Jenn Lilley outside publishing business hallmark

Image: Shane Mahood/©2019 Crown Media United States, LLC

Days of our Lives star’s inspirational holiday movie.

While we haven’t seen Jen Lilley on Days of our Lives as Theresa Donovan since July 2018, she is still mentioned and is raising Brady Black’s (Eric Martsolf) son, Tate, offscreen. In the meantime, Soaps.com readers have cheered watching Lilley grow her beautiful family and appear in projects outside of daytime. This weekend her Hallmark Christmas movie Angel Falls: A Novel Holiday aired amid a Hallmark controversy surrounding a diverse advertisement. I settled in with a glass of Irish cream liquor on the rocks to play the Hallmark Christmas drinking game and take in the movie, in which Lilley plays Hannah Pressman, an editor who lost out on her dream job to Ryan (Carlo Marks) after college and finds herself dealing with him once again upon returning to her hometown near holiday time. The two find their lives intertwining after he returns to settle his late parents’ estate and accepts a consulting position at her family’s publishing firm. Along the way they make the acquaintance of a bestselling author, Tina Finnegan (Rachel Crawford) who is also dealing with loss, and an angelic man named Anthony (Eric Close; Sawyer Walker, Santa Barbara).

Five charming and surprising moments

A reader’s dream

As an avid reader and a writer, the movie’s publishing theme and surrounding talk of what sort of books sold well, and what type of books the main characters preferred to read, was very appealing. Not only could I relate to Hannah’s love of fiction, but it made her enthusiasm about one of her favorite authors feel contagious. I also enjoyed seeing the overflowing bookshelves in Hannah’s home and hearing the main characters banter about ideas related to the publishing business. All-in-all a nice change from a tech firm, start-up, or candy factory.

More: Top 5 moments, Hallmark’s Holiday for Heroes

A story within a story

Tina’s book about a soldier making it home for the holidays is a theme close to many hearts at this time of year and worked well as a tie-in to her memories of her late husband and the reason she had lost her Christmas spirit and her passion for writing. Tina’s story was as poignant and interesting as that of Hannah and Ryan and provided a bit of mystery as it took some time to be revealed that her husband, Laurence, had died six months previously, had lived in Angel Falls, and was the inspiration for the heroes in her best-selling books. Her story added a great deal to the movie; when it became clear that she was starting to feel she might write another book after all, it was almost as exciting as the movie’s romance coming together.

Single and ready to mingle

Neither of the main characters was already in an ‘unsuitable’ relationship or had an annoying ex hanging around, as is so often the case in Hallmark movies. Hannah and Ryan were both single, which brought discussion about what it was like to be unattached during the holidays. Also, though Hannah held a bit of a grudge against Ryan from their college days, it wasn’t over-the-top dislike and they enjoyed a nice teasing sort of vibe that felt more realistic to me than contrived conflict.

Switching things up

Jen Lilley was perfect as smart, down-to-Earth Hannah, and I could relate to many things about her, but most notably she was a change of pace from the often-devious Theresa on Days of our Lives, which is the character I was used to seeing the actress play. Additionally, I absolutely enjoyed seeing Eric Close as the wise and serene ‘angel’ Anthony. I was familiar with the actor from the soapy primetime series Nashville, where he played scheming Teddy Conrad, who, though a loving father, was a hothead and far from an angel. It was fun to these actors playing different roles.

Christmas magic

When all the pedestrians froze on the bustling sidewalk near the beginning so Anthony could touch base with his angelic supervisor regarding his assignment in Angel Falls, I realized this magical element was one I hadn’t seen in a Hallmark movie. While a lot of the character’s ‘magic’ came in the form of gestures, suggestions, and wisdom about wishes and memories, his guidance played an important part in the film, added a layer, and was a welcome change from the usual ‘best friend’ as a sounding board and/or advisor. The only downside was that, at times, Anthony came across as more therapist than angel. His observations at the end, delivered while the main characters finally shared a kiss, put a smile on my face – I loved this aspect of the movie.

More: Top 5 moments, Hallmark’s Two Turtle Doves

Christmas movie clichés present

In Angel Falls: A Novel Holiday, an angel arrived to restore lost holiday spirit, and one of the main characters gave a reading of The Night Before Christmas. The romantic leads dressed up as Christmas characters for the community, and later went to get a real Christmas tree to take to someone in need of some festive spirit. The main characters took a sleigh ride during which they’re mistaken as being ‘lovebirds’. There were a few Hallmark clichés too – a character reluctantly had to stay in their hometown, the romantic leads were forced to work together, and a character who wanted to return to the big city got a job offer, then realized it was not what they truly wanted.

Drink up!

Angel Falls: A Novel Holiday may have been based on the Hallmark Christmas drinking game. I had to take teeny sips of my drink, not shots, and it still didn’t last until the end. Within the first 15 minutes, there were two characters played by actors from soaps, Days of our Lives Jen Lilley and Santa Barbara’s Eric Close. The film opened with a tree lighting, and a main character’s deceased parents were mentioned a bunch of times. They baked Christmas cookies (and burnt them, so there was another round of cookie baking to follow), and they also decorated wreaths, so I counted that as a sip. Ryan did offer to buy Hannah a hot chocolate, so that was a half-sip, and they later actually drank some at her place. Ryan came from the big city back to his hometown, both main characters went ice skating with their best friends, and later there was caroling. Though none of the characters had a Christmas-themed name, there was an actual angel, so that was good for another half-sip. There was a misunderstanding between Ryan and Hannah about him taking her dream job – yet another sip. I also drank when they were about to share their first kiss and got interrupted by Santa. Later, there was a second misunderstanding when Hannah believed Ryan had decided to leave town. In the end, Tina, the character who had lost her Christmas spirit due to the death of her husband, found it again, and Ryan and Hannah shared a kiss. I’d have finished my drink at that point, but it was long gone!

Ornament rating

The story within a story and the angel’s magic truly added interest and layers to this charming Hallmark Christmas movie. I loved the idyllic small-town setting, the traditional Christmas decorations and activities, and the realistic interaction between the romantic leads. Watching Tina gradually find a renewed sense of Christmas spirit was uplifting and inspiring. That said, I didn’t feel as much chemistry between Hannah and Ryan as I’d have liked; I was more caught up in Tina’s story and Hannah’s decision to take a leap at the publishing house, so for that reason, I gave it 4 out of 5 Christmas ornaments.