×

The Christmas Heart

A family affair both on- and offscreen, "The Christmas Heart" overly pushes faith and the power of prayer, which would be more interesting, frankly, if that portion of the movie were expanded, and the hackneyed devices dialed down to, oh, an 8 on a 1-to-10 scale.

With:
Ann Norman - Teri Polo
Mike Norman - Paul Essiembre
Matt Norman - Ty Wood
Tommy Norman - Cruise Brown
Elizabeth - Tess Harper

A family affair both on- and offscreen, “The Christmas Heart” overly pushes faith and the power of prayer, which would be more interesting, frankly, if that portion of the movie were expanded, and the hackneyed devices dialed down to, oh, an 8 on a 1-to-10 scale. As is, this Patricia Heaton-produced holiday pic — written by her brother, Michael — is sort of fun, if only to feel smug anticipating every plot beat several minutes before it happens, and to listen for all the conspicuously-Canadian accents popping up in Cleveland and Detroit.

Normally, the whole shot-in-Manitoba thing wouldn’t be an issue, but beyond star Teri Polo and a cameo by Tess Harper, the voices here have such a clear Great White Northern rhythm as to be periodically distracting. Or maybe that’s picking nits, eh?

As for the plot, perhaps you’ve heard a close variant of this one before: A 15-year-old Cleveland boy suffers heart failure just before Christmas, leaving his understandably stricken mother (Polo) and dad (Paul Essiembre) clinging to the hope of a transplant, with only days to spare. A parallel story involves a young man in Detroit who’s gotten involved with an unsavory element, which will eventually leave his mother (Harper) with a painful choice about using his loss to save another.

Given the title, there’s something slightly morbid about the prolonged nature of the secondary plot. The movie has a chance to become engaging when the mom and dad discuss her faith vs. his lack of belief — glancing on how religion informs dealing with crises — but alas, pretty quickly abandons that thread, as director Gary Yates races to erect new hurdles during the busy last couple of acts.

Even within the formulaic confines of Hallmark’s brand, the dialogue doesn’t have to be quite this on the nose, and the performances are, to put it charitably, uneven. While the channel’s feel-good strategy is crystal clear, it’s hard not to wish the company would order fewer holiday movies, and invest them with more effort and imagination, as opposed to its big-box-store approach.

Among the stock characters, there’s a crotchety neighbor, Bob (Blake Taylor), whose own faith has also been tested and shaken. When the residents rally behind the family in its moment of need, he asks tartly, “What if this little story doesn’t have a nice, happy ending?”

Rest easy, Bob. With something like “The Christmas Heart,” the comfort is knowing you can see every beat telegraphed as if it were Rudolph’s nose on Christmas eve.

Popular on Variety

The Christmas Heart

Movie; Hallmark Channel, Sun. Dec. 2, 8 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Manitoba by Xmas Heart Films in association with Julijette and FourBoys Entertainment. Executive producers, Patricia Heaton, David Hunt, A.J. Morewitz, Norman Denver, Dale Cornick; producer, Juliette Hagopian; director, Gary Yates; writer, Michael Heaton.

Crew: Camera, Michael Marshall; production designer, Gord Wilding; editor, Brad Caslor; music, Shawn Pierce; casting, Jim Heber. 120 MIN.

Cast: Ann Norman - Teri Polo
Mike Norman - Paul Essiembre
Matt Norman - Ty Wood
Tommy Norman - Cruise Brown
Elizabeth - Tess HarperWith: John B. Lowe, Susan Kelso, Blake Taylor.

More TV

  • A Planned Parenthood clinic is seen,

    Variety to Forgo Annual Emmy Party for Donation to Planned Parenthood

    Variety has decided to make a donation to Planned Parenthood in lieu of hosting this year’s annual Emmy Awards nominees party in partnership with Women In Film. The decision comes in response to Planned Parenthood’s Aug. 19 announcement that it will drop funding over the current administration’s “unethical” rule blocking the organization from discussing its [...]

  • Rebel Wilson Isn't It Romantic

    TV News Roundup: Rebel Wilson to Host First Australian Amazon Original Series

    In today’s TV news roundup, the NFL and Pluto TV announce the launch of a new channel, and Rebel Wilson is named as the host of the first Amazon original series to come out of Australia.  CASTING Rebel Wilson is set to host and executive produce the Australian Amazon original series “LOL: Last One Laughing,” the [...]

  • Moffatt Family with the Himba tribe

    U.K.’s Channel 4 Takes British Family to Africa in New Reality Show

    U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 has greenlit new factual entertainment format “The British Tribe Next Door,” which will see a British family spend four weeks with a remote tribe in Namibia. The twist in this format is that, unlike most adventurers, the participants don’t say goodbye to the comforts of their home — instead, they take them with [...]

  • Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa - The

    'Walking Dead' Star Christian Serratos in Talks for Selena Series at Netflix

    Christian Serratos is in negotiations to star in the upcoming Netflix series based on the life of Tejano music star Selena Quintanilla, Variety has confirmed with sources. The series was announced back in December and is described as a coming of age story following Selena (Serratos) as her dreams come true and all the heart-wrenching [...]

  • Songs for Screens Powered by Mac

    Songs for Screens: 'American Horror Story' Makes 'Suddenly Last Summer' Sizzle Again

    FX Network’s “American Horror Story” returns for a ninth season next month, and promos for the next chapter of the anticipated series, dubbed ‘AHS 1984,’ have been airing frequently across cable television throughout August. In the short yet effective spot (see below), the Motels’ melancholic, moody “Suddenly Last Summer” plays as aerial footage of an [...]

  • Wanda Sykes, Mike Epps to Star

    Wanda Sykes, Mike Epps to Star in Multi-Camera Comedy Series for Netflix

    Wanda Sykes and Mike Epps are headed to Netflix. The streamer has ordered a multi-camera comedy series starring the two comedians titled “The Upshaws.” The series centers on a working-class Africian American family in Indiana struggling to make it work and make it right without the blueprints to do it. Sykes will executive produce and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content