If you find yourself in Hanukkah withdrawal, take <em>Round and Round</em> for a spin: This time-loop romance embraces the holiday in a way that feels complete and thoughtful. Above, Paula Shaw and Vic Michaelis in <em>Round and Round.</em>

If you find yourself in Hanukkah withdrawal, take Round and Round for a spin: This time-loop romance embraces the holiday in a way that feels complete and thoughtful. Above, Paula Shaw and Vic Michaelis in Round and Round. / Hallmark

I've always defended my love of Hallmark movies — the Christmas trees, the meet-cutes, the small-town businesses struggling to avoid being taken over by people from the big city. But there's no denying that they are of a type, shall we say, and many times, their precise pleasure is that you wouldn't mistake them for anything else. Furthermore, even as Hallmark has expanded its vision with changes like introducing LGBTQ+ characters and stories now and then, their efforts to expand beyond Christmas into Hanukkah have sometimes felt a bit tentative.

Imagine my delight at finding Round and Round, a lovely new entry that's a solid light romantic comedy that you wouldn't be surprised to find somewhere else besides Hallmark, and that also embraces Hanukkah as its theme in a way that feels complete and thoughtful.

The structure is familiar: it's a time-loop movie. Rachel (Vic Michaelis) goes to her parents' Hanukkah party, where her grandmother tries to set her up with Zach (Bryan Greenberg), a handsome fellow who unfortunately bumped into her earlier in the day and destroyed the box of sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) she was bringing to the party. But Rachel has a boyfriend, so she doesn't take much of an interest, but when she wakes up the next morning ... it's the same morning all over again, the seventh night of Hanukkah. So now, like so many protagonists before her (Groundhog Day and Palm Springs both get explicit shout-outs in the dialogue), she's trapped and needs to figure out how to break the loop so her life can continue.

As she continues in the loop, she decides to bring Zach in on her problem, and he — an adorable nerd who's carrying around his D&D dice in a special box, and whose friends run a comic-book store — resolves to try to help, even though every day he has to be brought up to speed all over again.

This all sounds very familiar, I know. But the execution is terrific. The dialogue sparkles, the relationship feels genuine, the ending is warm and really satisfying, and you get to watch the marvelous Rick Hoffman (who played Louis on Suits!) play Rachel's loving father, who is the smart and fun kind of weird dad. And Rachel's sister is married to a woman and they have a child, and their relationship is treated just like everybody else's, which is a nice place for Hallmark to be.

But maybe what I liked most, the farther from the film I got, is that it takes themes of the family's celebration of Hanukkah — miracles, especially — and lightly incorporates them, so that without being heavy-handed, when the characters talk about the holiday, it resonates a bit with the underlying story. (And with the eventual resolution to the time loop, which is a delight.) Between the traditions the family observes (not just the menorah, but the food, the prayers, and so on) and some recognition that this is not a huge gift-giving holiday for adults but mostly a family celebration, it really seems like a Hanukkah movie, while also being a lot of fun. (I don't celebrate Hanukkah, but here's a similarly positive take from someone who does.)

It helps that Michaelis comes from oddball comedy — they hosted a show for the comedy streaming service Dropout, and they've worked with Upright Citizens Brigade. You can see those comedy chops in Rachel's sharp approach to her dilemma that is somehow both confident and baffled. The script from Tamar Laddy and the direction from Stacey N. Harding are very well-suited to the project.

When I tell people a Hallmark movie is good, they often assume that there's an undercurrent that you grade these things on a curve — that they are not good in the way other things are good. Round and Round is plain old good, a spry and funny romcom I'd have been delighted to discover inside or outside the Hallmark universe.

This piece also appeared in NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter so you don't miss the next one, plus get weekly recommendations about what's making us happy.

Listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.