Returning to her Berkeley family home from her high-power job in L.A. because her father got injured, Jennifer Moore tries to find a simple way back to her life and her job…until she starts receiving cards from her Dear Secret Santa.
Returning home wasn’t on Jen’s (Tatyana Ali) schedule. Still, she couldn’t resist dropping a coin in her family’s wishing well with her family dog Buddy looking on. (Even after years away, he’s still attentive and friendly, which says a lot…but I digress.) Sensing that her father’s age may be catching up to him, Jen consipires with her friend Abby (Jordin Sparks) to arrange to both get her father (Bill Cobbs) into assisted living and then to sell the house.
Being constantly reacquainted with people from her past, the freshly dumped Jennifer (her ex caller her “emotionally unavailable” — ouch) finds herself remembering the neighbor friend-who-was-a-boy who died three years before. She starts receiving cards from her classy stalker-ish Secret Santa. Soon, she starts writing back to discover that maybe there are supernatural forces screwing around with her personal exchange of letters.
Jennifer starts finding herself at home. Then Abby tries to show the house while Jen and her father are at church…oops. Jen had tried to call everything off, but the message didn’t get through. Damage done, Jennifer returns to L.A., but everything is different. After being given sage advice from a client, she rushes back home to try to spark the flames of love before it’s too late. She then, of course, gets t-boned and ends up in the hospital where she discovers that yes, wishes do come true.
While the movie uses the trope of loves connecting across time, it isn’t a common Christmas movie trope. In a world filled with Grinch and Scrooge movies, any hint of originality gets points. Those points do get taken away when the season isn’t very integral to the story (the secret Santa conceit is a little thin).
There was a lot of story packed into this movie, especially first half. Despite this, it never felt rushed or cramped. Efficient is the word here. Using a series of economical scenes, a lot of backstory that would often be told via several minutes of exposition were well crafted to give us a sense of character and place. Once the backstory was taken care of, the tale unwound with a little more breathing room for elaboration.
There were a couple of sour notes: Jen’s field trip to the metaphysical fringe (presented by the incomparable Della Reese) pretty much took you out of story; and the full carol in the church, while entertaining, caused a slight stumble with pacing.
The ending got tied up in a nice loose bow. It would have been nice to have an answer about the reception of the final letter, but that’s really a minor quibble on my part. There really is no antagonist to speak of, other than time and stubbornness, but that’s a strength of this story, not a weakness.
I’m always happy when a holiday movie strives to break away from formula. Dear Secret Santa does this quite well. While somewhat predictable with the tropes of this sort of (genre, non-holiday) plot, it’s still entertaining, especially given how Tatyana throws herself into the character. The only real demerit comes from this being a story that could just as easily centered around arbor day. Give it a watch when it comes your way, I think you’ll enjoy it.
|3.75 of 5|
For more movies, go to the list at: Watching the Holiday Movies
Photo: Hybrid, LLC / Lifetime