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25 Days of Bingemas, Day 20: ‘Sweet Navidad’

Two soap opera veterans must come together to make hot, delicious, Christmas magic. (We’re talking about a big dinner to save the holidays, not sex. This movie aired on Lifetime.)

Getty Images/Lifetime/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 20th day of Bingemas, we turn our cheerful spirits to …

What are we watching? Sweet Navidad

Where are we watching it? Lifetime

Why are we watching it? Because Puerto Rican pastry chef Carmen just landed her dream Christmas gig alongside perfectionist executive chef Jax, and the holiday spirit may be the only thing that can help these two get the job done.

How many Vanessa Hudgenses are in this?

There are no Vanessa Hudgenses in this movie, but everyone is great, perhaps due to their immense training in the soap-opera arts. Mark Hapka, who plays Jax, has starred in 204 episodes of Days of Our Lives, and Camila Banus, who plays Carmen, has been in—ahem—1,805 episodes of Days of Our Lives.

How believable are the lead characters’ ostensible careers?

Everybody in this movie is a chef. If they’re not a professional chef, they’re a passionate cook. One guy has a pair of tongs in his hands throughout the entire movie just in case the opportunity to barbecue arises. But our featured chefs are Carmen, who works in her friend Sue’s cafe as the pastry chef, and Jax, who is an executive chef with enough renown that when he walks into a room full of other chefs (yes, more chefs!) everyone gets all pouty, like, “How are we supposed to go up against THIS GUY?”

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”?

Jax bumps into Carmen and quite literally makes her drop her cookies. But it’s OK because she has more cookies in a Ziploc inside her coat, because she’s just that kind of adorable. Cookies-in-her-coat adorable.

Say, are these two opposites?

Oh, you betcha. Carmen is an amateur pastry chef who bakes with love. That means that when we first see her baking, she is dancing and singing and twisting around with such vigor I thought she might flutter away into a lit fireplace. Carmen exclusively holds bowls in the crook of her arm while mixing like a Disney princess because that’s what it means to bake with passion. (Spoiler alert for the rest of the movie: It is also a sign of inefficiency.)

After two of Carmen’s regular customers who own a fancy hotel insist that she apply to be one of the chefs at their very important Christmas gala, Carmen is thrown into a world of stuffy chefs wearing crisp white chef’s coats, the crispest and stuffiest of whom is Jax. He’s not actually that stuffy, though! Carmen is maybe just that untrained. Which is fine! But I don’t think we need to act like Jax wanting to, uh, write down a menu for a big party that can make or break their careers means that he doesn’t have passion for his food. Because ultimately, Carmen and Jax are appointed as the pastry chef and the executive chef, respectively, which the hotel owners spend no less than 10 minutes explaining are equal positions in their kitchen. And that means these two are going to have to learn how to work together (while trying not to bone on top of the convection oven).

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

We know from some random B-roll that this movie takes place in Portland, Oregon, but my favorite setting is the 12-by-12-foot Christmas market where Jax and Carmen happen upon exactly what they need exactly when they need it to support their rapid bonding. After Jax buys Carmen a hot chocolate, he tells her he’s never had authentic Puerto Rican food, and she coyly tells him, “You just have to know where to look,” and drags him away like she’s about to take him somewhere only she would know about. They walk—I kid you not—four feet over to the next table at the market, where she tells Jax that these are the best empanadas in town. Portland: where you didn’t notice you were straight-up sitting on top of an empanada table, perhaps because it’s 8 o’clock in the morning.

Is there any singing/crafting/baking/blogging?

Obviously there is so much baking in this movie. And the baking looks great. It’s the actual dinner these two are planning that’s impossible to figure out. First, there’s the fact that Carmen outright refuses to make any lists, which might be why she ultimately forgets to order groceries for their final meal. (There really are some things love can’t do, babe—and one of them is buy all-purpose flour in bulk.) The other issue is that Jax and Carmen spend the entire movie learning how to work and cook together, and while we’re told that the dishes they’re making aren’t quite right, we never learn what it is they’re making. We just know it involves a ton of pastry. Right down to the final dinner, we have no idea what these two cooked together, but I guess because they finally started wanting to bone on the industrial sink things finally started to taste OK.

Did this movie make me cry?

When Carmen arrives to cook their final meal for the gala, she finds Jax waiting with a gift. I started welling up the moment I realized his gift would be her very own chef’s coat, and when it was revealed to be a festive red chef’s coat, I legitimately shed a tear.

Did this movie make me cry?

Hello, yes, me again—because this paint-by-numbers Lifetime movie made me cry twice in rapid succession. And sure, it’s the 20th Day of Bingemas, but I can’t even blame that. As much as we do not understand what the hell kind of menu these two are making at any given point, part of that is because they really do spend quite a bit of time getting to know each other. Instead of saying actual names of foods out loud or ordering ingredients for the meal their jobs both depend on, Carmen and Jax just chit-chat about their childhoods. They’re bad at their jobs, yes, but they are falling in love, so when Carmen gives Jax a gift of his own—a gingerbread house kit, like he used to make with his grandmother—I cried one final time before our seven-pastry dinner.

Are there inn-related hijinks?

Holiday movies where the characters have to pull off a big event together are a tough sell because, eventually, this Lifetime movie with a shoestring budget is going to have to create an event that looks like “everyone who’s anyone” would be there. In Portland, it seems that everyone who’s anyone are the 14 people who fill out this Christmas party that is allegedly full of industry professionals, and one of those industry professionals actively tucks a napkin into his shirt. In Portland, it also seems that there are no place settings, no glasses, no one over the age of 25, and all of the courses are just … put down on the table at once.

But by the time the attendees have eaten all their pastries and untucked all their bibs, the hotel owners are telling Carmen and Jax that dozens of restaurant investors have inquired with them about the chefs—the chefs who are now making out on top of the kitchen Christmas tree, one of many safety hazards throughout this movie. And isn’t that just a sweet Navidad (not to be confused with an executive Navidad, with which it is notoriously equal)?