If movies have taught us anything, it’s that the holidays are a make-or-break time for all kinds of love. The season for romantic Hail Marys starts the day after Halloween (or earlier, depending on which department store display you ask), and from then on its nothing but relentless, resilient hope and entertaining all manner of impossible notion until New Year’s.
On the heels of 2019’s first holiday disappointment, Last Christmas, Netflix kicks off the season of snowy sentiment with Let It Snow, based loosely on the 2008 novel by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle. Many have tried and most have failed at the Love Actually-esque ensemble feature, but in the hands of Laura Solon, Victoria Strouse (adapting an earlier screenplay from Kay Cannon), and director Luke Snellin, this potentially sprawling snowtastrophe is a confectionary holiday treat.
Unlike many YA adaptations hitting the screen, Let It Snow sticks only to the bare bones of its ink-and-paper inspiration. There are still three primary love stories: two strangers who meet on a train (Isabela Merced and Shameik Moore); the boy pining for his best friend (Mitchell Hope and Kiernan Shipka); and the girl trying to figure out her hot-and-cold crush (Liv Hewson and Anna Akana). Other than character names (and ethnicities, thanks to casting), little resembles the collaborative novel’s plot details.
Two fixtures remain: the pivotal Waffle
House Town establishment, where our many young lovers converge; and local folk hero Tin Foil Guy — now Tin Foil Lady (Joan Cusack), the Rowan Atkinson-esque holiday spirit watching over our lovelorn heroes (the Love Actually comparisons end there, and with opening montage set to an original song by Moore’s character).
Because it’s neither miniseries nor novel, Let It Snow doesn’t have to divide its stories up in neat little packages, and therefore doesn’t have to limit itself to just those three main ones. They intertwine and overlap with the ease, adding depth to Julie’s (Merced) relationship with her mom, Keun’s (Jacob Batalon) desire to throw a good old-fashioned high school rager, and even a little time for the delightful D’Arcy Carden to show up as Stuart’s (Moore) publicist and ask for “hand-sanny.”
Bizarrely, the titular premise — a horrible snowstorm, the worst in 50 years — is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we get a generous coating of snow over every exterior, but mostly sunny skies and the occasional sprinkling. No one is stranded, stuck, or diverted because of the snow so much as just… near it. It’s less of a snowpocalypse and more of a snow day, if that — a minor inconvenience as opposed to a driving force. (Cusack’s opening narration says Christmas Eve snow is unusual in rural Illinois, which… it’s not?)
Maybe it’s that lack of urgency, or the truncated run time — Let It Snow has charm aplenty, but with so many plates spinning its hard to elicit a huge emotional investment, as with Netflix’s own To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. But it’s okay to not fall for all of these love stories. Something, somewhere in this on-screen jubilee will tug at your heartstrings. Merced and Moore’s story has the least characters with the most screen time, and the young stars are well-matched for both chemistry and talent. Addie’s (Rush) friendship with Dorrie (Hewsom) takes center stage over her floundering relationship with Jeb (Mason Gooding), and reminding us that romantic love isn’t the only kind worth fighting for.
And Let It Snow actually understands Christmastime in a way that Love Actually annually fails to. Yes, we romanticize this time of year and hope that snow and year-end will bring about life-changing circumstances — but we feel that irrepressible hope because “it’s not just the eve of Christmas, it’s the eve of everything, of the rest of your life.” It happens to be a little snowier and more festive than most times, but we have the power to change our lives every day.
Let It Snow is now streaming on Netflix.