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 16th day of Bingemas, we turn our cheerful spirits to …
What are we watching?
A New Orleans Noel.
Where are we watching it?
Why are we watching it?
Because, thanks to some family meddling and Christmas magic, Grace and her former college crush Anthony have both been hired for the same job: renovating the historic New Orleans home of a praline magnate who just so happens to be Anthony’s grandmother.
Vanessa Hudgenses? I do not know them. Because there is only one thing you need to know about this movie: It stars Patti LaBelle. And not, like, a stunt casting Patti LaBelle cameo. Patti LaBelle stars in this movie; she has a love interest and that love interest is TIM REID, television father of Tia and Tamera. This movie also features beloved child star Keshia Knight Pulliam as Grace, which would certainly be the headline if not for the fact that Patti LaBelle is in this movie. I can’t even focus on the fact that Brad James from my favorite filthy teen drama Outer Banks is in this movie, because Patti LaBelle is in this movie. And for the record—she’s great.
Are there any fake towns, or perhaps a whole fake country?
The other star of this movie is New Orleans. Does Lifetime shoot New Orleans through the artistic lens you might want to view one of the most culturally rich cities in the United States? No it does not … perhaps because it was mostly shot in Mississippi. But the characters do at least talk about their love of New Orleans a lot, and they also talk about their love of Christmas a lot, a surprisingly rare attribute in this year’s holiday haul.
How believable are the lead characters’ ostensible careers?
A quick check of my meticulous records tells me that on the 16th Day of Bingemas, Lifetime gave to us our third lady-architect in a 2022 original holiday movie. I specify lady-architect because Grace also marks the third time that we’ve met a high-performing, jet-setting female architect who, by movie’s end, has decided to alter everything about her career in order to stay in the town where her new boyfriend lives. And, I’ll tell ya—I don’t love the trend! It almost seems like the respective hotel manager, contractor-baker, and bro-architect could alter their careers to adapt to their girlfriends’ clearly cooler careers instead?
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”?
Some huge news that I found out while writing this cheat sheet, and never would have guessed while watching this movie: the leads, Keshia Knight Pulliam and Brad James, are married. In real life! I didn’t notice whether they had real-life-level chemistry because I couldn’t pay attention to anything other than the fact that Patti LaBelle was macking on limousine entrepreneur Ray Campell. LaBelle plays praline mogul Miss Loretta (based on real-life confectionery icon Loretta Harrison), who hires Grace to renovate her historic home but doesn’t tell her she’s also asked her architect grandson to collaborate on the project because she happens to know that they had a crush on each other in college. As a story line, it’s fine! But it takes all this manipulation of circumstances and multiple 12-hour outings together, and it’s still hard for these two to figure out their feelings for each other. Whereas Marcel Lirette walks into Miss Loretta’s praline shop wearing a Kangol hat and a giant fleur de lis pendant, tells her he’s back in town reacquainting with old friends, and she tells him to come back to her house and sample her gumbo, and yes she does mean it like that. Is this how older people date? Because this is how all holiday movies should work.
Is there a building in disrepair, or a business facing financial ruin?
Let’s get one thing straight: Miss Loretta’s praline shop is thriving. Oftentimes we just see Patti LaBelle at the register, counting cash while men come and throw themselves at her feet. But in addition to the house renovation, Anthony dreams of modernizing the outdated praline shop. For some reason, it’s suggested that in order to prove to Loretta that he respects the old traditions, Anthony—an architect—needs to figure out her secret praline recipe before Christmas.
Is there any magic?
And you’re never gonna believe this—ultimately, the ingredient he’s been missing is love.
Actually, Miss Loretta says it’s salt. But it is definitely love, and I’m sure it’s also salt because Anthony does not know how to bake at all. At one point, he hands someone one of his attempts at praline and says, “Does it need more water?” My guy! I’m no chef, but that’s (1) not an ingredient in pralines, and (2) definitely not an ingredient you can taste the amount of in pralines.
Both of Grace’s parents died in an accident shortly after she graduated from college, and it seems that she’s been keeping her personal circle pretty small ever since. She finds the immediate embrace of Anthony’s family overwhelming and keeps fleeing group events she’s been invited to without explanation. But they don’t care: Anthony’s family is working so hard to bring her into the fold from the very beginning that I was starting to suspect cult stuff again.
How modest are the wardrobe choices?
I’m pretty sure Patti LaBelle and Keshia Knight Pulliam made the wise choice to outfit themselves in this movie, because LaBelle is always positively dripping in decadent fabrics and at one point I’m pretty sure Pulliam was wearing Louboutin boots, which are definitely not in the Lifetime budget (at least not when Patti LaBelle is also in the budget).
Is there a mysterious old man, and does that old man turn out to be Santa?
I will give it to you straight: The plot of this movie is all over the place. It hints at stakes and then immediately backs away. There is an entire story line about how Anthony has to pick up his brother’s wife—a Marine stationed in Turkey—from the airport in order to surprise his niece Jordan at the big Christmas party, and Anthony just forgets, but no one ever gets mad at him about it. Anthony’s ultimate confession of love to Grace is then set up in a letter to Santa because their friend’s company is apparently donating a dollar for every Santa letter the adults at her party write. (Why would a company do that??) But then Anthony just gives the letter directly to Grace, not only taking Santa out of the equation but also depriving a vague charity of a vague dollar. How about you set a few calendar reminders and respect the magic of Christmas next year, bud?
Does anyone almost kiss only to be interrupted?
Grace and Anthony are interrupted while under the mistletoe, but it is by a second line, so seeing as it’s New Orleans, I will let this one slide.
Did this movie make me cry?
The moment Anthony and his brother started talking about surprising Jordan with her mother’s return from another country, I started anticipating getting emotional. To this day, Valentine’s Day is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in a theater, but I still burst into tears when it was unexpectedly revealed that Julia Roberts’s character was an Army captain returning home to her son. I’m an easy mark, and yet … Anthony leaving his sister-in-law to fend for herself and roll up to her family’s party in a cab kind of undercut that moment. Instead, I cried at the very end when Anthony ultimately redeemed himself by calling back to a story he told Grace in the first act about a New Orleans man who won over his bride by filling a streetcar with the thing she loved most: animals. So, after Grace flees yet another party, fearing she won’t be able to fit into his big, loving family, Anthony pulls up to her in a streetcar full of the one thing we all love most at Christmas time: Patti LaBelle.