Stream or skip? +2023

Fragrant Christmas is a new holiday film on Lifetime dedicated to the art of candle making. We’re not talking about mass-produced fragrance stories either. This film shows how rewarding – and even romantic – the traditional process of candle making can be. But is it worth keeping a light on Fragrant Christmas? Or is this holiday film best left in the dark?

The essentials: Nazneen Contractor plays Ellie, an aspiring perfumer who hopes her latest fragrance creation will land her a performance in Paris. Meanwhile, she returns to New Hampshire to vacation with her father, Jamar (Sugith Varughese). This is the first Christmas since the loss of her mother, and Ellie worries her father is struggling to keep the family candle business afloat. Her fears aren’t allayed by the fact that her father opened her home as an Airbnb – and the first guest is a handsome reporter named Logan (Mykee Selkin).

After seeing her father’s plight, Ellie decides to step in and help him increase the sale of her Christmas candle – well, she will if she can figure out the Christmas candle formula first. The search for the missing ingredient brings Ellie and Logan closer, especially when the search is more about Ellie’s family history. But will Ellie like the answers she finds – and what about that job in Paris?!

Fragrant Christmas
Photo: lifetime

Which movies will it remind you of?: The film’s dedication to a single craft reminds me of one of Lifetime’s vacation movies from last year, An Icewine Christmas. And if you’ve been checking out this year’s Christmas deals, the Dad Can’t Keep Family Business Afloat After Mom Died storyline will just remind you of… So Many movies.

Notable performance: Sugith Varughese gets a lot of practice playing grieving fathers between this film and the following (A Gingerbread Christmas). It’s also no wonder he keeps getting those parts. He’s really good at that! He brings a lot of honest emotional weight to his scenes.

Scentsational Christmas - Dad
Photo: lifetime

Memorable dialogue: This is how most conversations sound in Fragrant Christmas:

Elly: My mother always said that candles are a reflection of ourselves. The wax is the body, the wick is the spirit, and together they give home to the flame, the spark of life. And the heart, the heart is the love of the candle.

Logan: And so it defies the darkness.

Elly: And how it stands the test of time.

A holiday tradition: Ellie’s family sells Christmas candles every year, but that won’t happen this year unless they find the formula. There’s also a Wassailing event at the local tavern, which might be the first time I’ve seen Wassailing in one of these movies – and apparently Wassailing just means getting drunk and singing?

Two lovebirds: If you want another movie about a father, played by Sugith Varughese, who is desperately trying to keep the family business going after the death of his wife, and then he gets help from his daughter when she returns home from the big city job, the they from the family business, you can watch A Gingerbread Christmas on Discovery+.

Does the title make sense?: Vacation movies love their pun titles, but this one really doesn’t fit the mood. Fragrant Christmas is a romantic Christmas drama and the silly next level title really misrepresents the tone of the film. The original title was actually A candlelight Christmas partyand that fits better with what this movie gives.

Scentsational Christmas - Candle Making
Photo: lifetime

Our opinion: There’s a lot of talk about the holiday romcom, but the holiday drama/mystery is part of the season as well. These are the movies where the main couple bond not only over a sweet meeting and a slight personal tension, but also through their attempts to solve a mystery — almost always one that deals with one of their family histories.

You can handle that Fragrant Christmas, as Ellie and Logan team up to find out if their ancestors were the fabled couple in one of the town’s Christmas Carols. Ultimately, it’s not as exciting as it sounds. Logan says several times that this story is the greatest love story ever told, but it’s just a small tale about a groom who got lost in a snowstorm and the bride who made candles to light his way home . We strain ourselves easily when we watch these kinds of movies, but when I call them the best Christmas couple ever, all I think is: “Sure Jan.”

But that’s the general problem with Fragrant Christmas; it tries to be bigger than it is. The script is overly flowery and uses every candle metaphor imaginable (“That’s the thing about candles: they burn out”). Directing-wise, numerous takes are framed with excessive amounts of negative space, as if this Lifetime movie is running for you Mister Robot Mood. They have to be commended for trying something new, but it ends up being distracting when it happens.

Scentsational Christmas - Shot composition
Photo: lifetime

As over-the-top as the dialogue and direction is at times, the performances remain balanced. Contractor and Selkin do a fine job as a vacation film couple – especially Contractor, who plays the straight-forward role of Scully with a great deal of confidence and conviction. Selkin’s reporter character is less developed, meaning he’s the love interest that’s “perfect for 98% of the movie until he makes a mistake.”

There is definitely a place for Fragrant Christmas – and Christmas romance/drama/mystery in general – in this year’s holiday lineup. But to really work, I think the seriousness that sets this apart from your average holiday comedy should probably be placed more on the characters’ personalities and their dynamics and less on a clever script and imaginative direction. We have to feel it, and unfortunately Fragrant Christmas doesn’t appeal to all the senses.

Our appeal: SKIP IT and maybe watch A Gingerbread Christmas on Discovery+ instead.

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