TV Review: Hallmark Hall of Fame’s ‘Christmas in Conway’

Christmas in Conway Hallmark Hall of

Hallmark's latest sentimental holiday offering tries to move hearts - and greeting cards

The present state of the Hallmark Hall of Fame is such that the once-hallowed franchise has to be graded on a curve. By that yardstick, “Christmas in Conway” is perhaps better than most of its recent card-peddling sojourns, even if the whole movie is essentially a long, rather tedious buildup to one grand, snow-capped romantic gesture. Andy Garcia, Mary-Louise Parker and Mandy Moore lend a star halo to the pic, but even for those who listen to all-Christmas-song radio stations starting around Thanksgiving, this one is a pretty thin alternative to simply watching one of the holiday classics.

In the early going, Moore’s Natalie signs on as the caregiver to Parker’s Suzy, who is dying of cancer. She’s the friendly half of a couple with Garcia’s Duncan, whose main attribute – other than gruffness – seems to be that he truly, madly loves his wife, so much so that he’s determined to erect a giant Ferris wheel in their backyard, for reasons that appear painfully obvious.

The minor subplots, such as they are, involve a possible new romance for Natalie and a persnickety neighbor (Cheri Oteri, more annoying than anything she ever conjured on “Saturday Night Live”) who fears Duncan’s grandiose plans might threaten her claims to the best light display in the ’hood. And because that’s about the most conflict one can summon from Stephen P. Lindsey and Luis Ugaz’s script as directed by John Kent Harrison, the movie has to settle for watching Parker’s character hang on long enough for Duncan to present her with his oversized gift.

Sappy isn’t always bad, and you’d have to be a pretty heartless curmudgeon not to get a bit twinkly once the snow starts falling and Geoff Zanelli’s score kicks into high gear. But “Christmas in Conway” isn’t so much a movie as an extended prelude to what could be dashed off in a holiday-themed commercial, which is a pretty good description of what this Hall of Fame has become.

For Hallmark, that might be enough to put people in the card-buying mood. But for those who remember when the franchise aimed higher, there’s ample reason to temper those tidings of comfort and joy with a bit of “Bah, humbug” too.

TV Review: Hallmark Hall of Fame's 'Christmas in Conway'

(Movie; ABC, Sun. Dec. 1, 9 p.m.)

Production

Produced by Hallmark Hall of Fame Prods.

Crew

Executive producers, Hawk Koch, Brent Shields; producer, Andrew Gottlieb; director, John Kent Harrison; writers, Stephen P. Lindsey, Luis Ugaz; camera, James Chressanthis; production designer, Stephen Marsh; editor, David Beatty; music, Geoff Zanelli. 120 MIN.

Cast

Andy Garcia, Mandy Moore, Cheri Oteri, Riley Smith, Mary-Louise Parker

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  1. Edwin Runner says:

    Last song in the movie is titled top of the world by Matthew Perryman Jones.

  2. Angie Fehl says:

    I wanted to know too! I finally tracked it down. It’s “Top Of The World” by Matthew Perryman Jones!

    • Decal says:

      Unfortunately, the song Top Of The World by Matthew Perryman Jones is not in the DVD version of Christmas In Conway. During the ferris wheel scene at the end they only play a portion of the movie score and Top Of The World is completely gone. The end of the movie doesn’t have the same emotional impact without the song. Makes me wish I would have recorded the movie when it was on tv instead of purchasing the DVD.

  3. Patti Lietz says:

    I would like to know what was the name of the last song in Christmas in Conway when they we on the Ferris wheel.. Is it available? Thank You

  4. Martha McGlynn says:

    I feel another P.O.V. should be presented besides Sharon’s-she who is noble in facing horrific circumstances at holidays. My husband admires Andy Garcia, but he flat-out refused to watch this movie as I nearly died in November 2010. I realize he might be considered cowardly, but I (I was unaware I was that ill) understand his attitude-my “brush” scared the daylights out of him, and this movie would only remind him of a terrible time in our family. I assume we should all feel our characters have been “improved” for a while after that crisis, I resent people acting as if we all should embrace depressing events, and if we don’t, then we’re just way too shallow. I am truly sorry Sharon’s family has had these losses, but please realize there are those of us who would prefer to strive for happier holidays, and would rather not dwell on the negative times.

    • Sharon Elaine Calnan says:

      So be it Martha McGlynn. You and everyone have every right to not view whatever programming you choose and to say so. I get your feelings and your husband’s. My issue with William O’Leary’s comment was that he wasn’t just saying I don’t want to see this as a personal choice, he was basically saying he feels sorry for those who do, like there is something wrong with them to do so. Like they are damaged or something. He goes onto say that he hopes the movie will never be re-shown. In saying all of that he is insulting all who liked it and denying them their choices by putting it out there that this movie should never be shown again. He has a right to not like whatever he chooses for whatever reason he feels. He does not have a right to insult anyone who feels differently or to try and take their choice away from them. I found it very beautifully done and it reached me on a very personal level. The acting was superb, the story line very truthful and believable. Everyone faces these issues in their own way. That is as it should be. Just don’t insult me or mine. (that last was directed to Mr. O’Leary).

  5. C. Tripp says:

    This movie has heart! All characters played their parts well. Could feel their deep love, tenderness and understanding of the couple. Enjoyed the humor they shared in spite of the difficulty of what they were going through. Wanted to hug the husband, to help relieve some of his pain. Really liked this movie all the cast gave outstanding performaces.

  6. Sandra Carter says:

    My husband enjoyed the movie; I loved it. Why can’t we just enjoy a ‘sappy’ movie if we want to? Why do so many people feel a movie has to have sex and violence to count? I, for one, enjoy the movies this time of year about family, giving and caring for someone beside their selves. Good for you Hallmark and UP, along with the many others who share this type of movie with us!!! Also can anyone remember the name of the nail polish Mandy’s character used…… Tahitian ?????

  7. Angie says:

    I wanna know the name of the song at the end, does anybody know?

  8. Angela says:

    I live right here in Conway and that is an awesome movie even though it was filmed in Wilmington but we have a lot of scenes from here though and myrtle beach.. EVeryone must watch..

  9. heidi says:

    I could only love this movie at Christmas but, hey, it’s Christmas time so …yeah, I totally cried. I thought that the snow was going to be the neighbour’s fake snow machine and it would be her way of making peace with the Mayors. A bit disappointed that it was ‘miracle real’, but the score was pretty beautiful so that made up for it.

  10. Ilene says:

    I love the Hallmark movies, have been watching them for years, very predictable, which is expected. Like others, I was crying at the end, until the fake snow started falling. Why is it when a film is set in the south they have to do the whole fake snow thing, cheesy?

  11. G. Lawander says:

    I fell a sleep before it came on. The thing is though…I have been watching Hallmark H most of my of my life since a young child and none of them are different or new. I was thinking about writing to someone to ask them for different type characters and plots. I think I’m done with Hallmark H.

  12. William O'Leary says:

    The movie had good acting. Story line was predictable. But for a Christmas movie, it was terrible. If it brought cheer to your heart to see a woman slowly lose her life to cancer and how it effects everyone around the dying person, I feel sorry for you. Hallmark created a depressing movie and added a rotten attempt to put a Christmas spin to it. I hope this movie is never again shown.

    • Sharon Elaine Calnan says:

      I normally don’t look to review movies regardless of how much it affected me yet this one I had to. Then when seeing subsequent comments I have felt the necessity to comment again. The reviewer said it was predictable (that was true), also sappy. The comments that followed have run the gamut of good and bad. Mr. O’Leary said it was terrible for a Christmas movie because it was depressing (despite the feel good predictable moments especially at the end, The grand gesture) and because it is tied to the Christmas season it should never be shown again. This is patently wrong. Guess what, terminal illnesses don’t respect Holidays and/or personal family celebrations. A person doesn’t stop dying for a period of time to avoid such occasions. Case in point, in my family this last Thanksgiving/Christmas season of 2012 we had a close family member dying of Cancer who was a mother, wife, sister, grandmother, she lasted until three days after Christmas, Dec. 28, 2012. We had another family member, a cousin who had fought a several year long fight with intestinal Cancer who lost his fight the day after Christmas also this last year. Five months later in May my brother died suddenly of a massive heart attack, having had no prior warning. This movie was truth, it may not have been pretty or completely upbeat but it was truth. Truth in what can and does happen, truth in the emotions that inspires in the family around them, truth in the grand gestures that grieving family members some times result to, truth of poignancy. These illnesses and/or medical emergencies don’t respect these holidays, doesn’t respect how much loss a family has already sustained, does not respect such things as birthdays like my sister who died of a massive also sudden heart attack in 2006 the day before her birthday. I commend Hallmark Channel for its complete honesty in telling the human story, the good and the bad in all its intensity, This movie was not completely upbeat, yes it was sad, but also truthfully there were moments where goodness and kindness shown through which did not fix or minimize the pain but showed the resilience of the human spirit and the growth of character we are all capable of. This movie did not pull any punches and regardless of how hard it was for someone who had such a loss to watch it, I would heartily recommend this movie and sincerely hope they do re-show it many times. Yes the acting was superb, very well done.

      • Sharon Elaine Calnan says:

        @ Millie R, thank you for your remarks. So sorry for your losses especially your Mom. You understand me and my response to Mr. O’leary’s comments. Yes, I am aware some who have gone through losses such as these may not be able to tolerate watching such a movie and that is as it should be. All should grieve as they must. However, that said it goes for all. So allow us our feelings about this movie and don’t say there is something wrong with us if we were touched by it. It was a very well made movie and the acting was extremely well done, not that I am surprised with the caliber of the actors in this movie. I think it likely that this movie will be inspire intense but appreciative feelings after having watched it for most.

      • Millie R. says:

        @ Sharon ~ I also loved this movie. Even though it made me cry, thinking of my Mom who passed away 4 years ago on Christmas Eve and losing my husband in April of this year. Also others I’ve lost in the past few years, even though they are in a better place now.

  13. Cr says:

    It’s always a bad sign when you know exactly how the movie will play out 30 seconds in. I thought Cheri Oteri was funny and she’s the only reason I kept watching.

    • Sherrie Reeves Fry says:

      Thank you, Sharon, for your absolute, to the point words. Yes it was perfect for Christmas. Death is not pretty, funny or entertaining but many times the “heart” of a person/persons come out at this time. We had to watch my Daddy die 14 days before Christmas…a healthy, life loving man cut down at 85 years old when he should have been getting ready for a holiday he loved spending with his “girls” and our Mother. Thank you Hallmark, for your movies. I love them all and look forward to each and every one!

      • Sharon Elaine Calnan says:

        Thank you Sherrie Reeves Fry for your reply. I am very sorry for your loss. Luckily my parents at 79 for my Mom and 80 for my Dad are still alive. Both have had significant and numerous health issues. My Dad a month ago had what was termed “a minor stroke” and although very light has left him with weakness on one side and brought a pretty robust man to reduced mobility and unable to drive anymore something very hard for such an independent man. My Mom has diabetes for several years now among other problems so I am well aware I may not have either much longer. I must prepare myself. However, one can never completely be prepared for such a loss so I thank you for your words which must have been very hard to compose. Seeing this movie was difficult because of our other losses but it perfectly depicted not only the deep sadness of this situation but the magnified love all involved feel. Nothing is quite so eye opening as to what is truly important in anyone’s life as losing a loved one. Makes much insignificant and loving each other paramount. Intense but beautiful in it’s own way as this movie was. i have been inspired by the quality of Hallmark Movies in their honesty and I trust them for being the best at telling the human story. I have yet to be disappointed and most certainly not with this movie. Again, I recommend it to all.

  14. Kim says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Christmas in Conway’! It was a feel-good movie with a quality cast that made me laugh and cry and laugh again. Of course there was a “sappy” ending, as Mr. Lowry put it, but isn’t there supposed to be? This was a delightful change from the constant barrage of disease, death, destruction and zombies the viewers are inundated with.. Despite what Mr.Lowry feels regarding the quality of Hallmark Hall of Fame movies, I say BRAVO! to cast, crew and Hallmark!

    • Sharon Elaine Calnan says:

      Thank you Kim. Whomever you are. Your comment was in line with my feelings and extremely well said. You actually get it, the reason for Hallmark movies. The reason why I frequently find myself checking out what the Hallmark Channel is showing because I am so tired of turning on the TV and getting depressed trying to find something I would actually want to watch out of the normal fare. Hallmark Channel always has quality movies with good human stories, good acting, good people making them. Definitely the high end of TV fare. A reason to hope, a reason to find joy that defeats the sadness, and honesty of real emotions real human situations that if they were honest most could completely relate to.

  15. Sharon Elaine Calnan says:

    I take issue with the above review. This movie may have had some sappy in it but considering the premise of a dying wife, one who’s character is that of a person is loving, positive, supportive human being who has clearly been a role model to the students she taught. She is stricken with a terminal illness and this movie goes through all of the emotions and obstacles such a horrendous tragedy would cause. I found the acting to be completely believable and riveting. The last scene brought me to tears. I think Hallmark and all involved should be commended for an extremely good movie.

  16. Sue says:

    Is Christmas in Conway going to be replayed? We missed the end of it?

  17. right here in horry county,south carolina, wow so cool

  18. Sadly, the new Hallmark Christmas movies are remakes of “Groundhog Day” “Scrooge” and single mother/father of one finds love in the last 2 minutes of the movie. I stick to the older ones, but I love “Mrs. Miracle” and Peter Falk as the angel “Max”.

  19. Twuth says:

    So, Conway, NH; Conway, AR; Conway, MA; Conway, SC (I think); Conway, NC???

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