The greatest thing about a Lifetime straight-to-television movie is getting the chance to play the ‘hey, I remember that actor!’ game. ‘Wrapped up in Christmas’ is stuffed so full of familiar faces of television past that you will think TV of yesteryear threw up over your television set. This charming Christmas movie was aired towards the end of November in the USA (incidentally the first Christmas film to be aired on Lifetime this year) and has now just released internationally on the Lifetime channel. It has all you could possibly want from a seasonal film - a heartwarming love story, warm familial moments, good deeds, redemption and a bit of sass. Oh, and not to forget the most important element of a good Christmas movie - the Shopping Mall!
‘Wrapped up in Christmas’ revolves around young professional Heather, who is a painfully single Mall financial executive with a hard-hearted boss. She is handed the job of Mall’s Christmas Grinch and must let underperforming stores know that their goose is cooked because they’re not bringing enough cash into the Mall. Meanwhile, thanks to her sassy niece Molly, she begins to fall for Ryan, a thirty-something ‘lawyer' who has stopped practicing in order to help his Aunt Patty run her store. Unbeknownst to both Heather and Ryan, Patty’s store is one of the targets for booting from the Mall. Things could get awkward! Will Heather go through with it, or sacrifice a likely promotion and choose love and compassion instead? Another twist in the tail is provided by Ryan - he is also not all he appears.
'Wrapped up in Christmas' was filmed in the awesome Provo Town Centre Mall in Utah
What makes this stand out from (and let’s be honest here) some of the cloying pap out there on Lifetime is the cast. Whether it’s nostalgia or the fact that they’re really quite decent actors, the cast has a knack of making you care about what happens to them. ‘Wrapped up in Christmas’ stars Tatyana Ali (Fresh Prince of Bel Air), Brendan Fehr (Guardians of the Galaxy), Kim Fields (the Facts of Life), Mindy Sterling (Austin Powers), Dan Lauria (the Wonder Years), Jackée Harry (Sister, Sister) and Joseph Marcell (the butler from Fresh Prince of Bel Air), to name but a few. Seeing the young Ashley Banks and butler Geoffrey back together again gave me a fuzzy feeling, although it did make me ponder what horrific disaster befell the entire extended Banks family to make Geoffry Ashley’s new daddy!
Most of the movie was filmed in the lovely Provo Town Centre Mall in Provo, Utah. The name may seem familiar to regular readers because it was also the location for 2008 musical Mall movie ‘American Mall’. In ‘Wrapped up in Christmas’ we get to see even more of this fantastic, all-American Shopping Centre. Born in 1998, Provo Town Centre has around 130 stores and a fantastic Cinemark cinema, across two shopping levels. The Mall looks incredible considering that its future was touch and go as little as two years ago.
The main female lead Tatyana Ali
Filming was actually done in mid-July!
Heather's tough and slightly ruthless boss
The Mall was initially well-received when it first built. Unfortunately though, the Centre was soon struggling, mainly due to its proximity to an already established Shopping Centre, the University Mall. In 2005 the Mall was bought by Chicago’s General Growth Properties, which turned out to be utterly disastrous for this delicate Centre. Provo just about survived the 2010’s, but by 2015 it was a ghost town and began to fall seriously into disrepair. Luckily, the Mall was snapped up by San Diego real estate company, Brixton Capital, at the beginning of 2017, and they almost immediately set about showing the Mall some love. They breathed life into the Shopping Centre, making it the wonderful, buzzing location you will find today.
The great thing is that the Mall was filmed as you will see it if you visit today. Often, many stores don’t give consent for their brands to be used in films, and as such many of the storefronts are altered or changed completely into fictional stores. The creators of this film got permission from all of the stores and Provo can be seen in “Wrapped up in Christmas’ in all of its splendour. There was one further, slight spanner in the works - the Mall was not going to let filming interrupt their busiest and most profitable time of the year, the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Filming therefore took place in July - the very height of the scorching Utah summer!
Ryan is helping his aunt keep her struggling store open for business
There are so many familiar faces in the movie
Ryan and best bud grabbing a bite at the food court
The Mall was willing to compromise and agreed put up their Christmas decorations, in all their glory, early - seriously early - so that the film could have a suitably Christmassy vibe, despite it being in the high nineties outside. Unfortunately, this went down like a lead balloon to the Mall’s locals. They complained so much that the local news entered the fracas and did a story of the ‘Christmas Mall in the middle of summer’. Luckily, the cast and crew wrapped and got out of there before the torches and pitchforks turned up!
On top of being the female lead, Tatyana Ali also provides two songs for the soundtrack, a wonderful rendition of ‘Heard the Bells’ and a brand new Christmas song, ‘Wrapped up in Christmas’, written especially for the film. Towards the end of Fresh Prince of Bel Air, co-star Will Smith encouraged Tatyana to pursue a career in singing because he believed she was a natural talent. She did briefly attempt it, but decided to stick to acting in the end. Not only is Tatyana Ali stunning and multi-talented, she is also a Harvard graduate. Not bad for the naive little kid-sister from Bel Air.
Frau Verbissener and Jack Arnold sell cookies and coffee in the Mall!
Joseph Marcell, the butler from Fresh Prince of Bel Air, plays the dad!
Well what can we say about ‘Wrapped up in Christmas’ - is it incredibly cheesy? Certainly. Is it completely obvious that everything works out in the end? Indubitably! Is it fantastic? Yes! It is the perfect film for this time of year. It smothers you in so much Mall-y, Christmassy goodness for a couple of glorious hours that by the end you are delirious. At any other time of year, this film would not be for me, but at Christmas it just feels right. The acting is great and there are even a few twists you wouldn’t expect. I imagine that it shall be replayed ad nauseam on the Lifetime channel, so definitely check it out - and then head out to your local Mall to check out their decorations in the flesh!
All images: Lifetime / ARO Entertainment
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