By Deborah Yaffe, Dec 2 2019 02:00PM
My husband seems befuddled, even a tad shell-shocked. His maiden viewing of a Jane Austen-themed Hallmark Christmas movie – Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen, which premiered last Saturday night – has paused for its first commercial break, and he has a question.
“People watch this?” he says. “For fun?”
After nearly four years of Austenesque Hallmark movies, my expectations of each new offering have hit rock-bottom. Seventeen minutes into Saturday’s broadcast, it is no surprise to me that SS&S bears almost no relationship to Austen’s work. I don’t flinch – well, not much, anyway – at the predictable storyline, the limp writing, or the bargain-basement acting.
But my husband, poor lamb, is new to it all. “The acting in the adverts is better,” he points out plaintively a few minutes later. (He’s a Brit. Over there, they say “adverts” instead of “commercials.”)
Arguably, his statement is true, but still, as mediocre Austen spinoffs go, SS&S is no worse than average. For plot: a (sort-of) Enemies to (tepid) Lovers tale, wherein a driven workaholic (here, a staid toy-company CEO named Edward Ferris) falls for a creative free spirit (here, a winsome event planner named Ella Dashwood) while they jointly plan a communal Christmas gathering (here, a last-minute holiday party for important clients).
In place of Austen’s plot, we get name-dropping: Ella’s sister, the cautious and conservative Marianne, exchanges an off-stage ex named Willoughby for a nice-guy lawyer named Brandon. Edward’s high-school-girlfriend-turned-company-VP is Lucy Steele. Brandon’s law firm, we learn from a nameplate on a lobby wall, is Morton, Middleton & Jennings. (OK, that one makes me laugh.)
Wait – what? Marianne is cautious and Ella is free-spirited? “I’m confused,” my husband says, as the second commercial break dawns, a mere nine minutes after the conclusion of the first one. “Why did they swap the names? They could have the original names and it would be exactly the same. Now it’s just confusing.”
“Only if you’ve read the book,” I point out. (And actually, he's wrong: more has changed than the names alone. In the original, it's the wild sister who gets Brandon and the staid one who gets Edward.)
The film winds on. Edward tells Ella that his company has discontinued its signature teddy bear because it is “no longer marketable.” (What? A teddy bear no longer marketable? In what universe?) Ella introduces Edward, who has allegedly grown up in the toy business, to the revolutionary concept of testing toys on focus groups of actual children. A pair of French toy-store owners named Jacques and Vivienne arrive in town. Their accents wax and wane, like the moon in December.
“I think they’re not really French,” my husband opines darkly.
Ella chides Edward for his lack of Christmas spirit, as evidenced by his boring, solid-color ties. Edward ribs Ella over her corny, Yuletide-inspired scarves. Ella suggests the party theme should be “Winter Wonderland.” I note that this was also the theme of the party in Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe, one of last year’s Austen-themed Hallmark Christmas movies. (That’s what we English-major types call intertextuality, boys and girls.)
My husband shows signs of bailing. Hang in there, I urge him. Before long, our protagonists will decorate a Christmas tree together! They will have a snowball fight! They will bake cookies and drink hot chocolate!
Ella offers to help decorate Edward’s home for the holidays, as “an extra service.”
“Ooh. . . extra services. . .” my husband comments wolfishly. Apparently, he has forgotten the movie’s TV-G rating.
Forty-seven minutes into our evening, as the third commercial break concludes, my husband leaves for the home office adjoining our TV room. I try to guilt him into staying. I fail. “It’s really bad,” he says. He sounds apologetic. Well, half-apologetic, anyway.
Three minutes later, Edward and Ella are decorating a Christmas tree. I announce the milestone in a voice loud enough to be heard in the room next door. My husband grunts. He seems curiously unimpressed. Five minutes later, an onscreen snowball fight breaks out. I report that, too. “You called this half an hour ago,” he says. “I still think the Big Reveal is the French people aren’t really French.” Then he goes to bed.
Edward and Ella decorate a gingerbread house together, which I decide is close enough to count as cookie-baking. Hot drinks are distributed – but do the cups contain cocoa, or just coffee? Hard to tell. The French characters hop into a sleigh. “Salut!" Jacques exclaims, Frenchly. "Joyeux Noel!”
Edward’s company relaunches its signature teddy bear. The big party goes off without a hitch, even though the servers are dressed as elves. The Dashwood sisters have a small, implausible tiff. The lovers have another. The sisters make up and agree to expand their business together.
The lovers go for a walk through a quaintly snow-covered town center. Edward is wearing a corny, Yuletide-inspired scarf. He and Ella kiss and make up. My heart leaps, but not because of the kiss, which is Hallmark-chaste. No, I’ve spotted a hot chocolate stand in the background! Will they. . . .?
But no. Onscreen, it is Christmas Day, and so the stand is unstaffed. I retire to bed.