The Christmas Hope
Light in the Darkness of Grief

Can holiday tearjerkers be formulaic?  Yes, and The Christmas Hope is certainly that.  Can formulaic tearjerkers also be effective, both as entertainment and as much-needed cathartic therapy?  Yes, absolutely.  And thanks in large part to a surprisingly subtle and moving performance from Madeleine Stowe, The Christmas Hope delivers just the kind of emotional package a lot of people probably need this time of year.

Christmas is not always a time of unadulterated goodness and light.  For those who have lost loved ones—whether a parent, a child, a beloved partner, friend, or even a cherished pet—the holidays can also be a frightfully painful season, more a reminder of what’s been taken away than what’s been given.

In order that we might see more clearly what we have, we sometimes have to look closely at what we have lost—something that grief makes horrifically difficult.  As one of the functions of film is to make us feel so deeply than we can’t help but think, as writer Murray Watts has put it, it makes sense that even a TV movie about love and loss might help clear out some of the dust and cobwebs that shroud our hearts.  In a way, such movies accomplish what Tolkien described as “recovery”: the ability to see more clearly the real world around us.  In that regard, such tearjerkers are a form of fantasy; and as Tolkien, among others, has shown us, effective fantasy needs no defense.

Tori Barban as Emily in The Christmas HopeThis Lifetime channel Christmas fantasy features Stowe and James Remar—who teamed up long ago in the snow-bound thriller Blink—as parents growing apart after the loss of their only child.  Patty Addison is a social worker who, with her partner Roy, places orphaned and abandoned children in new homes.  Her husband, Mark, is an airline pilot who now finds it convenient to be gone a week or more at a time.  When a series of contrived accidents conspire to place a young girl in Patty’s care just before Christmas, the stage is set for a series of implausible coincidences to bring together disparate storylines—leading to a hopeful future for all concerned.  Thus the fantasy.

But again: when it is effective, fantasy needs no defense.  Madeleine Stowe is utterly convincing as a mother paralyzed by loss even though she should know better, and James Remar—so memorable in the 1980s and 90s for a string of villainous roles, such as Ganz in 48 Hrs. and Dutch Schultz in The Cotton Club—is appropriately restrained and sensitive as a man slowly losing his wife after having already lost a son.  If you’re paying attention at all as you watch the program, you’re not likely to be surprised by much—except, perhaps, by how many tears you’ll shed while watching.

I suspect that a lot of viewers will simply find the film a downer.  The depressed small-town setting, the myriad tragedies depicted, and the time spent in social work offices and emergency rooms can leave you thinking: “This is a Christmas movie?”  But again, this particular fantasy is not about depicting a world that doesn’t exist; it’s about allowing us to re-enter the very real, imperfect world in which we actually live.

If you’re already a fan of the Lifetime Christmas Shoes series, you’re undoubtedly already sold on watching this new installment—and you won’t be disappointed. If the whole idea just makes your stomach turn on principle, however, consider dropping the Scrooge schtick for a season and give The Christmas Hope a shot.  You might just be surprised at the job seasoned director Norma Bailey does with this material.

But best of all, if you’re a clean slate—and if Christmas is a painful time of year for you—take Mark’s advice.  Sometimes it’s just best to let the tears flow.  Let The Christmas Hope help you do that.

The Christmas Hope is unrated, but this is a film that can be enjoyed by an entire family.

Courtesy of the film’s producer, Greg screened a promotional DVD of The Christmas Hope.