Love On Ice: A Different Kind of Hallmark Movie
Let me tell you a secret about Love On Ice: I almost didn’t watch it. The synopsis and promos didn’t strike my fancy. I do still usually give Hallmark movies a try, even if the premise doesn’t strike my fancy, but I forgot to set the DVR to record it during the Saturday premiere (I’m usually wrangling my 12 nieces & nephews on Saturday nights). Then on Sunday I was laying low, nursing a cold, and caught the encore broadcast. It’s now one of my Top 5 Hallmark Movies.
In Love On Ice, the first of Hallmark’s 2017 Winterfest original movies, Emily James (Julie Berman), a former Olympic figure skating hopeful who walked away from it all, now waits tables and teaches young kids to skate at the local rink. When former student Nikki (Anna Golja) begins training for Midwest Regionals with energetic (and handsome) coach Spencer Patterson (Andrew W. Walker), Emily begins to wonder “What if…?” when Spencer suggests Emily still has what it takes.
The synopsis above paints a fairly generic picture, but after watching the movie, it suddenly stands out as an anomaly for a Hallmark movie. Read that synopsis again. Aside from the mention of the “handsome” coach and the regrettable title, there isn’t even a whiff of romance. And guess what, Love On Ice isn’t about romantic love. At least that’s not the main focus.
Instead the movie centers on a woman healing from the simultaneous loss of a parent and a professional dream, content to stay on the fringes of life. Yes, Emily is a victim of Hallmark’s chronic dead parent trope, but thanks to a light touch in the script (by Matthew Coppola) and a deft performance by Julie Berman, Emily’s loss is less melodrama and more character building. We’re told by others that Emily chose her sick mother over her Olympic dreams, but Emily is never a martyr. One of my favorite moments in this movie is when Emily tells her former coach that of course she chose her mother over skating. There is a quiet fierceness, an authenticity in that moment that strips away any melodrama.
We’re also shown, repeatedly, how physically strenuous professional ice skating is. The bulk of the movie takes place either on the rink or during various workouts. We see both Emily and Nikki on the ice, practicing routines and skills over and over, while the dialogue advances the story. We see them lifting weights. We see them out jogging. We hear coaches saying, “Do it again.” These women are no weaklings; they are athletes and we believe it when we’re told that Nikki is one of the best young skaters around and the Emily had a real shot at an Olympic medal. These women work hard, and there are no apologies for it. No attempts to “feminize” their efforts or give them some twee hobby to “balance” their ambition.
One of my favorite sites is Lainey Gossip. Owner Elaine “Lainey” Liu approaches gossip from a more academic angle than most. She studies celebrities and the celebrity ecosystem. She examines, and often exposes, the work that goes into being an A-list celebrity. In the past few months, she’s been talking more about the work of building a career or a brand. She even launched a podcast at the end of 2016 called Show Your Work in which she and a colleague discuss celebrities, particularly female celebrities, and how they navigate and build their public personas.
As I was watching Love On Ice and the unapologetic focus on how hard Emily and Nikki work for their dreams, I was reminded of Lainey’s frequent comments on the topic. She’s been calling on more women, especially, to own their business dealings, to be honest about the amount of work it takes to be a Taylor Swift or a Beyonce or a Goop (three of her favorite subjects to study). Who would have thought a Hallmark movie would be part of that discussion?
Another topic Lainey has been increasingly vocal about is that of women competing against each other professionally. Often this is depicted as a cat fight scenario, an either-or where only one can be a clear winner. Sometimes we see one of the competitors step back to give the other woman the edge out of some misplaced sense of sisterhood. But isn’t the title of “best” or “champion” deserved only if we compete against the best in the field? Again, not a discussion I expected to arise from a Hallmark movie, but here we are.
In Love On Ice, Emily approaches Nikki and asks how she would feel about Emily entering the upcoming skating competition. Nikki rightly tells her, “I want to skate against the best. You’re the best. Bring it on.” There are a few bumps in the road leading up to the Big Skate, but through it all the two women remain friendly yet competitive. They both “bring it” at the competition. They both medal. They both win.
And yes, Emily does find love and emotional healing, because this is still a Hallmark movie and she deserves both. But it’s a different kind of Hallmark movie. It’s the kind that celebrates women working hard, sacrificing, competing against each other, and not being portrayed as non-feminine as a result.
I give Love On Ice 4.5 well-sharpened skates.