The Diner That Saved Christmas (2014)
Our story begins with Rex (Lee Pace), a marketing executive with an unfulfilling job and even more unfulfilling relationships. His mother has just died, his last serious girlfriend just got married, and now he has no one. His background music is a lot of Joni Mitchell and Ed Sheeran.
Feeling broken and alone, he packs up his navy cardigans and grey henleys and goes to spend the Christmas holidays with his only remaining living relative, his grandpa playfully but accurately known as Grumps instead of Gramps (Christopher Plummer).
Grumps owns the Sunny Side Up Diner that's fallen on hard times. His lack of business savvy has recently led to a sharp decline in regular customers, not to mention his increasingly gruff manner that is known to scare little children and offend their mothers. The script will obviously include references to Grumps as Scrooge.
The only customer who sees past the tough exterior is Annie (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a history-buff librarian who spends her daily lunch hour in the diner with a ham and cheese omelet and a book. Annie is charmingly spunky, so she easily charms war-veteran Grumps and they become friends. Over daily lunch conversations (since other customers are rarely there), Annie sees glimmers of passion and love that Grumps has for the diner but knows that without some direction and gumption, it's going to close in a matter of weeks.
Armed with her own passion and a sweet, go-get-em spirit, Annie quits her job as a librarian and comes to work at the diner full-time, determined to get Sunny Side Up back on the map and give Grumps something to smile about. She's been working there with slow but steady results for a few months when December rolls around and Rex comes to stay with Grumps for the holidays.
He's immediately taken with Annie, but he's too raw from his mom's death and too scared of being rejected again to make a move. After a few days though of playfully interacting behind the counter and making lame muffin puns that surprisingly make Annie laugh (all of this is montage style of course), Rex finally works up the nerve to ask Annie out. As they share "a look" and he opens his mouth to bravely speak, the door opens and a sharp-suited guy's guy enters the diner - Annie's recent boyfriend, local real estate hotshot Jeremy (Jerry O'Connell).
Rex is crestfallen. It seems he can never win at love, and he is baffled that someone like Jeremy could be luckier in love than he is. But he already cares enough about Annie to want her to be happy, so he internally wishes them well and sinks into his default state of melancholy. Cue more Joni Mitchell.
I mean. Look at those eyes.
One night while he's walking downtown, mentally flipping through is own montage of Annie, Rex overhears a conversation between Jeremy and Mickey Cantavari (Judd Hirsch), a sleazy real estate developer who is taking over the town bit by bit, demolishing whatever he can to make room for big box stores and high-rises, richly lining his pockets along the way. He is Scrooge. And the Sunny Side Up property is next on his list.
Rex listens cautiously behind a dumpster, and Jeremy is clearly a big part of making this deal happen. And since they're whispering, we as the audience and obviously Rex know that something is amiss.
He then assumes that Jeremy initiated a relationship with Annie just to get her to convince Grumps to sell the business, and Rex thinks that it's here! This is his chance to win Annie for himself! He goes to Sunny Side Up where she's doing some late-night baking, and he tells her that Jeremy is playing her. Annie is appalled and angry, believing that Rex is just jealous and hurt and needs to grow up and see the good in someone for once. She probably throws kneaded bread on the counter harder and harder as her anger builds. Flour flies and she finally tells him to "just go," her voice breaking a bit.
Rex leaves defeated, wondering if he should just go back home to his empty apartment and his dead-end job, even though Christmas still isn't for a couple of weeks. It hurts too much to stay and watch Annie be with someone else, especially a slime ball like Jeremy that he doesn't trust. But he loves Grumps and is too good of a guy to abandon family, so he stays.
Annie, meanwhile, is bothered by Rex's accusation, and it continues to grate on her, but mostly because she wonders if he might be right. She decides to confront Jeremy who naturally denies everything, saying that he loves her, that he would never lie to her, and that he wants to marry her. This is clearly a surprise and on the desperate side. Is Jeremy deflecting attention from the truth, or does he really love Annie?
Annie is speechless and tells him she needs time to think. The whole thing is perfectly awkward with stuttered speech and "sure, whatever you needs." Annie goes to the person who always gives her great advice, her old boss and trusted friend, Margery (Viola Davis).
They share a bottle of wine, laugh about old times, and eventually Annie shares what's been going on. Margery patiently listens, and when Annie asks her what to do, Margery's response surprises her: she can't marry Jeremy if she has feelings for Rex. Naturally, Annie refutes this over and over because she would never cheat on Jeremy or anyone else. But deep down, she knows that she does care about Rex, maybe more than she's been allowing herself to feel. Annie sits in silence as Margery sips more wine.
Still confused after a sleepless night, Annie arrives at the diner the next rainy morning to see Grumps sitting at a table with Mickey; they're discussing selling Sunny Side Up. Annie is appalled, knowing this isn't what Grumps really wants. But, he says, he's afraid this might be his only option... that or watch Sunny Side Up - wait for it - go down, disappointing her, Rex, and everyone else. Annie knows that she can't convince Grumps and defeat Mickey on her own, so she turns to the only person who can help - Rex.
They stand in the rain as she tells him what's going on. She also tells him that Jeremy proposed but there's something keeping her from believing him and saying yes. Does Rex have any good reason why she shouldn't marry Jeremy?
Her words hang in the rainy silence. Rex knows he should tell her the truth, that he loves her and wants to be with her and that she deserves better than Jeremy because she's exquisite. But he can't. He knows that that's not the way to be with Annie forever; she needs to find it out for herself.
Rex's silence impacts Annie more than she could imagine. She wanted him to say that he loved her, and his silence stripped her soul. Despite both of them being in hidden states of romantic turmoil, they move past the awkward silence, individually shake it off like it never happened, and decide then to band together to save Grumps and Sunny Side Up.
When they push through the doors, someone else has joined Grumps and Mickey - Jeremy. He admits to being part of the deal but continues to protest that he didn't know about it before meeting her. In that moment though, she realizes that she would rather be with Rex than with Jeremy. At least Rex was honest with her upfront, even about hard things. And even though he was silent earlier in the rain and doesn't seem to want to be with her, she realizes that she deserves better than Jeremy. He can see it on her face and desperately declares his love for her again, but she shakes her head. No, Jeremy, she says. It's over. I'm not going to let you steal this business out from under a man who deserves it far more than Mickey Scrooge over here.
Jeremy seethes. Mickey quickly looks back and forth from Annie to Grumps. And Grumps smiles. Someone really does believe in him and is willing to stand up to Mickey Cantavari for him. That's all it takes for Grumps to tell Mickey to scram. He even calls him Scrooge just like Annie had the guts to do.
Rex now has a little hope, and with a renewed sense of purpose, he uses his marketing skills to create a buzz around the diner as Annie and Grumps work together to create a place that will serve the community for years to come. During that time, Rex and Annie spend more time together montage style again and the comfort level grows, but neither is brave enough to say anything.
One week later, Sunny Side Up has a grand reopening on Christmas Eve. As the snow falls, the townspeople line up outside the door, anxiously awaiting this place that will bring comfort to the belly and to the soul. Grumps, Annie, and Rex stand on the front porch and together say, "Welcome to Sunny Side Up!" as the people gleefully enter and the Christmas snow falls. They serve food and have conversations and host a Christmas Eve gathering that the town will remember for years to come.
As the final customers start to file out, Rex and Annie say goodbye to them, happily exhausted from such a successful night. A little girl shyly says goodbye, holding her stuffed bunny in mittened hands. She says, "Mommy, is that mistletoe?" and points above Rex and Annie. Sure enough, it is.
Rex and Annie sheepishly glance at each other, laugh it off, and then say goodbye to the girl and her family. The diner is now empty except for Grumps hiding in the kitchen, watching their every move. Rex and Annie turn to each other, their eyes anxious with hopefulness only reserved for Hallmark movies, and Rex kisses her with the tenderness of a single snowflake. And somewhere back in the kitchen, Grumps smiles.
We see the following epilogue photos as the credits roll.
// END CREDITS //
Okay so I would TOTALLY watch that movie. So many times. Lee Pace in all the things.
(Special thanks to my sister for helping me craft the story. Now if anyone knows anyone at Hallmark who can make this happen, we only require 30% of production profits and merchandising. And a personal meet-and-greet with Lee Pace. Make it happen.)
Who do you want to see in a cheesy made-for-TV Christmas movie?