Holiday Watch: The Christmas Pageant

They say that you can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl. The Christmas Pageant aims to have a town full of earnest characters worm their way into the heart of a career-oriented, driven, New York City director.

Holiday movies are notoriously difficult to write so they can stand out from a crowded field of all-too-familiar stories told in new ways. That is the underlying premise of this movie as hard-to-work-with Broadway director Vera Parks (Melissa Gilbert) finds herself unemployable…except for a small town in upstate New York that needs a director for their Christmas Pageant. And it’s not just any Christmas pageant, but one that has been performed without change since the presidency of Grover Cleveland. Vera tries desperately to inject her new vision with a cast and crew unwilling to break with the familiar.

Enter one adorable blonde girl, Kristin (Lennon Wynn), who has no trouble at all melting Vera’s heart. That climate change is accelerated when Vera crosses paths with Jack Harmon (Robert Mailhouse), the cafe owner, her former love, and—in an astonishing coincidence—Kristin’s father. Oh, and he also happens to be the person who hired Vera to direct the pageant.

I mentioned how movies like this are tricky. There is a balance between finding the drama and being heartwarming. This movie definitely finds that balance. While the first 3/4s doesn’t let you off the hook, neither does it leave you dangling. For every emotional twist there there is soon to arrive a moment that makes you wish you lived in this town. Every time the earnestness threatens to become treacly, there is a twist that never lets you forget that life often intrudes even when you are closing in on your hopes and wishes. This was a nicely crafted story.

Kudos also go to the cast of characters. Yes, we get the expected menagerie of quirky characters, but none of them is inexplicably over the top. The actors bring life to them without trying to draw the spotlight on themselves. As a result, you want to hug these characters instead of keeping them at arms length. While it’s easy to praise Edward Herrmann for his usual excellent work, the rest of the character ensemble is equally up to the task.

The Christmas Pageant is a well done example of heartwarming holiday fare. The small town atmosphere is everything you’d wish a small town during Christmastime to be. There are laughs, there are tears, and there are more than enough moments that in the years to come I will settle back and watch because it just makes me feel good.

4.25 of 5 

Photo: Copyright 2011 Crown Media Holdings, Inc./Photographer Alexx Henry

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

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