Past the Popcorn: Warm Holiday Romance in The Christmas Secret

by Greg Wright

Have you ever taken a road trip to someplace like the Grand Canyon, or Disneyland? I’ve done both, and have discovered that the journey there can be just as much fun as the destination itself. In fact, the best vacation is one where you not only know your destination is great, but you know you’ll have a blast getting there, too.

Some movies are like that. You know exactly where the plot is going—either because you’ve seen the movie already, or one very much like it—but you don’t mind at all because the getting there is pretty darned pleasant.

The Christmas Secret is that kind of movie, particularly when you’re holding a bowl of fresh-popped popcorn. It’s a Hallmark original production in which nothing very surprising happens; but heck, you’ve tuned in to Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, right? You’re there for a reason!

Secret is the fourth filmed installment in the Christmas Shoes series, coming five years on the heels of The Christmas Hope. This story features Christine, a single mom whose world is crashing down around her in the weeks leading to Christmas, and Jason, a small-town sports hero who’s down on his luck and back in town visiting his grandparents while he tries to score a new international banking gig.

christmas-secret-insetSo you can see where this is going, right? Isn’t a Christmas romance a favorite destination, a lot like the Grand Canyon or Disneyland? Or at least like Wild Waves?

The question isn’t whether you’ll like where the story is headed. The question is: Will you like how The Christmas Secret gets you there?

For the most part, the answer is yes. Bethany Joy Lenz, who you will probably recognize from One Tree Hill, is an exceptionally appealing lead as Christine. She’s not a particularly dynamic or demonstrative actor, but her restraint works well here as she seems to be pulling everything inward as her world implodes. And the writing gives her a good range of emotional settings to make Christine three-dimensional, a character that makes you feel like you’ve known her once or twice over the years under different names.

John Reardon is given less to do, but is nonetheless serviceable as Jason. The script offers his character less range than Lenz’s Christine, and might have invoked more of a George-Bailey-come-home depth, but it’s also easy to see how Reardon has worked steadily in TV.

Norma Bailey’s direction is again solid, as in The Christmas Hope. Mostly all the right notes get hit as the story works its way to its magically predictable conclusion, and she has (for the most part) cast the supporting roles well. The film’s little surprises come in the side-plots, and they are handled fairly deftly.

Why do these very stripped-down Christmas Shoes stories work? Without knowing a lick of background, and having only seen two of them, I’ll go out on a limb: it’s because the stories are essentially drawn from real life. The author (I am guessing) obviously has a background in small-town Canadian social work, working with plenty of struggling single moms to know how they and their kids think. And she’s seen enough grace and love extended by complete strangers to know there’s still good in the world… at least in burgs mostly untroubled by protests and political controversy.

And look! I just Googled the author and discovered I am pretty close to right. Donna Vanliere has a small-town Ohio background, has raised a family of adopted children with her husband, and serves on the board of directors for National House of Hope, a residency program for abused and at-risk teens. These movies reflect the reality of her world.

The one troubling aspect to Vanliere’s cinematic world is that it is so completely white bread… but this is a Hallmark movie, and this is what you came for, right? And the truth is, there are still a lot of white-bread communities out there.

So enjoy the trip to Disneyland (or Wild Waves). It’s where you want to go, right?

The Christmas Secret debuts on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries on Sunday, December 7 at 9 PM. Click here for more information and a complete list of airtimes.



2 Responses to “Past the Popcorn: Warm Holiday Romance in The Christmas Secret
  1. Lena says:

    You’ve obviously not seen any of Bethany Joy Lenz’s other roles if you don’t find her dynamic. It’s no secret she only chooses roles that really speak to her but you’ve missed out if you don’t see her as a dynamic actor.

    • Greg Wright says:

      No, I’ve not seen her in other roles. I did note that the lack of physical dynamism here was likely a choice to reflect the implosion of Christine’s world — but I did call her “exceptionally appealing.” I’d call that a good review!

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