Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Though there is some reason to speculate that he may have been drunk the whole time, and little doubt that the entire role was filmed in no more than a day or two, the highest-billed male actor in the 2016 TV movie A Christmas in Vermont is none other than the great Clark Griswold himself, Mr. Chevrolet Chase.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is one of the Top 10 greatest Christmas movies ever made, and Chase was brilliant in it, but here we can practically feel his pain and shame as he sleepwalks his way through the Scrooge role of an unfeeling boss planning to shut down a small-town company he owns at Christmastime. If that wasn’t bad enough, the movie also features Scut Farkus (Zack Ward) from A Christmas Story in another thankless supporting role!
Abigail Hawk is pretty and mediocre (exactly what the role demands) as Riley Thomas, a rising star at Bullock & Barnes, the holding company owned by Preston Bullock (Chase, doing his best impression of a guy who hates being in this movie). When the time comes to shut down Outwear, a small company in Vermont he owns, Bullock sends Riley there to basically fire everyone and salvage any scraps she can. If it would surprise you to learn that this big-city gal has her heart melted by the small-town ways of the salt-of-the-earth people she encounters there, then this is the movie for you! You also probably have to be reminded to put your socks and shoes on in that order.
Howard Hesseman is enough of a television veteran to have already had at least two of these TV Christmas movies under his belt before A Christmas in Vermont, and, like Chevy (and even old Scut Farkus), he deserves better than this. Unlike Chevy, he manages to retain a quiet dignity throughout the ordeal, and his deadpan line readings as Outwear founder Nick Harper render sincere dialogue like “I’m very intrigued” witheringly sarcastic. His humble, unobtrusive paycheck-cashing here is the closest thing the movie has to a pure joy to watch, and I found myself frequently rooting for Riley to end up with Nick instead of Wyatt Davis (David O’Donnell), the small-town boy with the perfectly tailored wardrobe and slicked-back hair (you know the type) who serves as her romantic interest instead.
Riley already has a boyfriend back in New York City, the aforementioned Scut Farkus (sorry, Zack, and whatever your character was named in this, Scut Farkus is just too fun to say), but as is the case with the people of New York and big cities in general, he just cannot understand what it means to be a Real Person in the Real America, where “sushi takeout” is an impossible concept and retail professionals call each other via landlines to say things like, “We need to be trending by five p.m. at the latest.” The way corporate environments are portrayed is another unintentional oasis of joy in this wasteland of a movie.
Another minor source of joy is how many of the performances are almost literally phoned in, with a solid 40 to 50 percent of the interactions between characters taking place over the phone (with all the dynamic cinematic intrigue that implies!) and a good chunk of the rest being seated discussions across a table. Why they cut away to a waitress refilling coffee cups several times during one of these scenes, I don’t know, but my guess is she was played by the daughter of one of the producers.
And why was Chevy’s character so obsessed with “tan-colored” milkshakes? Did they think that would be funny? As a survivor of A Christmas in Vermont, it is questions like these that will forever haunt me, along with the plastic surgery nightmare that was the face of Morgan Fairchild in 2016.