Bet you don’t hear that often. The network for women who enjoy true story drama and heartbreak is not one people freely admit to watching, especially this time of year, when it serves up the sappiest Christmas movies you can imagine.
Yet, Saturday night’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’” was one Christmas movie I watched with great and unexpected joy. It didn’t fit the same formula of the typical Lifetime movie of the week, which is the primary reason I enjoyed it, and also because it’s based on the novella of the same name by Wally Lamb. Yes, the same Wally Lamb who writes novels recommended by Oprah Winfrey, such as “She’s Come Undone”, one of the most emotional and disturbing books I’ve ever read, and “I Know This Much is True”.
Lamb has a lighter side and shows it proudly in the Christmas novella that was released four years ago, and was recently turned into a movie. The story, told from the point of view of a 10-year-old boy in Connecticut in 1964, is somewhat reminiscent of Jean Shepherd’s “A Christmas Story”. Using a narrator (Chevy Chase in this case) gives it the same feel, and given that it takes place 50 years ago, makes it nostalgic.
The story focuses on a 5th grade class at a Catholic school that is preparing for their Christmas pageant. The cast is as unique as the story; their cranky and batty teacher, a nun played by Cheri Oteri takes sick leave right before pageant practice begins, and is replaced by a French lay teacher (Molly Ringwald) from Quebec, who brings a whole different spin with her teaching methods and ideas. Meatloaf plays a priest at the school, and Conchata Ferrell, another nun who takes over the class temporarily, and scares the kids silly because the mole on her upper lip seems to constantly grow.
The charming Wyatt Ralff plays 10-year-old Felix Funicello (yes the same family who spawned Annette Funicello of the Mickey Mouse Club and beach movie fame; they are second cousins but they’ve never met, and Annabelle Sciorra and Danny Nucci play his loving Italian and very Catholic parents.
You’d think the Catholic school premise is enough to keep the story interesting. Lamb throws in throw in hilarious scenes of weekly confessions, girls with tissues bobby pinned to their heads because they forgot their chapel veils (I remember that one), and the so called “good” girl of the class giving her oral report on mortal sinners like Marilyn Monroe (suicide!) and Lee Harvey Oswald (murder!), but it only scratches the surface. When a new Russian student shows up in the middle of the year that has a difficult time distinguishing between Mickey Mouse with Mickey Mantle, things turn crazier. Her new school is so foreign to her she slaps a nun right back after taking one across her own cheek. That’s not something you see everyday.
The movie is a refreshing change of pace from the typical dramatic fare showing this time of year. It’s a fabulously fun trip back in time whether you went to Catholic school or not.
Will “Wishin’ and Hopin’” get a day each year at Christmas with a 24-hour run like “A Christmas Story”? Probably not, but it is a surprisingly film that should get a little rerun support each season.
“Wishin’ and Hopin” premiered on Lifetime on Saturday night, and it’s everything you would expect a Lifetime movie not to be. It’s sure to make a few more appearances before Christmas, so if you missed it, you should definitely try to catch one.