in there not being a sense of the Christmas spirit despite the outward trappings. Mike, who has not divulged some information about his own life pertaining to his career, will learn that both his parents and Brandon and Jake are keeping secrets like him which are causing that not quite right feeling, those secrets coming to light which will definitely make this Christmas House different than all others previous, and potentially bittersweet.” ~ Huggo
I’ll get right to the juicy bit here: “The Christmas House” did NOT live up to Hallmark’s promise of a gay Christmas film. Everything queer in this holiday film gets pushed to the back, while everything heterosexual is placed front and center. The film opens with the straight son, Mike, and thereby pushes the heterosexual storyline in front of the homosexual storyline. We then meet the parents, giving us the titular goal of recreating the legendary Christmas House this Christmas. Our gay son, Brandon, is casually mentioned as being able to make it back – but used as a plot device to lure Mike back home. We actually don’t even meet Brandon and his husband until they walk up to Mike at the airport.
Unfortunately, the difference between the heterosexual and homosexual storylines gets worse: Mike is single and returning home where his school crush has also returned back to their hometown, living next door to his folks – and is recently divorced. Bam! – we have the cliche Hallmark Christmas film romance at work. Meanwhile, it’s not until even later that we learn that Brandon and Jake are more than just side characters – they actually have a side story themselves: they are awaiting news on a gay adoption, after being denied a few times. But then the Hallmark writers decided that even focusing on that queer-centric side story might be too much for their homophobic audience to handle, so they buried it even further amid storyline chaos by giving the parent’s a drama of their own: they’re separating and selling the family home. In short, if you plot out the film, the gay storyline is in reality a minor side story that gets lost among a heterosexual romance and a heterosexual divorce.
And that’s before we add the subpar & cheesy Hallmark script writing! Which of course is isn’t that great – though there are some decent moments. We need to remember that we’re dealing in a sub-niche that isn’t known for quality writing, but that doesn’t mean I have to grant them points for something they aren’t providing. Another issue I had with “The Christmas House” is also tied to the type of film it is – the fact that it’s written around TV commercial breaks. Yes, it IS a TV Movie and when aired on TV will always include commercials. But if you watch the film in its entirety, those breaks become quite noticeable and frankly, become annoying. We need some minor cliffhangers and plot twists, but placing every single one before a commercial break screams “made for TV” quality writing. Perhaps I’m wrong for wanting an elevated writing ability, for I have to concede that they have mastered the art of TV movie script writing with regards to timing. But like many things about Hallmark films, it’s yet another carbon copy of the same format.
Alright, enough of the negative talk – let’s talk about why “The Christmas House is still a great film to watch for the holiday season. For starters, we have a gay couple in a Hallmark Christmas film – and they share an on-screen kiss! However that’s not all. Brandon & Jake display a real gay couple on screen, both showing they care for each other while equally worried and stressed about their hurdles with adoption. It’s a real-world issue that many queer folks still have to face. Hallmark also continues to keep their family friendly values front and center with how they characterised Brandon & Jake.
But let’s dig into the rest of the film, because unfortunately our gay storyline is not the main focus. Overall, the acting and chemistry between the cast was surprisingly good. Everyone has a heartfelt moment, whether it’s Phylis confiding about her marital issues with her son Brandon, Bill talking about the same separation with their other son Mike, or the incredible moment when Brandon and Mike have a chat about each other’s lives. It’s clear that despite everyone having some hidden secret or problem to sort out, it is still a very loving family that cares for each other. And it’s in these moments where an actor’s talent really shines.
But let’s also address an unofficial character of the story: the Christmas House itself. Wow! There are folks who go overboard with Christmas decorating – and it certainly makes for quite an interesting story backdrop, but the Mitchell’s take it to an extreme. And to pull it off to a believable level takes an incredible amount of hard work, planning and decorations. We expect a Hallmark Christmas film to be decked out for the season, but the production team went above and beyond with the set. It’s simply magical. But it’s also due to other smaller cinematographic details that bring it all together on screen. The lighting and camera work needed extra thought to soften twinkling Christmas lights and glossy ornaments, and the production team did an excellent job. When everything is brought together, despite the noted issues, “The Christmas House” is a cute & romantic film about coming together as a family for the holidays.
So what did you think of Hallmark’s “The Christmas House”? Some folks loved it, while others hated the fact the film even saw air time on Hallmark! As for me well, let’s just say that this “queer” film had some problems; the biggest one being that the “prominent” storyline ended up being more a side story that had to share screen time with the “straight” brother’s side story. However the end film is quite captivating and very festive. And even though Hallmark yet again backed away from what they promised us, we finally get to watch a gay romantic storyline in a Hallmark Christmas movie! If you haven’t yet seen this queer holiday film, then go watch it “The Christmas House” today!
Queer Relevance of “The Christmas House”
The queer relevance of “The Christmas House” is a tricky one to sort out. Is this Christmas film from Hallmark a queer film? Absolutely! We have not only a gay character, but he is in a committed and loving monogamous relationship – AND they’re awaiting news on adoption. For Hallmark to give us this in any of their films, let alone their Christmas lineup, this is a massive step towards inclusiveness and showing the rest of the world that LGBTQ couples are just like heterosexual ones.
Unfortunately, while we should celebrate this milestone – it comes amid quite a disappointment from what we were promised. Hallmark found themselves in quite the pickle when they omitted the promised LGBTQ storyline from their initial lineup announcement. While they eventually turned around and moved forward with a queer film, almost all of the promotion for the film was heterosexual. In fact, the only queer notifications I got were from other LGBTQ new sources and from Jonathan Bennet himself, a major sponsor of the film within the LGBTQ community. But if you followed Hallmark’s adverts, it felt like we were still being forgotten about.
And then the film premiered. We got a gay storyline – buried in a family drama where everyone had a problem that needed to be worked out. Yes, we got a gay kiss in a Hallmark Christmas film. But when you took a step back away from Hallmark… the difference in representation is even more staggering! The same year that Hallmark gave us this “groundbreaking” gay “side-story” Christmas film, Lifetime gave us the gay romcom “The Christmas Setup”, Hulu gave us the lesbian-centric “Happiest Season”, and Paramount gave us “Dashing In December” which featured a gay romance at it’s core. “The Christmas House” gets lost amid all of the other network pushed queer films of the holiday 2020 season. So while we should celebrate Hallmark’s step forward, we must always acknowledge that it was one they made hesitantly and even reluctantly.