Reindeer Games Homecoming has a bit of an icy start, no pun intended, but as it digs into grief and honest concerns, the film finds its footing gorgeously. Written by and starring Grey’s Anatomy’s Sarah Drew, it’s undoubtedly the best on Lifetime so far, with a realistic portrayal of the second chance romance trope.
MacKenzie “Mac” Graves (Drew) and Chase Weston (Justin Bruening)’s high school fling/rivalry is reawakened when Chase returns home and begrudgingly participates in the town’s Reindeer Games. As Mac battles with the grief of losing her father, Chase deals with a lull in his career as a successful actor. In their second chance collision, the natural chemistry and ease between them help the two of them grow stronger and better as individuals and a couple.
As mentioned, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the film until it started bringing out more vulnerable pieces. Frankly, I was nervous it’d turn out to be a celebrity and normal person cliché, which seldom ever works unless we’re talking about HBO’s Starstruck. But as Mac and Chase continued to open up with each other, it became clear that their desires would win this time around.
But ultimately, what won me over was the conversation at the hospital church when Mac opened up about leaving behind her residency in Boston to keep her father’s memory alive by staying in Vermont. And I was especially impressed by Drew’s stunning performance as she allowed the character to truly grieve for the first time by being wholly transparent with another person.
Grief is hard. It’s a challenging, jagged path that takes people through various emotions while simultaneously leaving us stuck in a wave from where the shore feels far from reach. When you lose someone you love, with whom you’re close to, you’ll do anything to conserve their memories. You’ll do anything to keep them alive and with you. You’ll find yourself digging through traditions and searching for stories because you don’t know how to let go. You don’t want to let go. And when Reindeer Games Homecoming allowed its heroine to go through this path, it brought to our screens something profoundly moving.
More often than not, films in this genre either gloss over the heartaches that grief leaves behind or they’ll use a few words to describe it before moving forward. But grief consistently follows Mac through this film, and Drew’s writing does a compelling job of showing this. She doesn’t need to tell us she’s hurting because we can see it in every move she makes. That’s why when she finally opens up, it feels like we can breathe alongside her.
And to see Chase listen to her as she crumbled shattered me. Justin Bruening is so great at showcasing how intently his characters listen, and just as he does in Netflix’s Sweet Magnolias, he makes us believe in every word his character speaks. It’s why his presence brings strength to Mac, allowing her to finally find the courage from within to read the final letter her father wrote before his passing.
Reindeer Games Homecoming would fall flat without the conversation at the hospital, and the moments of vulnerability the film explores. Second chances romances need quiet moments of exposure to impactfully exhibit why the couple deserves to try again as they help us believe that they’ll make it through to the end this time.
The third-act miscommunication trope is generally more frustrating than the portrayal we get here because it doesn’t turn into a big fight but rather an upfront conversation that it’s okay if this doesn’t work out. I’ll never fault characters who are afraid to enter a relationship with someone, but that’s especially the case when the other party is a celebrity. Sure, Mac knew Chase before he was famous, but it doesn’t change the fact that his job is tricky when it comes to romance.
But sometimes, friends need to meddle, and when they do, it is easy to appreciate the tenderness between Mac and Chase coming centerfold. I also appreciated that she again mentioned that even though her heart is telling her to jump, her brain is trying to talk her out of it. It’s an authentic belief, and watching them in a sweet embrace coupled with laughs and frustrations made it much more effortless to appreciate their competitive streaks and the hope instilled in the long distance they’ll be entering.
Similar Christmas Film Recommendation: Christmas With You and A Country Christmas Harmony
If Reindeer Games Homecoming gave the audience a bit more of them, it’d be a far better film. Still, what we get is enjoyable, nonetheless entirely because of how tremendously grief plays a role as vulnerability and fears surface. When it’s dramatic, it’s too much, but when it slows down and dives into complex human emotions, it works wondrously.
Reindeer Games Homecoming now streaming on Frndly TV.