‘Christmas on the Coast’ (2018): NYC novelist returns to hometown to spark ideas – and romance

They say you can never go back home. But sometimes, it’s just what the doctor ordered to find yourself again.

By Jason Hink

The second of five movies in Imagicomm Entertainment’s “Christmas Collection” of TV films recently distributed on DVD by Mill Creek Entertainment, Christmas on the Coast tells the story of a good-natured writer in need of some small-town romance and values…and boy, does she get some! Starring Julie Ann Emery, Burgess Jenkins, Clarence Gilyard, Jr. and Bonnie Bedelia, Christmas on the Coast is directed by Gary Wheeler, the the same fella who directed Christmas in the Smokies, which I reviewed previously here.

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Christmastime, the Big Apple. Big-shot New York romance novelist Drusilla Cassadine (Julie Ann Emery) has churned out a string of hit novels over the years. But her fortunes are trending downward. At an author meet-and-greet at local bookstore, Dru reads excerpts from her latest book and fields questions from the audience. With little interest from the crowd, the only audience member who speaks up is sassy, smarmy book critic and blogger, Fletcher Reese (Clarence Gilyard, Jr.), who sports a blog readership of over a million visitors per week! When he calls out Dru on her terrible novel and the fact that it’s destined for the bargain bin, Dru’s city clicker agent (Brian Lafontaine) suggests she take her mom up on her offer of returning home for the holidays…to relax, get back to her roots, and to write a damn book worth selling!

That’s all the encouragement Dru needs as she packs her bags and heads back home to coastal Harbor Pointe, South Carolina. She greets her mom, Ellie (Bonnie Bedelia, doing her best Dolly Parton impression), visits her old bedroom (where she throws out anything left over that reminds her of her teen years in the ’90s), and sets up her writing desk. But it’s not long before Ellie ropes her into some of the small town’s rural holiday traditions, which seems as foreign to New Yorker Dru as a politician who tells the truth. But thankfully, she’s not alone.

Enter Colorado transplant Brysen Flynn (Burgess Jenkins), a soap star-handsome single dad who just happens to be involved in the community shenanigans he’s been roped into by the town elders, along with his kind-hearted, overly positive teen daughter, Peyton (Cait Pool). Could forever-single Dru find herself attracted to this smalltown hunk, or will her obligation to writing that novel stand in the way? If you like these kinds of TV movies, you can probably guess what happens…

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Much of the strength of Christmas on the Coast lies with the acting. At certain points in the film I found these characters to be sweet and kind, and at other times downright deplorable. And it’s those scenes where the characters act out that really drive the much-needed tension, even if it’s all a bit ham-fisted. In one scene that’s obviously meant to show us we have a city girl vs. country bumpkin situation, mama Ellie is hosting a meeting with the volunteers putting on Harbor Pointe’s annual community Christmas celebration. Dru comes out of the kitchen holding a small tray of tiny carrots and celery sticks, with a side of pâté dip—exactly what you’d expect from the pretentious New Yorker. But the reactions from the Southerners aren’t exactly subtle, either, with the gang sneering and looking aghast at what she’s brought out. Even Dru’s high school best friend (Julia Denton) says no way, and chooses another snack instead. Yes, it’s on-the-nose and over the top, but it’s scenes like these from screenwriter Rhonda F. Baraka’s script that are sprinkled throughout the film’s 92 minutes that gives the viewer a needed jolt from the romantic goings on. These scenes are uncomfortable, awkward, and sometimes not dealt with properly given the time constraints of a self-contained TV movie, but they get the point across like a brick to the head, which somehow manages to add to the fun.

The oceanside setting, complete with stock footage of beautiful beaches and glimpses of folks enjoying their winter escapes, fits in nicely in contrast to the New York setting that Christmas on the Coast begins with. A jazzy Christmas-themed score by composer Rob Pottorf adds to the atmosphere, proving Wheeler adept at getting the most out of his small TV budget.

Julie Ann Emery is fine in the lead—pretentious, romantic and cheesy. According to her credits, she filmed Christmas on the Coast in the middle of her stint on the AMC series Preacher. Fans may also recognize her as Betsy on the first season of the Breaking Bad spin-off, Better Call Saul. Equally romantic—and cheesy—is Burgess Jenkins as love interest Brysen. If his performance comes off a bit soap-operatic, that’s because he spent two years as Billy Abbott on the CBS soap, The Young and the Restless. His film work most notably includes Remember the Titans (2000) and The Reaping (2007), along with memorable TV stints on One Tree Hill and Nashville—network dramas that are essentially nighttime soaps.

It was great seeing personal favorite Clarence Gilyard, Jr. in the cast as smartass blogger/critic Fletcher. Sporting a goatee and some grey hair, it was fun watching him do something different from what I’m used to—usually as the man-of-action sidekick on Matlock and the original Walker, Texas Ranger. Bonnie Bedelia also scores points here. Considering I watch Die Hard (1988) every year at Christmastime (she plays the estranged wife of Bruce Willis’s John McClane), it’s fun seeing her play the sweet, down-home country mom here 29 years later. Cait Pool (CMT miniseries Sun Records, HBO’s Vice Principals) does what she does best—playing the teenager. Here she adds some color to the role of the single dad’s daughter; since she’s an aspiring writer, she’s able to connect with Emery’s Dru on that level.

Christmas on the Coast originally aired on cable/satellite networks UPtv and INSP back in November 2018. Visually, the DVD looks fine—or as good as a standard definition image is generally going to look. Its 1.78:1 presentation will obviously look better on a smaller screen, where the inherent limitations of the format aren’t as pronounced (I chose to view it on my 40-inch bedroom set instead of my 65-incher in the living room). English SDH subtitles are included. Special features include a series of short interviews with members of the cast, each clocking in at around 2 minutes or less. A trailer is also included.

Christmas on the Coast is another one of those Hallmark-style TV movies that are fun to pull out for family viewing, where it might be important to have some inoffensive holiday content available for mom and grandma. That said, gimme more of those awkward, cringey moments between these otherwise sappy characters. That’s where the real fun lies in this light, made-for-TV rom-com.

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