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25 Days of Bingemas, Day 14: ‘Merry Kiss Cam’

The University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs desperately need a win—thankfully, there’s about to be a romantic and public display of affection to power them to victory. Is this movie about Christmas in any way? Eh, not really.

Getty Images/Hulu/Ringer illustration

The Ringer’s 25 Days of Bingemas is a guide for people who love original holiday movies; it’s a guide for people who hate original holiday movies; it’s a guide for people who occasionally watch these movies and want more; it’s a guide for people who never hope to watch these movies but would like to watch one writer descend into madness as she attempts to differentiate between 25 unique forms of holiday magic, 12 different fake countries, and eight different male leads who make you wonder, “Wait, is that the guy from Mean Girls?” (It isn’t, except for that one time when it is.) Every day for the next 25 days, Jodi Walker will feature one of this season’s 169 original holiday movies, answering a curated series of questions in order to showcase the genre’s masterful formula, the dedication to chaos, and the commitment to consistently widowing lumberjacks that launched an entire genre of TV movie. On the 14th day of Bingemas, we turn our cheerful spirits to …

What are we watching?

Merry Kiss Cam.

Where are we watching it?


Why are we watching it?

Because after Jess and Danny’s first kiss is captured on a kiss cam the same night that the local hockey team breaks their decades-long losing streak, the new couple must continue attending games together lest they earn the wrath of thousands of superstitious hockey fans.

How many Vanessa Hudgenses are in this?

No Vanessa Hudgenses star in this movie, but lots of people you know do, like alt-boy-prince Jesse Bradford from Bring It On, all grown up now and playing local bar hop prince Danny. His romantic match, Jess, is played by Katie Lowes from Scandal, bringing a natural level of charisma to this role that is altogether unnecessary in an original holiday movie but nonetheless appreciated.

How believable are the lead characters’ ostensible careers?

Danny owns the local bar he inherited from his dad, which is frequented by the same 15 patrons getting bombed day in and day out—so pretty standard stuff. Jess, on the other hand, is an artist. Like a bona fide “we meet her at a gallery opening” kind of artist, not a “making Santa beards out of shoestrings” kind of artist. She doesn’t even have to wear a series of berets to prove to us she’s cool, she just is.

Who’s dead?

Oh, basically everybody is dead. Danny’s mom and dad are dead, even though he really only talks about his dad being dead. (There’s an 8x12 glossy headshot of his dad on the counter behind his bar that makes it look like he may have auditioned for Three’s Company at some point.) Danny talks about his dad being dead so much that it becomes a running joke in the movie, briefly making you think, “Oh, maybe this movie is poking fun at the ‘someone’s always dead’ trope in holiday movies,” until, BOOM—Jess’s former fiancé? Also dead. And that one’s pretty important to the plot.

Are there any fake towns, or perhaps a whole fake country?

I don’t know much about Duluth, Minnesota—some would say I knew nothing about Duluth, Minnesota, until I watched the original holiday film Merry Kiss Cam—but this movie feels … very Duluth-y. Did the town of Duluth fund this movie? It was actually shot on location, so there are plenty of local sights to feast your eyes upon, like the revolving restaurant at the top of a Radisson, and Duluth in July pretending to be Duluth in December. And of course, much of the plot revolves around the University of Minnesota Duluth hockey team, the Bulldogs, who I’m sure don’t appreciate being portrayed as such mega-losers who can be saved only by Christmas-related magic. But I’m sure Duluth fine arts enthusiasts are thrilled with their city’s portrayal as the New York City of the Midwest.

How problematic is the meet-cute on a scale of “one saved the other from falling in a snowbank” to “one is the other’s boss and they fall in love on a work trip”?

I have never been more torn on a meet-cute in my movie-watching life. In one way, it’s perfect: Jess walks into Danny’s bar specifically to flirt with him (and she nails it because this woman has studied not only abstract and cubism, but also banter). I am all for a horny woman actually seeking out a man instead of just accidentally spilling hot chocolate all over him and then accidentally falling in love over the course of rehabilitating a Christmas barn together.

Unfortunately, the whole reason Jess follows Danny into his bar in the first place is because she spotted him outside doing a little ritual we’ve also just seen her do moments before. It is a ritual that can be described only as: eating public snow. After Jess walks out of her apartment, swipes a scoop of snow off a newspaper box, and puts it directly into her mouth for a midnight snack, she spots Danny doing the same thing off of a public mailbox. I’m no Duluthian, but it’s a no thanks and go-brush-your-teeth-right-now from me.

Is there any magic?

After Jess slips away from the bar and leaves Danny with nothing but a signed portrait on a coaster (truly, she’s a grade-A flirter, but also a little emotionally mixed up on account of being a fairly recent widow), he tracks her down on Instagram, finds out she’s a Duluth-famous artist, and asks her to a hockey game for their first date. She agrees, despite not knowing what a zamboni is, and enters an arena that is surely meant for a high school hockey team, where a college hockey team apparently plays, that is also outfitted with a professional hockey–level jumbotron complete with a kiss cam. The magic of cinema! But also, the magic of superstition: After Jess and Danny kiss on the kiss cam and the Bulldogs score a game-winning goal immediately after, it is instantly recognized that only their kisses can propel the Bulldogs to the playoffs. (This incident also results in Jess being called “Pretzel” for most of the rest of the film, which is just a very funny thing to call an adult woman. Try it out this Christmas!)

Does anything tip the scales from G to PG?

There is so much kissing in this movie. So much kissing, in fact, that one might assume it would move beyond kissing at some point. There are montages of kissing and pretzels and hockey so joyful they’ll have you eating snow off of public trash cans, going to the hospital immediately after, and absolutely never getting to second base.

Is there a villain who sows discord?

The villain of this movie, like so many other holiday movies, is the irresponsible use of social media. Danny has a flip phone when we meet him, but after he’s forced to use Instagram to ask Jess out, he … goes a little too deep in her feed. Soon, he’s reading the obituary of her dead fiancé despite the fact that Jess hasn’t even told him she has a dead fiancé yet. And honestly, who hasn’t ended up deep into an obituary or two while doing some pre-date sleuthing? The problem comes when Danny starts manipulating situations with the knowledge he has about Jess’s relationship history that she hasn’t personally given him because she’s still not ready.

Is there a mysterious old man, and does that old man turn out to be Santa?

There is an old man named Uncle Pat who wreaks as much havoc as he repairs, but ultimately, he is the one who slips a hockey ticket into Pretzel’s pocket, leading her to swoop into the kiss cam frame in the final moments of the final Bulldogs game like Michael Vartan in Never Been Kissed and save the relationship and the playoffs right at the buzzer.

Did this movie make me cry?

Maybe it was watching an artist be overwhelmed into creative paralysis by the deadline she brought upon herself at Christmastime, but this movie had me emotional! It also had Pretzel emotional as she worked through wanting to date Danny while also still mourning her fiancé. Luckily, that level of emotion gave her the artistic breakthrough she needed to paint the winter collection she’d promised her gallery, and ultimately, I did cry when an edgy Duluth art collector named Bebe just up and decided to buy all of Jess’s paintings, donating half of the pieces to the local children’s art institution that Jess’s fiancé started before he died. I am absolutely willing to be emotionally pandered to if—and only if—it is by an older woman in a perfect pair of combat boots.

What is the meaning of Christmas, as stated by the film?

This movie is boldly, profusely, unabashedly not even a little bit about Christmas. People are definitely eating snow off of every available surface, but the holidays are hardly mentioned at all. Although, as Bebe tells it: “Without a bit of risk, Jess, what would there be to gain? In art, and in love.” I’m pretty sure, in another movie, Bebe would be Mrs. Claus, so listen up, you pretzels—it’s time to take some artistic risks this holiday season.