No snark, no shade: this movie is a pretty perfect collaboration between good writing and good acting. It’s charming and sweet and funny, and goddammit, I loved it (which is why this fuckin’ thing is 3,500 words…)
Let’s hop right in and catch up with our two charming leads, Jenna Hudson (beautifully played by Joy Lenz) and Kevin Jenner (Andrew Walker hitting a serious sweet spot here). They are total polar opposites, but why use words when their respective breakfasts can tell us what they’re like?
Jenna: neat, uptight, organized. Kevin: human disaster with a handsome face. He’s also every working woman’s personal nightmare: a charming dude who works half as hard as you do to end up being praised more than you.
Kevin receives a call from his sister Meg, who wants him to come home for Christmas. He brushes her off, telling her that he’ll be on assignment. He hasn’t been home since…well, we’ll find out.
At the office, head boss Simone (a constantly bemused Tasha Smith) tells her staff that readership is down, so the upcoming holiday pieces have to speak to the heart of Christmas, focus on love and hope and redemption, etc. Kevin asks who’s covering the luxury Aspen hotel piece?
He is…along with Jenna.
She wants to know if readers connect better with Jenna (warm, soft, historic) or Kevin (fast, bold, straightforward); soooo, whoever writes the most popular piece gets to be her “most valuable writer.” This is sick and twisted, but I’m all for it.
Despite being a little too casual about upcoming job cuts, Simone still takes Jenna aside later to check in and see how she’s holding up since apparently Jenna got dumped by a guy named Andrew a month prior, and she was disappointed at not being able to meet his parents at Christmas. Simone cajoles Jenna to lighten up, find love, and let her hair down. Yeah, Jenna – loosen up after I’ve just put your job on the line!
Kevin and Jenna agree to part ways in Aspen and do their own thing. The next day, Jenna’s waiting for her taxi when suddenly, ex-boyfriend Andrew shows up for his lucky tie and he definitely doesn’t want to rehash their relationship.
On the airplane, Jenna is irritated to see Kevin has been assigned the seat next to hers. Everything they proceed to do goes against Airplane Etiquette 101. At some point, she moisturizes with scented lotion, then spritzes fragrance in the air to cover up the smell of his socks, then he starts loudly playing an old handheld game console he got as a young boy from his dad. In tiny little moments, we watch them tease each other with a playfulness and warmth that feels super natural. When the plane starts getting turbulence, she is losing her mind and he basically just makes fun of her for it, until the pilot announces they’re forced to make an emergency landing in Santa Claus, Indiana, which is a real place. Kevin is dismayed they’re in Indiana.
All flights are grounded, and there are no vacancies nearby. They’re bemoaning about needing a Christmas miracle (she wants one, he’s sick of people saying that) when a woman named Carol Winters introduces herself to them. She invites them, with her husband Chris, to stay in their B&B, Winters Inn.
Jenna is totally on board, Kevin is not having it, but they’re SOL so Winters Inn it is.
Chris and Carol (hereby known as C&C) assume they’re a couple; Kevin and Jenna are overly quick to correct them. They end up staying in neighbouring rooms with very thin walls. The inn even provides old-timey pajamas, which Kevin immediately puts on and wanders over to pester Jenna about the superior light and bed situation in his room. It should be irritating, but it is cute and charming.
Over breakfast, Carol serves breakfast and exposition about the inn; it’s closing very soon because developers want to turn it into a luxury hotel. It is allegedly a historic landmark, but developers are arguing that they have no proof, and that their case rests on a fictional character.
Jenna plays along: “Who built it?”
Carol: “Oh, Saint Nicholas, of course.
The subsequent reactions are pretty realistic.
Blizzards abound! Chris arrives to tell them that Colorado is completely snowbound with no incoming or outgoing flights. When they call Simone to break the news, she’s actually in LOVE with the idea of stories based around Santa Claus, Indiana instead. Have fun, you two!
Kevin and Jenna help C&C decorate a Christmas tree and the subject of family traditions comes up. Kevin talks about things his dad used to do, and when asked, Jenna shares some blandly nice things her family did. She fades off when she unwraps an old angel ornament and sees the following inscription on the back:
Carol and Christopher
Tim and Milly
That night, Kevin comes in to find Jenna curled up with a book about the town’s history, and mocks her for doing book research like a nerd and not experiencing the town for itself. She basically laughs in his face and tells him she can’t believe he’s her competition, which is awesome. Teasing her, Kevin asks her to share some of her research. Reluctantly, she explains that the tale is, two centuries ago, Saint Nick crash landed accidentally in town and liked it so much, he decided to stay. And every year, at midnight on Christmas Eve, people look up in the sky and see a golden streak to mark the passing into Christmas Day. But, it only reveals itself to those who believe. They argue a bit more until he pushes the wrong button and she tells him his dad didn’t do a very good job raising him with manners, which immediately throws him into a foul mood (which doesn’t last).
Jenna vows to Carol that her story angle will be saving the inn, by finding the missing proof about the inn’s historical significance. Meanwhile, Kevin discovers that Chris “volunteers” to answer all the wayward mail that ends up coming to town; he even seems to recognize who is writing each letter. Hm!
Kevin and Jenna end up running into one another while out exploring, and decide to go see Santa Claus – Chris, in costume, obviously – with all the kids. Kevin helps out a deaf kid (using sign language) who’s afraid to see Santa, and it’s cute and Jenna clearly agrees.
Later, they’re each working in their rooms when she realizes via the internet that the inn was allegedly granted historical landmark status back in the 1930s, but that certificate has been missing for 50 years. In fact, it’s rumoured that the certificate is hidden somewhere within the Winters Inn. A mystery! She also overhears Kevin get a call from Meg, during which he lies to her and says he’s in Aspen.
It’s after midnight and neither can sleep, so they separately wander down to the inn’s kitchen to get a snack.
Let me gush a little about the whole kitchen scene, because it is a really special watershed moment for these two, but also to watch. It is the quietly shining moment of the whole movie. In a super hot, low voice, Kevin asks if she wants him to make her something. That something ends up being Christmas cookies. The whole baking montage is tactile and playful and sexy in a very loose, natural manner.
He also takes note, trying unsuccessfully not to ogle, of Jenna with her hair down. “It looks nice,” he says, his eyes basically popping out of his head. He ain’t lying. Look at this glorious, post-romp hair and cute little smudge of icing sugar.
She asks why, if he’s so close to his family, he lied to Meg about being in Aspen. All he says is that he tries to avoid Christmas, and she responds with “Oh,” and the moment passes. She doesn’t press the issue and that in and of itself is noteworthy. They’re real people with private feelings who keep things to themselves because they’re not ready to share. There’s also this, which…ugh.
He ends up asking her about her own family and she reveals that she lied about having family traditions; the truth is, she was an orphan that never got adopted, so this year is actually the first time it’s felt like a real Christmas with a real family. It’s not overly sappy or schmaltzy; Lenz delivers her lines fairly plainly, leaving her expressive eyes and Walker’s empathy to fill the scene. EXCUSE ME, I’M HAVING A MOMENT HERE.
It’s why she was so upset by the breakup with Andrew: she wanted to be a part of a family, their traditions. She doesn’t really miss him though, but more the idea of him. She laughs at herself a bit for having a five year plan with Andrew, which obviously went belly-up. Kevin gently tells her that falling in love can’t be planned or mapped out; it should be exciting and unpredictable. Cutely, Jenna laughs and admits that that sounds awful. She asks him if he’s ever been in love, and after initially deflecting with a joke, Walker matches Lenz’s vulnerability here with admitting he’s terrified of falling in true love.
Clearly, the intimacy and vulnerability is making her feel exposed, so Jenna says she’s going to bed, but he suddenly asks her to go outside with him.
“It’s two a.m.,” she says, laughingly. But then, they’re walking through an empty, lit downtown, talking about work: they praise one another’s pieces, and he confesses that he was so petulant at getting paired up with her for the Aspen gig because she’s such an amazing writer. It’s also an interesting note that Kevin mentions he tends to write about things that scare him, like swimming with sharks. Let’s assume his main reason for wanting the Aspen piece was not being terrified of luxury mountain resorts. That is, unless he’s recently watched The Shining.
She remarks that they’ve worked together for years, but that this is the first real conversation they’ve had. It’s starting to feel like a slippery slope to loooooove when she mentions how she often felt invisible in the office. He says in awe, “You felt invisible? I noticed you the first day you walked into that office.”
This is definitely not pictures of two people falling deeply and quickly in love.
The next day, she asks C&C about this hidden certificate, and Chris is super casual and is like, “Oh, the last time I saw that, Roosevelt was in office!” which is a weird response when your inn staying open IS DEPENDENT ON FINDING IT. Kevin overhears Jenna telling C&C about her plan to save the inn for her piece. He interrupts (not letting on that he was listening) and basically swoops her away for the day, borrowing C&C’s car on a surprise trip.
Where are they going? HIS SISTER’S. That’s right, Kevin’s from Indiana. Jenna is shocked, but he further explains that his dad died suddenly three years ago, and Kevin never got to say goodbye, and it’s been too hard to spend a Christmas at home without him. He clarifies that he sees his family constantly, but just avoids home at the holidays. She fits the final puzzle piece: it’s why he really wanted the Aspen piece. It was the perfect excuse.
I’d also like to note that this is just plain good characterization that never really gets touched upon: Kevin has literally avoided Christmas at home for three years, for a very real reason, but seeing and hearing Jenna’s raw yearning for a family and Christmas of her own made him swallow his own pain/discomfort to give her this gift. It’s exceptional.
Nothing of note really happens at his family’s, but she meets Meg, Meg’s husband Eric, and their daughter Tori, as well as fairly forgettable mom Wendy. There’s a lot of crosstalk and natural banter and chatter, which shows that Jenna fits perfectly within the family. When his family asks them about their story angles, they reveal that they’re not sharing any intel or clues about what angle they’re each working on. At the end of the night, Tori asks Wendy to read a Christmas story aloud as they’re all cozied around the fireplace.
Kevin and Jenna gaze at one another, and she mouths a sincere “thank you” to him for sharing this with her.
It is akin to While You Were Sleeping’s Lucy being wrapped into the Callaghan family where they’re opening gifts and giving her her own stocking. My heart! On the drive home, Kevin seems at peace: it felt like his dad was with them (sob) and that his dad would’ve loved Jenna, and would she like to join him and his family on Christmas Day?Unfortunately for Kevin, she’s dozed off beside him.
They arrive back at the inn and she thanks him again for sharing the day with her. Apropos of nothing, he tells her he doesn’t want work to get in the way of..their friendship. That word might as well be hanging above him in the air. Jenna asks, “You want us to be friends?” The emphasis is the unspoken “just” between “to” and “be.” Kevin, sinking faster without realizing it, digs in and is like, “Yeah! I think you’re nice.”
OH, BUDDY. Bail out now!
She’s incredulous and demands to know if his article was the only thing on his mind that night. Not everything has to be a competition, Kevin! This blows up to the point where they have that face-to-face heaving bosoms, open mouth moment.
While the undercurrent of competitive tension between them has always made sense, I’m not sure this argument feels totally earned in this exact moment either. Maybe they’re both just freaked out by what’s happening between them and it was bound to explode.
The next day, she’s rummaging in the inn’s attic when she discovers a picture of C&C…from 1842. Meanwhile, Kevin’s clearly been hit with inspiration and is working in some lounge area when Jenna runs in, on edge and excitable about her discovery. His whole reaction is basically one giant “OK???” and she suggests (laughing at herself, knowing how she sounds) that maybe Chris…is Santa Claus.
He’s like JENNA. JENNA. She knows how it sounds but there’s no real way to explain it!
He tells her to drop it, lovingly and without teasing too much, even if saving the inn is her angle, letting on that he overheard her that morning at breakfast She doesn’t even care that he found out, which is awesome because EVERY OTHER MOVIE WOULD’VE MADE HER PISSED AND PARANOID ABOUT THIS, but she does get insecure all of a sudden and interprets his reaction as disapproval of her angle.
Nervously, Kevin blurts out an invitation to the Christmas Eve festival that the inn is holding – drinks, dancing, carols. They agree to swap their articles that night; he tells her he wants her to be the first person to read his.
Side note: it is extremely refreshing that their conflict the night before was a) handled like adults b) overcome pretty instantly and c) realistically normal and not the END ALL, BE ALL. Same goes for the reveal that Kevin secretly knew her angle. Seriously, it’s the littlest things that make such a difference.
Now we’re at the “we’re working hard” montage part of the movie, in which it’s revealed that Kevin’s idea is to write an article about falling in love with Jenna (and how the town/inn helped all that). It’s pretty silly and written like he’s in grade 12, but it’s cute. Simone calls Jenna to check in on her progress, and is surprised and delighted to find out that Jenna doesn’t hate Kevin, but actually kind of likes him.
On Christmas Eve, Jenna wanders into Chris’s workshop, decked out with a sleigh, some helpers, a wall of world clocks, etc.
She’s timid and self-conscious when she shows him the old photo of himself with Carol, but just before he can explain it, Kevin wanders in and they start talking about the party (I’m not sure why it’s called a festival, it’s just a party in the inn). Chris imperceptibly tucks the old photo into his suit. Kevin and Jenna are like, oh we don’t have fancy clothes, but rest assured, C&C will provide tailored outfits just for them. Weird!
As he’s getting ready for the party, Kevin gets a call from Meg and exposits that his article is about falling in love with Jenna and how it’s made him believe in Christmas magic again (having lost it when his dad died). She is BEYOND ecstatic at this, and he even gently broaches the idea of turning their father’s stocking into Jenna’s. This is such an extreme emotional risk, it made ME nervous!
At the party, both Kevin and Jenna are smoking hot and know it and their chemistry is palpable at this point. Kevin is staring at her like she’s coming down the fuckin’ aisle!
Chris has to dash suddenly because he has “lots to do”…on Christmas Eve? OKAY, CHRIS. Jenna admits to Kevin she didn’t finish her article, that it never came together in time and she’s disappointed in herself. He distracts her with a charming dance and he’s about to confess his true feelings when suddenly, motherfuckin’ city boy Andrew shows up and cuts in; apparently, he missed her, tracked her down with Simone’s assistant’s help, and he wants to have her meet his parents for Christmas. You motherfucker!
Jenna doesn’t know what the hell to do, she’s just dancing with this dumbass, confused as anything. Meanwhile, poor Kevin is watching from the edge of the room, openly devastated.
Andrew is all up in Jenna’s head, brushing off any reason or question she has, being the smuggest jerky boyfriend at the dance. What happens next really needs no words, for Walker and Lenz do most of the talking with their lookin’ balls.
Later that night, Carol comes in to check on Kevin and he confesses he regrets not telling Jenna how he felt. She gives him a bit of help by saying that love is the only thing worth risking everything for. It’s a lovely tie-in that Kevin ended up writing about the thing that terrified him the most: falling in love. Aw, Kev.
At midnight, Kevin goes to the window and sees Santa’s golden streak lighting up the sky.
In her motel room near the airport, Jenna sees it too (obviously Andrew does not, lol). Just then, as it’s made crystal clear that Kevin does really believe in the magic (although it’s never really shown that he does…), he notices a slip of paper sticking out of the inside jacket pocket: the missing certification, stating that Christopher Kringle built the inn in 1832.
He found it! He rushes to the laptop and starts writing.
It’s now Christmas morning in the airport, just where every romantically confused girl wants to be. Jenna asks Andrew what his family traditions are. Well, the maid decorates the tree (“she does a good job”), they order Thai takeout, and exchange gift cards and then watch the news. I love it. This movie doesn’t give a shit about Andrew.
Suddenly, Jenna gets a phone call from Simone just as they’re about to board the plane. The piece is live – which piece? Their piece. Kevin apparently combined their two articles (I literally don’t know how, because he never got her research and never saw her WIP??) and posted it from both of them. Jenna realizes that he found the missing certificate. Simone goes on to explain that the inn is saved, the whole thing is trending on Twitter, and the inn is getting swamped with bookings for next Christmas. Hurray!
Jenna hurriedly checks the piece and sees that the article title is now “How two writers found Christmas magic in time to save a historic inn.” She’s blown away by this, and just as Andrew is trying to rush her onto the plane, she asks him his favourite piece she’s written. He admits he doesn’t read her shit. RUDE, ANDREW. He’s all, “in my defense, you don’t ask me to.” LOL, GET OUT OF HERE, MY DUDE.
At home with his family, Kevin is understandably upset and trying not to dwell when the doorbell rings. There’s Jenna, luggage in tow, visibly self-conscious until she finally tells him, “Hi. I read your article. (long pause) I love you, too.” They kiss (not a great one, tbh) and like that, she’s folded into the Jenner household, her name knit onto the backside of Kevin’s father’s old stocking.
The family begins playing charades and Jenna whispers to Kevin that there’s going to be a blizzard on New Years Eve. “Wanna get snowed in with me?” Hell yeah, he does. They make out and it rules.
Last but not least, Carol and Chris are feeling frisky and congratulate one another on another magical Christmas, and basically reveal that they were behind Kevin and Jenna falling in love and the inn was never in danger. Naughty, naughty, you two. She calls him Santa (WE’RE NOT SURPRISED!) and then the movie ends on this:
The whole thing is one big *chef’s kiss*. Writer Carley Smale literally wove together a grounded love story with Santa Claus magic and it somehow just worked.