It is a pity we have to wait for Christmas for messages like this from movies, but I’m very glad we have them at all. Also, homestead in peril pictures is some of the only times rural Americans are fetishized as objects of desire. The country person is seen as having a deeper connection with the simple power of nature, which always usurps the heart of the latte-sipping city slicker. Here, Haley yearns for a partner who is resourceful enough to build a fire out of nothing, as that means they can take care of you in any situation. It is hard to think of any other genre outside of Westerns that give rural America this kind of narrative standing.
Baker’s screenplay with Julie Anton successfully confounds the viewer by genuinely making it seem impossible that a happy ending is on the horizon. The frustration over Kate and Haley finding their way to each other is delicious and maintained throughout. They seem like they are going to fight each other forever, and Meemaw’s ranch is doomed. Just like how a mystery needs to hide the perpetrator, a Christmas movie needs to hide the solution to the crisis. The humor sometimes borders on corny, especially the running gag about crabs.
“…a holiday hayride for the heart.”
However, Christmas at the Ranch is funny enough and doesn’t overdo the laughs to tamper with the tone of the romance. Allen does a great job of portraying the city mouse. Her perspective on the crisis is understandable but also, as someone who isn’t as happy as she thinks she should be, the actor hits the right balance. Righetti is perfect as the romantic lead, as she can be stern and husky but also has moments of vulnerability. The best scene is when Righetti drops all her guards and shows a childlike joy during the Christmas hayride, wearing a Rudolph nose and singing carols. She may seem as tough as weather-beaten leather, but her heart pumps pure hot chocolate. It is a pleasure seeing Wagner as that sweet matriarch Meemaw, as it is a pleasure chanting “The Bionic Meemaw!” whenever she appears.
The only quibble is that the film fell short of the key requirement for the modern Christmas picture: it didn’t have Christmas in every shot. As these movies are usually glanced at sporadically while wrapping presents and baking cookies, every shot should have some sort of Christmas decoration in the background. The shots shown that are decorated for Christmas are exquisite, due mainly to the rustic edge. There just has to be more of them.
If this seems too much of a demand, please remember that there are directors out there currently helming holiday films who used to make chainsaw hooker movies and have no problem showering a pig with tinsel. If it seems gratuitous, remember that so is the holiday, Christmas movies doubly so. Otherwise, Christmas at the Ranch is a load of fun, a holiday hayride for the heart.
"…it is a pity we have to wait for Christmas for messages like this from movies..."