Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas continues with My Southern Family Christmas, where Hart of Dixie meets My Christmas Family Tree. While the film isn’t as great as the TV series or Hallmark’s previous film, it still maintains plenty of heart while telling a sweet story centered around family. The main problem with this arc is that the heroine doesn’t reveal the truth about her visit until the end, and even though people are aware of it, it’s hard not to wonder how great the story could’ve been if the secret was out in the open the entire time.
If there are two reasons to watch this film, one is Moira Kelly, and the other is Bruce Campbell. But if you want more, the rest of the cast, starting with Jaicy Elliot as our heroine, Campbell Wallace, and Ryan Rottman as romance hero, Jackson Shepherd. My Southern Family Christmas follows Campbell (Elliot) to Sorrento, Louisiana, where her biological father lives. Sorrento doesn’t have a Santa Claus; instead, they celebrate with the French version, Père Noël. As a journalist, she’s there to cover the story of Everett’s (Campbell) first year as Père Noël, but his wife Jennifer (Kelly) is the one who invited her, stating that she knows her husband has profound regrets about leaving another child behind.
In Sorrento, Campbell meets her two half-sisters, Mary-Margaret (Adeleine Whittle) and Amelia (Anniston Almond), as well as her love interest, Jackson (Rottman). The story works because, like My Family Christmas Tree, it puts platonic relationships front and center while developing romance in the outskirts. And while I’m usually all about romantic relationships taking center stage, in films like this, they work better as they occur in the background. In some, it’s hard to believe where the couple fell in love, and while it’s too soon, here as well, it’s still sweet enough that it’s easy to look passed.
The fascinating detail about the romantic relationship through this angle is that there’s no third-act breakup. (And then everyone cheered!) Additionally, at no point does Jackson pressure or try to dictate how or when Campbell should reveal the truth about her identity. He gives her his opinions when necessary, but he doesn’t tell her what to do, stating instead that he’s happy to support her in whatever she feels is right. The same can be said about Campbell’s mother, Sarah (Katie Hughey), who gives her daughter the agency to follow her heart in this situation.
As the film continues to explore Campbell’s relationship with her father, it allows the audience to see how they’re similar, as well as Everett’s genuine regrets. Additionally, Everett’s willingness to speak to the press allows him some agency even though he isn’t fully aware of her identity. It’s a tricky situation that generally shouldn’t work, but somehow, it does here. And it’s entirely because Campbell takes a direct route through her writing, at least.
Further, while I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the film in the beginning, the Père Noël ceremony and everything we get afterward with Everett gifting Campbell journals full of letters were exquisite. It’s this final moment that not only makes My Southern Family Christmas worth watching but it makes it an incredibly heartwarming holiday delight. There’s nothing lovelier than watching families expand, and the girls adoring Campbell before they even know she’s their sister was a lovely bonus.
Lastly, credit where credit is due, Moira Kelly’s Jennifer deserves special mention because it’s always so inspiring to see women as welcoming as her. From the moment she meets Campbell, she’s not only completely open to her but chooses to understand her side of the story and consistently shows her compassion.She adored her without ever meeting her, and her persistence in trying to make matters right speaks highly of her character.
Jennifer reminds me so much of One Tree Hill’s Karen Roe because only Kelly can exude such warmth, even in silence. She was the reason I added the film to my watchlist this year, and it’s a good thing I did so. It’s why you should too.