Although rightfully viewed as a bastion of class, “Hallmark Hall of Fame” has hit an extended rough patch, one that has continued unabated since the franchise moved to ABC — falling well short of the “When you care enough to send the very best” slogan. Enter “Christmas With Holly,” a particularly listless holiday movie about an uncle raising a grieving little girl, and a woman whose toy store helps bring the kid out of her shell. If the obstacles erected to stretch out romantic comedies sometimes seem silly, “Holly” demonstrates just how uninspired the template can be without them.
Little 6-year-old Holly (played by Lucy and Josie Gallina) hasn’t spoken since her mother died, leaving her in the care of an uncle, Mark (Sean Faris). Faced with having the girl held back in school, he instead leaves Seattle for the Washington State island Friday Harbor, where he grew up, moving in with his oddball brothers (Daniel Eric Gold, Dana Watkins), who keep not-so-subtly saying instant fatherhood might be over his head.
Mark also has a shrew of a girlfriend, Shelby (Alex Paxton-Beesley), who doesn’t want to make him choose between her and the tyke, but, well. …
Fortunately, it’s pretty clear Mark’s female problem will correct itself when he meets the winsome Maggie (Eloise Mumford) on the ferry to Friday Harbor. Still smarting from a failed romance, Maggie is opening a toy store, which happens to be the one place where little Holly might open up.
Even with scant doubt about the outcome, “Christmas With Holly” (adapted from Lisa Kleypas’ novel by P’nenah Goldstein, and directed by Allan Arkush) is oddly limp, with two central characters who are attractive but not terribly interesting. Not that they’re to blame, since precious little here instills them with any dimension beyond the surface — or does anything to make the last third feel like more than a prolonged anticlimax.
Hallmark’s movies have always served an obvious marketing purpose — creating a heartwarming environment to promote sending cards before appropriate holidays — but they traditionally tackled compelling topics and featured stellar casts. By contrast, this latest effort is about as generic as the form gets — virtually indistinguishable from a parade of feel-good titles on Hallmark Channel.
A deal to share the “Hall of Fame” between ABC and Hallmark Channel might have made the movies easier to sustain, financially speaking, despite declining ratings. Still, if the quality follows its current trajectory, even this storied franchise could find itself buried with a stake of “Holly” through its heart.