Holiday Watch: Christmas Under Wraps

xmasunderwraps 800 1098679Dreams shattered. An unexpected life detour. A faraway town that may be keeping a secret. This is the gentle story of how an up-and-coming surgeon ends up in a small Alaskan town where she comes to suspect the place has a secret which keeps Christmas Under Wraps.

Dr. Lauren Brunell (Candace Cameron Bure) has her life planned out: finish her surgical residency, get a prestigious surgical fellowship in Boston, and marry her boyfriend. She’s unprepared when her boyfriend dumps her instead of proposing, and her father tells her she was edged out at the last minute for the job in Boston…but he’ll make some calls. Desperate, she tries to find another fellowship, but there are none to be had at this late date…until a job miraculously appears at a hospital in Garland, Alaska (which she’s told is adjacent to Anchorage). Assuming she’ll pop in for a short time before dumping them for a better position, she packs her bags and heads to the 49th state.

Almost immediately she finds out she’s not in the big city anymore. Turns out that “Anchorage adjacent” means she will have to let her greeter, Andy Holliday (David O’Donnell) take her on a small plane ride out to a Garland, zip code: middle of can’t-get-there-from-here. The small town is very welcoming and has all the small town amenities plus one large business: Holliday Shipping, owned by Frank Holliday (Brian Doyle-Murray) — who is immediately tagged by the new arrival as looking like Santa.

Lauren puts out her shingle at the small, one-doctor hospital. Actually, Andy literally hangs it up — he being the town handiman and all. In short order, Lauren starts to fit into her strange new land, helped in no small part by Andy and her head nurse, Billie (Kendra Mylnechuk).

As time goes on, Lauren starts to suspect that Holliday Shipping might be something more than just a shipping company, but doesn’t vigorously follow up on her suspicions. Once she starts to truly settle in, her father calls to tell her the job in Boston is hers, but she has to leave immediately. When Frank falls ill, Lauren finds the excuse to stay in her new town and with her new beau, Andy. And, come Christmas eve, she finds that the Hollidays are as invested in Christmas at least as much as she suspected.

Christmas Under Wraps is a tough movie to gauge. It’s pleasant enough. The story, while predictable, is fine for what it is. The characters of the town are nice. But it still doesn’t quite rise to the level of must-see. As best I can figure it, it just needed more.

More? More what? Well, a little more a just about everything. A little more story. A little more exploration of the Hollidays. A little more with Billie and other townsfolk. A little more production. A little more scoring. Just…a little more. Probably more than anything, a little more money in the budget. In “high concept” terms, this is Northern Exposure meets Santa Claus. Unfortunately, even here it wasn’t quite enough Northern Exposure and not quite enough Santa.

That aside, the story comes off as you’d hope: doctor with big times dreams learns to listen to her heart and not just her head. She finds that being useful, letting life come to her, and to have a community that doesn’t just support her but embraces her is more rewarding that the moneyed prestige that would come from simply following her old plan. And who could blame her? Garland is just that slice of fictional small-town pie that so many of us romantically hope still exists somewhere.

Sadly, the big reveal at the end feels a little tacked-on. Again, I think this is because it wasn’t set up as well as it might have during the run of the story, and also because the budget simply wasn’t there for the big climax (just one reindeer? seriously?).

Overall, Christmas Under Wraps is a nice movie that could have been memorable had it been given everything the story deserved. If you don’t expect too much from it, it will happily rise to that level just fine.

[UPDATE: Seeing the movie when more rested and lest stressed, I think it’s actually better than I reviewed. I rarely change my initial ratings, but in the interest of fairness, I feel I must. I’ve bumped up the story and acting ratings a half point and the denouement by a quarter of a point.]

3.25 of 5 

For more movies, go to the list at: Watching the Holiday Movies

Photo Credit: Copyright 2014 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

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