Let’s face it: when you think Christmas movies, you don’t expect complex plots or expensive sets or even good acting. Most of the time, it’s optimistic to expect the story to make sense, much less follow a cohesive timeline or employ a pair of actors that actually possess a modicum of chemistry. I won’t pretend that Dashing in December is a filmmaking masterpiece when it’s everything that’s come to be expected from the Hallmark-esque assemblage of Christmas romances. Dueling personalities? Check. Big-city beauty comes back to a conveniently perfect, snow-covered, small-town haven for the holidays after not having been home in years? Check. Conveniently placed, conveniently hot love interest working on the family ranch? Check. Dashing in December follows the tried and true outline of a traditional holiday romance, with a less traditional middle-aged gay couple as the film’s romantic focus.
This review of Dashing in December contains some spoilers.
Peter Porte plays New York financier Wyatt Burwall, inevitably forced back home for Christmas, to an obviously gorgeous ranch in the mountains of Colorado. It’s still run by his mother Deb (played by the incomparable Andie MacDowell), who is assisted by Wyatt’s high school ex-girlfriend Blake (Caroline Harris) and Heath (Juan Pablo Di Pace), a sexy, lovable ranch hand with a gentle and sensitive demeanor. Wyatt, of course, hasn’t been home in years, and we quickly learn his contempt of the ranch is because of the lack of funds… seemingly somehow in large part due to the Christmas carriage rides offered during the ranch’s Winter Wonderland attraction being uncharacteristically non-profitable. Later in the movie, we learn that carriage rides are $10 a person and free for children, so I’d personally love to know the extent of the Burwall family bills if this is just now becoming a problem. Wyatt intends to convince his mother to sell the ranch to one of his wealthy buyers to relieve her of what he considers to be a “burden”- which he pitches to her during his first dinner back at home- all but draining Deb of the joy she was feeling over his return as she assumes this is the sole reason for his return home after so long.
We learn that Deb’s old ranch hand Carlos (Carlos Sanz) retired a couple of years earlier, and Deb hired Heath to take care of the ranch since his departure. It’s clear that even though Blake and Wyatt are still very good friends after his extended time away, her presence is in large part to spend time with a lonely Deb. Blake and Heath throw their support fully behind Deb in Wyatt’s endeavor to sell the ranch, especially Heath, who moved into the barn after he was hired.
Wyatt is everything you’d expect from the uptight businessman returning home to his snowy hometown, down to the immediate unlikeability, slightly condescending self-importance, and inexplicable distaste for his gorgeous childhood home. Add to that his borderline standoffish meeting with the charming and affable Heath, creating an instant “enemies (or perhaps “annoyances” is a better word) to friends to lovers” trope, I found myself cheering for him, despite his imperfections.
After spending the first part of the movie picking Wyatt apart for his attitude, it’s revealed that the ranch has actually been losing so much money that Wyatt had taken over the monthly payments and taxes to take the burden off of Deb. We also learn that both Deb and Wyatt are still struggling with the loss of their husband and father, neither of them fully moving forward in a healthy way. It’s caused Wyatt to avoid coming home and Deb to avoid moving forward, Deb clearly never finding the same enjoyment in the ranch after her husband’s death and Wyatt not wanting to confront his old home without his dad.
For Heath, his attachment to the ranch is also very personal, but unlike Wyatt, he wants to fight to hold onto the memories he has there. In one of their talks, Heath reveals to Wyatt that the first time he’d ever visited the ranch was the year his father left their family, and it was the first time since it had happened that his mother seemed to have hope. He continues to say that his mother died three years prior, which we know from his earlier conversations with Deb and Blake was around the same time he came to work and live on the ranch full time. The ranch is Heath’s refuge where he feels close to his mother in spirit.
Without giving away exactly how the end of the story shakes out, I will say along the way is a gorgeous dancing scene between the two men, set to Kacey Musgraves’ “Oh, What a World”, that made me react with an audible awwww, simply due to their taking turns leading. At this moment I decided that I love Wyatt and Heath very much and I will defend them from bad critics’ reviews until the day I die.
Dashing in December is written and directed by Jake Helgren, a veteran of producer of Christmas films. He broke a little from the traditional Christmas rom-com model to produce a gay Christmas rom-com, one of the first of its kind, while also casting an intentionally diverse cast. Porte and Di Pace are openly gay actors; Porte has been married to his partner since October 2018, and Di Pace came out publicly in July of 2019. The inclusion of Caroline Harris as Blake and Carlos Sanz as Carlos felt natural, unlike many films that try too hard to include diversity and ultimately suffer in other areas. The comfortable relationships between all the actors are visible in the characters themselves, giving the film much more heart than I prepared myself for.
Make no mistake- this movie is not a masterpiece, but truly the biggest affront to the quality of the film itself was some nonsensical and choppy editing, cutting off scenes seemingly before they were even finished playing out. And maybe I’m biased because the LGBTQ+ community gets to see so little of themselves represented- even in an admittedly low-brow romantic comedy that are typically more reductive of love and relationships than progressive- that I’m willing to overlook things that, would they have been in a hetero romance, I likely would have cringed at. However for all its shortcomings, a respectable effort was made to create something for the gay community that feels like progress, that feels genuine, that feels like it’s for them. This movie has the good intentions and heart that I think many in the LGBTQ+ community have been waiting to see, and this is only just the beginning.
You can purchase Dashing in December for $2.99 on Prime Video.
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