Samantha: An American Girl Holiday, on The WB
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This is the first film in the American Girl series. It originally aired on November 23, 2004, and was released on DVD on November 30. I didn't see it until I got it on DVD in 2018, and watched it on Christmas Eve Eve. I thought, based on the title, that it would be a Christmas movie, though I didn't really know anything about the plot. Now that I have watched it, I can say I don't really think of it as a Christmas movie, even though that's when the climax takes place. Still, it was pretty good.
It begins in spring of 1904. Samantha Parkington (AnnaSophia Robb) lives in Mount Bedford, New York, with her grandmother, Mary "Grandmary" Edwards (Mia Farrow), since her parents had died in an accident some time ago. One day, a widower named Mr. O'Malley moves into the home of Samantha's neighbors, along with his three daughters, Nellie, Bridget, and Jenny; all four of them will work there as servants. Samantha soon befriends Nellie, and starts teaching her to read. Meanwhile, Samantha eagerly awaits the return of her beloved uncle Gardner (whom she calls "Uncle Gard"), who lives in New York City and has recently been in Europe. When he finally shows up for a visit, he brings with him a woman named Cornelia (Rebecca Mader), who Samantha and her grandmother had met the previous Christmas. Eventually, Gardner announces that they're engaged (which I found entirely predictable, even though Samantha and Grandmary seemed surprised by the news). It was honestly hard for me to be sure how Mary felt about it; even before Gardner came, I had found it pretty obvious that a lot of the time when she asked Samantha anything, the girl knew full well that she had to answer "Yes, Grandmary" even if the truth would have been "No." And it struck me that Mary herself was the sort of person who lived by the same sort of rules of etiquette that she imposed upon her granddaughter, so whether or not she approved of her son's fiancee, she would say that she did. On the other hand, it was quite easy to see that Samantha was unhappy about the news, despite her saying the right things.
Samantha is determined to dislike Cornelia, no matter how nice Cornelia is to her. Especially when it's revealed that the wedding will be that July, which Gardner had forgotten is when he had promised to take Samantha on a trip. To make it up to her, he decides that Samantha should come to stay with Cornelia and himself in New York for the fall, starting a month after the wedding. Samantha overhears various people saying things that make her erroneously think she isn't really wanted. Nevertheless, she does begin to like Cornelia. While in New York, Samantha exchanges letters with Nellie. But eventually she learns that Nellie's father has died, and she and her sisters were sent to an orphanage in New York. So of course she wants to find them and help them in any way she can. And while she keeps her efforts secret for quite awhile, she eventually gets help from Gardner and Cornelia, who are both quite progressive.
Well, I guess I don't really want to spoil any more of what happens. But it does have quite a happy ending. And... there's a lesson about how terrible things could be for orphans (or really anyone who's poor), at that time, both in orphanages and as workers in factories. And a message about how important it is to help the less fortunate, which is the sort of message that one might hear on any given Christmas, but which I found particularly appropriate in 2018. (So maybe it's a good thing it took me fourteen years to get around to watching the movie, I guess.) Anyway... I'm glad to have finally seen it.