Rebecca Dalton, known for her role in “Good Witch,” takes on the character of Charlotte, an emerging luxury fashion designer with her own boutique in the bustling streets of New York City. Despite having a significant presence in the five boroughs, an employee, and an online store, things are not as prosperous as they seem. Wrestling with designer’s block and facing a leaking ceiling, Charlotte receives distressing news from home—the plug is pulled on the cherished Elfcapades. To compound matters, her employee Margo (played by Adriana Vasquez) enrolls her in the Warwick Christmas Design Challenge. The challenge: create male and female holiday-inspired looks with a family-friendly touch for the Christmas Eve runway show, with the chance to design for a major NYC department store hanging in the balance.
In search of inspiration for designs suitable for Warwick’s family store, Charlotte returns to her Connecticut hometown, where she confronts not only the end of Elfcapades but also her mother’s new partner Rick (Tim Progosh), a disapproving family, and an ex-fiancé who now serves as the mayor. A twist of fate brings her into contact with Spencer (Jonathan Keltz), the town’s mechanic and most eligible bachelor.
While Charlotte and Spencer initially clash, their relationship evolves as Spencer infuses small-town charm into her designs, and she navigates the attentions of local women. As the story unfolds, the predictable trajectory of a Hallmark movie takes shape, with Christmas magic guiding the narrative.
The small Connecticut town annually celebrates Elfcapades, a 12-day holiday extravaganza featuring events like The Night Market and the Pajamboree, where everyone dons pajamas. However, the absence of actual elves in these festivities remains a Christmas mystery.
The film adheres to the typical Hallmark formula, featuring the Warwick Christmas Design Challenge, akin to a mini Project Runway challenge culminating in a Christmas Eve runway show. Despite the familiarity of this pattern, “Christmas by Design” falls short in injecting uniqueness and quirkiness into the narrative. The title change from “Jingle Jammies” is emblematic of the film’s larger issue—opting for the familiar over the daring.
While following the well-trodden Hallmark path, “Christmas by Design” lacks the depth, heart, and originality seen in other 2023 releases like “Checkin’ It Twice.” The film misses opportunities to delve into character arcs, explore relationships, and add unexpected twists. It raises questions like what if Charlotte brought her assistant home or if Spencer played a larger role as a buffer against the town’s eager ladies. The absence of makeovers in a fashion-centric holiday romance also leaves a noticeable gap. These small adjustments could elevate a formulaic Hallmark romance, but unfortunately, “Christmas by Design” blends in with the multitude of holiday movies, lacking the boldness to stand out.