This post is on the "A Very Merry Toy Store" and "Four Christmases and A Wedding" release; a review of "Wrapped Up in Christmas" and "Snowed Inn Christmas" is scheduled for the weekend of October 19. .
One spoiler for folks who lack time to read these articles because they already are frantically decking the halls and searching online (R.I.P. Toys R Us) for the hot new toy is that the general theme of all four films is the same; the distinguishing characteristics are the actors of the '80s and '90s who star in them and the nature of the conflict of the couple that we know will end up together,
The pattern begins with the movie being set in roughly mid-December. Our central character is a 30-something woman who is experiencing severe work-related stress that brings her in conflict with the 30-something man of her dreams and/or bane of her existence. They directly or indirectly clash until the woman finds a solution that makes both of them happy. This leads to a Christmas period kiss at or near the end of the film. The lesson for unattached folks who are looking for love in all the wrong places and in too many faces is to just wait for Christmas and find a bone of contention with spouse material.
The set du jour starts out with the personal favorite (and arguably most goofy) movie of the four. "A Very Merry Toy Store" stars Melissa Joan Hart of "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" as Connie Forrester, who owns the titular Mom-and-Pop retail establishment in New Britain, Connecticut. Connie and competitor Will DiNova (Mario Lopez of "Saved By the Bell") must at least partially kiss and make up to survive the threat that the owner (Billy Gardell of "Yes, Dear") of a large regional toy chain presents.
The fun of this one extends beyond the dirty and not-so-dirty business tactics. The "Love Boat"caliber casting goes well beyond having Sabrina and Slater essentially play kissing cousins turned feuding neighbors. We get "Aunt Zelda" portrayor Beth Broderick as the mother of Connie, a slightly butched up Mario Cantone of "Sex and the City" as the mayor/realtor, and Dan Amboyer as the amusing goofy younger brother of Connie. This is not to mention voice actress Tara Strong as the love interest of a clueless Randy.
The following YouTube clip of a trailer for "Toy Store" provides a good sense of the aforementioned Lifetimey fun.
"Four Christmases and A Wedding" is more of a traditional Lifetime movie than "Store." The emphasis is on getting one chance a year to make it work with Mr. Right, rather than on dropping the fists and grabbing the hips.
This one has Arielle Kebbel of the "90210" reboot playing event-planner extraordinaire Chloe Taylor. Her "its complicated" relationship centers around dreamy corporate executive Evan Mathers (Corey Sevier). Fun casting comes in the form of having Markie Post of "Night Court" play the mother of Chloe and Judge Reinhold of "Beverly Hills Cop" play the love interest of Mom.
The "complicated" part relates to Evan meeting Chloe at the annual Christmas event that she plans; he is in town visiting his sister ahead of moving overseas. Evan returns the following year with a girlfriend in tow, his being single the year after that does not make things any easier for this not-yet happy couple.
The following YouTube clip of the trailer for "Wedding" shows how it combines the spirits of Lifetime and of Christmas.
As the above musings demonstrate, the appeal of both films (and of the two in the other set) show the broad appeal of this fare, provides good escapism, and makes one think that a Christmas miracle is not entirely impossible.