Hallmark’s Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas is a beautifully intriguing friends-to-lovers/second-chance romance with the dispersion of fate that serendipitously tells a heartwarming story about moving forward after trauma. Grief is complicated—it’s never a linear path, and even when two people deal with the same loss, the mourning process can be very, very different. While some people run, others search for a safe place to land where they are. And sometimes, there’s more pain beyond the initial loss that people can’t quite understand.
The story opens with a flashback of Josh Hart (Tyler Hynes) rescuing his best friend, Elizabeth Athens (Holland Roden), from a company Christmas party to take her to a gathering at his house. Her favorite cookies are involved, she’s excited, and their familiarity is already so palpable at this point that, as viewers, it’s easy to discern there’s a bigger connection here. There’s also a surprise waiting at his house, which is their other best friend, Andrew (David Lennon), returning home for the holidays. While it’s wildly apparent that the three are the kind of trio dreams are made of, it’s also already evident that there are strong, romantic feelings between Elizabeth and Josh. But when that glorious night ends with a misunderstanding leading to an unfortunate accident, Andrew passes away, leaving Josh and Elizabeth to deal with their heartaches alone.
The audience is then transported three years later, in a flash forward, with Elizabeth working for her mother and Josh returning home after that dreadful night. We’re made aware of Andrew’s death but not about the circumstances until Josh specifies to Elizabeth that it wasn’t her fault but a result of another driver hitting a patch of ice.
For a moment, the film tries to play by tricking the audience, making us think that maybe Elizabeth was indeed confessing her feelings for Andrew, which Josh misheard. But if you’ve watched (and read) enough romances, then you know it’s a red herring. Further, because the longing between Elizabeth and Josh is so intense in the flashback, it helps us decipher where this story will go.
It also bears noting that Tyler Hynes is quickly and undoubtedly becoming Hallmark’s second-chance romance king, and you know what? We’re 110% here for it. Whether as Jamie in An Unexpected Christmas or Taylor in Three Wise Men and a Baby, Hynes does a thoroughly convincing job of providing the right amount of necessary yearning to show the audience why the romance is worth rooting for without telling us.
Since the audience isn’t fully aware of the characters’ thoughts in TV or film the way they are while reading novels, much depends on the actors to showcase what’s bursting within. Roden and Hynes do this exquisitely, exhibiting with every scene that Elizabeth and Josh share that they’re the kind of friends who not only make each other better but stronger. The casual intimacy we’re fortunate enough to watch brings their friendship to life in such a way that it doesn’t feel like we’re missing out on anything. We see it all, clear as day. We understand why they should ignite it all on fire and love each other as romantic partners well. And in Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas, this detail is much of why the film is as organic as it is.
It’s hard not to wonder how they could have both moved on if this heartache didn’t transpire as it did—if they’d just spoken instead of jumping to conclusions. But isn’t that how life works sometimes? It’s easier to assume that the person you have strong feelings for can be in love with someone else than it is to believe that they might reciprocate your feelings. And it’s an exceptionally colossal risk to take when it comes to falling in love with one’s best friend because there’s always the chance of losing them altogether.
Thus, it’s straightforward to understand why Josh needed to walk away, but it’s also easy to see why Elizabeth carried such profound guilt around. Josh and Elizabeth aren’t just coworkers; they didn’t meet a few days ago at a market, and there’s a valid reason why fears cloud their better judgment. While the miscommunication trope can almost always be frustrating, it works here as it stands as a scale that measures the risks and the benefits.
Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas is a film about rectifying mistakes and understanding the pain that comes after mourning. The thing about death is that in TV/film/or novels, people rarely talk about the lull after the person’s gone. In most cases, when left alone, the darkness is harder to grapple with than during the days when everyone’s around you. These instants center around moving forward and learning to live despite the grief, which is undeniably the most challenging part. Josh and Elizabeth were supposed to work for the New York Times together—they were supposed to be in it beside each other to the end, but on that night, the loss was too profound.
Sometimes, the dreams you held on tightly to become the one thing you cannot fathom chasing anymore. Other times, you can’t be anywhere near the place where you last saw your loved one. Where Elizabeth stayed and sat with her pain, Josh left and dealt with the trauma alone. She searched for a safe place, and he ran toward challenges. And for the characters to unveil their heartaches, they needed to understand each other’s more closely. In any other circumstance, it might be easy to throw all the rage at Josh for leaving, but his choice ultimately stems from his own grief, and as human beings, extending grace to those in pain is one of the most empathetic things we can do.
Further, the film does a earnest job of weaving guilt into the story because something else happens when people grieve in situations like this. Andrew didn’t die from natural causes or something neither of them could’ve controlled, but he died during an accident, after which it’s impossible not to question all the ways they could’ve prevented it. Long before we learn that Elizabeth was the one who suggested they leave early, Roden was already doing the heavy lifting by showing the audience that alongside her grief, Elizabeth is also carrying guilt. She blames herself for Andrew’s death, and trying to grapple with both heartaches is naturally too much for one person to handle, let alone one of them.
There’s a scene after another Christmas party in the present where Elizabeth takes a cab instead of letting Josh drive her home. And while she doesn’t say anything aloud here, Roden’s acting shows us that this could be because of Elizabeth’s guilt. As she deals with memories, she doesn’t want to be responsible for another potential tragedy. And more often than not, when we lose someone, we’ll do anything to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself, including decisions like this that might seem small but aren’t.
As Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas finely threads guilt into the overarching theme, we watch Elizabeth and Josh heal in their quest to find the mysterious man who mistakenly left a message for Madelyn to Elizabeth. While both Elizabeth and Carter Bishop (Steve Bacic) could’ve still gotten the closure had he left the messages to the right people, Elizabeth and Josh needed the chance to work together again on a wild goose chase to remember everything they left behind in their pain. And how the film later draws the connection between the three characters, making the wrong phone call that much more natural is a beautiful thing.
The dual love stories in the film, both of which follow the second-chance romance trope and deal with the severe aftereffects of guilt, make the film genuinely beautiful. Carter didn’t lose anyone in the accident, but he carried the weight of killing someone even though it wasn’t his fault. To then see him speak with Elizabeth and fully understand that she never blamed him, but instead that they should both settle down the guilt made for a compelling message.
What happens when the guilt and grief are too much? Where do people run? What do they do? At some point, we all have to come home to the place and the people we were before the pain took over to grow. And while there’s no real way to fully heal from grief, especially when loving the person in any capacity was involved, there is a way for us to grow around our pain. In order to heal, human beings have to open themselves up to the possibility of getting hurt again. We must allow ourselves to be vulnerable—to cry if we need to, write about the losses if that helps, atone, whatever’s necessary—the key to bearing the pain requires allowing ourselves to feel every ounce of it.
Through familiar and heartwarming banter, the film allows the main characters to heal and understand each other better. There’s an intimacy in the writing that feels incredibly raw and transparent as it digs into lamentable corridors while simultaneously providing the hope that comes from second chances. Whether it’s the music box, the easy connections they all form with one another, the familial warmth, or the understanding that soft places to land and the challenging ones can simultaneously be what people need brings an added layer of heart to the film, making it profoundly memorable.
Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas is a deeply vulnerable film that meticulously and beautifully digs into heavy places to heal characters and perhaps even viewers too. It provides us with the necessary holiday warmth where it’s easy to believe in miracles and wishes coming true, all while telling two beautiful love stories that the world deserves so much more of.