Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 23 2019 01:00PM

See that headline? The one right above this blog post? I’m kind of proud of it. Doesn’t it totally sound like it could be the title of a new Hallmark Christmas movie?


Which is appropriate, since the mystery in question concerns the strange disappearance of a Jane Austen-themed movie from the Hallmark Channel’s “Countdown to Christmas” schedule.


“Countdown to Christmas,” now in its tenth year, is Hallmark’s annual saccharine-laced marathon of cookie-baking, hot-chocolate-drinking, snowball-tossing, small-town-holiday-visiting made-for-TV romcoms, which begins airing right before Halloween and stretches on until a few days before New Year’s.


Last year, as blog readers will recall, “Countdown to Christmas” included not one but two nominally Pride and Prejudice-inspired movies, although in both cases fidelity to Jane Austen’s original was pretty much nil. So when I learned recently that Hallmark planned to include a new Austen-themed outing this year, my expectations were low.


They got lower when I learned that this year’s offering, Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen, was apparently based on a book by Melissa de la Cruz, the author of the stupendously terrible Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, allegedly the inspiration for one of last year’s movies.


And then things got a little odd.


The buzz for Sense, Sensibility and Snowmen began over the summer, when Entertainment Tonight reported that the movie would star Erin Krakow, who plays the protagonist in Hallmark’s beloved period drama When Calls the Heart, set in the Canadian West in the early twentieth century.


In June, de la Cruz – who actually hasn’t published a book called Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen; maybe she just worked on the screenplay? -- tweeted about the cast. In July, Krakow tweeted pictures from the set. A couple of weeks ago, the movie was all set to air on November 27 – at least according to Passion for Savings, a thrifty-living website, which posted the full "Countdown to Christmas" schedule, along with a visual of Hallmark’s own suitable-for-printing one-page version, featuring a photo of an adorable little dog wearing a red scarf.


But last week, when I went to the Hallmark Channel’s website and found my own copy of that printable schedule with the cute little doggie, SS&S was nowhere to be seen, its slot on the roster apparently taken by something called Christmas Under the Stars. Although air dates had changed for a number of films since the posting of the earlier schedule, Triple S was the only one of the twenty-four that had vanished entirely.


Hmm. Was the movie not finished in time? Was its tale of party-planner sisters named Ella and Marianne who tangle with an irascible toy-company CEO named Edward insufficiently faithful to Jane Austen? (OK, probably not that.) Did the finished version fail to meet the standards of excellence expected of a Hallmark Christmas movie? (Stop laughing!)


I emailed Hallmark to see if they’ll tell me. Meanwhile, we’ll just have to hope – if that’s the right word – that the movie turns up sometime later on the Hallmark schedule.


By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 26 2018 02:00PM

Last summer, when I learned that the Hallmark Channel would celebrate Christmas by broadcasting a movie based on a Jane Austen fanfic titled Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, I snapped up the Kindle edition of the book and started reading:


A Taylor Swift cover of “Last Christmas,” originally recorded by Wham! in 1986, strummed from the stereo of the sleek, black town car, where Darcy was sitting in the back seat.


It is never a good sign when you crack open a new book and your inner copy editor begins screaming at the very first sentence – pointing out, for example, that “strummed” is a verb that requires a direct object, or that the recording history of “Last Christmas” is a topic best left to the liner notes of the CD.


Such, however, are the joys of Melissa de la Cruz’s extraordinarily terrible P&P spinoff, which updates the story to the contemporary Midwest and swaps the genders of the protagonists. Darcy Fitzwilliam, the daughter of the richest family in Pemberley, Ohio, has left her hometown to make it big at a New York hedge fund. Local carpenter Luke Bennet was once her high school nemesis. Darcy comes home when her mother gets sick, locks lips with Luke under the mistletoe at her family Christmas party, and . . . oh, you know the drill. Her best friend and his brother – a same-sex couple, in this version – fall in love; the arrogant-but-secretly-insecure Darcy suggests romance, but Luke turns her down; she rescues his younger siblings from the consequences of their misbehavior; he acknowledges his love for her, and everyone lives happily ever after.


The story is limp and poorly paced, hitting the major beats of Jane Austen’s plot without a shred of wit, playfulness, or originality. And at times the prose rises (falls?) to an awe-inspiring level of badness. (My personal favorite: “She would barely be able to eat anyway, she knew, with the storm of knots and butterflies brewing in the pit of her stomach.”)


So my expectations were low when I tuned in Friday night for Hallmark’s filmed adaptation, the second P&P-inspired movie in the channel’s ongoing Countdown to Christmas series.


Blog readers will recall that Hallmark began venturing into Janeite territory nearly three years ago, with the airing of Unleashing Mr. Darcy, still the gold standard – or perhaps the dross standard – of Bad Austen-Themed Filmmaking.


Less than a month ago, the channel brought us its first holiday-themed Austen movie, Christmas at Pemberley Manor, which gave new meaning to the term “loosely,” as in “loosely based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.” In fact, except for the names of its characters, Pemberley Manor bears virtually no relation to Austen’s original: instead, it is the story of a driven workaholic named Darcy who falls for a creative free spirit while they jointly plan a community Christmas gathering.


But given its roots in Austen fanfic, Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe – Hallmark has dispensed with the extra “and” – seemed likely to hew more closely to the original. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that de la Cruz’s by-way-of-Austen plot had been largely discarded in favor of a story about a driven workaholic named Darcy who falls for a creative free spirit while they jointly plan a community Christmas gathering.


In this version, Luke (Brendan Penny) is a restaurateur who agrees to cater the annual benefit for the local youth center, which Darcy (Lacey Chabert) and her mother have agreed to organize at short notice. Gone are the rejected proposal and the troubled-sibling rescue, while the same-sex romance has been replaced by a heterosexual one: presumably, Hallmark wanted to avoid offending its most conservative viewers. (Meanwhile, Darcy's duplicitous business partner is a woman named -- in what I can only conclude is a spirit of gratuitous anti-Janeite insult -- Austin.)


It’s hard to know how to feel about the semi-radical transformation on display here. (Except for the craven gay-to-straight move; I know just how to feel about that.) On the one hand, I cannot lament the loss of de la Cruz’s plot, because it is terrible.


But on the other hand, the bait-and-switch is breathtaking: You lure viewers with the promise of P&P, and instead they get a generically written and tepidly acted Enemies-to-Lovers rom-com in which Girl and Boy trade a few vaguely hostile witticisms before settling into an exchange of soulful glances and heartfelt platitudes (“You’re every ounce the man your dad was”), sprinkled with holiday-tinted saccharine (“Christmas isn’t just a day or a season – it’s a state of mind.”).


I suppose it could be said that by repeatedly tuning in to these mediocre-at-best Austen spinoffs, we Janeites – and by “we” I mean “I” – deserve whatever we get. Like the “fond mother. . . in pursuit of praise for her children” whom Austen describes in chapter 21 of Sense and Sensibility, we may perhaps be “though . . . the most rapacious of human beings . . . likewise the most credulous; [our] demands are exorbitant; but [we] will swallow anything.”


Because you know that if next year’s Countdown to Christmas includes Holiday at Hartfield or Yuletide Abbey, I’ll be there.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 2 2018 01:00PM

We journalists like to joke that once you have three examples of something – avocado toast! Suburban sex-toy parties! -- you can write a story declaring said phenomenon to be “a trend.” Thus it is that I feel completely justified in declaring that second-order Jane Austen spinoffs -- adaptations of Austen adaptations – officially constitute a trend.


Herewith the crucial three data points:


1. Last month, the Hallmark Channel subjected us to Marrying Mr. Darcy, the limp sequel to Unleashing Mr. Darcy, its execrable 2016 filmed version of a novel setting Pride and Prejudice in the contemporary dog-show world.


2. This fall, an off-Broadway theater plans to premier Clueless: The Musical, featuring classic ‘90s pop songs with parodic lyrics written by Amy Heckerling, the auteur behind the beloved 1995 movie that updated Emma to high school in Beverly Hills.


3. Perhaps inspired by the success, if such it can be called, of dog-show Darcy, Hallmark has announced plans for a Christmas movie entitled Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, “a Yuletide-themed, gender-swapping update of the classic Jane Austen novel,” according to Entertainment Weekly.


This movie too is based on Austen fanfic – a book of the same title by Melissa de la Cruz, whose Amazon listing reveals her to be the hard-working author of dozens of novels on subjects ranging from bikini-clad au pairs to time-traveling witches to Alexander Hamilton’s love life. I haven’t read any of her stuff, but P&P&M is on my Kindle as of today. (I always prefer to read the book before seeing the movie. And you know I'll see the movie.)


Et voilà – three examples, and thus a trend.


Now that I think about it, I may even be a bit late in my trend-spotting. After all, it’s been nearly four years since the BBC brought us a filmed version of Death Comes to Pemberley, P.D. James’ murder-mystery-themed Pride and Prejudice sequel. Yes, the book was terrible and the movie only marginally better – but that’s not enough to stop a speeding trend in its tracks.


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