“Love Always, Santa” is the touching story of a widowed single mother, Celia Banks – played by Marguerite Moreau, better known to me as Nurse Rose who briefly threw a wrench in Derek and Meredith’s relationship on “Grey’s Anatomy” – and her journey to find love after losing her husband. The movie premiered on the Hallmark Channel on Nov. 6, and was filmed right here in Northfield.
Celia’s daughter Lilly is trying to find a new love interest for her mother, since beloved husband and father Bradley died of mysterious causes an indeterminant amount of time ago. The story begins near Thanksgiving, where Celia is shown preparing a turkey dinner.
“Daddy used to love Ritz cracker stuffing,” Lilly says two minutes into the movie as she watches her mother cook, subtly setting the somber mood for viewers and simultaneously pushing name-brand butter crackers.
It’s clear that everyone in Celia’s life is very concerned about her status as a single woman. Celia’s sister pushes her to date Randy, a stereotypical blockheaded oaf who Celia has known since high school and who only asks her out after he eats dinner at her house and realizes she’s a good cook. There are a lot of jokes about Celia being too picky for not wanting to date Randy, which are frankly just uncomfortable and cringeworthy. Her daughter is concerned too, and pens a letter to Santa asking for him to bring a worthy man to her mother this Christmas.
Enter the male lead: bestselling children’s book author Jake Granger – played by another generic actor who could best be described as resembling the victim in an episode of “CSI” – who for unknown reasons donates his time to Santa Inc., which hires people to impersonate Santa Claus and respond to children’s letters. Jake receives Lilly’s letter and is moved by it, responding with eight pages of really generic but trying-to-be-deep prose. This letter ends up in Celia’s hands and the two begin corresponding regularly. I think we all know where this is going.
The best part of this movie is the fact that it is set in Northfield. Celia runs a bakery called The Bun Also Rises (she’s really into Hemingway, another part of her backstory that goes unexplained, and is also vaguely concerning), which is actually local cafe The Hideaway. Other notable Northfield landmarks can be seen in B-roll shots, like Quality Bakery, the Rare Pair and the Cannon River. They also filmed scenes during last year’s Winter Walk.
Besides the novelty of seeing local haunts on the silver screen, the rest of the movie is pretty tough to watch. The dialogue is saccharine and cheesy, the characters are one dimensional and there is little to no conflict throughout. Jake briefly becomes discouraged in his pursuit of Celia when he thinks she’s dating Randy, but quickly bounces back and returns to sweep her off her feet, just as we all expected.
I really didn’t feel attached to the story or its characters, and I was mostly just irritated by the end since they really drag out the minor conflict that is keeping Jake and Celia apart. However, it was pretty entertaining precisely because it was so bad. Since the whole film is available via a YouTube account that appears to be dedicated solely to posting Hallmark’s holiday movies, should you ever have an hour and a half to kill and literally nothing else to watch, why not try “Love Always, Santa.”