Monday, December 23, 2019

Reviewing Jane: We Have Had A Very Dull Christmas

In which we review every film adapted from or inspired by the works of Jane Austen: Christmas Edition!

Year: 2018
Director: Colin Theys
Cast: Jessica Lowndes, Michael Rady, Cole Gleason
Run Time: 1 hour 24 minutes

Merry Christmas Eve Eve, everyone! It's that very special time of year when Hallmark's endless shitty Jane Austen adaptations collide with Hallmark's even more endless shitty Christmas movies! I don't actually have the Hallmark channel, because what person under the age of 45 does? Or even pays for TV in the first place? Anyway, that's why this review has come a year late, because the network has finally released their 2018 projects upon an unsuspecting public. 

And what a miserable wait it was! A whole year without white people standing in front of Christmas trees! Imagine!

In Christmas at Pemberley Manor, we find one Elizabeth Bennett (Jessica Lowndes) in that oh-so Austenian profession of being a Big Business Party Planner. She's a party planner because all Hallmark heroines are party planners, but her work also takes place in a New York high rise with a cruel corporate boss, Caroline Bingley (Elaine Hendrix), because she needs a reason to never want to go back to the city. 

She's been hired for her first solo party planning gig by college friend George (Cole Gleason), the mayor of the town of Lambton who is so desperately, transparently in love with her that the fact she doesn't notice leads me to question that she might be a full-tilt sociopath. When the town square where they're planning a festival literally collapses into a sinkhole (if you thought they would have the budget to show a sinkhole, you are sorely mistaken), they must relocate to the only other viable spot in town: Pemberley Manor. Unfortunately the owner, William Darcy (Michael Rady), is resistant to the idea because he's only in town to sell the property and doesn't want people tromping all over the yard.

Elizabeth uses her pride in her work to melt his prejudice against the Christmas spirit and buy a lot of decorations with his credit card. He falls in love with her anyway, and the literal actual Santa may or may not show up at some point.

Also it's illegal in the Hallmark Holiday Extended Universe not to make Christmas cookies at least once.

By far the most interesting thing about Christmas at Pemberley Manor is the fact that the leading man isn't clean shaven to within a centimeter of his life. They let Darcy be a little scruffy, which actually visually accents his character in a way that allows him to have a character to the slightest degree, which is all one can hope for in one of these movies. This actually goes a long way (only on the very long sliding scale by which we're forced to measure Hallmark movies) in making him "edgy," because their prickly relationship in the beginning has literally nothing else to stand on other than him being a little bit of a Grinch. He's clearly already in love with her from square one, and the reason she finds him a bit of a pill at first is based on an almost willful misunderstanding, because one of these movies wouldn't dare have a male lead actually be mean to anyone ever.

Hallmark's aversion to romantic conflict at least gives way to Hallmark's hatred of big business, so there's a tiny scrap of tension somewhere in the movie. Mind you, it makes less than no sense, but isn't that what we're here for? Eventually after the press takes a picture of Darcy and Elizabeth together and puts a headline about him donating money to the town festival on the front page, Caroline comes to town to take over the event because it's bad for her image that an employee is succeeding apparently. It's completely wild plotting, but it is at least plotting, and I've learned not to look down my nose at an actual narrative in one of these things.

And hey, this plot point is just one nestled in a garden of insipid blooms waiting to be plucked and mocked. Here's George, who must have had his spine removed at an early age because he literally never tells Elizabeth how he feels and contents himself to a life of solitude! There's the multiple shopping scenes where sometimes "full" bags get shoved in the trunk upside-down! Here's the moment where Darcy's assistant tells him he has an email and hands him a printout! If there's anything better than Hallmark's continued refusal to learn how modern technology works, it's... well, it's that the literal Santa Claus is in this movie, but I won't spoil how. 

Nor will I need to if you've seen even the first five seconds of the movie.

Christmas at Pemberley Manor can actually be a joy to hang out with sometimes. It has its humorous moments (they joke about hanging twinkle lights on the sinkhole and it's the funniest any Hallmark movie has ever been), its aesthetically pleasing moments (mainly just every coat worn by any character), and its irresistibly daffy ones ("It's Christmas! What better time for a Christmas miracle?"). However, there are some things that sink this film like a stone.

First, the leads have absolutely no chemistry. That kind of comes with the territory in these hellishly chaste romances where the leads kiss exactly once immediately before the credits roll, but it's especially difficult because Jessica Lowndes makes absolutely zero effort not to make her Elizabeth come off as an irritating mess. Then, there's the fact that throwing a bunch of Austen-y names ("The Mansfield Press is here to interview you!") doesn't automatically lend a story gravitas.

But I think the most telling thing about the movie is that it hangs its entire script on this one line, repeated over and over again by several different characters: "The things we love are never far away." Does that mean anything to you? It sure doesn't for me, and the movie seems to think it's very profound. The fact that this line is something the movie seems to be proud of is indicative of how rotten the very foundations of this film truly are. It's fun to poke fun at, but beyond that it offers absolutely nothing of substance. And the romantic interludes which form 75% of the entire running time are exhausting and tedious to watch. If you're looking for Christmas romance, look further than Christmas at Pemberley.

TL;DR: Christmas at Pemberley Manor is cheerily dumb, but not interesting enough to ever consider a rewatch.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1102
Other Films Based On Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice (Leonard, 1940)
Bridget Jones's Diary (Maguire, 2001)
Pride & Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy (Black, 2003)
Bride & Prejudice (Chadha, 2004)
Pride and Prejudice (Wright, 2005)
Unleashing Mr. Darcy (Winning, 2016)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Steers, 2016)
Before the Fall (Geisler, 2016)
Marrying Mr. Darcy (Monroe, 2018)
Christmas at Pemberley Manor (Theys, 2018)
Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe (McBrearty, 2018)

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