Monday, December 07, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Christmas By Starlight (2020)

This year, as the song goes, "We need a little Christmas" -- make that a lot of Christmas -- and for me that includes making room for more Christmas movies in the schedule.

Over the last couple of weeks I've enjoyed a couple of Hallmark Channel Christmas films, A VETERAN'S CHRISTMAS (2018) and FIVE STAR CHRISTMAS (2020).

Tonight's Hallmark Channel film was CHRISTMAS BY STARLIGHT (2020), which I found very well done and enjoyable.

CHRISTMAS BY STARLIGHT stars and was written by Kimberley Sustad and Paul Campbell, who previously costarred in A GODWINK CHRISTMAS (2018) and WEDDING EVERY WEEKEND (2020). Sustad and Campbell cowrote the original story, with Campbell then writing the final screenplay.

There are threads of movies past running through the film, from the big business squeezing out the little guy of YOU'VE GOT MAIL (1998) to Mickey and Judy's "Let's put on a show!" (or, in this case, a fundraiser) in a few days' time, with a dash of TWO WEEKS NOTICE (2002) on the side.

Campbell's screenplay successfully melds those familiar themes with smart, funny dialogue and well-developed characters who quickly move beyond stock "types" into interesting, fully rounded people.

Sustad plays Annie Park, a family law attorney specializing in adoptions. When she learns that her parents' Starlight Cafe is slated for demolition by the property owners, Annie confronts William Holt (Campbell), whose father's corporation is planning to raze the cafe prior to redevelopment.

Will works for his father but isn't particularly happy, content to let his ultra-efficient assistant Lyle (Darren Martens) handle many of the issues which arise. Circumstances lead to Will needing to hire an attorney to appease his father (Malcolm Stewart), and when Annie providentially shows up, Will proposes a deal: Annie helps him until Christmas, and he saves the Starlight Cafe.

As indicated above, it's a pretty simple, familiar plot, but it's very well executed. The rapid-fire dialogue and sarcasm of Sustad and Campbell's early scenes felt a bit like a screwball comedy and had me laughing out loud in a couple of spots. While the outcome of the story was never in doubt, Sustad and Campbell kept me smiling and wanting to know what would happen next.

Although Will initially comes off as immature, I liked how his character was developed, quickly showing there's more to him than meets the eye. Annie herself isn't perfect, with her success masking the fact that she's a bit of a control freak. The viewer comes to understand that while Annie and Will had different formative experiences -- Will brought up in luxury by a distant father, Annie adopted at age four -- they're much more alike than they initially realized.

The supporting cast includes a strong turn by Martens as Will's assistant, and Hazel Venzon also deserves a nod as Helen, the cafe's straight-talking waitress.  Rebecca Staab and Bruce Dawson play Annie's parents.

CHRISTMAS BY STARLIGHT was directed by Gary Yates and filmed by Mahlon Todd Williams. Like many Hallmark films, the movie was shot in Canada, in this case Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Recommended for a very enjoyable 84 minutes.

Stay tuned for more Christmas reviews as the month goes on, including some wonderful Warner Archive Blu-ray reissues of Christmas favorites.

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