Hallmark’s A Maple Valley Christmas had all the markings to be a top-tier holiday film, but sadly, it stumbles more often than not. Still, it’s worth watching, especially as it improves significantly in the film’s second half.
Starring Andrew Walker (Three Wise Men and a Baby) Peyton List, Ella Cannon, Frances Flanagan, Jeff Gonek, and more, A Maple Valley Christmas follows Erica (List) and Aaron (Walker) in pretty quick strangers-to-friends-to-lovers on her family’s maple farm.
Unfortunately, the story falls apart because of Erica’s characterization, which has nothing to do with List as an actress and everything to do with the screenplay pushing too hard on the jaded-from-love factor. And this isn’t to say that her reasoning isn’t believable because plenty of people have been there, but how frequently she lashes out, even at her family, seems like the kind of disconnect that’s her fault more than anyone else’s.
As a grown woman, the way she spoke to her mother made her seem like a teenager more than an adult. The dialogue gets a bit less cringe-worthy later in the film, which thankfully improves the narrative, but those earlier bits make A Maple Valley Christmas a film that’ll be hard to rewatch. Further, as much as I love maple, there is such a thing as too much. While I understand the importance of traditions and holding onto pieces from your childhood, it’s still reasonably immature to be so closed off to compromising with others. (I would’ve been far more open to authentic Italian meals.)
Erica’s behavior thus makes Heidi entirely correct in thinking that Erica wasn’t treating her like a full partner, and until that conversation the women have, it’s so hard to appreciate her as a heroine.
Erica wasn’t trying to hold onto memories, but it felt like she was trying to control things, and it made me so uncomfortable to watch her get upset at Leo for bringing in his family ornaments. No grown adult, presumably in their 30s, behaves that way, and if they do, big yikes. It was full-blown teenage behavior, something I would’ve been more than willing to excuse and understand if we were watching a different film.
It’s discouraging because I wanted to see more of the Erica that we got in the last 15 minutes of the film than the woman who wouldn’t take a second to think about what people were telling her. After she patched things up with her sister, making it clear that she wants to be partners more than anything else, and essentially apologizing to Leo by suggesting his preferred meals next year, Erica wasn’t the kind of heroine easy to root for. There are entirely understandable character complexities, and there’s childish behavior that’s a bit much at times.
However, when it comes to Aaron’s arc, the film is at its strongest as it addresses branching out from a parent’s shadow and confronting the heartaches drawn from childhood pain. Aaron needed to confront his father about the absence of his love, holding onto his mother’s memories and everything he learned from Erica’s family to move forward.
His arc, in every way, is entirely compelling and every word that he spoke made the story feel both believable and enjoyable. He is a well-written character with charming curiosities, self-awareness, and a staggering amount of kindness, making him the best romance hero. As viewers, it’s easy to want him to have every bit of the happiness he deserves and the silly little cowboy hat he was always too good for.
Andrew Walker is often playing fascinating heroes (see: My Christmas Family Tree), so that bit isn’t shocking, but sadly, the romance feels rushed even as his expressions clarify why he’s falling for Erica. Still, it was anything but difficult to appreciate his character coming full circle with his father as well in the end and being the kind of man who’s all for doing things based on emotions when they feel right.
That said, while the romance in A Maple Valley Christmas is sweet, the third-act miscommunication trope that any romance aficionado could predict from miles away isn’t executed with the level of heart it should be. At that point, as much as I hate to admit it, I wanted more for Aaron. And there’s nothing more I hate than not appreciating a heroine because she’s the one I want to root for more than anything.
Similar Christmas Film Recommendation: In Merry Measure
Their romance could’ve been far more endearing if we’d just gotten more of the open, lively heroine throughout the entire film because the chemistry was there. However, their quiet moments, like holding hands underneath the table and the longing gazes, make it all worth it in the end. And the fact that Erica’s the one to call and apologize to him thankfully redeems her behavior a bit too.
It’s also worth mentioning that the decor in this film was lovely. It was so easy to appreciate the multiple Christmas trees as well as the barn throughout.