Do you know how many times I’ve fallen into a man’s arms in my life? None. Nunzo. I’ve fallen plenty. In fact, I just fell on Saturday night. Got punched in the face, took a split second to realize I was badly hurt and pretty stunned, then just started stumbling backward until I ended up on my ass. I fell away from Sean’s arms. Away. As he rather unromantically uttered “Holy shit!” But that’s how falling goes in real life. It’s rarely cute or dainty or half-graceful or utterly feminine or charmingly endearing like it is in the movies. It’s mostly just a failure of limbs and a surplus of embarrassment.
That’s not the only thing Christmas in Vienna gets wrong. It also goes out of the way to shame the leading man about his gift-giving disability: socks and gift certificates??? But also on Saturday night: Sean was gifted both socks and gift certificates by my mother. And you know what? Both were extremely well-received. The socks were an easy sell; they came attractively packaged like they were a pizza, and if there’s anything Sean likes better than warm toes, it’s pizza. So much so that he’ll probably sacrifice the warm toes (or, you know, wear some of his previously owned socks) just to keep the socks looking like pizza. Because he really, really thinks it’s fun. The gift certificate, however, is definitely going to get used. It isn’t just a “get yourself something nice” gift certificate (although that might be perfectly acceptable, particularly for teenagers and young adults who need and want nothing like they need and want cash), it’s for a specific, COVID-safe, Christmas-themed event that we’ll attend with pleasure. It’s thoughtful. Gift certificate and socks. Not quite the punchline Christmas in Vienna makes it out to be.
And yet, and this WILL shock you, so please sit down: Christmas in Vienna may be my favourite Hallmark Christmas movie of 2020 so far. Okay, so yes, there are a few trademark Hallmark clichés. Hallmark probably wouldn’t buy a script that didn’t have them, and the writer (Joie Botkin) has some experience in what Hallmark is buying. But she’s also snuck in a Gremlins reference, a Sound of Music homage, some actually-funny jokes (so rare in a Hallmark movie that you can count them all here, in this one single movie), and perhaps best of all, her script has inspired production to actually film in Vienna. Most Hallmark Christmas movies are filmed in Vancouver or Salt Lake City (though none are actually set there), so an actual European destination is a welcome change, and Vienna is one of the Christmasiest cities in the world. It sparkles with festive spirit, a real boon at the end of a year where no one’s been allowed to travel.
Concert violinist Jess (Sarah Drew) is in Vienna to perform her last professional show. She’s at the top of her game but has lost her passion for music and is ready to retire. While in town, she contentedly soaks up the sights and reconnects with her college roommate Tori (Alina Fritsch) who lives there, and helps her widowed cousin Mark (Brennan Elliott) care for his three kids. He’s a diplomat, and the moving around a lot that comes with the job has helped him stay one step ahead of his heartbreak, but his kids are wary and looking for roots. Is Jess the one to thaw his heart? And what if she stays in Vienna only to have Mark transfer again? Second loves are complicated.
Hallmark movies will always be a niche market and while I definitely don’t want anyone to feel an ounce of shame for their Hallmark game, I also don’t blame anyone who’d really rather not. But if you’re at all in the market, Christmas in Vienna is a notch above the rest.