12 Men of Christmas (2009)
I had no idea this movie existed until Phillipa Ashley was our featured “First Sale” back in November. It’s based on her first novel “Decent Exposure (aka Dating Mr. December)” though the action is moved from Cumbria, England to NYC and Montana in the US. And while I wouldn’t call it a total waste of time, it does fall under the category of “read the book. It’s better.”
EJ Baxter (Kristin Chenoweth) is a New York publicist who thinks she has it all: a great fiance, a fabulous job and she gets to live in New York City. It all falls apart when she catches her boss and her fiance in a stall in the ladies room during the firm’s Christmas party. Fired after she destroys her boss’s designer shoes, she’s out of work for months until offered a job in Kalispell, Montana promoting the town for corporate retreats.
Needing a change of scenery as well as a job, EJ heads out to the back of beyond and starts work. The people are friendly, the scenery – what we see of it – is gorgeous and she finds herself actually enjoying her work as she settles in and makes friends. When she learns that the local volunteer search and rescue needs to raise funds to buy new equipment, she devises a plan to have the men of the department pose for a calendar. Despite their initial skepticism, she sways all of them except the irascible Will Albrecht (Josh Hopkins), a wealthy local businessman with whom she’s had clashes already.
But when one man backs out, Will capitulates and poses as Mr. December. The two begin dating and are soon hot and heavy. But Big Misses abound in movies as well as romance books and one rears its ugly head just as EJ gets offered a position with her old NYC firm. Will the lure of the big city and her broken heart keep EJ and Will from a HEA?
Okay, so I’ve already advised you to read the book but I’ll say it again. The book is much better than the adaptation to a movie. Much of the screenplay and movie plot are taken straight from the book but there are a few differences. More time is spent on EJ’s past which caused her to go to Montana and on her persuading the men of the search and rescue group to pose for the calendar (lots of cute scenes here) so there is less time to develop the romance, expound on the breakup and bring EJ and Will back together. Since I had already read the book, I could mentally fill in the gaps but people new to the story will probably feel something is missing or being rushed and it is.
I do like that EJ’s character, while presented as a fish out of water, isn’t stuck up nor does she condescend to the natives. She obviously doesn’t quite fit in initially but she doesn’t attempt to force herself to nor does she stick her nose in the air and sneer. She makes friends and genuinely wants to do a good job as well as make sure the calendar succeeds – not just to boost herself in her job but because she wants her friends in the search and rescue to have the equipment they need to help the community.
Will’s character gets shafted as we see nothing from his POV and he has to act the meanie until the plot is ready for the romance to begin. Fans of “Pride and Prejudice” will immediately realize that his “I’m interested in you” speech is lifted from Darcy’s first proposal as EJ’s reaction to it taken from Elizabeth Bennett’s rejection of it. There’s even a truncated Wickham subplot as well. But there isn’t enough time spent on transitioning Will from being against the calendar to posing for it and we just have to accept that he’s been romantically interested in EJ for enough time that he’d be at the stage to start a relationship when they do.
The gorgeous scenery of Alberta, CA stands in for Montana and there are plenty of hunky men to ogle (note I’ve tried to include lots of ogling shots from the movie in the slideshow) but the only other actor I recognized is Anna Chlumsky (of “My Girl” 1 & 2 fame) who plays EJ’s new friend in Kalispell. The other actors are okay but obviously C listers at best.
There is a reason for the existence of the cliche about “a Lifetime Movie Network film” and this one demonstrates it perfectly. It’s a light weight, ‘made for TV’ production obviously aimed at romance readers who know the story tropes and who will be able to fill in the holes left in the plot by time constraints. It’s also clear that no one is going for Oscar worthy performances and that the budget is tight. It’s an okay time filler that offers some male eye candy and might be worth the effort if you happen across it on TV (see this schedule for showtimes) or want to put it in your Netflix queue but rather than seek it out, I would advise reading Phillipa Ashley’s book instead. C-