Our heroine, Dr. Holly Jensen, Astronomer and Lover of Ridiculous Winter Hats, and her Cowboy Love Interest, Luke. (Note: all photos were taken by me, from my TV, hence the amazing quality.)
One Starry Christmas gets the dubious honor of being the first Hallmark Channel movie I will be recapping this season. I really wanted to have tons of mean things to say about it, but I found myself feeling somewhat endeared to it instead. How could I not, when there’s an impromptu musical number stuck right in the middle? But I’ll get to that later. I’ll still try to be as snarky as possible despite my unexpected affection for this movie.
We begin with the camera panning over a big city view (later confirmed to be Chicago), and our heroine pulling up on her cherry red vespa---wearing a matching helmet, natch---to some row houses decorated for the holiday. She has perfectly styled blonde wavy curls, smooth pale skin, big doe-eyes, and full red lips---but she’s more cute than beautiful, I’d say, which is definitely the type that Hallmark likes to put in their lead roles. She enters what I assume to be her apartment and runs square into her boyfriend, instantly presented to us as a stuck-up stock broker type. By the way, all the soon-to-be ex-boyfriends in these movies are either bankers, lawyers, or corporate types who only care about appearances and money. Just so you know. They will show up a LOT in these recaps.
We soon find out her name is Holly (Dr. Holly Jensen, who just received her doctorate in Astronomy, hence the title of the film). I would estimate that close to 95% of the female leads in Hallmark holiday movies are named Holly. Or Joy. Or Mary. Or Hope, Grace, you get the idea. Her boyfriend is named Adam, and is actually a corporate lawyer. Surprise, surprise. He has big news, and doesn’t even ask how HER day was. The big tech company he’s been meeting with may want to relocate him to New York to make him their official legal counsel and Holly gently reminds him that she’s up for a permanent teaching position/grant at her university, but he totally doesn’t care and sort of blows the whole thing off. Oh, and also! He’s leaving her for Christmas to fly to New York to meet with his potential new employers. Before she can argue this fact, he makes her close her eyes because he has a surprise for her. He turns her around and she opens her eyes and sees a gaudy, fake, WHITE Christmas tree (pre-decorated, BTW) because it was “the most elegant on the floor”. Okay, maybe this dude doesn’t even like girls, but Hallmark isn't progressive enough to go that route so I let the idea go. Obviously, Holly hates it but pretends she doesn’t. This does not bode well for the future of the relationship. If you’re not Christmas tree compatible, how can it possibly work out??? This is Hallmark’s subtle way of telling you early on that the relationship is doomed. In case you hadn’t guessed it already.
They then continue to discuss the whole Adam-leaving-for-Christmas thing, and he says what’s the big deal? They can exchange gifts when he gets back. She responds with, “Adam, it’s not about the gifts! It’s about, you know, the buildup. The egg nog and baking and decorating the Christmas tree. “ PREACH IT, GIRL. That’s exactly why I’m writing this recap right now. The build-up is the BEST PART.
Adam continues to try to convince her this trip is an investment in their future, getting a stable job may mean they can take the “next step” blah blah blah. You know, tempts her with the possibility of an engagement because that’s all girls really want, even though she’s clearly got her shit together and just got her PhD in Astronomy and is miles smarter than he is. NOPE, doesn’t factor in. (I hope you can all tell I’m being sarcastic here. Because if not, you might not want to read the rest of this recap.) So in the end he convinces her it’s the right thing for him to do, and she relents and I hate them both so much right now. He ends the conversation with, “you know me, I always gotta win.” WHAT? Dump him now. Immediately. Save us all the pain.
But Holly rebounds quickly and says, “Hey, it’s a clear night, can we star gaze?” Because obviously that’s what astronomy professors do in their spare time. He declines, of course, proving for the tenth time in about 2 minutes how much he sucks.
The next scene shows a middle-aged couple sitting at the counter in a festively decorated kitchen, talking about how Holly is spending Christmas alone, and Dad is all “Why?” while shoving Christmas cookies in his face. Mom, clearly the brains in this operation, says that Holly can do SO much better than Adam. “Holly needs someone who can take her breath away, like you did for me,” she says. Then they start flirting and reminiscing and I’m sure at some point later in the movie Holly will comment to someone how she wants the kind of relationship that her parents have because, duh, this is Hallmark.
Back to Holly, by herself in her apartment next to the white Christmas tree that is literally BLINDING me. She’s looking through a box of stuff and picks up her dissertation entitled “The Cultural Significance of the Constellation Orion Throughout History.” Here’s the point where Hallmark loses some credibility with me (not the first time). I don’t really know for sure, but that thesis title doesn’t seem like astronomy PhD material. If a real astronomy professor ever happens to read this, can you comment and please back me up here?
The white Christmas tree of doom and the half-sweater I just don't understand.
Also, Holly is wearing a totally distracting mint green lace half-sweater over a floral shirt. Oh and she’s talking to herself and spontaneously decides to go online and buy a bus ticket to New York (apparently she doesn’t fly) to spend Christmas with her family AND surprise Adam at the same time while he’s there on business. She acts out the conversation she’s expecting to have with her parents, announcing her engagement that will NEVER HAPPEN. Holly, girl, open your eyes. He bought a WHITE CHRISTMAS TREE. There’s no hope for you two. Also? There was a cowboy in the preview. Cowboys always win over lawyers.
After she clicks “buy” on the ticket, she spins around and does this little squeaky “in two days, I’m gonna be with the ones I love!” and kicks her legs up like a Rockette and ugh, Holly, your child-like enthusiasm is losing points with me. I want to like you, but you’re making it difficult for me.
Holly boards the bus, finds a window seat. Pulls out a frilly pink eye mask to wear (you know you’re in public, right?) and promptly passes out. She wakes up hours later on the dark bus, but the previously empty seat next to her is now occupied by an attractive sleeping cowboy. Oh, guess what his name in real life is? Damon Runyan. That name was basically made for an actor who would be cast as a cowboy in a made-for-TV Hallmark movie. Cue immediate flirtatious banter. He jokes about her snoring. He’s charming, and has an authentic cowboy accent, and a genuine smile. I like him, although he reminds me a little of what Derek Jeter would look like if he were a cowboy and that kind of creeps me out.
So during their conversation, we find out his name is Luke (hereby to be known as Cowboy Luke), and Holly tells him that she is on her way to New York to visit her family and boyfriend, who’s there on business. It’s at this point where I wonder why she didn’t just decide to do this in the first place. Why was it such an issue for Adam to go to NYC if her parents already lived there and she really wanted to spend Christmas with the ones she loved? She bought the bus ticket in about 30 seconds that night, with almost no internal debate, so clearly she didn’t agonize over the decision. I sort of feel like maybe the director needed to add extra time to the movie and decided to make her fear of flying the reason she didn’t immediately decide to go, although they make almost NO mention of her fear of flying until Mom brought it up briefly in the kitchen scene with Dad. Hallmark doesn’t seem to care as much about plot holes as long as there’s holiday joy, so I’ll move on.
But, oh no! The bus sputters to a stop on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, so everyone gets off. Cowboy Luke walks off a bit and starts playing Silent Night on his harmonica. What year is this? Is he a hobo? Who carries a harmonica around with them in 2014? Holly walks over to him and they wax poetic about the constellation Orion (about which she is an EXPERT, okay, we get it) and wishing on a star and AGAIN, I really don’t think this is what real life astronomers talk about, but whatever. Holly tells Cowboy Luke about how she first got interested in astronomy, how she’s now up for a big award but it’s a long shot, and he suggests she make a wish on a star to win it. It’s here I notice that she’s wearing yet another distracting article of clothing---this big knit hat with an enormous poof on top that looks like she stole it from a 5-year-old.
ACK! The bus backfires and makes an ominous sputtering sound! Holly gets startled and falls into Cowboy Luke so unnaturally that I want to change the channel. This bus clearly is not getting fixed. Holly calls Adam, who, to his credit, does not seem that annoyed by getting woken up in the middle of the night, but who flatly refuses to come pick her up, wherever the hell she is. At some point during this conversation, Cowboy Luke has managed to rent a truck (one only a cowboy would drive, of course) and offers to take her to New York because he is on his way to New Jersey for some big rodeo. A rodeo? In New Jersey? On Christmas? I’m confused. Also, Cowboy Luke has a ranch in Texas so how the hell did he end up on a bus between Chicago and New York? Stop thinking so much, Nora. I remind myself to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Instead I think that Holly will end up loving it at his Texas ranch as a cowboy’s wife, with a full view of the clear night sky and a professor position at the local community college.
Back to Holly’s parents house. They are sitting at the kitchen table doing a jigsaw puzzle together. It says “Have a Purr-fectly Merry Christmas” and shows a bunch of cats with Santa hats on. I instantly decide that puzzle may be my favorite part of the whole movie, because it is so outer-limit ridiculous I can’t even stand it. Hallmark, it would behoove you to put that puzzle for sale on your website. I’ll be your first customer.
I had to. This puzzle is incredible. Also, my 4-year-old could do it.
Holly and Cowboy Luke arrive at her parents house, which is apparently outside of the city because it’s definitely in a surburban neighborhood. She asks him to stay for dinner (which she had already decided to do since Mom was already aware he was coming), and proceeds to charm the pants off everyone with his stories of growing up on the ranch and about his brother Bull, who’s an even more successful rodeo-riding guy than Cowboy Luke, and who will also be in New Jersey for this Christmas rodeo. Parents immediately ask Cowboy Luke to stay overnight. Mom is MORE than happy to make up the guest room for him. OH! And invite your Cowboy Brother Bull over tomorrow for Christmas Eve, too! The more the merrier! And then the doorbell rings and it’s Adam. Whomp whommmmp. I can almost hear the Debbie Downer music in the background.
Holly is so happy to see him, and he is…meh. Not as enthusiastic as he should have been to see his girlfriend who took a bus overnight to surprise him for Christmas. Cowboy Luke walks over to greet him, and Adam is instantly threatened. As he SHOULD be. Let the testosterone wars begin! Adam tells Holly he got invited to the tech company’s corporate party tomorrow night, and wants Holly to go. Holly gives him the stink eye and is like, ”Um, hell no, it’s Christmas Eve.” Prepare for another plot prediction: Adam is going to somehow blow her off on Christmas Eve, and she is going to let the Cowboy sweep her off her feet. And then Adam will somehow convince her that he’s the right choice and she’ll go with him and will decide last minute to run back to Cowboy Luke, either based on Mom’s sage advice, or watching how her parents are together, or some other contrived situation that will suddenly make her realize what an IDIOT she’s been wasting her time with corporate lawyer guy. Or some similar form of this situation.
Mom and Holly have mom-to-daughter talk in Holly’s old bedroom, which is of course decorated with a hanging planet mobile and starry lights and a telescope aimed out the window. Mom basically tells her to stop being an idiot (thank you mom) and that she’s so “busy looking up she doesn’t see what’s right in front of her.” Oh Hallmark, your penchant for movie dialogue is only rivaled by your greeting card sentiments.
Holly and Cowboy Luke meet outside at night to look at the stars, talk more about Orion (because apparently that’s the only constellation worth paying attention to), and take the opportunity to lean into each other as they’re star gazing. How his enormous hat doesn’t clock her in the forehead is beyond me. He tells her they call Orion “Wild Bill” where he’s from. Which is Texas. Where apparently they have their OWN constellation guide that is completely different from the one everyone else in the world references. He starts telling this somewhat ridiculous story about how Wild Bill became a constellation when he created a tornado with his lasso to ride it home to be with his true love Josephine on Christmas Eve and instead lassoed himself right into the night sky. I’m wondering how the Wild Bill story will play into the plot later. Because I’m certain it will.
Commercial note: Melissa Joan Hart (a fellow Westporter, woot woot!) and Anthony Anderson are apparently Walmart’s new holiday spokespeople, and I’m not altogether annoyed by them, actually. Have you seen Anthony Anderson’s new show, Blackish? It’s funny. Worth watching. Anyway, this will be the first time out of four we see a Walmart commercial during this 2-hour TV movie. While it doesn’t surprise me that Walmart and Hallmark are in cahoots, I’m not happy about it.
It’s the next morning and Holly comes down to breakfast wearing yet ANOTHER distracting half sweater with a red plaid shirt underneath. What is with the half sweaters? I literally can’t remember seeing someone wear something like this, ever, unless maybe it was back in the 80’s and I blocked it out completely. Cowboy Luke is already eating with Holly’s parents, and in a hot second she’s back upstairs to pretty herself up. She quickly changes her sweater---GOOD CHOICE---puts on some lipstick, and her and Cowboy Luke decide to go out together and spend the day in the city. Okay, have to admit these two have chemistry. Some couples on these Hallmark movies just don’t, and it can be painful to spend 2 hours watching them try to convince us they’re into each other. I wouldn’t be surprised if these two were getting it on off-screen, too.
After a little stroll around the streets of New York, they decide to go horseback riding in Central Park, which she’s never done before (the horseback riding, not the Park). Can you actually do that? I live in Connecticut and I know so little about NYC activities, it’s embarrassing. But I digress. Cue the destiny talk while riding two perfect dark brown horses, which I am SURE will come back as a theme in the final scene of the movie. Because really, all these Hallmark movies are about following your destiny, and believing in the impossible and not being afraid to take risks. So she asks him to go ice skating, which HE’S never done. And he makes a mess of it, and they hold hands and laugh and he falls down and oh ha ha hee hee isn’t this a perfect day?? Also, there’s some weird non-Christmasy twangy cowboy music playing that I feel was a very wrong choice for this scene. Maybe something like Willie Nelson singing Winter Wonderland would have been better? I’m no film editor, but seriously, put a little effort in here, people. Oh! Then he falls down again and she uncomfortably purposely falls down on him. Again, had to force myself to not change the channel because of the awkwardness here. But I persevere. Also realize at this point she’s wearing the 5-year-old’s hat again, but in a different color! I understand buying multiple pieces of clothing in a style you like, but this hat is NOT worth the obsession she seems to have with it.
Then she gets a call on her cell phone from her boss telling her that she won that award she was hoping to win. Cowboy Luke hugs Holly and picks her up like they’ve been BFFs for life. I can’t help but wonder what Adam’s doing right now, but both Holly and Cowboy Luke have clearly forgotten he exists. Also! Apparently, her boss is so happy she won the award that they’ve offered her a grant to start a new program at the university. Maaaaaybe Cowboy Luke will end up leaving his ranch in Texas to move to Chicago with her instead because HER career is more important than his and he’s the type to follow love anywhere. Or maybe they’ll split their time between Chicago and Texas. Either way, they’ll make it work. THEY WILL. IT WILL BE MAGICAL.
Everyone is now showing up at Holly’s parents house for Christmas Eve dinner. Cowboy Luke’s Cowboy Brother, Bull, shows up first. He brings white roses for Mom and he’s a very tall drink of egg nog, if you know what I mean. He’s soft spoken and polite and has a big black cowboy hat and hmm, I’m wondering how he’s going to fit into the plot line. [It's at this point, however, that my husband walks in the room and provides the following comment about Bull's outfit: "Did he just come back from Little Big Horn?" I can't argue that his ensemble is a weird choice, even for a cowboy. Photo proof below.]
Adam shows up with a gift basket of some sort that Mom could not give two shits about, and then he gives her a totally awkward forced hug and she can’t even hide her disdain. It’s awesome. Enter Holly and Cowboy Luke, who just got back from their date in the city. Cowboy Brothers GOTTA HUG, and then Adam takes this inappropriate moment to announce he got the job with the tech company and will be making six figures because money is everything, amirite? Everyone HATES him.
Dinner starts. Mom engages Cowboy Luke, Adam provides the passive-aggressive jealous side comments, and Holly announces her award and grant, and they end up talking about her passion for Orion AGAIN (if I never hear another thing about this constellation it will be too soon), and Cowboy Brothers decide to play guitar and sing a song about Wild Bill because apparently Cowboy Luke didn’t do the story justice when he told it the first time. Cowboy Bull has a great voice and clearly doesn’t feel weird about singing in front of people he’s only known for 15 minutes, but whatever. It’s a nice song and I kind of want to date Cowboy Bull as long as he’ll take off that blue scarf thingie he’s wearing. Cowboy Luke joins in with his harmonica and Mom and Dad start dancing together, and OH HERE’S THE PART WHERE HOLLY LOOKS AT HER PARENTS AND KNOWS THAT’S THE KIND OF LOVE SHE WANTS. And she sneaks a side glance at Cowboy Luke. Uh huh.
Note to self: Check Hallmark website to see if they have this song available for download. Later discover they DO, for $1.29, and Cowboy Bull is played by a country singer named George Canyon and everything is now explained.
Adam is not the least bit amused, and is rocking his resting bitch face, while Holly is smiling so huge and everyone else is clearly loving this performance, and WHY U HATE CHRISTMAS, ADAM? He reminds everyone he and Holly are going to the corporate party tonight and he invites the parents too, who are less than thrilled about the prospect but politely agree to go. They start cleaning up after dinner, at which point the Cowboy Brothers give Dad a hat and a lasso (the only acceptable present from a Cowboy), and while they’re practicing lassoing outside (as you do on Christmas Eve), Dad throws out his back and clearly is in no shape to go to the party. Luke offers to be Mom’s date to the corporate party in Dad’s place and she is thrilled. I hope you all see where this is going.
They get all dressed up and arrive at the party, and Adam is all “Why did he have to wear the hat?” to Holly. Because he’s a COWBOY, you douchebag. Tech company CEO guy comes over to them to say hello, and he happens to be a Mark Zuckerberg cute nerdy type with hipster glasses who is wearing a hoodie to his own formal event and Cowboy Luke instantly charms him and Adam is PISSED and I suddenly love everything about this movie.
Cowboy Luke convinces the cute girls who CEO guy is interested in to LINE DANCE, and suddenly the whole party is line dancing like in 13 Going on 30 when Jennifer Garner does the Thriller dance. Mom goes out on the floor to join Luke, and Holly wants Adam to come dance with her and he is all “hell no” and Holly gladly leaves him to his lonesome. Holly goes out and rocks it, and looks awesome in her shiny red knee-length dress, and of course ends up slow dancing with Cowboy Luke afterwards. Adam sees them and oh, I can only wait with baited breath for the ensuing drama. Cowboy Luke tells Holly it’s been the best Christmas of his life. Really Cowboy Luke? The BEST? He gives her his hat to wear. Adam sees this and apparently takes it as the ultimate betrayal and heads to the microphone to address the whole party. Oh crap. He’s gonna propose in front of everyone, isn’t he. SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP. Don’t do it, Adam. This is going to end badly for you. Have you never seen a Hallmark holiday movie before?
But still, he does it. He gets down on one knee in front of everyone. She says, “Are you really asking me?” Because apparently she’s confused, since he doesn’t have a ring. He says, “Why not? Come on, Holly, answer the question, you’re embarrassing me.” It would have been at this point where I would have kicked him squarely in the balls instead of saying yes, but she goes the other route. Everybody claps, woo woo! Camera pans to the disappointed looks on Mom’s and Cowboy Luke’s faces. Holly and Adam hug. Enjoy it dude, ‘cause it’s gonna be your last.
Adam and Holly get back to her parents house, and instantly get into a snarky argument because she mentions him not having a ring and he says, oh, maybe you’d feel differently if was wearing a cowboy hat? BURN. She accuses him of proposing to her just to win a dick-swinging contest (not in those words, of course), and he says it just felt like the right time. He says he’ll buy her the biggest ring in New York, and she says she doesn’t want a big ring, she just wants passionate, burning love, and he’s like, I can TOTALLY give you that. And she’s like yeeaaaah, no you can’t. You don’t even understand me or care about my job, and here’s where I’m dumping you on the front steps of my parents house on Christmas Eve so suck on that. He asks if she could really change her mind about him during her short trip from Chicago to New York, and she says, “Some things you can’t plan.” You said it, girlfriend. They break up. Adam drives off in a huff. See ya Adam, enjoy your six figures and your empty, meaningless life.
Holly goes inside, tells Dad she broke up with Adam. Dad gives her a fork with which to share his pie, because all good Dads know that pie fixes everything. She says, “All I ever wanted was what you and Mom have.” And here’s where I gloat at my plot-predicting powers and say a big fat I TOLD YOU SO. Dad is clearly happy with her decision to dump AAH-DUMB, and gives her a very sweet speech about how sometimes things turn out better than you expect, like when he thought they were going to have a boy when her mom was pregnant, and they had her instead. AWWWWW. (Does anyone have such a perfect a relationship with their family, especially at Christmas time? I often feel that the family dynamics in Hallmark movies are the MOST unrealistic part, and that’s saying a lot.) Holly has one bite of pie and goes to bed. FINISH THAT SHIT, GIRL. Pie calories don’t count at Christmas. Everyone knows that.
Cowboy Brothers Bull and Luke are at a stable together, I assume preparing for the Christmas Rodeo (again, WTF?). Cowboy Bull is all pissed off that Cowboy Luke is there with him instead of with Holly. But she loves someone else, Luke says! So what? says Bull. Be the romantic cowboy you were born to be and go get her! Ah, I see now, Bull is acting as the voice of wisdom. “All miracles come from love, buddy,” he says. Hardly Shakespeare, but it’s enough to convince Luke to mount that horse and go get his woman!
We go back to Holly, sitting outside at her parents house, looking at the stars. She talks to Santa, Orion, Wild Bill, whoever is listening, to give her a sign that true love exists. Oh Holly, I’ve got a sign for you, and it’s galloping toward you with a big hunk of man on it’s back. She goes inside, and just as she closes the door, she hears the whinny-whinny of the approaching horse. She goes outside to see Cowboy Luke ride up. “You crazy Cowboy,” she says. He dismounts and says, “Christmas is for being with the ones you love, and I’m looking for my soulmate.” Holly coyly asks what his soulmate looks like. He says, “She’s real beautiful. She’s prettier than a Texas rose and real smart, too.” Is a Texas Rose prettier than a normal rose? Otherwise, I don’t really understand the compliment. He tells her that from the second he saw her he knew he would love her for the rest of his life. Really? That’s a little extreme. But in Hallmark land, the more exaggerated the love story, the better. They finally smooch. “Oh wait, what about Adam?” he says. She’s like, “Whatevs. I fell in love with a Cowboy.” Except that’s not how Hallmark talks, so insert more tried and true clichés about love, and it ends with them kissing some more under the stars, with Cowboy Bull’s beautiful song playing in the background, and they ride off under the stars together, with Mom looking on from the window, smiling contentedly. Because above all else, Mother knows best, right Hallmark? Those cards aren’t gonna sell themselves…