The best part of Hallmark’s An Unexpected Christmas is, well, all of it. Jamie and Emily are delightful as the leads, and the thematic importance of taking nothing and turning it into something proves to be a strong thread throughout the entire film.
Starring Bethany Joy Lenz, Tyler Hynes, Alison Wandzura, Lynda Boyd, and more, An Unexpected Christmas forces Jamie (Hynes) and Emily (Lenz) to pretend that they’re still dating when his family sees them as they’ve serendipitously run into each other at the train station. There’s a lot to adore in this film, but its showcase of why and how is particularly striking. As a previously established couple, I was nervous the film would tell us too much instead of showing it, but surprisingly, the film adds layers into their relationship through a fascinating backwards sort of lens.
Where romance tropes are concerned, An Unexpected Christmas nails it. We’re in a reversed kind of “fake dating” and “stuck together” cobbled with a stunning exhibition of “second chance at love.” If that weren’t enough to reel me in, his family’s home would’ve done the trick. (Seriously, these people are superb, and they might be the best I’ve seen at decorating so far. Buffalo plaid on the tree? Yes, please. Plaid everywhere? Perfection.)
An Unexpected Christmas aka The One With the Amazing Performances
I don’t watch all Hallmark holiday films. Despite what a sap I am, I often choose between the storylines that sound intriguing along with a cast that seems promising. And as a massive One Tree Hill fan, Bethany Joy Lenz can do no wrong in my eyes. I knew I’d love this movie because of her, but the tropes are a bonus I’m always here for. (And so far, this is my favorite holiday film Lenz is in.)
Thus, before we get into anything else, discussing Lenz’s performance takes priority in this house. Lenz excels at quiet vulnerability and tenderness. There’s a warmth in each of her characters that’s so comforting and joyous (appropriate considering her name). Lenz’s innate ability to play with a myriad of emotions with one single look is a gift that keeps on giving as her expressions never fail to tell a thousand words at once. And that made Emily such a compelling character to watch as you could see the heartbreak deep within her along with the inner longing to find a place where she belongs. She’s a workaholic who’s good at her job, sure, but more than that, Emily wants a place to feel at home, and no matter what was happening in the scene, when you looked into Lenz’s eyes, she was showing the audience all sorts of emotions. We understood just was going on inside of her. We could see her heart on full-display, and even as situations got frustrating, we could still feel every bit of the contentment Emily felt with Jamie’s family.
Additionally, while I’m new to Tyler Hynes as a performer, the vulnerability he exhibits and matches with Bethany Joy Lenz’s was thoroughly impressive. Count me in as someone who’ll now seek his work out on Hallmark.
Hynes and Lenz were stunning scene partners in bringing to life past love and the current, undeniable thread that’s pulling Jamie and Emily back together. Further, Hynes floored me with his means of carrying fear because that’s something you seldom see from male characters, and it’s especially not something I’ve seen in Hallmark films. Sure, men tend to be grumpy at times, but fear isn’t as profound of a governing force within them. (Something similar also happens in Hallmark’s latest, The Christmas Promise.)
But understandably, Jamie’s past makes it difficult to take risks and seeing him work through it with his family, and Emily made for a more wholesome, realistic story. That said, the one thing about this story that makes it distinct for Hallmark is that I can’t remember the last time we watched a man struggle with his career. So often, it feels as though shows have made it seem like they’re the ones who have it together, whereas, in An Unexpected Christmas, we avidly watch Jamie go through the perils of writer’s block, fear, and aching self-doubt. We learn that it’s not because he didn’t love or wasn’t happy for Emily’s blossoming career when he broke up with her, but he did it with the firm belief that he was holding her back through his perfectionism and his own failure he couldn’t grapple with.
The stunning tension and chemistry between Jamie and Emily is palpable right from the start—while we don’t know why they broke up (yet), it’s clear that they need to be together from the very beginning. We learn then that while they might be polar opposites and their issues stood in the way of a chance at happiness, being together is effortless. Their quiet moments of vulnerability do an incredible job of showcasing so much of the love that’s still burning strong.
You felt it when Emily looked at the ornament with his baby picture on it—curious, intelligent, guarded as she called his eyes. You felt it right as they got down from the fountain and, like magnets, swayed in the kind of dance that screams how intuitively connected even their bodies are. You saw it in the performances, in each of their eyes through every moment they spoke and the silent moments of solace they walked in.
All the noise, the chaos, and the joy—love is strong in this film, and you feel it in his family’s spirit. You feel it through their closeness. You feel it, even as a result of their grandfather’s absence. You understood why it was important to fake it.
There’s so much surprising balance throughout An Unexpected Christmas, it makes for a genuinely amazing holiday film that’s now an instant favorite.
I know I say this frequently considering how unfairly short these films are, but I really desperately need a sequel for this one. I want to see the proposal, I want to see the wedding, I want to see Becca and Gina’s relationship in the future, and I want to see this family grow. The chemistry between the entire cast is so lovely that I’m not ready to part ways with them quite yet. Why was grandma getting mints? Inquiring minds need answers stat. Tell me more about the she-shed. Let’s have a girls’ night there.
There’s a lot of plaid in An Unexpected Christmas, and honestly, even if I hated this entire film (which I clearly don’t), I’d probably still write a review for all the plaid. Their coffee/teacups are buffalo plaid. I just. . .Does this small town in Illinois exist? Because I need to go.
Similar Christmas Film Recommendation: Coyote Creek Christmas starring Janel Parrish and Ryan Paevey and A Kismet Christmas starring Sarah Ramos and Carlo Marks
Intriguing characters, a stunning love story, incredible moments of vulnerability, and astounding performances, if you only watch one Christmas movie every year, let it be An Unexpected Christmas—now streaming on Hallmark.
Gissane (pronounced Geese-enny) or, as people often call her, "Goose," is a Christ fan above all and a romance enthusiast who's taken her Master's degree in English and love for essays into writing lengthy analyses about pop culture.
She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Marvelous Geeks Media and the co-host of Lady Geeks' Society Podcast. She drinks too much coffee, wants to live in a forest, and cries a lot because of her favorite characters. She's a member of The Cherry Picks and can also be found writing features for MovieWeb and Looper.