Angels Sing: Film Review

Joaquin Avellán/Lionsgate
The appealing performances and musical turns by the likes of Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett prevent this holiday-themed family movie from descending into pure sappiness.

Harry Connick Jr. and Connie Britton star in this sentimental holiday tale featuring Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and a gallery of Texas music stars.

You don’t exactly get to hear Angels Sing, as the title of the new Christmas-themed movie would have it, but the film comes pretty close. This Austin-set, modern-day variation of Miracle on 34th Street about a father who disdains Christmas features Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett singing holiday classics, as well as cameos by such music stars as Dale Watson, Sara Hickman, Marcia Ball, Charlie Sexton, Miss Lavelle White and Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson. They deliver a refreshing musical Texan twang to this Hallmark Hall of Fame-style family movie that should enjoy a long life in ancillary after its brief, holiday-timed theatrical run.

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Harry Connick, Jr. appealingly stars in the de-facto Natalie Wood role as Michael Walker who, much to the disappointment of his wife (Connie Britton) and young son (Chandler Canterbury), bitterly rejects Yuletide celebrations because of a tragic incident from his childhood.

Struggling to make ends meet and desperately in need of a new house, the family gets a lucky break when Michael meets an elderly man (Nelson) who’s willing to sell his gorgeously lavish home at a fraction of its value. That this twinkly codger is named Nick and drives a bright red truck provides some not-so-subtle clues about his true identity.

But there’s a catch, as Michael soon learns to his dismay. The house is located on "Live Oak Lane’s Trail of Lights," renowned for its lavish Christmas displays that were showcased on an Oprah Winfrey special. The curmudgeonly "real-life Grinch," as he’s dubbed by a local news station, finds himself besieged by his neighbors—including Lovett, clad in a succession of garish sweaters—imploring him to put up the plethora of Christmas lights and decorations they bring to his door.

Whether or not Michael will come to terms with his past demons and learn to embrace the holiday is not exactly in much doubt, with the film shamelessly providing yet another tragic plot point to get him there. But there’s some fun to be had along the way, especially with Connick’s deadpan reactions to his colorfully eccentric new neighbors and their wildly garish decorations that even involve real camels and sheep.

It all goes down easily thanks to a terrific cast that also includes Kris Kristofferson and Fionnula Flanagan as loving grandparents and such musical interludes as Nelson’s warbling "Silent Night" and "Amazing Grace" and Lovett and Kat Edmonson dueting on "Christmastime Is Here." The end credits feature Connick and Nelson performing a worthy new holiday song, "When I’m Home."

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Director Tim McCanlies (Secondhand Lions) infuses the sentimental material with enough comic touches to prevent it from lapsing into sappiness, and the Austin environs locations, including the legendary Salt Pit barbecue restaurant, provides some nice regional flavor.

Opens Nov. 29 (Lionsgate)
Production: When EYA Productions
Cast: Harry Connick, Jr., Connie Brittion, Chandler Canterbury, Fionnula Flanagan, Lyle Lovett, Kris Kristofferson, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson
Director: Tim McCanlies
Screenwriter: Lou Berney
Producers: Elizabeth Avellan, Fred Miller, Shannon McIntosh
Executive producers: Scott Rankin, Sharon Rankin
Director of photography: Kamal Derkaoui
Editor: David Rosenblatt
Production designer: Christopher Stull
Costume designer: Karl Perkins
Composers: Carl Thiel, Scott Warren
Rated PG, 87 min.