Hallmark’s Holiday Hotline is an ode to turkey as much as it is to Christmas. The film follows a British woman named Abby (Emily Tennant) who leaves London behind to spend the holidays in Chicago. There, she starts working for a cooking hotline that puts her in contact with cooking-challenged single dad Jack (Niall Matter), who hopes to successfully make a memorable Christmas dinner for his young daughter (Myla Volk). Can a hotline dedicated to turkey prep succeed as a romantic vehicle in 2023, or is it lacking the right stuffing to stick the landing?
The Gist: Abby’s (Emily Tennant) life as a sous-chef at a successful London restaurant comes crashing around her upon being betrayed by her boyfriend and boss, Jason (Jacob Blair), in both work and love. Desperate to step away from cooking and pursue a new adventure, Abby heads to America to stay in her aunt’s now-vacated Chicago apartment for the holidays. There, she meets friendly neighbor Margaret (Marina Stephenson Kerr), who discovers Abby’s cooking ability and gets her to fill in for her at work temporarily while Margaret spends the holidays with her young grandkids.
Thus begins Abby’s work at the holiday hotline, a call center full of “poultry professionals” who evidently help over 100,000 turkey first-timers to put quality food on the table between Thanksgiving and Christmas. With the support of her peppy boss, Roger (Erik Athavale), Abby begins thriving at the hotline, especially after shedding her British accent for an American persona she dubs “Peggy”. When a guy who calls himself “John” calls in asking for help in overcoming his utter lack of culinary talent to give his young daughter Jessica (Myla Volk) a Christmas dinner to be proud of, he and “Peggy” strike up an immediate bond.
But when Abby meets the man behind John in real life, an architect and single dad named Jack (Niall Matter), she finds sparks flying once more as she tries to balance these different personas and their budding relationships. Luckily Margaret and Roger, as well as Jack’s brother Mike (Michael Strickland) and his fiancée, Erica (Cora Matheson) are there to help give Abby and Jack plenty of chances to let sparks fly, both in real life and on the phone. But will the whole secret identity thing be enough to eventually bite Abby in the butt and complicate her budding relationship with Jack?
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Holiday Hotline is somewhat reminiscent of While You Were Sleeping in that both movies take place in Chicago over the holidays and involve letting a man the leading lady is falling for believe a lie about her in order to cover for a secret identity she has been maintaining.
Performance Worth Watching: Erik Athavale stands out as the most memorable performance. From the first time his character Roger appears onscreen, Athavale breathes life into his role, giving it added dimension and an easy charm. Every scene he spoke (or sang) in was better for it, and I enjoyed getting to see him fully embrace the genre’s campiness and holiday cheer.
Memorable Dialogue: “Let’s not let this moment go to baste.” And there are many, many more turkey jokes where that came from.
A Holiday Tradition: Jack and Jessica used to have a grand Christmas dinner at home every year courtesy of Jack’s wife’s cooking talent, but since she passed away, the only tradition Jack has been able to keep going is gifting his daughter a special new ornament every holiday season.
Does the Title Make Any Sense?: It sure does. After all, so much of the film’s action revolves around Abby’s participation in the titular holiday hotline, so you’d be hard-pressed to find a more fitting title.
Our Take: Holiday Hotline shows so much promise. It’s an entertaining and classic concept for a rom-com to have two people putting on personas that they begin falling for, only to complicate things as they get closer in real life. And it’s an interesting twist to have that happen over a hotline, where all you know of the other person is their voice and what they tell you. But things swiftly begin going off the rails due to the whole turkey of it all.
Having a hotline that only runs from Thanksgiving time to Christmas that exclusively helps people with turkey cooking issues seems like a pretty unsustainable business practice, especially when it’s the 21st century and the internet exists. But hey, it’s a holiday movie, we can allow for a certain bit of silliness and logic leaping, that’s a part of the fun. Unfortunately, it becomes harder to ignore when the turkey jokes and gags are pushed a bit too far as they’re hammered home again and again to the point where the viewer is just left a bit confused. It’s true that people are prone to some inexplicable behavior and kitchen disasters, but tucking a turkey into a bed under a heated blanket just to defrost it? That woman needed more help than the holiday hotline was equipped to provide, I’ll tell you that much.
It would be one thing if this was just a silly, light-hearted movie through and through, but there are times when the film tries to take itself seriously, such as what’s supposed to be the film’s emotional climax, where Jack thanks “Peggy” for teaching him how to open his heart again. At least half of their calls were focused on helping Jack properly prepare a turkey. But hey, they do say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so I guess who am I to judge?
The romance of it all was okay. I actually felt like “John” did connect a bit more with “Peggy” than Abby so their eventual getting together as their regular selves was a bit anticlimactic. There were some supporting players at least, like Strickland’s Mike, Kerr’s Margaret, and Athavale’s Roger who injected some of the charm that the central love story may have lacked. The filmmaker’s choice to shoot on location in Chicago also added some much-appreciated authenticity and personality that I thought was a major highlight for Holiday Hotline. Too bad the turkey of it all had to spread its wings and cast a shadow over the film as a whole.
Our Call: SKIP IT. If you don’t love excessive turkey puns and dad jokes, you might be better off gobbling down some other holiday content instead.