Reviewed in the United States on July 19, 2019
Here where we are, we honor our veterans and show support in several simple ways, whether it's flying Old Glory, or thanking our boys and girls for their service, praying for them, or volunteering at the base. Heck, just plastering on a "Go, (branch of your preference)" bumper sticker shows support. And, heck again, even something as lazy as our watching A Veteran's Christmas counts for something, because watching the movie at least keeps our veterans front and center in our minds.
A Veteran's Christmas aired on 11/11/2018 on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, one day before Veteran's Day. It reunites Eloise Mumford and Sean Faris after their pairing up in Christmas with Holly. This time, Mumford plays Captain Grace Garland of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force. Grace has just done two tours in Afghanistan where she handled explosive detection in Search & Rescue as part of a K9 unit. In Spokane, Washington, the discharging officer had just given Grace her walking papers. So, there's our recipient of the Silver Star and the Soldier's Medal, officially separated from the Marine Corps.
Some plot spoilers.
Maybe somewhere in Illinois, she's driving along when she loses control of the car she'd just bought, and it plows into a snow bank. Now, the Corps had kept Grace's war dog of six years, and she's feeling the loss keenly. Imagine the frisson of solace when, bleeding and slumped next to her warped car, she espies a white dog with a brown patch over one eye cozying up to her. Grace pets and makes much of the waggy critter whose name, we promptly learn, is Justice. Justice springs away and barks for Grace to follow, and a soldier is taught to follow orders.
Grace ends up at the house of the municipal judge of Rivers Crossing, one of those charming towns that does up Christmas right. The judge is Joe Peterson (Sean Faris), owner of Justice, and I just now got it about the dog's name. Maybe Judge Joe looks too young for the job, but what do I know? I live in a world where televisionland once posited that a 14-year-old can practice medicine.
Joe is one of those guys you're lucky to have around when something bad goes down. He fixes the scratch on Grace's forehead and takes her to his uncle mechanic. And when told that it'll take three weeks to repair the car, Joe offers Grace the use of the cozy cottage that sits back of the house.
Joe is big on holidays, and he's soon got Grace immersed in his Christmasing. Too, its hard to say no when a body who'd just offered you room and board asks for your help in decorating the town for Christmas. And as Grace walks the breadth of Rivers Crossing and is welcomed universally by its denizens, she begins to fall in love with the place and the people and maybe even the local judge.
Still, she's only passing thru. She's got an entry-level job with an engineering firm waiting for her in Cincinnati.
Joe probably isn't staying, either. He's got his eyes set on an appointment for district court in Chicago. Too, his ex-fiancée (Miriam McDonald) - who dumped Joe to run away to Chicago with the ex-prosecutor - is back in town and single again.
It's Hallmark, so it's a must that there be a festival. In this case, it's the Winter Wonderland Festival, capped off by the annual Christmas Eve potluck party. Chairing the event is Joe's aunt, and she's conscripted Joe - and Grace - into lending a hand.
A Veteran's Christmas, with its contrived and familiar narrative beats, is still a decent watch. It could've maybe dived more into how a newly-separated soldier feels so rudderless, stripped of structure and purpose. Mumford does try to express her character's sense of isolation and estrangement, but the script calls for it to be low-key, I guess. Grace doesn't seem to suffer much PTSD, lucky soul. If anything, what's got her truly distraught is the loss of her dog, the one partner she could trust implicitly when in the thick of it.
When you get to the scene where Grace and Joe lean in for a kiss, but then get distracted, don't eyeroll too much. The thwarted lean-in is a Hallmark staple.
There's a cute little girl (Jenna Weir) for Grace to bond with and to draw Grace out of her shell. There's the local sheriff (Jacob Blair) that, for a split second, gives the impression that he's gonna be a recurring bother for Grace, but that ain't so. Fact is, if anything, this sheriff ends up saving the day.
It's a movie that keeps the silly stuff to a minimum, and it's appreciated. You can sense the filmmakers' respect for the subject matter. I appreciate Mumford's warm and dignified interpretation of a war veteran. Grace got out of the military not because of some war injury. I really like the honesty of Grace's admission that she'd had enough of being in the front line. It humanizes her even more. How the story ends is something that I figured out fairly early on; it wasn't that hard to suss out. Still, it's a scene that invites your tear ducts to let loose as it closes the books on Captain Grace Garland, who never does make it to Cincinnati.