Plot: Lindsey (Marla Sokoloff) is a musician in New Orleans and while she is talented, it is a crowded field and she struggles to catch a break. But she has been getting consistent work at least, lately in a series of piano duels with Wes (Rob Mayes), another musician trying to make it. The two put on good shows and the crowds respond, filling their tip jars to root for one or the other. When a record label executive attends one of their shows and takes an interest in Wes, Lindsey feels slighted, but she has other things on her mind. Her sister is about to give birth and Lindsey wants to return home for that, though she needs to perform at a party before she leaves, in order to pick up some much needed cash. But when her gig is canceled and she can’t afford a plane ticket, Wes steps in an proposes a road trip. He’s headed home as well and since Lindsey’s town is close, the two forge on and head out on the road.

Entertainment Value: Lifetime is best known for melodramatic thrillers, but it can churn out the holiday romances as well, such as this light, brisk feature, The Road Home for Christmas. If you’re familiar with the formulas used by Lifetime and Hallmark for these seasonal romance movies, then you know about what to expect here. The narrative hits the usual tropes, a flirty rivalry that leans into romance, small town holiday cheer, and likable leads, with Marie Osmond as a special bonus. I’ve talked about the comfort cinema aspect of these Christmas romances, so to knock this one for being predictable or slight would be a waste of time. Lifetime knows its audience and this is engineered to be a crowd pleaser, so those who cuddle up with a warm blanket and a glass of wine will be in heaven here. The story is by the numbers and you know how it will end before the movie even starts, but that is part of the appeal with these made for television holiday romances, which continue to rack up ratings and build an ever growing fan base that snaps each one up. I think this one is a solid watch, as it has some nice bits of humor, often centered on the banter between the leads and it is well made, so the production values are on point. If you’re a fan of these light Christmas romances, you should feel all warm and fuzzy with this one.

These movies depend on likable leads, as the performers need to keep us invested and distracted from the predictable stories involved. I like when Lifetime goes off the usual track a little however, such as bringing in Marla Sokoloff, who adds a little more attitude than usual into her role here. I still think she is very likable and certainly fun to watch, but she’s not as cookie cutter and sweet as some of the genre’s regulars, which helps the movie stand out somewhat. She is also the reason the rivalry aspect works so well, as she dish out the banter and while Rob Mayes isn’t quite able to keep pace, I think Sokoloff carries him well enough in most scenes. I know a minor uptick in attitude might not seem like a big deal, but in this kind of formulaic picture, a small change like that can really make a difference. And the shift is minor enough that she still feels like the usual holiday romance lead, so she loses no likability, just gets some extra charm for her spunky persona. Mayes is fine, but I feel like he falls into the forgettable, interchangeable male lead pile. He is competent and does what he needs to do, but doesn’t leave much of an impression or stand out. Sokoloff is able to bring out some energy in Mayes at times, but she outshines him consistently. The cast also includes Marie Osmond, Jacob Young, Jan Broberg, and Nicole Duke.

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