Twinkle all the Way, the feel-good (really, it does feel very good) Lifetime Christmas movie that premiered last weekend, is in many ways like so many other holiday movies: sappy, cute, kind of silly, and best consumed with a glass of very sweet eggnog.
However, Twinkle all the Way—written by Brian Herzlinger and Megan Henry Herzlinger; Brian Herzlinger also directed it—is also surprising for not ending with its usual straight kiss amidst the glitter, sprinkle, snow, and cozy knitwear. The last kiss on screen is a gay one.
Indeed, it is the same-sex kiss between Brian Sills’ character Lex Harrison and husband Danny (Mark Ghanimé) that rounds out the movie, not the kiss between hetero protagonists Cadence Clark (Sarah Drew) and Henry Harrison (Ryan McPartlin).
This, and the presence of Lex and Danny’s relationship in the movie as a whole, has excited a lot of comment online, because although there has been the odd gay sighting in the twinkly, sanitized world of Christmas movies, rarely if ever has a gay relationship (and a kiss) taken center stage.
The next step, surely, is for Lifetime or Hallmark to make an LGBTQ relationship the focus of one of these films. After all, they are all about love and good knitwear. LGBTQ people know this territory very well.
Something may be stirring in the pine forests; Netflix’s Let it Snow also features a queer romance, as Autostraddle’s Drew Gregory recently wrote. Lifetime and Hallmark have always seemed more conservative citadels to breach. At the end of Twinkle all the Way, matriarch Twinkle Harrison (Lesley Ann Warren)—yes, she is really called Twinkle—looks lovingly at both her sons, happy with their partners, and a happy home. The film’s message of equality is both implicit and explicit—and, as much as this most apolitical of genres can countenance, emphatic.
“We did a couple of takes with our kiss,” Sills told The Daily Beast (full disclosure, he is a friend of this writer). “We did a version with it included, and one without, with just Ryan and Sarah’s. I wasn’t sure until I was sent the final cut which they would use. I was thrilled to see they had used our kiss.
“Our kiss is the last kiss of the film. But then the camera goes to Lesley, looking at her sons, overwhelmed with love and gratitude that her sons are happy in loving relationships. That moment moves me more than our kiss itself. We see a woman taking in her family moment of love and joy. It’s not a question of who’s kissing who, or the sexes involved. It’s ‘Look at the abundance of love in my family. How lucky am I?’ How moving is that? It’s a real testament to Lifetime taking diversity seriously.”
Until now, Lifetime and Hallmark Christmas movies have not been known for their radicalism or social commentary. They typically adhere to strict heterosexuality, and even stricter diktats around sweaters (red, white, and green only), and snow amounts (lots of it).
Many of these movies are made in the summer; know that the “snow” you see is being hosed from pipes onto parched brown lawns, and the cast is sweating like Niagara Falls to make you feel all warm inside. They, poor acting professionals, are warmer than they could wish to be in winter coats and scarves, with summer blazing all around them.
Christmas movies follow a formula. Like the oldest kind of romance novel, there is typically a straight couple who should be together and, indeed, spend much of the duration of the movie orbiting around each other, until the very last reel when—misunderstanding or crisis resolved—hey presto, they realize they should be together.
And bam, they kiss. The kiss is the end, deal sealed.
In Twinkle all the Way, single parents Cadence (divorced) and Henry (widowed) are the main event, with their adorable daughters in tow. But Lex and Danny are there, all the way through offering sage advice (help the straight people, for they do not know how to help themselves!) and hearty cooking. Lex and Danny are an unspoken, integral part of the Harrison family unit and the movie.
“The gays know!” Sills roared with laughter. “Henry has been grappling with grieving his wife who died. They try and help him see that he has a future, and should express himself. They love Cadence! She’s gorgeous, she can decorate, she’s a wedding planner. We’re like, ‘What are you waiting for? Marry the girl! If you don’t, we will!’”
Of course, they don’t say any such thing. The film is a vanilla swish through the snows of romantic complication, familial support, and gentle chivvying.
Viewers have been contacting Sills to say how thrilled they were to see an openly gay couple being presented in the way Lex and Danny were. He has not received any negative responses. “Really, it’s been people reaching out say how grateful and moved they were to see something that resembles their own families.”
Sills told The Daily Beast: “It’s actually been really gratifying and really warmed my heart a lot. This whole experience has been very eye-opening. I admittedly did not pay much attention to the power of Christmas movies prior to this. There is a massive appetite for these. And they impact a lot of people, who adore them.”
When Sills was approached to take the role, the script breakdown just mentioned his fraternal relationship to McPartlin’s character and their decorating business. It was only when he read the script that he realized Lex was gay and married. When shooting began, he was curious to see how Lifetime would approach it. “Me, being a gay guy living in New York City, working in the arts, I don’t think twice. But for many people watching, this is pretty ground-breaking.”
The easy intimacy between Sills and Ghanimé was organic. “He’s married, straight, with a daughter,” said Sills. “And I just got married to my husband Chad. We are both people in long-term relationships, and so had the natural instinct of what that generally feels like. And we both felt very comfortable working with each other.”
“They could have fleshed our relationship a bit more,” said Sills of how his and Ghanimé’s coupling is seen on screen, “but in terms of this is Lifetime dipping their toe in the pool a little bit and seeing how they can advance the representation of LGBTQ relationships and families, this is a lovely start and I hope it’s only just the beginning.
“There is no reason why Christmas movies shouldn’t focus on same-sex couples, and trans people in relationships, and have LGBTQ characters generally. This is the time, this is the moment. These films are about love, and that should come in all shapes, relationships, sizes, everything.”
Sills himself jokes that should Lifetime and Hallmark be ready to film a LGBTQ-themed Christmas, his own life could provide inspiration. He married his husband on Oct. 28, then enjoyed a family celebration of the union in Toronto on Nov. 10.
“Why not have families that look like a lot of our families? I am a ‘gay uncle,’ like Lex in the movie. At our wedding celebration in Toronto, my 8-year-old nephew wanted to sit at the top table with us, his uncles. It was a given. And it should be a given that he can see people like us on Christmas movies, which should show a reflection of the world that is relevant to him.
“The thing that has moved both Chad and me is how our marriage has impacted our families, and how it has warmed their hearts. We’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, and the pride everyone feels, how openly everyone has been sharing news of our marriage to friends and co-workers.”
Sills and Lewis had planned a low-key wedding, “not because we’re closeted, just because of the kinds of people we are. So, seeing how it’s made out families feel has been so gratifying. It’s tied into the movie unexpectedly. Watching Twinkle all the Way, and the position of Lex and Danny within the Harrison home, makes me think of my own family and how lucky I am to be so loved, and my relationship to be so loved and respected.”
Sills recalled a recent message he had received from an older gay man, who had grown up in the 1950s and seen the passage of gay cultural and political change since. He told Sills he never thought he would live to see the day when a same-sex relationship was just there, on screen, equal and uncommented on. Twinkle all the Way doesn’t come with banners or loud speeches, but it makes its point firmly.
“I’ve been quite overwhelmed by it,” said Sills. “It has moved and awakened me. The ‘Stonewall Riots’ moments in our lives are so important, but so are these quiet moments of progress and evolution.”
Sills said Ellen DeGeneres’ coming out in 1997 had encouraged him to do the same. “That sparked a conversation between me and my parents. Just to think that this little Christmas movie could have any kind of impact on a young person, or change a perspective within a family—what else could one ask for? It’s deeply moving and gratifying.”