What Hulu rom-com 'Merry Kiss Cam' gets wrong about Duluth

People in holiday outfits smile and hug
"Merry Kiss Cam" actors pose behind the scenes.
Courtesy of JoAnn Jardine

Hailing a cab in Duluth. Eating snow fallen next to a city street. Portraying the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs as a perpetually-losing hockey team.  

These are just a few of the headscratchers that make a strange trip out of “Merry Kiss Cam,” a new rom-com on Hulu that was filmed and set in Duluth. 

The premise of this Hallmark-esque holiday fluff is this: Jess, a widow and the afterschool special version of a “serious” artist (played by a cheerily world-weary Katie Lowes), and legacy bar owner and hockey fan Danny (a slightly desperate and bumbling Jesse Bradford) have a meet-cute when she walks into his place of work.

He invites her to a Bulldogs hockey game for a first date, where the kiss cam lands on them. They smooch, and shortly afterwards the fictionally-lousy team wins. And so, Bulldogs fans adopt their broadcasted embraces as a lucky charm. Queue many, many kiss cam montages. 

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The film was shot earlier in 2022 and features Duluthian actor Bailey Stender and UMD alum Benny Elledge (both are quite funny; stay to watch Elledge riff when the credits roll). Riki McManus, chief production officer for the Upper Midwest Film Office, calls it a “a love letter to Duluth.” 

Longtime UMD film and theater professor Tom Isbell also weighed in. 

"’Merry Kiss Cam’" was like ‘Titanic’ around here,” says Isbell (full disclosure: I took his fantastic Intro to Film class back in 2002, and then was a teacher’s assistant for his class the next semester). “When the filmmakers were in town, it was all people could talk about.” 

“Merry Kiss Cam” is cheery, and for Minnesotan and Duluthian viewers, as asinine as it is benign.  

I went to school at the University of Minnesota Duluth in the early aughts. While I’ve visited several times after graduating, I haven’t lived there since 2008. To bolster my critic skills on a recent snowy evening, I live tweeted a viewing and asked for more Duluth (and hockey)-savvy folk to chime in.  

For your holiday bemusement, here is some fodder from me and the Minnesota Twitterverse to stuff in your stocking. 

  • Our heroine Jess steps out of her exposed brick, two-story ceiling artist loft and immediately hails a yellow taxi. Shocking. Is this downtown Duluth or nineties Soho? The “Sex and the City” universe? This happens twice. Twitter user @Rebo_Bebo put it best: “Omg! She hails a cab … on the street … and it’s not a rusted-out minivan from 2004. And her ride only cost $6.”  

  • Before the aforementioned cab hail, Jess grabs a fistful of snow off a Mesabi Tribune street box and proceeds to EAT IT. I retched. What self-respecting Minnesotan would eat city snow? To add insult to injury, Danny commits the same blasphemy moments later in the film and this proves that they are meant to be. Sigh. 

  • Duluth comes off as scenic and charming, marked by some truly lovely historic buildings, all of which tracks in real life. But something feels off. That’s because “Merry Kiss Cam” was filmed in the late spring, and it shows. Twitter user @jillvossberg called it out: “The green trees in the background with the white snow in the dead of winter had us rolling.” 

  • The premise is set quickly that the Bulldogs are bad. Danny owns Carmody Irish Pub, a real bar where I used to do pub trivia in college. Danny always has a game on the tube, and as his regulars groan at another loss, he pontificates: “Bulldogs fans are relegated to a life of pain and suffering and almosts and could-have beens.” Now, I don’t follow hockey (the shame!), so I asked Twitter if this portrayal is accurate. “No. They’ve won three national championships and been to the Frozen Four like eight times. That’s good,” @vpmattsaxe replied. My partner, on the other hand, is a former teen goalie and comes from a family of avid fans. His takeaway? The arena should have been packed with fans during the games. Apparently (says the arts reporter), college hockey is a big deal here. He likens it to high school football in Texas. The more you know

  • Is this really a film about Carmody Irish Pub?  Not only does half the plot unfold there, but the film also shows its sign something like 72 times just in case you forgot it. There are some other fun local highlights, like the Fitger’s complex, Lincoln Park, the Duluth Art Institute and the revolving Apostle Supper Club atop the Radisson hotel.  

According to the Upper Midwest Film Office, “Merry Kiss Cam” producer Mandy June Turpin already returned to shoot “Body Language.” It wrapped in November and should be released in late 2023. So, here’s to the next Twitter watch party.  

In the meantime, may all the taxis you hail stop promptly.