I should preface this by stating that I am, in fact, a Lifetime newbie. I have never seen a single Lifetime movie, and I understand that these films have a very established fan-base; one that is ardent in their love of the Christmas movies in particular. These aren’t things I’ve actively avoided, but somehow Lifetime movies have just slipped beyond my radar. I decided to change that, and with that decision I made the active effort to seek out a Lifetime Christmas movie to christen my eyeballs.
That’s where A Picture Perfect Holiday comes in. I saw it advertised on Instagram and was immediately interested based solely on the cast, growing up loving Tatyana Ali in Fresh Prince, and recently having seen Henderson Wade in The CW’s Walker. A Picture Perfect Holiday premiered on November 13, 2021 on the Lifetime network, and I’m here to showcase my (admittedly somewhat spoilery) thoughts on this film. The good, the bad, and the tropey.
When the film opened, I was genuinely surprised by the quality. I’m not sure how my opinion on Lifetime movies had initially formed, where I assumed they were all filmed with a Vaseline covered camcorder from the 80s, but I was pleasantly proven wrong. And the movie even begins with a shot of Tatyana Ali’s character Gaby shooting some photos of a very attractive shirtless man. Consider my interest piqued.
We learn through clever exposition that Gaby is a freelance fashion photographer for Style Source magazine, and her main motivation is to become a full-time employee. She even approaches her boss (I assume) Leila, asking how she can earn the position, to which Leila responds that Gaby needs to work on adding “warmth” to her photographs. The only logical way to do so would be to send Gaby on a Christmas themed photography retreat in the rocky mountains, naturally.
With my limited knowledge of Lifetime movies, I had always heard that they tend to follow a particular set of cliché plot points, so it wasn’t surprising to learn that Gaby hated Christmas. I assumed she’d go to the retreat and learn to love Christmas through wacky shenanigans with a hot guy (Henderson Wade, specifically), and I was correct.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with clichés, I actually happen to love a lot of the commonly used tropes in these sort of movies. I’m a rom-com fan, so I was expecting to enjoy watching it all transpire even with the predictability. I was also correct about this. Maybe this review is just my excuse to prove how I’m right about everything?
Gaby had to call someone to rent a cabin for the retreat and, of course, there was a mix up that resulted in her solo cabin having been rented by Henderson Wade’s character Sean. We learn this when she arrives at her cabin, only to be greeted by Sean in a towel. Ten minutes in and we’re shown two shirtless men already. I can understand why these movies tend to attract an avid female audience.
Wouldn’t you know it, Sean is also the world’s biggest fan of Christmas. He went as far as going to a five-day retreat with multiple pairs of Christmas themed pajamas, all of which I wish I had in my own wardrobe. So the two leads are off to a rocky start, cementing that “hate to love” dynamic that I personally enjoy in every form of media. I’m easy to please, what can I say?
Tragically, they’re both stuck with no other options for lodging, meaning they have to share the cabin together. And there was only one bed. Sean sticks to the sofa though, ruining any antics that could’ve unfolded over maneuvering this mattress-sized plot device.
Sean and Gaby clash immediately, with his preference for film cameras and her love of digital, not to mention his previously mentioned passion for the holiday season. It further complicates things when they join other photographers doing the retreat, with Sean cementing himself inside Gaby’s group for the entirety of their time there.
The bright side? We meet Dani and Amelia, a queer couple that I immediately wished had a romantic Lifetime movie of their own. They’re just so incredibly cute and distracting that I forgot what I was watching for a minute. They even get their own side-plot of Dani and Amelia each planning to propose to the other, with Sean and Gaby assisting them in finding the perfect way to propose. Tell me that isn’t a perfect opportunity for a movie about Dani and Amelia! It practically writes itself!
I could go on and ruin the entire movie for you, but I think people should experience the story unfolding for the first time by actually giving it a watch. Tatyana Ali and Henderson Wade have amazing chemistry, and watching them fall for each other is absolutely charming as heck. Though the movie is sometimes formulaic and lacks any significant third act conflict, it’s a fun romp through small town Christmas festivities that will warm the hearts of any Christmas lover. You should definitely give it a watch, even if you’re new to Lifetime movies like I am.
Now excuse me as I try to track down a pair of those Santa pajamas.