It’s 2020, so lately my self-care has relied heavily on escapism. I read novels, listen to audiobooks, leave familiar episodes of Gilmore Girls running in the background as I Marie Kondo my downstairs closet. (She’d disapprove, I know. She says it’s important to have quiet while sorting your belongings, in order to really feel any sparks of joy. She’d also say you don’t organize a closet, you organize a whole life, so maybe I’m not Marie Kondo-ing anything.) The more intense and exhausting 2020 gets, the more I retreat into stories. I’ve noticed, too, that the more intense and exhausting 2020 gets, the less I look for quality in those stories, and the more I look for familiarity, however cheesy, predictable, or problematic.
All of this is a great big wind-up to the declaration that I love Hallmark movies.
If you’ve never seen one, here’s the plot:
A successful woman in her mid-thirties works in corporate America (usually advertising, sometimes not), but has never settled down. Often, she has a boyfriend who she thinks might propose at a fancy restaurant, but instead he breaks up with her. Often, he does this after they’ve ordered their entrees but before the food arrives, so you know you’re not supposed to like him. What a dick. Then, she gets sent on an assignment to her hometown— or a picturesque rural town that reminds her of her hometown— with a Corporate Big Business mission that would absolutely ruin the small town charm. There is opposition to this goal, and the leader of that opposition is her boyfriend from high school who she never got over. And he never got over her! As they fight for their respective visions, their love is rekindled, and they fall back in love. They come up with a compromise. If the local diner was bought out by a chain, she pitches her Big Chain boss on keeping the local menu. If she’s a city planner sent to rebuild a dilapidated downtown, she finds a way to preserve the beloved bookshop. The movie ends on a kiss— usually the first kiss. No tongue. It’s implied that she will leave her job, her corporate shackles of success, and her life in the city and move to this charming small town to be with her hunky, small-town boyfriend from her past. And her career? Who even cares?! She’s got love, and that’s what matters. The. Unfeminist. End.
Seriously. I love this movie. These movies.
I’m not alone. Even Elisabeth Moss, high-brow actress from Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale, has the Hallmark app on her phone. Plus, I’m literally not alone, because I don’t have app, or cable, so I watch my Hallmark every Monday night with my mother-in-law. (#goals)
When I tell people about this tradition, I get a lot of, “Oh, how sweet. I wish my daughter-in-law would….” I also get a lot of:
“I don’t know how you can stand those.” Or “But I feel like you watch it in a more…. ironic way?”
No. I’m not being ironic in my enjoyment of these movies. I’m relishing every single moment.
My mother-in-law sets her Tivo to record a dozen or so titles, and we choose by backdrop. (Hallmark movies are differentiated less by plot than by setting.) Do we want fall or do we want Christmas? Do we want water? Mountains? Rustic Midwest charm? A city girl in Texas?
About ten minutes into the movie, I’ll say something like, “That boyfriend from the city’s going to visit her in Nowheresville to try to get her back, and her ex-boyfriend/future-love is going to see them and think that they’re still together. What a mess.” (Did I not mention? That happens an awful lot, too.) “I’m calling my shot.”
A few minutes later, my mother-in-law will call hers. “That hotel concierge seems like the jealous type, she’s going to interfere, because she wants to be with him, even though it’s obvious they’re not right for each other.” Bam.
These movies bring me joy. I know what’s coming. I love knowing what’s coming. I’ve never taken Xanax, but I think a Hallmark movie is Xanax in TV movie form.
I don’t care that these movies put finding a man ahead of that amazing career. I don’t care that these women are all apparently miserable with their successful lives, which doesn’t really make sense to me. I don’t care that these movies feed me the narrative that happiness comes from the love of a good man and not through the hard work of knowing yourself and respecting yourself and setting good boundaries and finding a good therapist. Or whatever. I don’t even really care that these movies are advocating for everything I actively don’t believe in.
They make me happy.
And I’m trying this thing— AOC inspired— where if it gives me life, I do it. I don’t look too hard at the why. Hallmark movies are a balm. A salve. Something else medicinal and slightly gross. (Ointment? No. Too far.) 2020 is exhausting. You already know why. I put on makeup on days when I’m not leaving the house. I baked an apple crumb cake. I’m going to watch a Hallmark movie.
If you’re worried that I’m too disengaged— don’t worry. I already voted.