So I’ve been absent for a while because, you know, life. But I have 7 hours by myself time today, and this movie has been sitting in my DVR since December 10. I have no idea about anything other than it is Dickens, Hallmark, and Community Theater. As I’ve been on a bit of a Dickens kick recently, and I just finished doing some community theater, I thought this would be perfect for this lazy Saturday. Heads up, everyone, it’s A Dickens of a Holiday! (And the exclamation point is in the title, I’m not just excited.)
I will be the first to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with Dickens. I can admit that his plots are interesting and complex, and I admire the way he seeds things early on that will pay off way later. However. His characters are not real. They are almost all caricatures of real people – a collection of ticks and eccentricities jumbled into a moldy waistcoat. Think the most recent (courtroom appearances notwithstanding) of Johnny Depp. Remember when he was a good actor? And now he’s just some weird facial hair, a funny accent, and a stumble walk? Anyway. I’m in an Austen frame of mind, even though I just finished reading Great Expectations, and have been watching Dickensian on Britbox, and I will state again, for all those in the back, that Jane Austen is a better writer than Charles Dickens, and I will die on this hill.
Full disclosure, I did this play in college. I was the Ghost of Christmas Past, and the costume designer. Here I am after the show. What you can’t see is that my holly leaves are also threaded with Christmas lights on a battery pack. At the end of the show, the head of the college theater department congratulated me and said, “I notice you gave yourself the best costume,” and I said, “Of course.” And that was the nicest thing he ever said to me other than what he wrote in my letter of recommendation for study abroad, and since I was a good girl and didn’t open that letter, we can only assume it was good. And I still have this costume in my closet – and my mom has the ball gown I made for the Ghost of Christmas Present, because I didn’t want to fall into the trap of a large green robed figure, plus our Present was a girl.
So let’s go.
We’re in Dickens, Ohio. It’s very small Town America, brought to you by Ace Hardware. There are way too many Dickens villages and greenery for this one small town. Cassie is a director of community theater, and the production of A Christmas Carol (the 100th annual version) is the highlight of their annual Victorian London Christmas Festival. I.MUST.GO.TO.THERE.
The Mayor gives her the no pressure / pressure speech about making this production the best there is, and already Cassie is freaking out, and no one wants to hear about her monumental experience at NYU. And it goes up in a week? They should be locked down in tech right now – let’s see how they are doing.
She is instructing the tech crew to repaint the flats a week before the show. And thanks to your friendly neighborhood Ace Hardware deliveryman, they have paint. So it seems Cassie is a small town girl, who went to the big city for schooling, and is now back in the small town. She is directing the show after doing a few off-off-off-off Broadway productions, but the locals don’t care about her, they’re more enamored of Ray, the local legend playing Scrooge, or as annoying newspaper man calls him, the Sir Patrick Stewart of Central Ohio. I already hate this town.
We learn that Cassie is divorced, hasn’t been a director in 5 years, and is nervous about directing a show that people have been watching in this town for 100 years. After a quick exposition discussion with her mom, she’s off to the mayor’s office to be told that Sir Patrick Stewart of Central Ohio has laryngitis and a large vocal nodule. He cannot talk for a month. But now they have to find a replacement for Scrooge – and Sir Patrick recommends Jake Dorsey, the biggest name who ever came out of Dickens; he’s an action star who cannot handle a complex role like Scrooge, and Cassie is super not a fan of this whole thing. Methinks the lady doth protest too much.
Sidebar – and this is in no way a diss on any actor who has played Scrooge before, but…is that role complex? I mean, it’s been around forever, and everyone knows all the beats of the character, and, I mean, Mr. Magoo played him, didn’t he?
Cut to a pan of blue-screen city, where Jake Dorsey is filming on top of a car. Jake’s nephew is playing Tiny Tim in the play. Cassie goes to the locally overly decorated diner, and gets Jake’s number from his brother, who owns the place.
Cut back to movie shooting time, and Jake is feeling pigeon-holed in his action hero roles, and wants to play a character in an adaptation of his mother’s favorite book. He also has a great assistant named Ben.
Back to Ohio – they are still working on the costumes for this damn play. My GOD what is wrong with this production. A director’s job is not just to motivate performers and get good performances, it’s also to wrangle all the other things that go into a show – lighting, sound, costumes, set design. And if this is a week before the show and there is no set, Cassie –
Cassie is stressing because she didn’t go out with him in high school, and now they’re on a video call together. They have a lot of issues – she thinks directing is more challenging than acting and he’s all, acting is less challenging? what’s up with that? Long story short, she asks, but he says no. And now, Jake gets dumped for that other dramatic movie role, and is wallowing in sad times. BTW, his action movie franchise is called Throttle Run. What the hell does that even mean? And so with his sad times, he gets on a flight to Ohio and shows up at rehearsal with what, 4 days to go? I think because of Covid they have a tiny cast, but seriously, how can you do A Christmas Carol with 6 people?
Jake and his brother have issues, and I’m gonna say they’re about their dead mother. It’s downright chilly when he says he’s staying at the B&B and not at his family’s house.
Cassie and Jake go out for cocoa while someone plays the lute.
For reals where the hell is this town. Jake has issues about how the whole town didn’t feel like he would amount to anything, and he was determined to prove them wrong. Cassie tells him that she never made it to Broadway (contrary to what the entire town thinks) and they stop in front of – you guessed it – the Ace Hardware store, where Jake had the best job ever. Cassie and Jake still hold on to their high school energy and it’s weird.
Crisis! The B&B’s linens aren’t Egyptian cotton! Gasp! (This news comes from Jake’s assistant Ben, who is freaking out about low thread count percale.) Now – thread count doesn’t matter, in the long run. It is the quality of the thread. And yes, Ben is correct, Egyptian cotton is the best. But Jake is embarrassed by Ben’s freak-out in front of Cassie because Jake doesn’t want to look like a total tool (which could be bought at your friendly neighborhood Ace Hardware).
Next day – Dickens Day Kick off – 7 days till Christmas. Everyone in the cast is a respectful 6 feet apart. The mayor is listing off everything in this celebration week – and yes, we get a gingerbread house contest, and a tree lighting, and caroling. Jake is supposed to be at this event, but he’s not there, and Mayor looks pissed, but Jake makes it up to them by subbing in for Father Christmas (don’t you need a background check for that?) and Jake’s nephew shows up to ask Father Christmas to get his uncle Jake and his dad to be friends again.
Next day, Jake and Brandon are doing the gingerbread house contest and practicing lines, and Jake is doing a very bad Marlon Brando impression, and they’re running lines in Scottish accents, which is a choice – not one I totally disagree with per se, but one that I will have an issue with if the accents are bad. Jake makes an attempt at an olive branch with his brother, but the brother gives him a hard pass.
Next day – rehearsal. The girl playing Belle is flirty with Jake, but Cassie shoots it down because Jake doesn’t play young Scrooge in the flashbacks. And Jake clocks the guy playing Fred who shoots admiring glances at Belle, and says something to Cassie, and she’s like, puh-lease, girls always know when a guy is into them. And no, they do not. And Jake heartily agrees with me, and not with Cassie. And rehearsal goes badly, and Jake is not good – because he is not in character, because he doesn’t know who Scrooge is on the inside. My GOD hasn’t this guy ever seen this show before? But Cassie gives him less of a method lesson and more of a physical lesson, how Scrooge is old, and gnarled, and she manhandles Jake’s face in order to get there.
Candlelight Walk tonight, and then a drink at the Three Ghosts Pub. Ben the assistant tells him that the dream movie role is still a possibility, and remarks that Jake seems happier in Ohio- but I think it is the way-way-way overly decorated hotel that is giving him Christmas cheer. For reals, set designers on Hallmark Holiday Movies, have you EVER traveled during the holidays and are ANY of the hotels you stay at this bad? Please document them for me and put it on Instagram, or I’m just going to think you love shopping at Michael’s for their fake trees and glass ball ornaments.
After caroling, Jake waxes poetic about how Cassie brought down the house singing “Let it Snow” during their senior year, and I really don’t know how one can do that, because that song is not a showstopper by any stretch of the imagination. But then they are accosted by her mom on the street, thankfully not near the Ace Hardware. The Three Ghosts Pub is a not a pub, it looks like a microbrewery, but there’s also a dance floor, and so Cassie and Jake get to dance while having a discussion about how her mom wants her to work in Accounts Payable because she doesn’t have much of a future in theater. Jake vows to be the best Scrooge ever, and we have eye contact and earnest declarations of faith in each other (or rather, Cassie knows she can get Jake to be a good (I think she’s settle for passable) Scrooge in this lowly one-night-only production of A Christmas Carol in a tiny town in Ohio.
Oh, man, they fell into the trap of casting a large red-head man as Ghost of Christmas Present. Cassie gives Jake some magic character notes and Jake is actually not bad, although he totally sounds super odd – what is the thing he’s doing with this voice. And WHY oh Why oh Why oh, in the name of Ohio, are they not rehearsing more if this damn play is so important? I just finished a 2 week run of a small show in suburban New Jersey, and we rehearsed almost every day for three weeks before the show opened. Shout out to that delightful cast, and to all Community Theater Actors out there – you all do great work. But we have to move on to Dickens Day of Giving, so we can get to the meat of the fight between Jake and his brother Craig – which is all about how Jake barely talks to them.
Cassie and Jake have dinner at Craig’s restaurant, and she’s wearing the tallest heels ever for a dinner at a diner. Cassie is helpful in cutting through the brotherly attention, and Jake gives her a pep talk about how great she is at being a director – when, honestly, she’s just being, well, a nice human being. But Cassie eats that up, as much as they both eat up the chicken pot pie. And as they leave the restaurant, they get into the horse and carriage that magically shows up in front of them – honestly anything to prevent Cassie from slipping on the fake ice in those heels. She makes a statement that it “does feel like Victorian London” in their small Ohio town, which means she’s never been to London. Or seen a Dickens movie. While on the carriage ride, they find a copy of the book that was his mother’s favorite (where the role is still dangling in front of him).
Our boy Jake is growing up, he doesn’t want the interview his amazing assistant set up for him to do to be about him, he wants it to be about the play. So he invites Cassie to come, and it’s weird, and the news anchor asks her what her favorite Jake movie is, and she can’t name one because she’s never seen one, but Jake doesn’t take that badly, so good for him. Why are they not in rehearsal? They’re going to go Christmas Tree Shopping and so back they go to Ace Hardware.
Cassie has both a real tree that they are decorating, and a fake tree made of lights in her apartment. And cue admiring the tree lights. Seriously do people really do this? I made my kids do it one year. Jake confesses that he had a present for her back in high school, but he never gave it to her.
Back at rehearsal, time for Cassie’s directing magic: which is basically, get out of your own head about your performance and just feel it. He’s dropped the Scottish. There is no set on the stage. Ben the assistant is up in the balcony filming so he can send it to the casting directors of that drama he wants to do. We are meant to think that this is good acting – it’s good enough for Cassie to give him a hug before they go to dinner at Craig’s house
This is the outside of Craig’s house. Seriously.
Heart to heart brother talk. The air is getting clear after 6 years of angst. Yay.
It’s Dress Rehearsal Day. Jake passes out pocket watches as cast gifts, but saves a 1990s mixtape to give to Cassie, and she gives him a copy of A Christmas Carol, and they are almost ready to kiss, but settle for a full body hug where he gets his face all up in her perfectly waved hair. Cut to the B&B, where the assistant has the classic dilemma (as seen in Kenneth Branagh’s brilliant A Midwinter’s Tale) where Jake is up for the role now because of his talent in this play, but will have to not be in the play in order to go to a party at the producers’ house in Hollywood in order to schmooze for the role. Oh man, what’s a boy to do?
Give Jake credit, he says no. But Cassie says he should go, because she’s not going to be the one to stand in his way. But you needed this play to be a success, says Jake. And Cassie says no, she wanted to feel like she was a director again, and she’s fired Jake. She also tells him that she needs to figure out her own life before she gets a boyfriend, which was a total lie, she’s just scared of being hurt again, which is sage wisdom coming from her mom. But now both of them are in the semi-Sad Times, which means we have 13 minutes left of this movie.
Cut to Christmas Eve Day – Jake really appreciating Ben’s efforts, and asking if he’s doing the right thing, oh and here, have a promotion to my manager, Ben. Note – Ben does not answer the question.
Cassie is going to play Scrooge. Her cast is not excited about this.
She’s also dressed in her Act 1 Scene 2 outfit of nightshirt and nightcap, hair still perfectly waved, and in a stage manager’s headset in the LARGEST backstage area I’ve ever seen, and she’s about to go on, when Jake rushes through the door! (Who saw that coming?) He says you can always count on me, Cassie, but they get kiss blocked by the assistant stage manager calling places. I will also call shenanigans on the fully lit Christmas tree in the wings when you need actual darkness in the wings. Come on, people.
Oh, and forgive me, I was unclear – this version of the play starts with Scrooge in bed. Because Why. Bob Cratchit has no accent. And we’re done, and Jake gives Cassie a curtain call.
They celebrate at a Christmas Eve cast party, and he says wherever she is is where he wants to be and smooch and done.
Ok. This was meh. There is no way they could have gotten this play up and running in one week like this. There’s no way all the tech issues got worked out without a full tech rehearsal. I was one in a play where we didn’t get past the first four scenes in the first 6 hours of tech – thankfully, after that, it was smooth sailing. Both of these leads were already flirty with each other from the beginning for there to be too much tension in their relationship, and in the end, of course the play was going to be a success. However, I still don’t understand movies where the whole town does one thing on Christmas Eve. Anyway, was this worth waiting for? Maybe. Will I watch it again? Only just so you don’t have to.