Cancer-stricken kids are hard to top when it comes to generating an emotional response, but the Hallmark Hall of Fame’s latest preholiday visit, “November Christmas,” nevertheless gets the most out of that heart-tugging (and -warming) premise. That’s largely thanks to Sam Elliott as a curmudgeonly neighbor, wide-eyed Emily Alyn Lind as the child and a winning “It takes a village”-type theme derived from Greg Coppa’s short story. Predictable as the movie is, under Robert Harmon’s sensitive direction of P’Nenah Goldstein’s script, you’d have to be a real Scrooge to resist it.
The best of Hallmark’s movies create the atmosphere of a haven from the bustle of the TV world, one that encourages a cup of cocoa by the fire and perhaps the shedding of a few tears. Oh, and incidentally, have you bought your holiday cards yet?
Toward that end, the parents in this movie — played by John Corbett and Sarah Paulson — confuse their neighbors by asking a lot of questions about finding pumpkins in August and Christmas trees well before Thanksgiving. It turns out that’s because their 8-year-old daughter Vanessa (Lind) is sick, and fearing the worst, they want to squeeze in as many holidays as they can while she’s still able to enjoy them.
Enter a kindly farmer (Elliott) and his wife (Karen Allen), who lost a child themselves years before. After a few puzzling exchanges with Tom (Corbett) and realizing the ordeal their family faces, the older couple begins looking after their son for them, before engineering an act of kindness — infused with the spirit of the Make-a-Wish Foundation — almost sure to put a lump in even the most cynical throat.
A bit like fellow sexagenarian (and CBS stalwart) Tom Selleck, Elliott has somehow managed to suspend the aging process except in the most flattering of ways, while losing none of his laconic charm. He’s the linchpin of the movie’s appeal — along with Lind, a marvelous little actress — though it’s a firstrate cast from top to bottom.
Admittedly, “November Christmas” can’t help but amble along in places, given that there’s relatively little meat and the story is told in reassuring flashback. But unlike some recent “Hall of Fame” entries, the payoff here is ultimately worth taking the time to set aside a box of tissues and warm up some cocoa.