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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Christmas in the Heartland is a 2017 holiday-themed family movie in which two teen girls heading to the same place for the first time decide to switch identities. A woman in a beauty salon says that "we more than make up for it" when her trucker husband returns home after being gone all month. Bigger kids bully a smaller boy in the backyard of a touch football game before one of the teen girls breaks them up; the boy doing the bullying immediately sees the error of his ways and befriends the smaller boy. Some drinking. Some product placement or mention: American Airlines, Red Bull, Walmart. One of the grandmothers is snobby and materialistic, but her behavior isn't rewarded by the end of the movie.
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What's the story?
In CHRISTMAS IN THE HEARTLAND, Kara Gentry (Sierra McCormick) is a rich girl who attends a private school in Vermont. Jessie Wilkins (Brighton Sharbino), also from Vermont, is from a family that lives paycheck to paycheck. Both are flying to Oklahoma for Christmas to see relatives they've never met. After Jessie gives away her plane ticket to a woman desperately trying to see her military son before he ships off to war, she's given a first-class ticket on the flight and sits next to Kara. The two immediately strike up a conversation, and soon become fast friends. While neither girl wants to be in Oklahoma for Christmas, they both envy each other's situations and soon come up with a plan: Kara will say that she's Jessie, and Jessie will say that she's Kara. They change into each other's clothes, and the plane lands in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Kara, as Jessie, meets her spirited grandmother (Shelley Long), who immediately takes her to meet her long-lost father, who has decided to cut short his musical engagements in Louisiana to be with them for the holidays. Jessie, as Kara, meets her kind grandfather and her socialite grandmother (Bo Derek), who wants to groom "Kara" into being more "high class." When the family bonding goes better than either had planned, Kara and Jessie must find a way to break the news to their families.
Is it any good?
This is an uninspired "switcheroo" movie in which two teen girls from different socioeconomic backgrounds trade places to see how the proverbial "other half" lives. Despite hailing from Vermont, it doesn't take the two lead characters long to drop the "g" in any gerund they use while referring to every noun they see as "this here" shortly after arriving in Oklahoma, clearly under the influence of "locals" who never miss a chance to use homespun witticisms like "more nervous than a night crawler at a fishin' derby." The family from a blue-collar background, led by Shelley Long as Grandma Judy, is, of course, as fond of plainspoken truths and an honest day's work as they are of barbecue, and the family from a wealthy background, featuring Bo Derek as Grandmother Elsa, is, of course, snobby and materialistic, despite the grandfather's realization that, yes, there's more to life than money. And, of course, not to spoil anything, the two girls who pull the "switcheroo," as well as their families, learn the True Meaning of Christmas.
To say that the ending is a little too convenient is putting it mildly. Aside from Shelley Long, who makes the clunky attempts at "downhome" dialogue sound almost plausible, the acting is either flat or overdone. Apparently, Hollywood and/or the Hallmark Channel believe that the best way to make people realize that the holidays should be more of a season of giving instead of wanting and buying things is to continually churn out trite movies with this message, and Christmas in the Heartland is yet another attempt to get this message across.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about holiday movies. How does Christmas in the Heartland compare to other movies set during Christmastime?
How does the movie contrast the lives of the wealthy family and the working-class family?
What are some examples of similar movies in which two characters "switch" places to see "how the other half lives?" Why do you think this has been done so many times before?
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