Christmas in the Heartland

Two teenagers board a plane on route to visit grandparents at the holidays. The two girls are strangers but quickly find lots of common ground – including that neither of them are keen to spend Christmas with grandparents they’ve never met before. Their only major difference is that Kara (Sierra McCormick) is from an affluent background and Jessie (Brighton Sharbino) is not. Anybody thinking what I’m thinking? What THEY, in fact, are thinking? That’s right: time to play a good old fashioned switcheroo. Their grandparents won’t know the difference, and maybe inhabiting someone else’s life will make this whole forced bonding thing just a little more tolerable.

Grandma Judy (Shelley Long) picks “Jessie” up at the airport none the wiser and a limo deposits “Kara” in front of Grandmother Elsa’s (Bo Derek) mansion without so much as a shred of doubt. “Kara” is immediately dazzled by all the gifts waiting for her but a little put off by Grandmother Elsa who calls her a Yank and criticizes her manners before she’s even in the door. “Jessie” meanwhile is in for a big surprise: she gets to meet the dad she’s never seen before. Possibly an important day in a young woman’s life, if only she hadn’t traded places with someone else.

So they both go on having each other’s very important life-changing moments. Their grandparents are competitive and the whole thing is weird. And yet oddly entertaining in a “cousin-brother” southern kind of way. Though I’m not exactly going to endorse this clap-trap, I will admit to being embarrassingly charmed. It’s about 3 Christmas tree branches above the other boughs in the genre (though dozens of garlands beneath even Home Alone). Taking place in Oklahoma there’s no snow but there are carols galore, horsies, cooking decorating, and a generous holiday light bulb budget. The acting is above par (for the genre) and even the two teenage girls are well-cast and believe me, that’s a rarity in these things. I’ve watched a LOT. Hated most. But will live to watch again.

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