Cheesy holiday movies are a yearly trend I’m always happy to see. Much like ugly Christmas sweaters have become popular over the past few years, movies that emulate the Hallmark Channel formula (wholesome and cutesy) have permeated many a cable channel during the holiday season. There’s honestly nothing like sitting in front of the TV with the Christmas tree lights on and watching one of these sugary-sweet films, laughing with your family at the absurd amount of cheese but ultimately feeling a sense of contentment when the credits roll.
ION Television, known at my house mostly for its endless reruns of the police drama Blue Bloods, has jumped on the bandwagon and is now making their own original holiday films. Last year they graced us with the enigma known as Snowmance, a strange little film that takes place in the great state of Minnesota—allegedly. (After digging into the production a bit, I learned this was entirely filmed in Canada.) After hearing about how cringey and awful it was on the radio, I knew I had to check it out. So for two years in a row, my boyfriend has been roped into watching it with me, and we can both agree that our experience is a very mixed bag.
The story is about Sarah (Ashley Newbrough), a St. Paul girl unlucky in love and desperate to travel beyond the constraining borders of the Twin Cities. Each year on December 12, she and her best friend, Nick (Adam Hurtig), build a snowman in her yard that symbolizes Sarah’s dream man. One year, she decides to use her late mother’s scarf to keep the snowman warm, and the next day he’s gone—and a very good-looking man named Cole (Jesse Hutch) appears on her doorstep. Cole is everything Sarah’s ever wanted in a man, and while she’s swept away in whirlwind “snowmance,” Nick is less than thrilled, since he’s been in love with her since they were kids.
While this movie is supposedly set in the Twin Cities, I’m not sure the filmmakers actually did any research about what it’s like to live here. Aside from the constant name drops of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the fact that Sarah works for a fictional magazine called Twin Cities Life, this movie could have been set anywhere else and it wouldn’t have made a difference. Sarah constantly complains that there’s nothing to do in the Twin Cities, since she’s been here her whole life. I might live in the suburbs of St. Paul, but even I know there’s plenty to do, especially during the holidays. And why limit yourself to just those two cities? What about the Mall of America, or taking a trip to downtown White Bear Lake or Stillwater? There’s so much this state has to offer, but once again, the creators seems to be under the impression that Minnesota is solely made up of the Twin Cities. Sarah acts as if she’s trapped by some kind of invisible wall built around the metro, but in reality it’s her own narrow-minded attitude that’s keeping her grounded in a place she doesn’t want to be.
While the filmmakers skimped on actual knowledge of Minnesota, they showcased that they’re very aware of glaring stereotypes. Sarah’s work friend, Isabelle (Lauren Cochrane), has a very thick accent, exclusively wears flannel shirts, and is always thinking about food, especially if it’s the beef or elk jerky she has stashed in her pockets. She even keeps a crossbow for hunting in the office. (Who doesn’t, right?) Sarah’s boss, Amanda (Tamara Gorski), also has an accent and seems to be channeling the “Minnesota Nice” stereotype, since she’s always smiling and talking in a very chipper voice. These two are obviously supposed to be funny, because Minnesotans are so backwoods and out of touch with reality. Honestly, the first time I watched the movie, I was a bit offended. Was this what the world really thought of me, of my home state? Did they see me as a goofy sidekick who had a one-track mind for elk jerky?
The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that Isabelle and Amanda are two of the best characters in this movie. Sure, they’re supposed to be the butt of an ongoing joke, but they’re at least happy with their lives and didn’t grate on my nerves too much. Amanda is a nice step away from the overused wicked boss archetype I see too often in these types of stories; while she isn’t totally on board with Sarah’s wish of adding a travel section to the magazine, she’s willing to consider new ideas and genuinely enjoys Sarah’s writing. Isabelle, while not having a lot to her character outside of food and flannel, is lovably goofy with her facial expressions. The crossbow in the office scene has grown on me, as well—Isabelle might seem harmless, but she has a crossbow. And a cool-looking one, too. How awesome is that?
I suppose Isabelle is there to make Sarah look more “normal” in contrast, but honestly, the protagonist comes off as very bland. There’s nothing much to her character outside of wanting to fall in love by Christmas; her one goal in life is to find the perfect man, and we never learn much else about her personality. Nick, as the dogged best friend, gives off a “nice guys finish last” vibe that quickly gets irritating the more he opens his mouth. His whining and complaining that Sarah’s too dense to realize his feelings for her don’t make him sympathetic at all, and his resentful attitude toward Cole’s presence isn’t endearing in the slightest. Even if I personally didn’t care for Sarah, she still should have agency over her life and who she chooses to love, and therefore she owes Nick nothing.
Speaking of Cole, he is the only other character worth watching the movie for. While it’s very inconsistent what he does and doesn’t know about being a human (he can somehow dress himself just fine and knows how to purchase things, yet he doesn’t understand why people eat carrots), his fish-out-of-water antics are amusing and had me chuckling to myself. He actually has the best moment in the movie: while roasting marshmallows, Cole, clad only in a flannel shirt and jeans, claims he’s much too hot and strips off his shirt to reveal his chiseled abs. He walks away to cool down while Sarah and Isabelle try not to stare and Nick seethes on the side.
Ultimately, Snowmance is a watered-down Hallmark wannabe that centers around two miserable human beings surrounded by much more interesting characters. Honestly, I would have loved if it had centered on both Cole and Sarah. Maybe it could have been a retelling of The Little Mermaid, where Cole needs to find love on a time crunch and prove humans aren’t that bad after all, and Sarah realizes how wonderful her life in Minnesota really is with the help of her quirky big-hearted love interest. All my wishful thinking aside, I will say that it’s a movie I love to pick apart with others, especially if they happen to be fellow elk-jerky-eating, flannel-wearing, funny-accent-speaking Minnesotans like me. It’s good to have a laugh once in a while, even if it’s at our own expense.
Snowmance airs again on ION Television at midnight on December 24, 2018, so get your DVRs set. (It’s also available to rent on YouTube.) Now, if you’ll excuse me, my crossbow’s waiting. I’ve got some hunting to do.