Starring Emily Tennant and Niall Matter
Abby (Tennant), a London chef, is needing a break after her boss (also her boyfriend) treats her abominably and she quits her job, so her parents send her to Chicago. She meets Jack (Matter), an architect who’s a single dad, when moving into an apartment building he’s renovating. Their relationship begins in a frosty fashion when she accidentally destroys an antique door handle he treasures. Abby soon lands a job working the phones of a cooking hotline, the motto of which is “Let’s talk turkey.” There, she doles out advice to clueless callers about cooking a turkey. One caller is “John” (actually Jack), a terrible cook who’s anxious to make Thanksgiving dinner for his daughter. He and “Peggy” (the name Abby adopts at work) develop a simpatico connection. Meanwhile, Jack and Abby start hitting it off. When Abby realizes to her horror that Jack and John are one and the same, she becomes uncomfortable lying about who she is. But she makes a critical mistake when she delays telling Jack the truth.
The script. Julie Sherman Wolfe is credited with the teleplay, and she wrote two of last year’s standout Hallmark holiday movies, A Holiday Spectacular and Hanukkah on Rye, as well as this year’s Field Day. If you enjoyed the lighthearted sweetness of these movies, the odds are high you’ll like Holiday Hotline, though it was little goofier than the other films mentioned. The script was witty and quirky but included exactly the right warm and fuzzy touches whenever the story took a turn for the serious.
A new twist on an old story. This movie has been compared to The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and You’ve Got Mail (1998), both of which feature couples who grate on each other’s nerves in person but establish a warm sync while writing to one another. Of course, they’re unaware that the annoying person they know is the same one they’re writing to. Hanukkah on Rye has the same storyline. What made Holiday Hotline a little different was that Abby and Jack spoke on the phone instead of writing each other. They failed to recognize each other’s voices because Abby, who was English, used an American accent as Peggy, while Jack’s phone had orange juice spilled on it, affecting the sound. And in one of this movie’s most charming features, Peggy and John were pictured as being in the same room when on the phone. It was a clever way of heightening the intimacy developing between them.
The funny bits. This was the first 2023 Hallmark Christmas movie to make me laugh out loud. When I wasn’t laughing, I was often grinning from ear to ear. Threaded throughout the film were eccentric callers who bombarded Peggy with their turkey trials and tribulations. They asked bizarre questions, wondering, for instance, whether it was okay to defrost a turkey under an electric blanket or to use a chainsaw (presumably to carve it). These little vignettes were hilarious. And just as Peggy and John appeared in the same room, so too did Peggy and her callers. But even funnier than the turkey humor was Abby’s jealousy of her alter ego, Peggy. When Abby discovered that John (who she had realized was Jack) called specifically for Peggy, she worried that she (Abby) was just his backup. Her bubbly boss, Roger (played by the deliciously funny Erik Athavale), said, “You’re jealous of yourself?” highlighting the situation’s absurdity, and later urged Abby to drop the Peggy persona. A corny fantasy scene showing the couple enjoying a romantic dance also gave me a chuckle.
The dramatic bits. Loveable leads Tennant and Matter gave pitch-perfect performances and were equally adept at comedy and drama. John poured out his heart to Peggy about his wife’s death and his desire to make the holidays special again for his daughter. Similarly, Abby confided in Jack about her past: the shattering breakup and how it destroyed her desire to cook, and how she was trying to restore those parts of her life that were beautiful. A touching scene occurred when John called Peggy for the last time and thanked her for opening his heart again; he’d met someone else and was moving on. And Abby’s heartbreak was clear after Jack showed up at the hotline headquarters and was infuriated to find that she had deceived him about who she was. Abby shouldn’t have prolonged the lie, but she was well aware of this. I sympathized with her in her moment of despair, and also when she approached Jack with her Yorkshire pudding and a plea for forgiveness. Despite the drama, this movie never felt heavy.
My grade for Holiday Hotline: A+. One of the season’s gems.
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.