A Christmas Family Tree
Okay guys, here we are. Second movie of the weekend. How are we all feeling? I gotta tell you, I really needed some levity this weekend and I’m not really sure I got it. Hoping Hallmark isn’t just a foster care sob fest every dang weekend because my heart can’t take it.
So the movie begins with some weird background music. It’s a really jarring Christmas song. I HATE IT. Vanessa is at work early. She looks longingly at a picture of someone’s family on their desk and then hurriedly leaves a bunch of gifts on everyone’s desks. The rest of the office arrives but nobody says thank you.
Later, Vanessa takes a phone call right in the middle of the office.
A family stops by to tell Vanessa how thankful they are for her. Wow they even break out into song. Well, two lines of We Wish You A Merry Christmas. Then they invite her for Christmas. Wow. Presumptuous. What did she do for them? I am assuming this couple adopted some combination of the children in front of us.
That evening, Vanessa strolls around outside, helping people as she goes. Then she walks into her beautifully decorated apartment. She gives her dog, Mickey, a present. He seems like a perfectly fine boy though small dogs aren’t my jam. Her friend/neighbor/coworker? arrives and judges her for being in sweats by 8:30. I mean, you guys, 8:30 is basically the middle of the night so I don’t see the problem. Then her friend judges every single one of us that watch all these movies. So, what’s that about? You’re the one making these movies, Hallmark! What are we going to do? Not watch them?
Then the friend asks if she got her ancestry DNA results. Casual Charles Schwab advertisement on the table? She reads through the breakdown of her heritage and then she realizes she has a paternal match. She’s too afraid to see who it is. It turns out that her biological dad is an hour away! They immediately look him up on social media. She says, “He has a family.” Then her friend says, “That means you have a family.” Oh, it’s too early for this. The friend wonders if he might be looking for her too! Vanessa agrees to email him.
We flash to her dad, Richard, falling off his roof putting up Christmas lights. Was it because of the email? His home is BEAUTIFULLY DECORATED. With ribbons on all the cabinet doors and all manner of other practical decoration. Then he tells his wife, Pauline that he thinks he has a daughter. He was dating a woman and got deployed and couldn’t find her when he got back. Pauline is the most chill wife in all the land and suggests that he call her. She’s chill like the mom in Elf is chill. So, Richard just CALLS Vanessa. No warning. Just cold calls her. Wow. Vanessa is a mess. Wow. It’s awkward. We all agree. But what else would you even say? He asks if she’d like to meet in person. I mean, we’ve only got 80 minutes here so we can’t waste a second trying to decide if we should meet him, I suppose. Richard is ready to just jump in the car and drive to the city to meet her.
They meet at a park next to her house. Richard just hugs her. So everyone is just perfectly calm and fine about all of this right away. They go get hot chocolate. Vanessa delivers heartbreaking detail after heartbreaking detail about her life up until that point. It is frankly, too much to bear. She tells Richard that her mom died when she was nine and she ended up in foster care. She says a couple fostered her until college. Why didn’t they adopt her? I don’t get this. She didn’t have any relatives. The case should have moved to permanency at some point? Vanessa works at a foster care agency now. Then she asks what happened with him and her mom. He tells her he never knew about her and never knew what happened to “Trish” who Vanessa called “Patty.” Well that’s curious. Then Richard invites her to spend Christmas with his family. WHOA. I mean, that is A LOT right? He then suggests that a new stranger pick her up and bring her to his house-a place she has never been, filled with additional people she doesn’t know. All because of a notification on a for-profit genealogy website. ARE WE REALLY GOING TO DO THIS? Guys we are verging dangerously on horror movie territory.
But Chris is super cute, so Vanessa agrees to hop into his car. Chris worries he is the lead in a horror movie of his own and asks, so, like, why are you coming to spend Christmas with this family? I’ve never met you. Vanessa is like, Richard didn’t tell you? OH GIRL let me catch you up.
They stop on this one-hour drive for a sit down coffee, as you do. OMG A TYLER HYNES CAMEO. WHAT. A BEARDLESS TYLER HYNES CAMEO. Okay let me recover.
Okay. Chris says his dad and Richard were friends in the army. Chris is a “corporate attorney.” So, do you work for a company? Or help corporations get started? Or what? IT DOESN’T MATTER.
They arrive at Richard’s house and Chris reassures her that she is now part of a really great family. Richard has an awkward exchange with his kids about how Vanessa exists. When I say awkward, I mean, I like, hid behind my chair so I wouldn’t have to be part of it.
Pauline shows her around and says that Richard usually does all the Christmas decorations. Their youngest, Amelia, is kind of a sour patch kid. Richard immediately kicks Vanessa out of the house upon learning she’s a Mets and Jets fan. Then She sees all the monogramed stockings. Richard leads her into a GIGANTIC guest bedroom. Bedrooms are SO big in Hallmark movies.
Vanessa catches up the BFF that night. She wants to know about Chris. There are bows everywhere. Chris knocks on her door to inform her that dinner is ready. I hope Chris doesn’t end up being her brother.
They apparently have some kind NORWEGIAN dinner that I’ve never heard of. It’s lamb, so that’s probably why. Richard is Norwegian. LIKE SUPER NORWEGIAN. More Norwegian than me, apparently, and I lived there briefly. But Vanessa didn’t score hardly any Norwegian points; so what’s up with that? After dinner, they have Griswold family light reveal. Then the poor giant Santa starts deflating. Meanwhile, Richard’s son Aiden bonds with Mickey the dog. Did I mention the dog yet? He seems fine. He’s small. He’s not in the way. I don’t think he’s caused any damage to the house. It’s fine.
Vanessa tells Aiden she’s always wanted a brother. And then Aiden says he’s always wanted one too. So that’s the end of that. BTW that is a very on brand sort of kid response to such a deep, unexpected comment. Then the crew has a lovely time roasting marshmallows. What even time is it?
Richard says tells Vanessa he met her mom in Providence, Rhode Island. That seems weird to Vanessa. Her mom has never mentioned living in Providence. So what’s up with that? Then Pauline says she doesn’t want the girls to think of Vanessa as only a half-sister. Pauline continuing to hold her title as CHILLEST WIFE IN THE LAND. Then Vanessa gets an email from the Ancestry place telling her to call them right away.
The next day, the whole gang goes Christmas tree shopping. Actually, just the dudes and Vanessa go. That seems like poor planning on everyone’s part. Chris and Vanessa quickly find themselves on their own. Vanessa asks Chris why he spends so much time with Richard’s family. Chris reveals that his parents died while driving to visit him in law school. Richard pushed him to spend the holidays with them from then on. I LOVE Vanessa’s coat. They stumble on the perfect tree.
Later, while decorating said tree, Pauline tells Vanessa that something happened at choir rehearsal today but Amelia won’t tell her what. Vanessa takes a stab at relating to this little sour patch kid. Amelia says she doesn’t want to do the solo anymore. Vanessa gives her some good advice about stage fright. I want to be clear though, Vanessa approaches her like any person who is unfamiliar with kids would approach a child. In my experience, you need to be MUCH sneakier if you want children to volunteer that sort of information.
Lots of Norwegian tree ornaments in the mix! Amelia puts the star on. Vanessa tells them about her family traditions which are small and sad by comparison. It bums everyone out. Later, Vanessa stares at the tree in the dark. Chris creeps up behind her. After a brief exchange where Vanessa, surprisingly DOES NOT ask why Chris chose to sneak up behind her, Vanessa realizes she hasn’t gotten any gifts for anyone one! Chris gets real Canadian when he offers to take her “out” shopping. I think you ALL know what I mean there.
The next day, Chris and Richard get more wood for their outdoor fireplace? Jealous. Richard tells Chris that there are a few things that aren’t adding up-the different nicknames, the places she lived… Chris dismisses it all. But I AGREE RICHARD. It doesn’t add up.
Later, Vanessa and Chris shop for gifts. Vanessa suggests a lot of really expensive ideas for people she’s never met! This is particularly perplexing when we factor in her likely salary at a small nonprofit foster care agency. Then Chris suggests they go ice skating rather than finish their shopping. Oh, Vanessa has already revealed she’s never skated. Chris says he’s had a hard time picturing himself with kids. Oh my gosh neither of them are good. Why would Chris suggest such an activity then?
As they leave the ice-skating rink, she gets a call. Is it from the work or from the ancestry place? Update: It is from the ancestry website, and she just happens to have their number saved in her phone. Anyway, she IGNORES THE CALL.
When they get home, they realize the inflatable Santa is completely dead. Everyone is in mourning of a giant, obnoxious inflatable lawn ornament. BUT, it turns out that this Santa’s demise is incredibly fortuitous because Vanessa and Chris got Richard a new…EVEN MORE GIANT one.
Inside, they all make their own gingerbread houses. FUN. Vanessa and Chris get to know each other while they work. This family DOES it all. Every dang Christmas activity that can be done. Richard asks Vanessa has any pictures of her mom. She only has one. She lost them all in a flood in her foster parents’ house. Guys, if I am Richard, I’m beginning to wonder at what point Vanessa is going to murder them all in their sleep. No photos, no memory of Rhode Island, different nickname. And Richard is QUITE WEALTHY so like, yeah, what is going on. We’re just counting on this ancestry website’s connection to ensure that she does NOT have ulterior motives for ingratiating herself to this family? Is no one going to ask the hard questions?
In her bedroom, she listened to a voicemail from the ancestry company. They switched her test results with a different Vanessa Hall! So does Richard actually have a daughter named Vanessa? Like the other person? So now what, Vanessa? Are we going to murder this family for the inheritance or what?
Now Vanessa can’t get through on the ancestry website’s phone line. Vanessa calls her pal to tell her the situation. This stupid friend tells her to wait until after Christmas to tell the family. That seems terrible. Again, unless she’s planning to murder them or steal from them or whatever she’s working on.
Aiden brings Vanessa coffee to her room. That is very strange and sweet. Downstairs, Richard is wearing a great zip up sweater. The oldest daughter asks to go to a dance at school that night. Why is she just now asking about it? Why is it during school break? Then Pauline jets to work at the hospital. Vanessa offers to take the oldest daughter shopping to find a dress. (I missed her name too). So the girls go shopping. They talk about what boys they like and you know, typical girl chat. She says she likes having a big sister.
Back at home, Vanessa wants to talk to Richard. Instead of letting Vanessa talk, Richard tells her he was nervous to tell his mom about her. I mean, yeah. That would be awkward. Chris interrupts them so Vanessa can’t talk to him at all. In fact, she gives up completely and heads inside.
Then Vanessa helps the oldest daughter get ready for the dance. Then she has to help Amelia get her costume on. Richard looks on admiringly at his little modern family coming together.
Okay, this pageant is outdoors. In the winter. In Connecticut. Pauline gets to the pageant just in time to see Amelia pretend to sing this solo. Boy Hallmark is really striking out with this recording the audio separately. But this solo wasn’t even close. Vanessa is just scoring big in the big sister department. Then Vanessa asks if Chris is free later. Wait, isn’t it later now? What even time is it? She invites him to wrap presents. Chris is bad at it.
Vanessa bought Pauline an air-fryer from what, 1970? Also how does she have money to spend like $75 on each person? Chris tells her he’s really happy she’s here.
Chris asks Richard if it’s weird if he likes Vanessa. That’s a cute moment.
Vanessa asks her dog for advice. He just pants desperately on the bed.
Now it’s Christmas Eve and Vanessa meets THE WHOLE GANG. It’s just as chaotic as it would be in real life. And she meets her grandma last. She looks like she could be Richard’s sister. ARE YOU KIDDING ME, HALLMARK? This woman is like 60 years old. OH LEFSE! YAY. This “grandma” wants to serve lutefisk for Christmas. Well I guess she is an elderly person because only elderly Norwegian Americans like it. Richard rightfully informs Vanessa that they can’t make it because it will stink up the entire house. When I tell you the number of Lutheran churches I had to sit in without breathing while they cooked lutefisk in the kitchen on the other side building…I am surprised I am still here to tell the tale. So no, Grandma Helen, we are all a HARD PASS on the lutefisk. Focus your efforts on lefse and Norwegian Christmas cookies. Then the whole gang heads outside to make snow people.
Later they watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Vanessa and Richard both say it’s their favorite movie. WOW it must be in their DNA. Pauline and Richard share how they met. Vanessa thanks them for inviting her into their home. She asks how Richard met her mom. She seems finally ready to admit the truth when Amelia spills her hot chocolate in the other room.
Christmas Eve isn’t over yet! This ENTIRE family is going caroling. HOW MANY HOURS ARE IN A HALLMARK DAY. Vanessa picks THIS TIME, the time that they’re all going to caroling to try and tell them the truth. She gives up and says she’s a bad singer. Wow they are singing a verse of “Angels We have Heard on High” that I don’t know. Maybe it’s the third verse?
Vanessa asks Chris a really weird hypothetical but Chris gets it. Then Chris asks her on a real date! YAY. I like this.
Richard gets up and makes a big speech about Vanessa. So this is going to be REAL awkward later. When they get back inside, Richard wants to make sure they have a family photo with Vanessa. She runs upstairs and calls her pal to get a ride home and pack. Because she feels like she’s swindled them. I mean, kind of? Amelia knocks and asks her to touch up her hair for the picture. She and Amelia have a nice little sister moment. Vanessa panics about being included in this family picture. Okay Vanessa finally admits what the agency told her. TO THE WHOLE GANG. It is REAL awkward.
Vanessa tells Chris she doesn’t belong. Vanessa’s friend arrives to get her. They all hug her goodbye. Wow this is so awkward. Amelia throws a little tantrum. Chris and Richard watch her walk away. Amelia waves sadly from her room. It’s so awkward that I don’t even know how Richard et al is supposed to act!
Back inside, the kids say they don’t want to meet a different Vanessa. Wow that is tough for this other Vanessa if that ever comes up. Richard and Chris talk this all out. Richard tells Chris this shouldn’t change anything for them. He tells Chris to open his gift from Vanessa. It is a little nativity scene with a Frankenstein. It’s a whole bit I didn’t bother to type out from earlier. Also, Andrew’s started buttoning his shirt like basically in the middle? Anyway, Richard tells him to go after her.
Vanessa arrives home to her cute, albeit lonely apartment. She made her friend leave her parents to come get her? Guys this woman’s parents are staying with her and she hopped in her car and drove an hour both ways to get Vanessa on Christmas Eve. That is next level friendship.
Richard digs out an old box of photos in his kitchen. He finds a picture of “Trish.” She looks just like Vanessa! So, Richard is SURE he’s her dad. But, wouldn’t he remember what Trish looked like and think Vanessa looks like her? Would he really not remember what she looked like 30 years ago? So, they decide to all go to New York to get her back. They carol outside her apartment. How horrible would it be if she looked at the picture and was like, no that’s not my mom. Vanessa comes outside with no coat. Richard shows her the picture. Oh good. It IS her mom. Oh she’s so happy to be part of their family. Nobody cries about that. They all come in the apartment. Then Chris arrives. With a tree. Wow where did he find that? And she has FIREPLACE? In this economy? Guys I’m just realizing this apartment? In NYC? On her nonprofit budget? Oh wow, they both say they love each other. I feel like that’s a lot. For just the what, one week? Oh boy and then they kiss in front of EVERYONE! In front of HER DAD. Those children!
Okay so at some point everyone must have realized that they wouldn’t all fit in Vanessa’s apartment so they drive BACK to Connecticut. Guys, so Vanessa’s friend suspended her own Christmas Eve with her family FOR NOTHING at this point. Just want everyone to remember that.
So now it’s Christmas morning and they’re all opening presents back at Richard’s. Amelia’s gift from Vanessa is probably worth $300? AT LEAST. Then it’s time for Vanessa’s gift. It’s a framed print of the whole crew. OMG and she has a stocking with her name on it. She looks around at the living room in slow motion and nobody cries about it. But also, let’s remember that Vanessa got these people a GIANT inflatable Santa, an AIR FRYER, a whole NYC weekend with Broadway tickets, a formal dress for a dance and snowboarding equipment. They gave her a framed picture. I get it. It’s symbolic of her new family which is priceless but I’m JUST SAYING. SHE SPENT A LOT ON THESE GIFTS.
Okay guys, so I actually did like this movie a lot. It was super cute. It had some good Norwegian Christmas elements and everybody in the movie was great. What did you think?