Once upon a time, Hallmark gave to me a story about a down-and-out TV reporter just trying to tell the truth in a cynical world.
Also, this poster is screaming “BUDDIES!” more than anything else to me.
We open with a flashback of a little girl, Katie, at a Christmas market in New York City with her mom. Her parents are always busy, so her mom gives her a camera and calls Katie her little princess.
Wasting no time at all, we’re leaping ahead twenty years! Katie (Briana Evigan) is actually Princess Catherine of this indecipherable country in Europe; every actor seems to say it really quickly and softly, like they’re unsure of the pronunciation, that I tried spelling out numerous times during my notes. We’ll work through my attempts shortly.
Bless Hallmark for their bounty of gifts to me this season: they don’t even bother giving anyone an accent.
So, we find out in quick success that Katie went to photography school but hasn’t been able to work on her craft much, she’s in town with her aunt Margaret for various Christmas royalty-specific festivities, and her mom’s attorney George is visiting. She’s desperate to a) visit the art gallery and b) recapture the magic of her childhood Christmases, because her mom’s so very dead.
Hey, let’s meet Jack (Paul Campbell) who is basically Bill Pullman in While You Were Sleeping, even down to the name and job, which is a vibe I’m very much into. Sadly, no leaning. Anyway, Jack does renovations and restorations; his current job being a custom condo job for some rich guy. Some dude named Harry calls him and Jack dashes off to a magic shop; Harry is a magician that is a) never revealed to be Santa Claus and b) my second favourite character, mostly because I love Jay Brazeau in everything. Harry’s shop has bad wiring, so Jack stops by regularly to do little fix-it jobs, since he doesn’t have time to overhaul a whole rewiring yet. Jack gets invited to the annual potluck party that night, but he’s got dinner plans with his sister Emma and her local TV reporter boyfriend Ross. Harry’s got a nice girl for him to meet, but Jack’s not interested. He will stop by the party though!
Back at Katie’s hotel, she has a long talk with George about mostly hating her rigorous princess duties and just wanting an hour to herself to see the gallery. Apparently, her mom married the prince and also, her final Christmas gift to Katie was the camera and a gold locket with a picture of each of them.
George subtly frees up a tiny window of time for her to evade Aunt Margaret and her security escorts. She ducks into the hotel basement and grabs a coat and hat from a donation box (sorry, but ew) before escaping the hotel altogether.
When Margaret realizes she’s gone, she immediately panics because the Princess of “Asserai” can’t go missing in New York City when she has very important engagements!
So, Katie wanders the streets and takes pictures of buildings and crappy panhandlers. She’s right outside Jack’s current condo job when she gets unwittingly ensnared in a scam by two dudes and gets her purse and camera stolen. Jack watches the whole debacle unfold and tries to chase them (for like, five seconds tops) to no avail, so now the princess is in the middle of the city with no money or camera. She doesn’t really look very worried.
Jack tries to convince her to call the cops and report the robbery, but she’s evasive as shit. See, he’d have to be her witness and she can’t involve the cops, so she lies and says that she’ll call the cops when she gets back to her hotel. And no, she doesn’t want a ride! He’s giving her major WTF faces the whole scene, and forces her to take some money for cab fare.
Let’s check in on Aunt Margaret, perennially panicky for her niece. Although, it kind of seems like she’s less worried about Katie’s safety than Katie missing all the royal festivities, the most important being “Montserai’s” string quartet playing a Christmas concert in town, and the Christmas Day festival, a time-honoured tradition for the royal family which takes place back home. Christmas is days away! Margaret doesn’t want to get the police involved, so she calls up this petite man, Simon, the head of the royal security detail, I think?
Katie is on a mission to see this damn art gallery, but when she makes it there, it’s closed. She doesn’t have enough money to cab it to the hotel, so she decides to hoof it. It’s getting late, Katie!
Meanwhile, Jack stops in at his sister’s place for dinner with her and Ross (Casey Manderson). Jack doesn’t like the dude and asks Emma, “Why do I have to get to know my sister’s boyfriend?” Rude! This is his reaction when Ross calls him over to the TV to show him his latest segment.
Except his latest segment is him trying unsuccessfully to interview a silent dancing elf man, so Jack should be grateful he got to see such a delight!
Ross heavy-handedly drops in that he’s waiting for his big story break so he can make it to the networks! He is so eager and I love him.
We don’t see their dinner, but Jack gets ready to leave right away (rude) to go hit up the magic shop potluck. Emma wants him to start dating again. He’s fine, Emma! He’s great, actually! He’s dancing!
Simon tells Marge that Katie’s phone had a GPS chip (duh) so he tracks her movements through the hotel and discovers Katie’s phone in the hotel’s basement (she threw it there when she was leaving). Well done, Katie!
Our princess is still wandering the city, now at night, when she walks past Harry’s magic shop and notices it’s packed with Santas and Mrs. Clauses. That’s amazing. Just as she’s about to walk away, she bumps into Jack! He’s starting to figure out that something’s not right, maybe she’s lost or whatnot, so he invites her into the potluck party. She accepts.
We find out that Harry’s full name is Harry Valentine and this is his kicky broad of an assistant (for FORTY years!), Dixie. I love everyone!
They’re all very welcoming and sweet to Katie (who calls herself Katie Holiday); Dixie explains that all the Santas are just regular joes that spend their holidays being Santas. How did Harry round them all up? Magic? It makes no sense but I don’t need it to!
Simon has checked with all the hospitals and listened for any police activity, but there’s nobody matching Katie’s description. He mentions that Katie’s mom used to run away a lot too. Get a handle on your royals, Simon!
At the party, Jack tells Harry how he met the mysterious Katie, but admits that he suspects she’s secretly in trouble. She falls asleep on a couch, surrounded by a bunch of strange Santas.
The next day, Ross gets a last-minute job. He gets to cover Princess Catherine attending the Montserai String Quarter Christmas Concert. You can trust that this will lead to so many delightful things.
Jack wakes a sleeping Katie up. She leaves quickly but remembers to thank him sincerely for helping her and inviting her to this super rad Santa party. After she’s gone, he realizes she accidentally left her locket behind. He runs after her and offers to drop her off at her hotel, teasing her that she can blindfold him so he won’t know which hotel she’s staying at. She instead asks him to bring her to the art gallery. OMG KATIE, GET A GRIP.
One small problem: Simon’s security team are checking if she’s at the gallery so she quickly diverts her course and distracts Jack by asking to get lunch instead. In the picture below, you’ll see Katie and Jack walking mere steps away from the approaching security detail.
First of all, fire those two security dudes! Secondly, Jack puts two and two together, and asks if she’s in trouble. I like that they make him smart and tuned-in, truly, and not totally oblivious to suddenly wacky behaviour from her.
So, this is where Princess Catherine would be introducing the Montserai string quartet to the small cluster of press people (including Ross!), but George is subbing in. Who is this guy to them? Why couldn’t Aunt Margaret, an actual royalty-adjacent person, do this? Anyway, George does a not-great job of telling the press that Princess Catherine’s under the weather and will not able to attend the function. Everyone else is disappointed but satisfied by this, but Ross is the best at his job and becomes instantly suspicious.
So I guess Jack and Katie are now just killing time? They have some street meat, which seems to turn Jack off.
They talk some more, and he finds out she’ll be alone for Christmas (really?). He’s perturbed by this. Jack gets called back to the condo job, so Katie tags along.
Ross is a great investigative reporter because after trying to wrangle more information from George, in a back alley after the press conference, he notes that the security team van has a parking pass from the Shelton Hotel. He forces his hilariously disinterested camera operator Trish to follow as he investigates further.
At the condo, Katie loves the restoration work that Jack’s done. Sensing that Something is Seriously Up, he offers to let her stay in the condo for Christmas since the owner’s in Hawaii.
A desperate Ross tries different tactics to get information out of the Mario Lopez and Les from Bring It On lookalike concierge.
No luck this time. Good try anyway, Ross! You’ve got moxie and moxie always wins out!
Jack has called Emma (who runs a consignment shop) to come over with spare clothes for Katie.
Ross spots Katie’s security team and slips past Mario Lopez so he can camp out and wait for something to break.
Jack sees Katie in her “new” clothes and like, stops short and gets all tongue-tied, but she’s literally changed from a nice dress into like, a cardigan and pants. Emma pesters him to pick out a Christmas tree for her; we find out that Emma does all her decorating on Christmas Eve, which is a really terrible idea. You can only enjoy it for a few days! Jack’s too busy with his renovations (is he though?) and it’s a two-person job, so Katie offers to help. Emma invites Katie to Christmas dinner and she’s weirdly evasive again.
Jack gets Emma alone for a few moments and tries to see if Katie revealed any personal information, but apparently Katie told her nothing revealing.
Cute and basically insignificant scene of Jack and Katie trying to unload a Christmas tree, unless you count it towards BUILDING LOVE, which I do.
Also, there’s a scene somewhere in and around here where they have a tense conversation about doing what they want to do with their own lives. And Katie’s reaction is more or less like, what would you know about changing the path of your life? What would he know indeed.
Ross confronts George in the hotel and tries to leverage an interview from Princess Catherine by threatening to run the real story: she’s disappeared! Margaret literally flounces down the hotel steps, announcing loudly to George (and Ross, who’s barely hidden behind him) that Katie and her mother are alike in that they both love to run away! Ross’s face: THE BEST.
He runs away with this breaking news!
Dead parent chat: Katie and Jack come upon the Christmas Market of Childhood and she’s awash with memories. OMG, Hallmark upped the ante: both her parents are dead…from a plane crash! Anyway, they run into Harry and Dixie playing Santa and Mrs. Claus at the market, and the latter invite them over for dinner.
At dinner, Harry and Dixie give Katie the full scoop on Jack and why the hell he hangs out with a magician in his spare time. Apparently, he was a big shot real estate broker with an MBA and everything, but was super grumpy all the time. He owns the building and rented the shop out to Harry, but quickly got into the renovation side of things, which turned off his fiancée Gretchen. Turns out, she wasn’t into a dude who worked with power tools for a living and dumped his jack-of-all-trades ass. Thus: Jack does know what it’s like to change his life’s path!
Simon’s still busy doing the devil’s work of finding the dumb princess, and has managed to get a surveillance picture of Katie and Jack outside the art gallery. Surprisingly, they don’t zoom in and somehow magically improve the quality of the photo, so they’re left wondering who her mysterious New York contact is.
Emma and Ross show up at the magic shop with more clothes for Katie (Ross doesn’t seem to find this weird, so minus a point for that). He does note that Katie looks “familiar” but otherwise seems to just be excited that he and Emma are going to the Montserai concert that night. He hints around to the fact that there’s a missing royal in town and he’s going to land a network gig to crack the case! God bless.
Jack and Katie go back to the condo so he can do some late-night work, sanding a table. But first, he has a gift for her: a new camera! In exchange, he just wants to know who she is, where she’s from, you know, just the most basic of details that you would need about a person you’re letting stay in a condo that’s not yours. He quietly asks her not to disappear on him (aw). She asks him to take her to the art gallery tomorrow so she can explain everything. Just do it now! Instead, she goes back to her bedroom and takes a sneaky picture of him sanding.
OMG, Ross at the concert is too much. He’s busy spying on the non-royal attendance (Margaret, George, SIMON [who is definitely not working right now?!] and his team) with tiny binoculars and basically embarrassing Emma.
She begs him to put them away since “nobody else is using them.” I love it. Just then, she pulls out the concert program and Ross doesn’t need his binoculars to see his big break!
Ross: “Hello, princess.”
Love, love, love it. He ditches Emma at the concert. Also, the official spelling: Montsaurai.
The next day is Christmas Eve…I think. I suspect I’m done trying to figure out how calendar days work at Hallmark. Jack and Katie try to get a crack at the gallery again (JUST GIVE IT UP ALREADY), but Simon’s team is right outside AGAIN. She kisses Jack as a cover?
Not great, you guys. He jokes that “art is inspirational.”
Ross shows up at the magic shop for the scoop on Katie from Harry, but really only finds out that she’ll be by later. He’s happy with this.
Right after the smoochin’, Katie asks to use Jack’s phone; she calls George (finally!) to tell him she’s okay, that she’ll be back soon, and YES there’s a guy involved. Just then, she gets spotted by two security dudes and a chase ensues! Jack picks her up in his van and they speed off, but not before the security guys take a picture of his license plate.
He brings her to Harry’s shop and is like, WTF WHY ARE GUYS TRYING TO KIDNAP YOU NOW. The whole gang’s here now, including Emma for some reason. Katie is about to tell them everything! Just then, our intrepid reporter (and a bored Trish) are knocking on the store windows, demanding to be let in.
So, he is trying to film this whole “breaking news” segment while Emma and Jack are interrupting him, wanting to know what he’s even talking about.
Ross: “What my viewers want to know is what the heck is going on in there!?”
Once he gets inside the shop, he reveals that “Katie Holiday” is actually Princess Catherine, the 17th Princess of Montsaurai! However, Katie’s nowhere to be found. Not even in the disappearing magic closet!
He essentially tells Emma that this story is bigger than his love for her, so she shoves him inside the closet and Harry makes him literally disappear. HE’S NEVER SEEN AGAIN.
Hilariously, Trish is like, well my shift’s over and just peaces out nonchalantly. Harry makes Katie reappear in the closet and also doesn’t seem to be very overwhelmed by the princess reveal.
You can guess who is overwhelmed though: poor commoner Jack, who’s sad that his damsel-in-distress of three days has to go home for Christmas.
But…she can just come back later?
He leaves in a sad sulk. Katie says goodbye to Harry and Emma. She goes outside and finds Jack still in his van, looking at the pictures she’s taken on her new camera (including the one of him sanding) and now he’s back on board! He vows to give her an hour to herself at this damn art gallery.
The movie just falls headfirst into a barrel of shenanigans at this point. Apparently, Hawaii condo guy is on the board of directors for the gallery, so Jack has managed to get the gallery VACATED for an hour so Katie can peruse it alone. In a cute moment, he jokes that this whole deal’s off if he finds out she’s “just” a duchess or countess, and not a real princess. He leaves her with a Santa hat.
In the lobby, Simon and his team have descended on the place, ready to pick Katie up. They’ve used Jack’s license plate to put two and two together. Except Jack has recruited like, seven Santas to be in the gallery and confuse them?
I love a good decoy scene, but this is not one to remember. Simon’s frustrated by Jack’s (totally illegal) obstructions, and pleads that all they want is to get Princess Catherine home for the Montsaurai Christmas Festival. The Santa decoys somehow work, which means these royals are going to die should there ever be an actual crisis.
Finally, Katie’s done ogling her precious art and comes down to see Margaret, George, and the security team waiting. Katie and Jack embrace in front of the Christmas tree and talk about her deceased mom (the dad gets like, no love in this movie). She says goodbye to Jack and on their way out, George quips to Jack that Montsaurai is beautiful at Christmas.
Christmas Day! That New York to Montsaurai flight was quick. Katie and Margaret pull up in the town square, which is very French/Swiss Alps, and who helps Katie out of the limo but Jack!!! No security team to be seen. I mean, this is just a kidnapping waiting to happen.
They want to spend every Christmas together. AND every day in between! So…how is that relationship going to work?
They don’t care! They’re in love, damnit!
Amazingly, we discover that what Montsaurians love most of all, even more than their runaway princess, is LOAVES OF BREAD! Loaves of bread for everyone!
WHAT HAPPENED TO ROSS. JUSTICE FOR ROSS.