Despite its glittering history, the holiday kitchen at Hallmark has served up an unusually bland dish, with a script flatter than one of the company’s cards. Hard as it is to miss with a warm and fuzzy Christmas movie right after Thanksgiving, “Silver Bells” complements a big family feast like a weak cup of coffee with too much saccharine.
All the requisite elements are here — from the heartwarming score to the snowy backdrops — but there’s no magic in this midlife romance, which is tellingly supposed to capture the wintry charm of New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood but was shot at Paramount in Hollywood.
Widower Christopher (Tate Donovan) brings his two kids from Nova Scotia to New York each year to peddle wares from their Christmas tree farm, but teenage son Danny (Michael Mitchell) yearns for a career in photography. So after a very public falling-out with dad, he flees into the wilds of Manhattan, receiving help from a museum manager, Catherine (Anne Heche), who supports his dream.
A year passes without word from Danny. When Christopher and daughter Bridget (Courtney Jines) return, dad begins to form a not-really-that-gradual bond with Catherine, who is equally detached emotionally following the death of her husband. (In fictional romances such as this, apparently, all spouses conveniently die instead of going through nasty divorces.)
The uplifting message, ultimately, will be about regaining both love and faith: Catherine’s Christmas spirit has dissipated (she won’t buy a tree or attend church anymore) since her husband’s death — a point referenced by her friend Lizzie (Lourdes Benedicto), who also pushes her toward Christopher.
Unfortunately, the characters here are too petulant to inspire much holiday forgiveness. While one can sympathize with Danny’s aspirations, for example, running away seems an utterly self-absorbed way to pursue them. Ditto for Christopher’s disappointment that he can’t keep his son down on the farm, and for Catherine in continuing to deceive a worried father.
“Why can’t his work be with me?” Christopher whines to Catherine, one of several lines of dialogue so predictable that it’s easy to mouth the words in advance.
Heche and Donovan do what they can, but other than being attractive there’s nothing convincing about their budding romance, and the latter doesn’t quite fit the whole “I’m a lumberjack” description, experiencing what look like faulty lapses in beard continuity.
Christopher regularly seeks to cheer his kids by saying that if he can’t sell a Christmas tree to a man smelling chestnuts, then he’s out of business. Similarly, if Hallmark can’t cobble together an engaging movie about a Christmas tree salesman and a woman rediscovering God and romance, it might be time to ship that defective item back to Santa’s workshop.