Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Love, Lights, Hanukkah! (2020)

Christmas plans and wrapping up work for the year have meant light blogging for the last few days, but the pace should pick up now that I'm on Christmas vacation.

Over the last few days I did fit in another holiday film from Hallmark Channel, LOVE, LIGHTS, HANUKKAH! (2020), which turned out to be quite special.

The movie was written by Karen Berger, who wrote another top favorite Hallmark film, LOVE YOU LIKE CHRISTMAS (2016).

Chef and restaurant owner Christina Rossi (Mia Kirshner) is coping with her first Christmas without her recently deceased mother by going all-out on decorations.

Christina confides to her close friend and colleague Janet (Brandi Alexander) that she'd like to have love in her life.  Little does she know her wish is about to be answered in a big way.

A DNA test reveals that Christina, who was adopted by her single mother, is part Italian and part Jewish, and she lives near someone who is a close DNA match.  That someone, Becky Berman (Advah Soudack), emails Christina and ultimately invites her to meet her family.  It quickly becomes apparent that Becky's mother Ruth (Marilu Henner) was Christina's birth mother; Ruth had never told Becky or her son Scott (David Kaye) about the baby she gave up for adoption before meeting their late father.

Everyone has some adjusting to do to the surprising news, but they also enjoy each other's company and are excited to get to know one another.  Becky attends several Hanukkah events with her newfound family, learning about their faith and traditions, and they reciprocate by joining her at her restaurant on Christmas Eve for the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes.

To top things off, Christina quickly finds herself falling for David (Ben Savage), a close friend of her new family -- despite the fact that he's a restaurant critic who gave her a tepid review!  Within a matter of days Christina's life is overflowing with new love, a true Hanukkah and Christmas miracle.

I found this film quite lovely, with a well-written script and natural, interesting performances.  Both Kirschner and Savage struck me as unique personalities in the Hallmark milieu.  

I thought Savage was particularly strong as David, who is kind and funny, and in his own way trying to figure out his life just like Christina.  I liked the way his character was illustrated in small moments, such as following Christina to her car after she's learned about her birth mother, making sure that she's okay to drive.

Christina alternates between being guarded and warm, which seems on target for someone who's processing a lot of new life changes on top of adjusting to the loss of her mother.  When she opens up she reveals a humorous side which is a good match for David.  The movie also quietly winks at Christina's tendency to go "overboard" with things she likes as the menorahs on her mantle start multiplying!

I've seen a couple critical remarks from people who felt the complicated situation was handled too patly, but my feeling was that these were all understanding, emotionally healthy people, and it's meant to be an uplifting 84-minute Hallmark movie.  Within that context, I really liked the choices that were made.  The characters handled the situations with the right mix of tentativeness and excitement, and I found it refreshing that the film wasn't overly melodramatic or filled with too much angst.

While not delving very deeply into religion, the movie does a nice job of presenting the celebration of Hanukkah, juxtaposed with Christina's Christmas traditions.  The audience learns about the meaning of Hanukkah along with Christina, and it's quite a moving moment when she is able to surprise the family by singing a candle-lighting prayer she's learned from David.

The supporting cast is excellent, with Henner giving a performance which is nicely restrained and believable.  Everyone in the film is someone the audience would enjoy spending time with, which makes the characters' quick embrace of one another persuasive.

The film was directed by Mark Jean. It was filmed in Vancouver.

I thoroughly enjoyed LOVE, LIGHTS, HANUKKAH! and will be watching it again in the future.  Recommended.

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