Starring Krystal Joy Brown, Juan Riedinger, Tina Lifford, and Richard Harmon, and with Phylicia Rashad
Imani (Brown) is a widowed waitress who’s unexpectedly called in to work on Christmas Eve after promising her children she’d spend the evening with them. Her surly manager at the diner, Dan (Harmon), doesn’t give her the option to refuse. Meanwhile, a pastor named Felix (Riedinger) is desperate for donations of food for his Christmas dinner for the homeless. And a nurse, Clara (Lifford), is frustrated with her patient, a dying woman named Nancy (Rashad) who frequently snaps at her. As a snowstorm shuts down the city, the waitress, the manager, the pastor, and the nurse find themselves stranded in the diner, where, as the night goes on, they rediscover the spirit of Christmas.
Rich characters with intriguing backstories. Much of this movie’s appeal was in its characters; each had depth and a past that explained their present situation. Let’s look at each principal character. Since the death of her husband a year earlier, Imani had been in mourning. She was struggling financially too. And although she loved her children dearly, raising them alone was challenging, and she was guilt-ridden when she couldn’t be there for them. She’d abandoned her dream of singing and settled for life as a waitress at the diner, where she and Dan clashed constantly. Dan had been handed the managerial position, which he’d never wanted, by his uncle. A loner, he felt like a loser. In misguided attempts to gain respect, he threw his weight around at work. Dan ignored his artistic gifts and had rejected a girl he loved. Felix, once a venture capitalist, had been married, but he’d neglected his family in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Felix’s marriage disintegrated, and to turn his life around, he became a pastor. But he had difficulty connecting with his estranged son. As for Clara, she was sad about her daughter leaving the nest, and also coping with her bitter patient, Nancy. Good-hearted Clara often felt as if she said the wrong things to people or overstepped. And Nancy keenly felt the loss of her daughter but wouldn’t discuss this with Clara. Through nuanced performances, the exceptional cast of Heaven Down Here brought these characters, conceived by writers Shana Lloyd and Alison McKenzie, vividly to life.
Realistic people with realistic problems. These characters seemed like everyday people you might know. They struggled with loneliness and insecurities, and they had conflicts, either within themselves or with others. They all hoped for better but didn’t know how to achieve it and needed the help of others to find their way. The relationships they developed with each other and the issues they had were profoundly human. I couldn’t have been the only viewer who saw aspects of myself reflected in these characters; they were intensely relatable.
Krystal Joy Brown. The cast was wonderful, but Brown, a jewel of an actress, stood out. Her acting showed great range and stirred many emotions, and she had a beautiful singing voice too. This was a powerhouse performance. I loved the scenes in which Imani soothed her children over the phone, even singing them to sleep, for these showed her deep love and devotion. I also enjoyed watching her confront the entitled, cheapskate customer who’d tipped inadequately and then insulted her. She was gutted when she thought that the bigger tip Felix had secured for her was gone. As portrayed by Brown, Imani showed a combination of immense strength and vulnerability. And in no scene was that vulnerability more apparent than in the climax.
Family restored. Felix said toward the end that he realized what he’d been missing: a sense of family. Family can be the one you choose or your biological family members, including ones you didn’t realize you had. Felix, Imani, Dan, and Clara all became family during one special night in which they worked out their differences, listened to one another’s stories, and supported each other’s goals. And even though being stuck in the diner on Christmas Eve was far from ideal, they chose to share the joy of the season by decorating, then cooking for Pastor Felix’s dinner for the homeless. In the tear-inducing climax, Imani, who was adopted, met her grandmother—Clara’s client, Nancy. Nancy’s daughter, Noelle, had given birth to Imani. In this scene, Imani read Noelle’s heartwarming letter to her, written shortly before her mother died, and understood how truly loved she’d been. It was impossible not to be moved by this. And Felix finally worked up the courage to visit his son and was welcomed by him. The restoration of that sense of family was a very satisfying aspect of this movie.
The spirit of Christmas. In no other Hallmark film this season was the spirit of Christmas so evident. Gently, the movie showed that it’s about connecting, giving of yourself to help others, and sharing your joy—a message I found very uplifting.
My grade for Heaven Down Here: A+
Caroline Kaiser is a professional book editor who specializes in fiction and memoirs, and she’s been guiding writers toward publication since 2007. Caroline is also the author of two ghostly mystery novels, Virginia’s Ghost and The Spirits of South Drive. Before she embarked on an editing and writing career, she spent many years working in a Toronto auction house as an antiques appraiser. Apart from curling up on the couch and drinking tea as she watches Hallmark movies, Caroline enjoys baking and exploring London, Ontario, the picturesque city she now calls home. Her website is www.carolinekaisereditor.com.