I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love Hallmark movies. I’m a year-round Hallmark viewer, but Hallmark Christmas movie season is the ultimate. The settings are festive, the meet-cutes adorable, and the first kiss— in the movie’s final frames— is perfectly lit as fake snow falls on 90s stars. It’s everything a girl could want in a made for TV movie, with a problematic take on a woman’s place. In the past, I wasn’t crazy about the underlying assumption that a successful woman’s life is incomplete without a man, or that she needs to give up that success in order to make room for one. Again and again, Hallmark told the story of a successful-but-unfulfilled woman returning to her home town for the holidays, reconnecting with her high school sweetheart and finally realizing that all that big city success she worked so hard for wasn’t really what she needed out of life anyway.
If you watch a Hallmark movie with a little less cynicism, you could argue that these are stories about making room for love in a success-driven, go-go-go world. Which they are, but then, why is it always our heroine who needs to make room? Why doesn’t he ever change for her? Why does her mom keep pointing out that all her sisters are married? Or that she’s not getting any younger? Hmmm? The sexism is laced into the message, and even though I love Hallmark (LOVE.) it’s as predictable as the clumsy baker who nearly falls off a step stool as she reaches for flour on a high shelf, only to tumble into the arms of Mr. Right, himself.
Until now. The Hallmark of 2020 is remarkably progressive. Or, at least the few I’ve indulged in so far have been.
A Timeless Christmas, in which inventor Charles Whitley (Ryan Paevey) time-travels from 1903 to 2020 where he meets Megan Turner (Erin Cahill), a museum curator and expert on Whitley’s life, is romantic, even while Megan tells Charles that it’s totally fine to split the bill. In the end, Megan decides not to pursue a professor job— not because she needs to make room for love, but because she realizes she really loves her work as curator for the Whitley House— even if it’s less prestigious.
Okay, splitting the bill isn’t a big leap forward for woman-kind. This is Hallmark. This is progress! 2020.
In A Christmas Waltz, Avery (Lacy Chabert) plays a successful lawyer whose engagement falls apart just days before her perfect, Christmas wedding. Alone and unsure of herself, she decides to take the ballroom dance lessons she’d planned for herself and her fiancé. Yes, she falls in love with her ballroom instructor (Will Kemp), but she also rediscovers a love of dance that laid dormant since childhood. Plus, she helps her dance instructor with his business plan. And she keeps her job!
OK, the movie ends before they really reach that stage, but at least there’s no indication that she plans to leave her law job.
Last, but certainly not least, we have If I Only Had Christmas, starring the queen of Hallmark herself, Candace Cameron Bure. This Wizard of Oz inspired tale sends our Dorothy— this time named Darcy— to New York City where she offers to do pro bono publicity work for a nonprofit whose work is funded by the curmudgeonly businessman, Glen Goodman (Warren Christie). She’s a publicity rock star, and he wants her to move to NYC to work for his company full-time. Darcy can’t bear the thought of leaving the life she loves in Kansas City. Get this: he decides to open a second company headquarters in Kansas City. She gets her promotion, she still keeps room in her life for family and friends and a hometown she’s deeply proud of. Oh, and she’s and Goodman fall in love. It turns out, he’s not such a curmudgeon after all. How nice.
Where the old Hallmark formula was all about finding love someplace else, Hallmark 2020 is all about finding love while finding yourself. The moment that unifies these women: they love the life they built for themselves— a niche museum curator, a big city lawyer, and a small town publicist— and finding love is just the cherry on top.
It’s as if Hallmark has gotten word that millennial women are climbing aboard the Hallmark train, and they’re not going to stick around for story that tells them their accomplishments are anything less than that.