There’s a reason why Sarah Drew and Justin Bruening continue to do projects together. They simply never miss.
Their chemistry is out of this world and always so endearing to watch that it draws you in whenever they’re onscreen together. Reindeer Games Homecoming is a prime example of this.
And Sarah Drew was as lovely as always, starring in, executive producing, and penning this heartfelt story of grief, love, and finding oneself.
Reindeer Games had many of the common staples for a classic Christmas film. We had the small-town heroine reconnecting with the hot-shot high school crush who went off and became famous.
We had those fun festivities and a great sense of community that was prominent thanks to the supporting characters. And some conflict and other things almost interfered with our couple finding their way back to one another and having their happily ever after.
A lot of the film took some slightly different approaches too. Refreshingly, while the attraction and love between Mac and Chase were apparent, they balanced nicely with their respective individual stories and challenges.
Mac’s grief, showing that not only is it far from linear, but it never lets up no matter how long ago a death was — it was very prominent in the story.
It made Mac a very rounded character, and her love story with Chase was only a tiny fraction of what she needed to face, address, and overcome in the film.
Mac was a woman who felt stuck, and it was such a relatable sentiment that the amount of time they spent exploring that aspect of things for her was a breath of fresh air.
Grief has a way of freezing a person in a moment. And Mac’s entire life stood at a standstill when she lost her father. She was too afraid to move on, finding some comfort in her hometown, the sense of community there, her father’s friends, and more.
But she also felt stagnant and had yet to pursue her dream of finishing her residency.
I got a nice chuckle at the fact that Mac is a doctor, too. April Kepner will always live on; it felt like a nice treat and nod at her fans.
There’s nothing more realistic than someone not ending up where they intended to be or taking a long, windy path to reach their goal.
The death of Mac’s father derailed her a bit, but she still found something meaningful to do in teaching AP Sciences at her alma mater and serving as a volunteer EMT, too.
And while it’s likely that she’ll pick up her residency again, the time she spent teaching still counts for something and felt like a necessary pitstop.
Seeing someone as promising as Mac still take an unexpected route to become a doctor was comforting and nice.
We’ve fostered a society that consistently sells the notion that if you don’t immediately reach your goal in a particular way or during a specific timeline, then it’s too late.
We got to see via Mac how that isn’t the case.
In that sense, her primary goal in this story wasn’t specifically about getting the guy in the end. Sure, part of her lesson to learn was not running away from love, trusting it and Chase, and not ruining this good thing.
But it felt like it took a backseat to her reaching the next level of her grieving process and healing by opening her father’s letter to her and learning to live again rather than exist.
It was a straightforward story that didn’t have the usual hokey, zany, festive goals like saving an annual Christmas event, a B&B, or something.
Even Christmas felt like a backdrop more than a prominent theme of this film.
Mac’s primary story was about reconnecting with herself and desires, which was beautiful.
It removed some of the usual cheese in the film while still bringing all the emotion and heart, a shift from what has become the standard formula for holiday flicks and ironically taking us back to the more classic Christmas films of yesteryear.
Chase had a similar journey he had to take during this movie, too.
He was facing his own crossroads as an action star too close to the wrong side of “washed up.”
He was passionate about acting, but he also felt stalled in his career and life. Hollywood is a fickle industry, which was taking a toll on him.
When a person feels a bit untethered in their life, sometimes the best thing they can do is return home. Sure, he came to support his pregnant sister and nephew, but you could tell that home visit was something he desperately needed, too.
At home, he got the ego boost and adoration from his community that he must’ve been lacking in the big city as he was fighting for roles.
Everyone was beside themselves with his return, which provided more than a few amusing moments. And it was also cute to see him slowly shedding that Hollywood persona and remembering who he was.
He was still very Hollywood, from the very attractive albeit at times unsuitable leather-clad, bad boy aesthetic to his reluctance to do things like engaging in the Reindeer Games until his hands were tied.
But even when he seemed most out of touch, Chase was always a down-to-earth, fun-loving character. Even when he and Mac spoke about their past, you got the impression that while he was a popular, attractive jock, he wasn’t the stereotypical sort.
He was a bit of a lovable dork, too, and they had a mutual appreciation for each other and attraction since they had shared a kiss as teens.
They both were guarding their hearts back then and even in the present, but as adults, Chase was the most willing and happy to take the leap.
Mac’s reservations were valid, though. For one, they had that history where she felt like he left her in the cold and friend-zoned her as if he was embarrassed to be with the science nerd after their school trip.
It’s not the type of thing you quickly get over or don’t think about, even as an adult. But now, she was very aware of their different statuses and how it seemed they were on different paths.
In her mind, it didn’t make sense that a Hollywood star would end up with this small-town girl from Vermont, whether she was a teacher or a doctor.
It made her feel like a fleeting fling rather than something sustainable and tangible with longevity. Mac’s feelings were understandable, but everyone with eyes, whether it was Mac’s hilarious scene-stealing best friend Simon and father’s buddies or Chase’s sister, could see how smitten Chase was with her.
Chase constantly looked at Mac like she held all the secrets to the universe and was his last lifeline. It was evident to everyone but her that he was serious and committed to what they could be as a couple.
Mac was too much in her head about what could get in between them that she wasn’t respecting what Chase wanted, what he was saying, trusting that his feelings were deep and that he wasn’t the same guy he was when he made that mistake in high school.
It didn’t stop them from enjoying themselves, though. Whether it was the fun antics of polar plunge challenges and their competitive shenanigans or the intimate moments where they bonded over secret hiding places and confided in each other, they truly completed one another.
Again, Drew and Bruening and the chemistry between them is the life force of this movie and how it thrived.
There is a natural comfort and ease between them because of their history of working together, which translates beautifully onscreen.
You can buy into the characters as old friends, former flames, and soul mates. The familiarity between Chase and Mac wasn’t forced in the least.
And Bruening nails all the aspects that make a fantastic leading man. Chase was a man in love, and he didn’t hide it in any way. But what was so fulfilling about his relationship with Mac is that despite their years apart, he knew her incredibly well.
He could see right through her, very attuned to her needs and desires. He matched her energy, balancing the things she needed most and knowing when she required them.
Chase was Mac’s biggest cheerleader and motivator. He held her in such high regard and cherished her without necessarily placing her on some impossible pedestal.
And when he supported her, it was because he genuinely cared about her and wanted to, and it was without ulterior motives.
This pairing was lovely because even if they didn’t end up romantically linked, you could believe they’d be one another’s “person” anyway.
All of this made you crave the romantic payout even more, though. The film didn’t disappoint when it came to delivering on that.
Their first kiss was perfect, especially it coming on the heels of Chase encouraging and hyping Mac up. It was steamy and hot, and a height difference is one of the best romantic tropes in existence and freaking catnip for the genre.
Clearly, someone understood the assignment with this because there wasn’t a single time when they weren’t playing into their height difference to deliver on the feels.
Chase already gave the best type of hug, where he embraces a person with his full body and even lifts them.
But that first kiss took it to another level. One of the hottest makeout sessions, and when Chase lifted Mac off her feet in the process, it was impossible not to swoon.
Simon was probably living his best life watching that from his window. He was the perfect audience stand-in, if there was one.
And that was just the first kiss! How great was it to have one of these films where they don’t save the first kiss for the epic conclusion?
It hits differently when you can watch the couple you’re falling in love with share multiple kisses throughout a film. It also puts more of the romance and physical expression of it back into play. The chaste takes on romance can quite literally take the steam and momentum out of a love story, and that’s become too commonplace.
Reindeer Games Homecoming delivered on that sensuality and romance tenfold. Each of their kisses was uniquely special and only solidified how Mac and Chase were made for one another.
And their first and second in no way detracted from the sweet conclusion when Chase used the crossword puzzle to send her on a scavenger hunt to find him at the station.
He made sure his feelings for her and how real he considered the relationship known and undeniable as he won her over once and for all.
And that final kiss was just as swoon-worthy as the first, and good grief did they earn it.
As a conclusion, it felt right that neither of them had to deny their goals or sacrifice something to be with one another. They were nothing but wholly supportive of each other.
Chase got the three-movie deal that was taking him to Prague, and while we didn’t have any confirmation, Mac would either be in Boston finishing her residency or in Vermont teaching still.
It could be challenging because filming movies and residency programs are time-consuming, and long-distance can be difficult, but they’re committed to making it work. It hasn’t even crossed their minds that they can’t do this, which bodes well for them.
Reindeer Games Homecoming felt like an all-encompassing film that cut to the heart of the holidays without necessarily making them a priority. It was less camp, cheese, and fluff.
It did its best to capture everyday human and life experiences beyond the season. It didn’t limit itself to its genre and could be one to watch all year round.
And Drew and Bruening can definitely go on the list of one of the hottest pairings worth rooting for in the genre. While it’s doubtful that the request even needs to be put into words, given their extensive, repeat history of working together, I’d love to see them tackle the genre again.
Seriously, more please! And I would like to see Drew’s next foray into writing another story and bringing it to life.
Over to you, TV Fanatics.
How did you like this film? Did you appreciate the understated focus on Christmas and fewer hokey takes? Are you a fan of the dynamic duo of Sarah Drew and Justin Bruening? Sound off below.
Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.