Stream or skip? +2023

As evidenced by Must love Christmas, CBS got the memo about Meta Holiday Romcom movies circulating from network to network and streamer to streamer. Liza Lapira plays a romance novelist whose real life turns fictional after a snowstorm traps her in her hometown. But it does Must love Christmas tick all the boxes? Or does it make you want more?

The essentials: Liza Lapira (The equalizer) stars Natalie Wolf, an acclaimed romance novelist who specializes in Christmas-themed love stories…even though she’s a recluse and borderline cat lady herself who’s admittedly unlucky in love. Neal Bledsoe plays Nick Winters, a reporter for YOU (which stands for She Has Everything) who is looking for a big cover story that will boost sales and prevent a merger with the magazine pov. Natalie and Nick’s stories collide when Nick learns that this mystery author is filing a book submission near Buffalo – her first public appearance in six years. This might be the cover story he’s looking for!

However, when he arrives in Buffalo, Natalie gives him nothing more than a signed copy of her book. When a sudden snowstorm strands Natalie in the small town of Cranberry Falls, she is stunned to see her high school crush Caleb (Nathan Witte) driving a tow truck. Uh, she related the main character of her current novel to him. How are the chances?!

Nick is also stuck in town and with the arrival of his photographer Lucas (Ian Collins) he decides to continue the story without Natalie’s help. They will secretly tell the story of how this shy novelist fell in love with the one who escaped and no one can stop them. But will Nick risk his journalistic integrity by falling in love with Natalie?

Which movies will it remind you of?: Nick’s career is very reporter falls in love with topic, so Unkissed or How to lose a man in 10 days.

Notable performance: Ian Collins stands out from the supporting cast as Nick’s comrade Lucas. He’s a super fan of Natalie Wolf and – surprise! – gets a little romantic subplot with Natalie’s publicist Ryan (Adam Beauchesne). We love to see it seriously. Collins is so personable that he keeps Lucas’s paparazzi-like tendencies (literally hiding behind a bush to capture private moments) from being a total dealbreaker.

Coverage of the CBS Original Holiday Movie MUST LOVE CHRISTMAS airing on the CBS Television Network.  Pictured: Ian Collins and Adam Adam Beauchesne.  Photo Credit: Bettina Strauss/CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved.

Memorable dialogue: I have to give that to Lucas too. When Nick disapproves of romance in general, Lucas replies, “Fun as you like, Nick, but with everything that’s going on in the world, these books give us a safe place to escape to. What is wrong with that?”

A holiday tradition: The town celebrates the annual Dickens Festival, which commemorates the time Charles Dickens stayed at the local inn. The festival and accompanying toy drive were organized by Natalie’s perfect crush, Caleb.

Two lovebirds: This season has brought us a lot of movies about people starring in Christmas romcoms, straight Christmas romcoms, and people stuck in a Christmas fairytale town. And somewhere in the intersection of all these lies Must love Christmasa film about a romance novelist who uses her own experiences for her stories and often visualizes herself in the plots she writes.

Does the title make sense?: Natalie’s story begins with her editor/friend giving her advice on how to manifest the perfect partner: Write down the five things you want in a life partner, then wait for the universe to put them your way . You can guess how the title and this plot point intersect.

Coverage of the CBS Original Holiday Movie MUST LOVE CHRISTMAS airing on the CBS Television Network.  Pictured: Liza Lapira as Natalie and Neal Bledsoe as Nick.  Photo Credit: Bettina Strauss/CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved.

Our opinion: What are you looking for in a vacation TV movie? The underlying purpose of the entire genre is familiarity. As Lucas says in that very film, these stories give us a “safe place to escape to.” And with all the meta holiday movies coming out this year, we’re seeing this sticking to a time-tested formula that’s being recognized in more and more movies. It’s fascinating to see the holiday TV film genre becoming self-aware and, in the case of Hallmark’s offerings this year, pushing the previously rigid boundaries of what the genre is all about.

Sorry – these are the thoughts you have as you review your 36th holiday film of the year.

But I actually think that’s the most interesting thing about it Must love Christmas Here it lands in this year’s holiday TV movie landscape. For one, it’s on CBS — which is still the only major broadcast network getting back into the TV movie gig (NBC generally sticks to one or two specials a year, while CBS has begun airing several scripted Christmas movies a year ). This is very much a throwback to the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s when TV movies were much more common. And last week’s CBS original movie, Suitable for Christmaswas about as literal as it gets.

That’s why Must love Christmas stands out. It begins with a ridiculously on-brand scene, a dramatic reunion at a train station in a town called Goodhope. Then it turns out that this scene is from the book Natalie is writing – and it’s not going well. This is how the very formulaic holiday romance begins, in which the unhappily in love woman is drawn from the big city back to her hometown. There she meets a handsome but gruff reporter who only sees her as a story. We know where this is headed.

Coverage of the CBS Original Holiday Movie MUST LOVE CHRISTMAS airing on the CBS Television Network.  Pictured: Neal Bledsoe as Nick and Liza Lapira as Natalie.  Photo Credit: Bettina Strauss/CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved.

But then Must love Christmas pulls back even further and changes the POV again as Natalie is rescued – in what feels like Christmas movie magic by coincidence – by Caleb, her high school crush and inspiration for her newest leading man. Suddenly there are competing love interests in this film, there’s two romances when Lucas and Ryan meet, and there’s the low-key, surreal add-on where Natalie gets a chance second shot with a man from her past. There’s even a reference to a related CBS Christmas romcom film verse: one of Natalie’s novels is titled A Christmas offer, that’s the name of one of last year’s CBS vacation movies. This is like Must love Christmas sticks to what we’ve come to expect from these films and how it expands beyond expectations in real time.

I think it’s a testament to the incredibly charming cast (I loved seeing Natalie’s Undercover at My Own Book Signing look). Must love Christmas is still the kind of simple, airy watch we want to see this time of year. But thanks to an ambitious script and lush cinematography (CBS still makes the best-looking vacation TV movies), Must love Christmas feels like more than just another seasonal romcom.

Our appeal: STREAM IT, and let’s hope CBS continues to make inventive choices with its movies.

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