"Holly's Holiday" taught me that you can just make a movie about anything
Who's in the mood for a Christmas mannequin love triangle?
Some movies exist! You wouldn’t think so, and yet. I watched one such movie last night, and it was called Holly’s Holiday even though Holly Jolly Christmas was right there. Holly’s Holiday originally premiered on the Lifetime Channel, of course, and its protagonist is a woman, of course, who’s too focused on her career to find love, of course, and is single at Christmas, of course.
So far, so normal. But the actual premise is that Holly falls and bumps her head and falls in love with a mannequin in a display window. This movie is real and I watched it! Even the lead actors’ names sound fake; Claire Coffee and Ryan McPartlin seem like the names of characters in a movie about shooting a Lifetime movie, and yet they are real humans who have IMDb profiles and Social Security numbers, presumably.
The table-setting of this movie is pretty messy, as you might imagine. Set in New York but filmed on a soundstage that looks nothing like New York, Holly’s Holiday is about a gal who wants perfection in every area of her life. She loves her job at an advertising firm, where she works with her best friend from college, Deena, and has recently gotten promoted to an executive role. She has a cute apartment — her words, not mine, as I found the decor mediocre though the kitchen was spacious. But she can’t find the right man because she’s looking for someone perfect. But what if the perfect man is right in front of her?
Her boss wants her to come up with an ad campaign for a jewelry store with her cute coworker, Milo. But Holly and Milo could never be a couple! She’s a perfectionist who lives in Manhattan, like a real person, and he’s an artsy photographer who lives in Brooklyn, like a common dumpster rat. She wants to create a campaign that sells the fantasy of a fairytale romance, but he prefers showing what’s messy and raw and real. No, Milo could never be the man for her! Opposites don’t attract. She wants the perfect man: a mannequin she saw in a store window.
That, she tells Deena in a setup that’s a bit too obvious, is what I want in a man. Now, from the description, I thought that Holly’s head injury would cause her to be delusional and, like, lug the mannequin around and set up dates with him. I was obviously on board. Imagine her and that plastic man riding in a horse-drawn carriage around Central Park. It would be fun! But that is not what happens! Obviously none of these cast members set foot in the actual New York City. Instead, the mannequin comes to life, and he is truly the perfect beau. His name is Bo, and he’s as real as this movie is. Will Holly give in to the allure of perfection, or will she realize that true love is as messy as the trash people who live in the outer boroughs?
The first act of the movie has that particularly embarrassing quality of so many made-for-TV movies, where I’m sad for all the actors involved that they are either trying their best to elevate the material or, more depressingly, are on par with the material. But the movie really picks up steam when Bo comes to life! Ryan McPartlin is extremely funny as a sentient mannequin man!
All of the leads in this movie are actually great. Claire Coffee, who plays Holly, plays the movie’s serious moments surprisingly well for a Lifetime movie. McPartlin is a tall, funny, Armie Hammer type who had been a main cast member on the show Chuck, and Jeff Ward, who plays Milo, is now a recurring character on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I don’t know anything about either of those shows, but I know that they have a more competitive casting process than Lifetime movies, and I’m happy for both of these charming men that they get work consistently. Jeff Ward also apparently played Charles Manson in a different Lifetime movie. So that should tell you how charismatic he is!
You have to grade on a curve with these things, and Holly’s Holiday is certainly above average for the genre. The script is definitely flawed, but there are also some legitimately funny jokes and set pieces. Not a lot, but some! There is a scene where Holly meets Bo’s parents and they are also eerily perfect mannequin people, and the actors absolutely eat that scene up. I laughed out loud! More than once!
Do I have criticisms of this movie? Yes, of course. While there was definite chemistry between them, Jeff Ward reads as much younger than Claire Coffee in a way that felt almost problematic given the fact that Holly is an executive at the company; she was 32 and he was 26 when the film came out, but Milo seemed more like a fresh-out-of-college newbie at the company falling for his boss. I spent too much time wondering if she’d had sex with the mannequin and if it was good, which I’m choosing to pin on the movie and not my own brain. Although Holly (spoiler! but come on!) ends up with Milo, I was very disappointed that they don’t even kiss, for some reason. Have these writers ever seen a romantic comedy before?! The big twist is not well-executed. The costumes are terrible, despite frequent and frankly off-putting references by Deena to the expensive, designer clothes that she and Holly love to shop for.
It sure is a Lifetime movie! I like to play a game with myself where I guess the release date of films like this. The clothes seem about 2009 or so, but I figured that with this movie’s budget they’d be behind on trends, and there are a lot of jokes about Williamsburg being full of hipsters, so my guess was 2012 and I was exactly right. I also thought that a more fitting title would be A Perfect Christmas, and then I learned that that was, indeed, its original title but it had to be changed for some reason. So… yeah, a lot of the stuff here is pretty predictable and obvious.
But the plot was not predictable or obvious! Which raises so many questions! How did this movie come to exist? Surely it was not someone’s passion project. Do the executives at Lifetime have a quota of Christmas movies to churn out every year, and writers must simply race to churn out as many scripts as possible? Do the writers all work in-house, or are the freelancers who pitch their scripts to Lifetime, Hallmark, and Netflix? Are these jobs hard to get and do they pay well?
Anyway, I do recommend Holly’s Holiday, both as a cinematic experience and as inspiration to write your own scripts, since apparently any premise can get the green light if it’s about a single lady at Christmastime. This movie was fun and intoxicatingly stupid, an unbeatable combination. Could you watch a perfect Christmas film this year? Sure, lots of classics exist. Or, you could settle for something messy and imperfect and about a sentient mannequin wooing an ad executive on a very fake soundstage. I’m just lowly Brooklyn scum, but I think that there’s value to that, too.
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“Please feel sorry for me, because I watched A Dogwalker’s Christmas Tale”