Not that any of them are filmed here — they’re almost always filmed elsewhere, often in Canada. They’re generally set in picture-perfect fictional Maine towns, with names like Hampton Meadows, North Bay, and Bedford Harbor. There are a few holiday movies that have actually been filmed here, like “The Preacher’s Wife,” a 1996 film starring Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, and “Holly Star,” a 2018 indie flick, both filmed in Portland. But they’re certainly few and far between.
This year, Lifetime will premiere the Maine-set “Under the Christmas Tree” on Dec. 19, in which a woman finds the perfect Christmas tree to set up for the Maine governor’s holiday celebration, and finds love in the process. In 2019, there was “Nostalgic Christmas,” in which a woman comes home to Maine to her family’s toy shop, and finds love in the process. Last year, Lifetime premiered “A Sugar and Spice Christmas,” in which a woman comes home to Maine to compete in a gingerbread bake-off, and — you guessed it — finds love in the process.
Cookie-cutter plots aside, the question is: Why set these movies in Maine?
The answer is probably for all the reasons a lot of people like to visit here: our stunning coastal vistas, the charming quaintness of our small towns, our down-to-earth, good-natured people. That fact that we’re a bit off the beaten paths from the big cities where the harried businesswoman protagonists of these films all live probably helps, too.
The real Maine may be one that lies just beneath the polished, tourist-friendly exterior. But it’s still the ideal backdrop for a sugary-sweet, wholly unrealistic daydream of holiday cheer and meeting Mr. Right, be he burly woodsman, sexy carpenter, charming barista or handsome lobsterman.
Orono resident Mary Cady’s TV tastes generally lean more toward college sports, but when she and her husband were stuck inside during the early days of the pandemic, she started watching Hallmark movies as a pleasant, soothing distraction while she sat on the couch and crocheted. Not that she doesn’t end up noticing the myriad inaccuracies about Maine in most movies, like mispronounced place names and towns that look like they belong in California more than Waldo County.
“I also find it amusing when in towns that are supposed to be in really cold climates, women aren’t wearing warm winter clothes, and are wearing high heels in the snow,” she said. “What real Maine woman wouldn’t be wearing warm winter boots? And we all know heels and snow and ice don’t mix.”
Another movie, which premieres on Saturday on Comedy Central, also takes place in Maine, but parodies the well-worn cliches of the holiday movie. “A Clusterfunke Christmas,” starring “Saturday Night Live” alums Ana Gasteyer and Rachel Dratch, is set in a northern Maine village called Yuletown, where a very busy businesswoman wants to turn the town’s quaint family inn into a mega resort. A hunky lumberjack is vehemently opposed to the idea, and…you can see where this is going.
In this case, the movie’s writers are well aware of the standard holiday movie tropes. They also clearly love them, however, from the meet-cutes to the sappy endings. These movies could use a little good-natured mockery — though who can blame anyone for wanting a little holiday escapism in this day and age?
“Action, scary, horror, and life-threatening movies get a little old after a while,” said Cady. “One just needs a light-hearted feel-good movie sometimes.”