HBO Max jumps into this 12 months’s Christmas-movie fray with Holiday Harmony, a rom-dram showcase for newcomer Annelise Cepero, with assist from a reliable veteran in Brooke Shields. This story of a wandering singer with huge music-biz hopes holds some promise for a little extra musical oomph than we normally get from formulaic vacation TV films. Perhaps it’ll set itself other than the competitors because of the status HBO/Warner Bros. model – nicely, relative status anyway, in comparison with the grind-’em-out cheapo aesthetic of the Hallmark and Lifetime stuff, which comprise the first glut of streaming/cable vacation fodder increasing throughout the panorama like an oozing, unceasingly hungry, semi-sentient slime-mold creature, which consumes us as a lot as we eat it. Joy to the world!

The Gist: Gail (Cepero) lives in a van, not essentially down by the river, however one assumes she at the very least sometimes parks it by a river, since she travels the nation in it, singing in pubs and golf equipment and dreaming huge of musical stardom. What form of van is it, it’s possible you’ll ask? An outdated rusty Volkswagen bus in fact, as a result of jamming Econoline simply doesn’t match the cutesy aesthetic of a lot of these films, nor does it look almost as adorbs on Insta. Anyway, we first meet Gail in Miami, the place she strums a Pat Benatar cowl by request for a small viewers. She submits a efficiency video to a distinguished nonfictional radio and podcast media corp that’s namedropped within the script at the very least a dozen occasions, hoping it’ll land her a gig because the opening act for stated media goliath’s upcoming Christmas live performance in Los Angeles. Perhaps you’ll really feel compelled to take heed to that company’s audio content material after the film? The company would actually admire that!

Just if you begin to surprise if the anticipation of profitable the competition will comprise the plot, stated expectation is upended when Gail really wins the factor, subsequently setting in movement a utterly completely different cliche: The Traveling Across the Country Under Deadline Road Comedy. She hops into her van, which she named Jewel, probably as a result of the real-life singer Jewel was fairly famously homeless and residing out of her automobile similar to Gail. Pressure’s on: Not solely does she need to drive to L.A., however she additionally has to pen an unique music, a problem for a profession cover-song singer. She makes her means throughout the nation, scraping collectively last-minute gigs that hardly pay, residing hand-to-mouth, broadcasting her journey to her many social media followers, and we half-expect her to satisfy Frances McDormand for skilled classes on the way to defecate in a bucket. THAT could be one hell of an Instagram story!

The journey goes simply wonderful till she almost murders an alpaca that’s in the course of the street – and crashes poor outdated Jewel. But, as this stuff go, future is afoot: The stupid-ass alpaca belongs to Van (Shields), who simply so occurs to personal an auto-repair store, and simply so occurs to be the mom of a hunky mechanic, Jeremy (Jeremy Sumpter), who simply so occurs to know the place Gail can earn some fast karaoke money, and in addition simply so occurs to know that the native center college wants a music trainer, stuff that simply so occurs to have the ability to assist Gail fairly a bit, as a result of Gail simply so occurs to not be capable to afford the auto repairs. Now what, pray inform, is the identify of the city Gail finds herself in, making eyes at a hunky mechanic who says shit like “Ain’t no use for fancy round right here”? Harmony Springs, in fact. Not Harmony Sleeps or Harmony Chills Out or Harmony Withers on the Vine and Dies a Slow and Anonymous Death, however Harmony SPRINGS. For some purpose, this looks like a place the place one may write a candy new Xmas tune, and/or lastly root down and keep a whereas.

Photo: ESX Entertainment

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Holiday Harmony bears some true Xmas film pedigree in Lauren Swickard, who co-wrote the script, and in addition wrote and starred within the two California Christmas films for Netflix. So this film is like these films – you understand, blandly nice – crossed with School of Rock, because the lead character finally ends up instructing music to a class of lovable misfit youngsters.

Performance Worth Watching: Cepero can sing fairly nicely and act virtually as nicely, and subsequently exhibits promise in her first main function. She certainly deserves a higher script to recite and music to sing than what she will get right here, although.

Memorable Dialogue: Gail very subtly breaks the fourth wall with the next line, which reveals her sudden consciousness that she’s in a tacky Christmas film: “A lady named Van goes to vix my van. Where the hell am I?”

Sex and Skin: None.

Our Take: Holiday Harmony differentiates itself from the Christmas-TV-movie industrial complicated in a single vital means: It surpasses the standard 85-minute run time of this stuff by a whopping 25 minutes. Entire worlds are created and destroyed in that period of time in TV Xmas films, however on this one, not a rattling factor occurs that’s dramatically compelling or humorous – it’s simply 25 extra uninspired minutes contributing to the general bland complete.

Swickard and Christopher James Harvill’s screenplay consists of a Just So Happens plot with contrivance ranges which might be off the charts (or ought to that be off the musical charts yuk yuk har har?). It doesn’t do a lot to encourage Cepero and Sumpter, whose wrestle to kindle a lot in the best way of chemistry renders this film a rom-blah. Neither does it fire up a lot comedy; the wacky alpaca is shortly sidelined for the antics of schoolchildren in Gail’s class, an alternate of fairly doubtful benefit. And musically – nicely, two rapping middle-schoolers go a good distance in the direction of torpedoing the goodwill generated by Cepero’s shifting rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Wayfaring Stranger,” which lends the film a robust lyrical metaphor it doesn’t deserve. This vacation sort-of-musicall simply sings flat.

Our Call: SKIP IT. Holiday Harmony is boring, completely healthful background fodder excellent for half-watching whereas scrolling by way of your telephone looking for a whole lot on an air fryer in your mother-in-law. Other films of its ilk aren’t so boring and earnest, and achieve simply as a lot in much less time.

John Serba is a freelance author and movie critic primarily based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read extra of his work at

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