How much effect does one person have on the lives of those that surround them? It’s a philosophical question posed and resolved in the much better Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” but since Hallmark can’t pass up any script that has ‘Christmas’ in the title and Candace Cameron Bure attached to star, it gets posed again and left messily unexplored in “Journey Back to Christmas”.
Purpose is what binds the two together. In “It’s a Wonderful Life” Jimmy Stewart opines that the world be better off without him, he has no purpose anymore. In “Journey Back to Christmas” CCB opines that she has no purpose now that her husband has been lost in the war. While “It’s a Wonderful Life” removes its protagonist and forces him to watch from the sidelines (via guardian angel) as those he loves have terrible lives without him ever being born, eventually instilling his desire to continue to exist, “Journey Back to Christmas” instead takes the cheaper, but much messier, route of time travel (via a comet-not even joking). By moving CCB into the future she can see how her contributions in the past prove that she did have purpose after all. What that purpose is and how we get there is messily done with larger and more twisted questions, which Hallmark wouldn’t touch with a 39 and a ½ foot pole, left looming in the background.
The year is 1945 (the same year “It’s a Wonderful Life” takes place) and the Second World War is wrapping up and troops are returning home. It’s a celebratory time, and Christmas to boot, except for Hanna whose husband Chet (yes you read that right, it was the 40’s ok) has been lost in the war. Her friend and fellow nurse Julia AKA Dotty tries to cheer her up by bringing her to the decorating and lighting of the town gazebo. We learn another piece of plot from a superfluous character who tells the audience Hanna that a storm is coming and it’s going to block the view of the Christmas comet. Intriguing right!?
The next day Hanna learns during her shift at the hospital that Dotty and her boyfriend Frank, who just returned from the war with a broken leg, are now engaged. She’s happy/sad for them and takes a picture of them to capture the moment. She then adds to her sadness by reading to an orphaned boy Toby who also has a broken arm because this movie likes to pile it on thick. He’s Hanna’s favourite kid in the hospital and she hopes he’ll get a home by Christmas yet she never offers hers. They also talk about the comet and how it only comes every 71 years. More intriguing right!? There’s also some talk about miracles that leads to such silly questions from the boy like “is a rain a miracle?”. No Toby it’s not; but whatever, Hanna assures him anything can be miracle depending on how you look at it. *groan*, don’t worry though this movie doesn’t devolve into overt religiousness. She also forgets her camera with Toby after taking a picture of him.
After her shift Hanna again wallows in her sorrows by viewing a photo album of Chet, whose name I still can’t get over. Suddenly a golden retriever burst into her house. According to his collar his name is Ruffin (I don’t think I can keep telling you it was the 40’s on this one, at least he’s a dog and can get away with a silly name). She decides to bring him back home despite the snow storm going on outside.
The owners are overjoyed to have their beloved Ruffin (still lol) and pronounce Hanna a Christmas saviour because their little girl, Clara, was super upset about losing the dog. She declines an offer to stay the night despite the snow, which of course means she swiftly crashes her car into a snowbank on the way home. Stuck, and I guess suffering from cold madness, she decides to leave the comfort of her car (while also leaving the lights on ensuring the battery will be dead later) for the decidedly less comfortable wooden shed near the aforementioned gazebo. We see the comet fly overhead and lighting crackle and Hanna falls down in the shed.
The next morning she wakes up and exits the shed accidentally leaving her purse behind. Upon exiting she’s dumbfounded to see that everything’s changed, the cars are modern, fashion has changed and people are staring at tiny screens constantly. Welcome to the world of tomorrow! …although she doesn’t know it yet. Looking like a lost and confused basket case a concerned teen citizen named George Snooterton (not actually last name, reasoning coming soon) calls the cops on her. Office Jake (Oliver Hudson from how did it run 7 season comedy series “Rules of Engagement”) and Officer Sarah (Brooke Nevin who’s first official credit was on Jonovision (shout out to Canadian readers who were teens in the 90s!)) swoop in to take her to a doctor. If it wasn’t clear already that this is a small town it instantly becomes clear as the Police Chief decides to tag along as well. The doctor finds nothing wrong with Hanna other than she thinks Harry S Truman is the president and she can’t prove her identity as her ID is in her purse back in the shed. No one offers to go back to the shed to get it for her, great police work guys. Even better, instead of involuntary commitment, Jake convinces the chief to break protocol by letting him take her back to his farm. Umm…what? Small town boredom I guess. Also say goodbye to the police chief because he doesn’t show up ever again.
On the farm, Hanna recognizes it as the dairy farm where she gets milk. Jake basically blurts out “its 2016!” showing that he’s never heard of the idea of bringing people coming out of coma’s up to speed slowly. I assume the same goes for involuntary time travelers. Hanna meets Jakes parents and his sister Louise and her daughter Gwen. They all live together for unexplained reasons and while it’s never addressed you can totally deduce from any other Hallmark Christmas you’ve seen in the past that Gwen’s dad is totally dead.
The next morning Hanna escapes and tries to go to her house which is now an ‘Organic Planet’ store. She yells at the clerk “Where are all my things!?” and it unintentionally hilarious. It’s also reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart asking his mother and wife why they don’t remember him. Hanna then goes to the hospital which in the future is now a library. She tries to stop a stranger to ask about the hospital but gets a response of “there is no hospital”. The line’s delivered in such a monotone fashion I briefly thought the pod people had gotten to Hanna and the town. Jake finally catches up to her and tells her he believes she believes she’s from the 40’s.
After returning to the farm it’s time for some forced laughs of Hanna not knowing what computers, ebay, and uggs are. They also dress her up in modern clothes so that Jake can stare lovingly at her. Is this movie really going to go there? We’ll have to find out later because now it’s finally time for an aside featuring the Snootertons.
So basically the Snootertons, whose actual last name is Jones, have no reason to be in this movie. They do nothing and add nothing to the movie but the mom is so snooty that I had to include them. We already met their son George earlier when he called the cops. Mrs. Snooterton praises him for this action because she believe Hanna to be dangerous. She googles her and finds nothing (which is super odd as i’ll explain later), she’s overheard that Hanna had made a scene in the ‘Organic Planet’ and is now staying with Officer Jake. She considers Hanna crazy and dangerous and there must be a conspiracy going and Jakes whole family is in on it!
Back at the station even Sarah is convinced Hanna is faking but they can’t think of a solid reason why: attention, identity theft, homeless and looking for a place to stay? Jake doesn’t listen and instead rifles through the contents of Hanna’s purse which has finally (like 2 days later) been retrieved from the shed. Her drivers licence doesn’t have a picture and there’s no DMV record of her because neither was invented in the 40’s. The first one fine, but one about the DMV makes no sense as the movie goes on. Jack also finds a very old bottle of perfume that he discovers was discontinued in the 60’s through the use of well known search engine “Internet Search”.
Back at the farm Gwen and Hanna decorate a gingerbread house while Jakes sister Louise is still suspicious of Hanna. Despite those suspicions Louise has no problem having Hanna read Gwen a bedtime story. It’s there that Gwen becomes an exposition machine and mentions Mr. Cook, the science teacher and wealthy man who turned the hospital into a library, oh and BTW he believes in time travel. Hmmm…Why’s this info dumped here, are we going to meet him soon and could he already have a connection to this story…
The next day Louise, Gwen and the mom accost a thrift shop store owner asking if he’s seen Hanna in the store before buying 40s era clothing. He hasn’t but he shows them a picture of the town gazebo from the 40’s all lit up. He tells them it’s not done anymore because the traditions aren’t passed down as kids aren’t interested. This makes them feel bad and they later decide to entertain Hanna by going carolling.
Before we get to Caroling though we have to add a romantic plot to this movie since one hasn’t occurred yet. Back at the farm Jake and Hanna are alone. Jake is clearly having trouble reading the room because as Hanna depressed-ly talks about how she no longer has a family, her husband Chet, and everyone she knew, Jake decides now’s a good time to put on “I’ll be home for Christmas” and slow dance with Hanna. Come on Jake, that choice of song is too on the nose! But also, that women is vulnerable and confused, now’s not the time to be hitting on her! Luckily Hanna is saved by mom, Louise and Sarah walking in at the same time to rightfully give Jake the death stare.
In talking to his mom afterwards, Jake doesn’t believe he has anything to apologize for as it was innocent! His mom tells him that he needs to apologize to Sarah because she’s had a crush on Jake for years and he’s never noticed. Now frankly neither did I, likely because Sarah is a very underdeveloped character with limited screen time. So Jake tries to talk to Sarah who naturally gives him the silent treatment before finally asking if slow dancing with a suspect is a new interrogation technique. Jake finally convinces her to come carolling by offering the rest of his French fries so Sara can have some comfort food to get over her poor treatment by Jake and this movie.
So the family goes carolling and wouldn’t ya know it, young George Snooterton comes along as well. Hannah even gives him a scarf. Along their carolling route, Hannah recognizes where she is when she sees a sign for “Ruffin Kennels Seeing Eye Dogs”. She explains to Jake that this is the house she brought Ruffin the dog back to the night she came to the future. Do they go into the house to probe for clues or answers? Of course not, it’s off to the gazebo to carol for nobody because the gazebo is literally in the middle of a park! Who are you singing too, yourselves!? But it’s a flimsy excuse to go visit the war memorial that lists all the men from the town who lost their lives in the war. They of course look for Chet’s name only to find that it’s not there. Hannah, shocked and excited, exclaims he must’ve made it home! …so surely they’ll go look for him? …no?…well surely they’ll at least google him right…no?…well surely they’ll just keep on living their lives like this doesn’t change anything? Bingo! Nobody, including Hanna, makes a big deal that her husband from the past is somewhere out there. They go home and Hannah decides she’s going to make the best of it since she’s stuck here. Right…Because learning your husband is alive and out there somewhere will totally make you decide that. She also finds a key in her old clothes which comes into play later.
So let’s check in on the Snootertons instead! George arrives home full of cheer from the caroling. Mrs. Snooterton is having none of this though. She questions him on his whereabouts, questions him on the scarf he now has, questions him on why he wasn’t answering his phone, and also believes he’s lying that he was just “out signing”. She’s going to the station first thing in the morning because clearly this is all that crazy lady Hanna’s fault! When she arrives Sarah takes the initiative to tell Mrs. Snoorterson they have the situation under control and will issue a statement when ready. This impresses Jake of course because so far he’s only viewed Sarah, in his own words, as a brat.
Hanna then gathers everyone at the library where she shows them a door hidden behind a bookcase that leads to the basement storage. She uses her found key to open a closet that contains all the Christmas decorations for the hospital proving this definitely used to be her hospital and that she’s not crazy. It also proves that another version of Hanna exists in the current time. The hospital decorations were up the night in 1945 that Hanna disappeared so someone must’ve put them away in the ensuing years. When Mr. Cook, who owns the building, finally arrives on the scene he indicates he always wondered what was in that locked closet. This doesn’t really make sense though. Hanna has the key in the future because she had it with her the day she travelled forward. But, by the movies logic she also still kept existing in the past during this time as we’ll later find out but also didn’t (?) as we’ll also find out. If she didn’t, it would make sense that nobody could enter the room…but then how did the decorations get in there? If she did continue to exist, when Mr.Cook bought the hospital did nobody ever return the key? They also just left all the Christmas decorations? Do locksmiths not exist in 2016?
Anyways Mr.Cook says it’s nice to see Hanna again, emphasis on the again. He tells her to come with him because he has something to show her. They then movie magic to his house. In real life that would be a super awkward car ride over there with lots of questions rather than just waiting in silence to get to the next scene but movies are allowed to skirt this logic. At Mr. Cook’s home he gives Hanna an old camera which is of course her old camera that she left with Toby and yeah of course to the surprise of no one Mr. Cook is Toby the orphan boy all grown up (and played by Tom Skerritt!). He explains to Hanna that the family she returned Ruffin to were so grateful to her that they came into the hospital the next day to thank her again and see how they could help. Hanna wasn’t working/had potentially disappeared but her friend Dotty told the family to read to Toby who they eventually adopted. Toby’s step sister, Clara, is the one who runs the Ruffin kennels and it’s all because of Hanna. You see she does have purpose…I guess? She tries to take a picture of the moment but she’s out of film. Everyone snickers since she doesn’t know about digital yet. Toby offers to have the photos developed for her.
Hanna also asks about Dotty and Toby tells her she’s still around so they go to see her. It’s important to note here that Jake doesn’t come along for this part. I guess he has actual police work to do but it comes messily into play later. Dotty is now an old woman who doesn’t talk or move much but when she sees Hanna she mutters “Comet”. They also find the only possession Dotty brought with her when entering the home was a postcard from Hanna saying she made it to the big city in time for her and Chet’s 30 year anniversary. The postcard is dated 1946 though which makes no sense since Hanna’s already in her 30’s and wouldn’t have been married to Chet that long unless they’re one of those couples that counts it as the day they met? Hanna takes this to mean Chet did come home. Yes, you found that out scenes earlier and did nothing about it, what’s the big deal now? It also confirms that Hanna continued to exist in the past if she’s sending postcards to her friend. That mean she also likely exists in the world right now somewhere. Again nobody cares that she could literally go find herself. The movie backpedals on this logic immediately though as Toby tells her he remembers all the nurses talking about Hanna’s disappearance the night of the comet. So she doesn’t exist in the future? Make up your mind! Anyway he doesn’t believe it was a coincidence that she time travelled the night of the comet and that a senile old lady said comet and that the comet is indeed coming again tonight 71 years later. Toby believes the comet will bring Hanna back home.
Jake leads Hanna back to the shed. She talks about how Chet used to pull her pigtails when she was 6 which is similar to how Jake used to put snow down Sarah’s jacket when they were young. She tells him he doesn’t realize it yet but he wouldn’t know what to do without Sarah. It’s actually a nice change of pace to have the leads of the movie not be romantically involved. Jake asks if Hanna thinks she’ll remember all of this. She answers “who can predict a miracle”.
The town then decides to celebrate and party around the gazebo and shed which must be frustrating for Hanna that she has stay in the shed while everyone else parties. Why did she even go there so early? The town decorates the gazebo with the old decorations from the hospital and as they turn on the lights the Snootertons finally believe in Christmas because they smile or something. Meanwhile Jake goes and kisses Sarah on the forehead and gives her hug. She asks if he’s lost it and he cool-ly replies “No, I think I found it”. Damn Jake, that’s pretty smooth. Anyways there’s still time before the comet comes so the town starts caroling again. Hanna’s still just waiting around. Finally the comet flies over and even old Dotty watches it.
And now it’s morning again?? Nobody cared to stay out there and check if it actually worked until literally the next day? It’s cold outside, you’re likely going to find Hannas frozen body if it didn’t work. Can Jake arrest the whole town for negligence? Anyways they all gather again to open the shed and see if it worked despite the fact that Hanna could’ve easily just left at any point after they all went to bed. Toby and Jake open the door and go in, see nobody, and announce that Hanna has gone home! Even Mrs. Snooterton looks in and see’s the empty shed and says “what the?!”.
Toby then shows off the photos from Hannas camera. There are pictures of Toby as a child and the picture Hanna took of Dotty and Frank at the start when they got engaged. Jake see’s this picture and exclaims to his parents “Look it’s grandma and grandpa”. Yes that’s right, Dotty is Jake’s grandma who I guess they never visit and didn’t realize had the same nickname as Hanna’s friend. It’s barely a twist and it’s unearned in the premise of Hanna’s purpose. She needed to see she was helping people in order to continue on. By seeing that her kindness towards Ruffins family led to them adopting Toby she had purpose in the past by seeing her actions bringing joy to people in the future. Her purpose in relation to Dotty was introducing her to her husband leading to Jake and his parents and their happiness. Except she doesn’t see this because she’s already gone back in time! She doesn’t get to know that she helped create them and instead she would’ve just thought she was there to give some advice.
Back in the past Hanna’s digging out her car when Chet shows up and they hug and the movie ends. It doesn’t mention if Hanna remembers everything she just experienced.
So time travel is inherently tricky no matter how you present it. You need to set out your rules of how it works and stick to them. Journey Back to Christmas fails to do this by being inconsistent with whether Hanna continued to exist or just disappeared when time travelling. If she continued to exist why isn’t there any internet results for her, why isn’t there any DMV records in her name, why do they mention she disappeared? If she didn’t continue to exist how is there a post card from her, how did the decorations get back into the closet if she had the only key, does she remember her quick journey to the future and will it change anything now that she’s back? If she continues moving forward with Chet, in 71 years it may be a very different future regardless of whether she remembers the future or not.
Plus basically her god sons’ son was hitting on her at one point in this movie.