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25 Days of Bingemas, Day 4: ‘Holiday Harmony’

In a film obviously sponsored by iHeartRadio (and maybe Coldplay?), a singer finds herself—and love—in a small Oklahoma town

Getty Images/HBO Max/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; its 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 the 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 fourth day of Bingemas, we turn our cheerful spirits to…

What are we watching?

Holiday Harmony.

Where are we watching it?

HBO Max.

Why are we watching it?

Because, per HBO Max, “A likable and talented underdog gets momentarily sidelined from chasing her musical dreams when her van breaks down in a welcoming small town just before Christmas.”

How many Vanessa Hudgenses are in this?

Zero Vanessa Hudgenses star, but one Jeremy Sumpter—a.k.a. 2003 Peter Pan and the actor responsible for an entire generation of romantic awakenings—does star, though he’s practically unrecognizable under a pile of Carhartt jackets. You’re less likely to be reminded of the boy with a wee lisp who once offered Wendy an acorn off his little costume, and much more likely to keep thinking, At certain angles, this person looks eerily like Armie Hammer.

How believable are the lead characters’ ostensible careers?

Gail is a struggling singer (but not a songwriter, and please don’t ask) who’s assisted by a mechanic, Jeremy, after she crashes her van outside an Oklahoma farm two weeks before Christmas. But honestly, who cares about Gail and Jeremy? Because if New York is the fifth character in Sex and the City, then this movie has a third lead and she goes by the name of iHeartRadio. From coast to coast, sea to shining sea, everyone knows about iHeartRadio in this movie, and immediately praises its virtues as a musical institution capable of making and breaking careers. Jeremy Sumpter is doing full Jackson Maine cosplay here (it’s good!) and the writers still ask him to say, “You mentioned something about iHeart earlier?” I’m sorry, this mechanic is on a first-name basis with iHeartRadio? (Brooke Shields is also in this movie, also doing a very good Jackson Maine impression.)

Is there a building in disrepair, or a business facing financial ruin?

After crashing her van, Gail is facing all kinds of ruin. You see, she is one of five artists who’s been selected as an opening act for iHeartRadio’s Christmas Eve Special, “plus a spot on tour and a three-year contract.” Whose tour, you ask? Contract with whom? Don’t know! Could be anyone’s! But Gail has to make it to L.A. by Christmas Eve to find out, because apparently, after the opening performances, iHeartRadio will “pair us with the right fit.” In this world, I guess, iHeartRadio is in charge of all touring musicians and simply assigns their opening acts. And now, opening for Korn, here’s Gail Travers!

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”?

Jeremy is a little mean to Gail when he first meets her for reasons that are later explained, but Gail is a little mean to everyone in Harmony Springs when literally all they do is help her and give her stuff for free so that she can make it to her iHeartRadio performance and get a record deal. The only thing Jeremy asks Gail to pay for are the repairs on her van, and she acts like that is the rudest thing anyone has ever done. When Jeremy then procures a bike for her to ride around town on, a private place for her to live, a way for her to get her damaged cell phone replaced, and a job teaching the music program at the local middle school for $2,000 in two weeks so she can pay for the repairs on her van, Gail seems to feel that is merely an appropriate and measured reaction to her arrival in town.

Say, are these two opposites?

They are opposites in the sense that Jeremy is a gruff person who’s actually very kind and Gail is an upbeat person who doesn’t intentionally (or without the promise of $2,000) do anything for anyone for this entire movie. But she does stay singing for her supper, and you know what they say: Talent will get you everywhere, so long as “everywhere” is an iHeartRadio-sanctioned opening act on the Insane Clown Posse stadium tour.

Is there any singing/crafting/baking/blogging?

There is, of course, singing, but there’s also a lot of vlogging early on in the movie, which consists of Gail going live on Instagram while driving.

Is there a child wise beyond his/her years?

There are so many wise children! Once Gail begrudgingly accepts the position of public school music teacher, things get very School of Rock, right down to the know-it-all stage manager and the painfully shy little girl who can belt it out better than any number of iHeartRadio’s opening acts. All of this talent—concentrated in a miniscule pocket of Oklahoma—is being put toward … winning the town’s holiday gala? Which features … a cash prize for the best middle school performance?

Who’s dead?

Oh no. Poor Jeremy! His brother died and he blames himself. He also blames [checks notes] big cities, social media, and, I think, Coldplay. As he and Gail begin falling for each other, he unravels a story that hits every plot peg on the way down: He pushed his brother too hard to pursue his music dreams in the big city (that’s why he hates the big city), and while they were at a big city party, Jeremy let his exhausted brother leave alone because he wanted to stay to see Coldplay (that’s why he hates fame) and get a picture with them to impress a girl (that’s why he hates social media), and because of those circumstances—and definitely because of Coldplay—his brother fell asleep at the wheel while driving. (I wonder why they can directly refer to Coldplay in this instance, but not just say that Gail’s iHeartRadio prize would be opening for Coldplay. Do they think we’d expect to see Annelise Cepero opening for Coldplay in the future?)

Is there any magic?

While Jeremy repairs Gail’s van, he lets her stay in a trailer his family owns, which she later discovers was his brother’s music studio and credits as the reason she’s able to write original songs inside it, even though she’s never been able to do that before. I would also credit the “HBO music supervision budget” as the “magical” reason Gail’s song is actually really catchy.

Does anything tip the scales from G to PG?

This is HBO, so Gail does invite Jeremy into her van for an unseen, sparsely clothed activity the night before she’s supposed to leave town. But when Jeremy discovers her diary with a “stay/go” list, including his name in the reasons to stay, he straight up Old Yellers her into the arms of iHeartRadio—which, unfortunately, puts her in exaggerated makeup and a Party City wig despite Annelise Cepero having the most beautiful curly hair I’ve ever seen.

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

There is no old man, but I would wager to say the two iHeartRadio DJs who keep popping out of the woodwork to help Gail are, at minimum, Christmas elves. After paying for Gail to fly back to Harmony Springs early to see the kids’ Christmas gala, they also arrange to stream her gala performance into the Christmas Eve special so that—if the movie’s closing montage is anything to go by—Gail can ultimately maintain a dual career as a successful pop star and Oklahoma middle school music teacher.

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

After Jeremy confesses that he pushed Gail away because he didn’t want to ruin Gail’s dream like he did his brother’s, Gail says that he made her realize that she “just needed someone to write songs about.” The meaning of Christmas is finding your muse and getting one over on iHeartRadio.