It’s Hanukkah time at Hallmark, so everyone must wear blue. (Photo/Courtesy Hallmark)
It’s Hanukkah time at Hallmark, so everyone must wear blue. (Photo/Courtesy Hallmark)

‘Round and Round’: Hallmark’s new Hanukkah movie makes fun of Hallmark holiday movies

This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.

Hallmark’s holiday movies are famous for their predictability. Big city girl goes back to small hometown, falls in love with small-town boy over the magic of Christmas, leaves promising but ultimately unfulfilling career (and, often, smarmy boyfriend) for wholesome all-American love story.

Perhaps the years of formulaic movies were actually setting the stage for Hallmark to disrupt its own narrative in an actually-pretty-clever way. Or maybe they’re only able to do that when it’s Jews, and the movie is Hallmark’s once-a-year Hanukkah installment. Either way, “Round and Round,” Hallmark’s newest Hanukkah movie and an absolutely blatant rip-off of “Groundhog Day,” manages to be pretty fun.

On the surface, the movie has all the basic Hallmark ingredients: the big city girl (Rachel, an assistant editor at a publishing house who lives in Brooklyn), the smarmy boyfriend (a biology professor at Columbia) and the small-town boy, an art teacher named Zach.

Rachel (Vic Michaelis) goes home (to Montclair, New Jersey — not exactly known for being an all-American small town) for her parents’ annual anniversary party, held on the seventh day of Hanukkah. Her grandmother introduces her to Zach (Bryan Greenberg), who teaches at her Jewish senior center, her parents crack some bad Jewish jokes and they all light the Hanukkah candles. And then she does it again. And again. And again.

To its credit, “Round and Round” embraces its role as cheesy “Groundhog Day” copy, and, in fact, takes a stab at transcending the genre. Early on, the characters say the situation is just like “Groundhog Day,” even deciding which characters they are. In a meta twist, Zach points out that in most time loop stories, the main character has some major moment of personal growth to end the loop, so Rachel probably needs to make some personal change. 

They know the formula just as much as the viewers do. For the rest of the movie, Rachel and her various sidekicks attempt to figure out which big personal change — Boyfriend? Career? — she needs to make.  As is the case in any Hallmark movie, the fun of it is not in what happens, but the specific details of how they get there.

I don’t mean to imply that the movie is groundbreaking. Like many Hallmark Jewish movies, it struggles a bit with, well, the Jewish part. There’s still the required clumsy explanation of each and every Jewish reference — that sufganiyot are jelly donuts, that chai is a lucky number. There’s a train station musician who sings a song with the lyrics, “Hanukkah is my favorite time of year/ Just because I’m Jewish doesn’t mean I can’t spread some holiday cheer” which feels, to me, mildly offensive. Though there is also a solid 92 St. Y reference, so points for that.

But overall, “Round and Round” is a little more than I expected from a Hallmark holiday flick. Rachel’s sister is married to a woman and they have kids and it’s all totally normal and not commented upon, which is pretty groundbreaking for the usual Hallmark conservative aesthetic. There are unexpectedly goofy side romps throughout the time loops, several involving Dungeons and Dragons and a comic book store, as well as one involving a really egregious New Jersey accent. And the entire time loop is — in ways I won’t explain, to avoid spoiling it to whatever extent you can spoil a Hallmark movie — tied to a meddling Jewish grandmother who just wants her grandkids to hurry up and get married, which is a pretty fun way to take on an overdone Jewish archetype.

All in all, the movie seems to take itself the right amount of seriously — which is to say, not very. It jokingly acknowledges its cheesiness, which means that it actually achieves its goals of wholesome sweetness without being cloying or, at least mostly, cringe.

“Round and Round” will premiere on the Hallmark Channel on Dec. 10 at 5 p.m. PT.

This article was originally published on the Forward.

Mira Fox
Mira Fox

Mira Fox is a reporter at the Forward. Get in touch at [email protected] or on Twitter @miraefox.