#fakehusband #fakebaby #funnymother

Fake boyfriend is one of my favorite tropes. Ok, it is my favorite. And this one ups the ante by making it a fake husband and baby. A talented but struggling interior design and lifestyle store owner tries to boost her business by winning a social media contest. To increase her chances she needs a husband and a baby. Her best friend, Brant Daugherty, Max, who of course has been in love and longing for her for years is designated as the husband and her sister just happens to have a baby handy. Clare Bowen as the female lead was a bit of a mixed bag. She brought a lot of energy and commitment to the role, but at times she came across as over the top and a tad hammy. As Jen, she is commitment-averse due to her mother’s parenting. Mom is played by Karen Kruper who is a hoot. Her name is Liz Taylor and she lives up to that name. When Jen’s father died, instead of avoiding romance and focusing on her children like all good Hallmark widows and divorcees do, her mother went in the opposite direction and went looking for love in all the wrong places. By the time we meet her, she is on her 4th husband and 4 times is the charm, because he is a great guy and they are happy. But stability came too late for poor Jen. While on the way to the Bahamas with her sensible new husband, Jen’s mother sees her daughter’s video with her “husband” and “son”, and she is shocked and dismayed. “Honey, just give her some space.” “She got married and had a baby without telling me! How much space does she need? Outer space?!” Yes, there was plenty of sharp dialogue and funny lines. And she scraps her tropical Christmas getaway and returns home to bond with her daughter post haste.

Also adding some interest was the successful couple who are mega stars in the business and are holding the contest. Outwardly happy, they are struggling in their marriage. For a generally light-hearted and funny movie there’s a lot of angst in this one. In addition to Jen’s issues with her mother, and her issues with her relationship with Max, we have her guilt over the deception and her fear of exposure. When the inevitable happens, we have that drama as well.

I really enjoyed seeing Anna Van Hooft sporting a gorgeous new look in a “good guy” role for a change. She plays the happily married supportive sister instead of the evil girlfriend she often excels at. It all ends as it should with lessons learned, families reconciled, and a particularly great kiss. If I have a quibble, the ending was a little too abrupt. I’m probably getting a little too used to final wrap-up scenes or “One year later”s.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

My Southern Family Christmas

Christmas in Louisiana minus the Southerners.

A Texas magazine writer, Campbell, receives a voicemail out of the blue from her Bio-Dad’s wife, inviting her to come to Louisana to meet and get to know him and her two half-sisters. Loved seeing Moira Kelly of Chaplin and The Cutting Edge fame in the role of the Deadbeat Dad’s loving wife. Campbell is very torn because while she wants to meet her two sisters, her Dad (Bruce Campbell)  abandoned her and her mother when she was two years old. With her mom and her stepdad, her family is complete and she has had no interest in having a relationship with a guy with whom she hasn’t had any contact in at least 3 decades. Finally, after seeing an old photo of herself at 2 sitting on the very handsome young Bruce Campbell’s lap, she decides to go, but anonymously. Using her profession as a magazine writer doing an article on Pere Noel, she will get to know her father and his two daughters surreptitiously.  Her father has just inherited the title of this cajun version of Santa Claus, which is apparently a big community honor in Louisiana. I don’t know, I confess I’ve never heard of this.

Under the pretext of researching and getting to know “Pere Noel”, she visits the county records department which is run by the town historian and expert. He is very cute, and they like each other. He susses out who she really is immediately as she steals some files on her father from his office. But as she gets to know her father and his family, her heart softens as she learns what a great guy and dedicated family man he is now.  She learns how guilty and torn up he is about his past, and that he actually came to see her when she was 8 years old. But when he saw what a happy, perfect family she, her mother, and her husband, her stepfather, made, he slunk away without making contact. After some drama, she finally reveals who she is just in time for a happy Christmas.

Although this was a good premise for an interesting and touching story, it just didn’t entirely work due to the performance of Jaicy Elliot as the daughter. We really needed to empathize with her, or at least like her. She is supposed to be very warm and lovable in the script. At one point the love interest encourages her by saying “Who wouldn’t love you?” And lots of stuff like that. However, the actress made her come across as flat and emotionless at best and downright unpleasant at worst. When some photographers want to do a family picture of Pere Noel and his family, she is told by them to step aside as they only want “family.” This is the big drama. She hadn’t even told her Dad who she was yet, but petulantly stalks away with the intention of leaving without even saying good-bye to her sisters or stepmother with whom she has grown close. It made no sense. I’m not sure what our emotions were supposed to be at this point about her, but I was pretty disgusted. Luckily, thanks to the cute love interest who is head over heels for no discernible reason, she changes her mind for a tender reveal and reconciliation scene on Christmas morning. Bruce Campbell had been writing to Campbell ever since he abandoned her and gives all of the letters to her warning her they are full of sorrow, pain, and regret. Uh, thanks, Dad. Merry Christmas to you too. Maybe they should just move forward?

Finally, as a southerner, I was borderline offended by the lack of southern accents in the cast of characters. This is Louisiana, y’all! It’s called My Southern Family Christmas. But they all sounded like they were from California or Nebraska and didn’t even make an effort. Campbell was born and raised in Texas, but nope, no accent there either. Poor Bruce Campbell made half-hearted attempts off and on, but please. At least he tried! Kinda.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

When I Think of Christmas

I Got Distracted From the Story

This had some good things about it. I really like Niall Matter and I saw Shenae Grimes in a few things a while back and also liked her very much. She plays a lawyer in the big city who comes home for Christmas to help her mother downsize and move into a new condo. She comes across her old music partner (Niall Matter) and we learn that she used to be a talented musician and singer like her late father. Niall gives her the cold shoulder and there is a lot of anger behind his eyes. They have a fight and the truth comes out. She won a scholarship to Yale University and abandoned their dreams to go to Nashville together and try to make a go at music. She didn’t discuss it with him and just left with no warning. She basically ghosted him after a long relationship. But after she got to Yale, she wrote him and tried to call him numerous times and he just ignored her. The best he could do on his own was be part of a band. He couldn’t attain any degree of the success he dreamed of without her, although he did make a little name for himself. He has been blaming her all this time for his lack of success and for choosing Yale over him and leaving with no discussion. He is back in town directing the town’s big amateur Christmas concert. They air it all out and forgive each other and start to work together.

To be frank I was so busy trying to figure out how old the Niall Matter character was supposed to be, that I kind of lost interest in all the ins and outs of the story. Shenae’s character is definitely 28 years old. She got her scholarship as a senior in high school and it’s been 10 years. The 10-year gap between 18 and present-day is confirmed several times. Given the situation and what we learned about their relationship, it appears that Niall is about the same age. They were a music duo and were singing together since she was about 15. They were young and in love and making plans to leave town together to make a go of it in Nashville. It is mentioned later in the movie that they were in 6th grade together. But later, when it becomes obvious that his career is not going well Shenae asks him what happened. He says he got tired of just playing national venues as just part of a band and wanted to strike out on his own. At this point, Shenae confirms that this was when he was 29. As if 29 was several years ago. He says he put everything and every dollar into it, but just failed. He is still a performer, but he is not a success. He is so beaten down and discouraged that surely he struggled for at least a few years? (He even churlishly refused to join a singer on stage during the tree lighting, when given a shout-out, publicly turning his back on her) I figured he was 31 to her 28 at the youngest. It just didn’t hang together chronologically or logically. My guess is that the part was written for them both to be 28 or so years old, but it was too much of a stretch when 42-year-old Niall Matter was cast, no matter how attractive he looks. So they added some lines to age him up a bit. My head hurt trying to make it all make sense. I don’t know, it just bothered me.

They both behaved badly and they were whiny about it. For a 30 or 31 (or older) year-old man, Niall was very immature and did not seem to have much gumption or a firm grasp of the realities of the importance of being able to make a living. Shenae blamed her mother for her very successful career in New York as a lawyer. She made her feel guilty about being a responsible caring mother and guiding her teenage self to make the choice of the Yale scholarship rather than probably throwing her life away on a big gamble in music. They both just acted like babies. The mom actually ended up apologizing to her. So that was just so wrong as well. Especially when we find out more about her Mom’s struggles before and after her husband was killed.

The performers at this all-important concert were not good. The whole thing was like high school amateur night. Peter Benson’s cameo rapping a Christmas Carol was a treat, though. For all of the build-up, Niall, Shenae and her mother were not great at performing either. They all had very pleasant serviceable voices, but not professional quality by any means. I liked Mom’s new romance, but there was too much involvement in past history.

The end didn’t help. Shenae decides to follow Niall around, take up music again, and maybe practice law on the side (?). Meanwhile, Niall buys a plane ticket to New York to be near Shenae and her big career as a lawyer. The end is very vague as to what they end up doing and how. But one thing’s for sure, actor Daniel Bacon has a lock on the post of the official Mayor of Hallmarktown. This is at least his fourth turn in that role in as many years.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

A Country Christmas Harmony

Chrissy Deserves Better

Oh. My. Goodness. Gracious. Seldom have I been more disgusted by the behavior of a TV romance man. Let me back up. This one starred Brooke Elliot whom I have never heard of, but is kind of a big deal apparently, starring in the recent TV series, Drop Dead Diva.  I’ve never seen that show but she was great in this. There also was a little kid in this played by Caden Dragomer (great name) who was also terrific. Brooke plays Chrissy, a Nashville singing star whose career has taken a hit due to a failure of a song called “Reindeer Slay”. We see a clip of it and it is actually awesome. Anyway, her manager insists she goes back to her hometown to film a concert to get back to her roots and stop being trendy. She has not been back for 10 years where she also left her former musical and romantic partner, Luke.  More on that later. The actor,  Brandon Quinn, bears a strong resemblance to Colin Ferguson, a former Hallmark regular who is now the Maytag Man. Getting close to her old hometown, driving with her assistant, Eugene, played by former Who’s the Boss alumnus, Danny Pintauro.  She has to go pee really bad due to her nervous water-drinking habit. She runs into a restaurant/bar which is now owned by her hometown boyfriend and they have a meet cute along with his Granny. He behaves very rudely toward her. which, of course, is standard procedure in rom-coms. Just to fill out the rest of the plot, Back in their 20s when they were struggling to make it in dive bars and other sparsely attended venues, she was the real draw with her great voice and he was the guitar player and primary songwriter. He is very resentful of her leaving, and at this point, I thought, “Well, maybe he has good reason. After all, she did leave on Christmas.” Granny forces him to take her to dinner and they are getting along great reminiscing. But when she mentions that she will be filming a concert there, he gets all angry again and huffs and puffs saying that he thought she came back because she missed her small town, and maybe him, and wanted to reconnect, but “you are here FOR WORK!” Boo-de-hoo-hoo. He says some really mean things, yells that she is a fake person without an authentic bone in her body, and leaves her at the dinner table. What a Drama Queen. And rude!

At this point, I was starting not to like this guy, even though we have already learned that he adopted his sister’s baby after she died in an accident ten years ago shortly after Chrissy left. After having a heart-to-heart with each other they make up and Chrissy asks him to write a Christmas song for her concert. She is under a lot of pressure from her handlers to sing a duet with Brad, her ex, which she for sure doesn’t want to do. He agrees in return for singing at his Granny’s annual Christmas bash at the bar. They kiss, etc. They continue to bond and Chrissy also gets close to Brandon. After the big misunderstanding, they have their happy ending in which Luke agrees to follow her to Nashville because home is not a town, but wherever she is.

This is why I couldn’t stand this guy:

First off, He hasn’t dated anyone since Chrissy because he worries about what would happen if Brandon didn’t like her. Nothing would happen, Doofus. He might love her and if he doesn’t, you move on. His excuses are so phony and a way to blame the kid, rather than his own choices for not engaging with the opposite sex.

Second, we find out the real story behind her “abandoning him” for fame and fortune. The reason why she left was that she wanted to have her shot in Nashville after hanging around Hicksville with him until she was 28 years old. He refused to leave his hometown in no uncertain terms, trying to manipulate her into staying put, despite her talent and promise. So when her parents gave her a one-way ticket to Nashville for Christmas, she was strong enough to leave despite his threat. (She did leave him a note.) Soon after, her parents retired to Key West, so she had no home there to come back to, anyway. So he pouts for 10 years when his evil plan didn’t work.

Third, no Christmas decorations or a Christmas tree with a little kid in the house? Other than laziness or too much wallowing in his personal issues, why not? Letting his 10-year-old mourning for his sister outweigh her son’s happiness is not what his sainted sister would have wanted, I’m sure. He does change his mind and they go up in a blink of an eye. Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Fourth. At first, he wouldn’t introduce the child who is a fan of the country star let alone take him to her concert. Again, denying his child a treat to nurse his personal grievances.

Fifth. When her ex Brad shows up uninvited and unannounced in the middle of an intimate moment with Luke at his bar, Luke storms out of the place, even though she is plainly shocked and upset by his arrival. He doesn’t give her a chance to explain, just abandons her there in the middle of a winter snowstorm. Stranded. With no way to get home, except with Brad. Who actually turns out to be a pretty nice guy, despite his referring to himself in the third person.

Now here’s the kicker. Granny gives him a good talking to telling him to get over himself and quit with the pity party. He seems to get it, especially when she tells him he needs to do something to make it up with Chrissy, because if he does nothing, that is exactly what he is going to get. Nothing. The next time we see him he is sitting by himself in his house reading a book at the same time that Chrissy’s concert is going on. Doing exactly NOTHING! Little Brandon, Granny, and Chrissy have to trick him into coming to the concert where they finally make up. Chrissy deserves better. She was nothing but sweet, funny, and classy throughout the whole thing and I don’t see happily ever after in her future.

I do want to say that the singing in this was excellent, unlike another movie I saw a couple of days ago. I don’t know if Brooke Eliot was doing her own singing or not, but I could readily believe she was a Nashville star. Also, I was really really disappointed that the winter storm that happened in this one was not Winter Storm Megan. I guess Lifetime dropped the running joke it had that when a storm was called for to advance the plot, It was always the same storm running through all their Christmas movies, tieing them all into the same universe. It was fun and funny.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

The Christmas Retreat

Rhiannon Fish Moves up the Likability Scale

This one was OK. The first time I really liked Rhiannon Fish in a role was in the recent Hallmark Mystery, Nicky and Nora: Sister Sleuths. So I went into this one giving her the benefit of the doubt and she really came through, showing some good acting and comic timing. She is very very pretty, which is not always a plus.

She starts off playing a real pill and a bit of a brat. And she does it well, starting with her first chance confrontation with the hero, from whom she steals a cab. She is on her way to getting engaged to her long-term boyfriend who ends up dumping her instead. And you can’t blame him a bit. She is all about her work and career, not even silencing her phone during what she expects to be a marriage proposal (Besides being 45 minutes late despite the Cab Caper).

Her mother sees the problem and insists she spends Christmas with her at a Christmas Retreat, which surprise surprise ends up being owned by the guy she just screwed (as in tricked out of the cab, of course). He has just resigned from his company because he was unjustly passed over for a promotion. Good for him.

As she spends time at the retreat with her mother and participates in the activities designed to help the guests regain their Christmas spirit, she finally starts to enjoy herself and own her issues. At first, her reluctance to give up her phone and her bad attitude towards participating lead to some comedy and funny banter with Mark, the hero. Most of the middle got a little on the boring side, and the end was marred by Mark’s behavior toward Rhiannon in the inevitable “big misunderstanding”, which was even more confounding than usual. Her ex-boyfriend shows up all contrite and wants her back, and Mark gets jealous, ignoring their established strong connection and her practically begging him to admit their love. For a nice guy, he acted like a stupid jerk.

Anyway, he regains his sanity and goes after her resulting in the happy ending. They both give up their careers for a more authentic and easy-going life in the woods, spreading Christmas cheer all year long.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Santa Boot Camp

The Two Leads and Santa Saved This One

Emily Kinney was very appealing in this. Very Cute. I really liked her, and she and Rita Moreno kept me watching this to the end.

Emily plays an event planner who has snagged a very high-profile client which will really help her business. He is very demanding, however, and will only settle for the best Santa in the history of the world for his Christmas party or he will fire her like he fired the last event planner. He is played by Patrick Cassidy of *those* Cassidys. Due to some Christmas magic, Emily finds out about “Santa Boot Camp” which trains Santas and other Christmas characters. She is correct that this is the best place to find the perfect Santa because it soon becomes apparent that the boot camp is run by the real Mr. And Mrs. Claus, played by John Shuck and Rita. I was very surprised to see John Shuck in the credits. I remember him from Macmillan and Wife. Anyway, Emily has to join the boot camp to earn Rita’s recommendation for the best Santa. She has a romance with the camp chef, who is almost too gorgeous.

I am floored by how beautiful and full of vitality 90-year-old Rita Moreno is. Short of selling her soul to the devil, she must have the best genes and/or the best plastic surgeon in the world. She looks very young for her age but totally natural, unlike other actors who have had work done. I won’t mention another elderly (85 years) actress who graced a Hallmark production recently. Bless her. Ms. Moreno looks like a very believable 65, and could probably pass for younger. And speaking of casting, I do want to give Lifetime props for featuring a deaf actress as Emily’s lovely mother. It was no big deal, just normal life.

The end was a little ham-handed. The magical mystery part, which was done subtly and charmingly through the whole movie, including Rita’s beautiful wardrobe, was too explicitly revealed and broadly done at the end. To my mind, there should have kept a bit of nuance and mystery about the pair’s true identity. Just a bit.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Three Wise Men and a Baby

Three Very Popular and Attractive Actors and a Baby

This was cute with some good lines and good physical comedy. Three bickering brothers all live with their Mom, Margaret Colin, who was in the original Three Men and a Baby and Independence Day. She was a welcome surprise. Luke, the well-adjusted and responsible fireman  (Andrew Walker) is there just temporarily while his house is being built. The immature tech guy and gamer (Tyler Hynes)  unsurprisingly lives in the basement and the shy pet therapist (Paul Campbell) in a small house in the backyard. These actors are three of the most popular Hallmark actors, and the script gave each of them an opportunity to shine and show off their appeal. I’m sure this will be very highly rated.

In the familiar plot, a baby is left at the firehouse with a note addressed to Luke to take care of him until Christmas Eve, when she will be back. Luke takes the baby home for his mom to take care of but Mom has to leave for a family emergency, which leaves the unemployed Taylor (fired for being a loudmouthed jerk) to bear the brunt of the babysitting. Paul who is self-employed pitches in and predictable shenanigans follow predictably if amusingly.

Penned by the multitalented Paul Campbell and Kimberley Sustad (who makes a brief cameo appearance, along with Preston Van der Slice), this one had some good lines of which curmudgeonly Taylor got the majority. There was some contrived physical comedy consisting of dressing up in elf costumes for no discernable reason, and the re-creation of a Christmas dance performance the boys made up as kids. Taking care of the baby helps the brothers reconcile and work together. In a dramatic scene after a scare at the hospital, they each admit their share of the blame for their estrangement. Taylor in particular comes forth with a much-needed apology for his past behavior. They also realize and appreciate what an awesome mom they have. They have trouble enough with a baby, while their mother raised three rambunctious boys, damaged by their father’s desertion, by herself.  They decide to enter the neighborhood Christmas light decorating contest. Both to win a cruise for their mother as a special Christmas gift and to beat the former school bully who lives across the street and has been taunting them throughout the picture. Unpredictably, they don’t win due to a last-minute technological malfunction. They compensate with an off-the-cuff no-tech retelling of the Christmas story which, although only vaguely resembles the gospel version, is much more authentic to the true spirit of Christmas. Even though they lose, Mom is more than compensated by the joy of seeing her boys being close friends again.

Oh, and there’s some romance too. After the human “wrecking ball”, Taylor, makes up for his behavior at work he is reconciled with his workmate and former girlfriend, Ali Liebert, who has been popping up throughout the movie. Stephan, the reclusive brother, gets together with a single dog-mom who has pursued him relentlessly throughout the movie. It was a bit of surprise when she turns from a man-hungry cliche into a nice woman. Still, his declaration at the end That he is “enraptured” by her was very much over the top and came out of nowhere. We see in the “One Year Later” epilogue that Luke has gotten together with the down-on-her-luck young mother of the baby. It turns out he helped deliver her which was why she left it with him while she found a job. Even their former nemesis, Mark the neighbor, is included in the festivities.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Inventing the Christmas Prince

Opposites Don’t Attract. Until They Do.

The best thing about this movie was the acting. Tamera Mowry-Housley plays a widowed mother of an adorable little girl. She is a rocket scientist and the team’s supervisor. The manager of the company is Evan, played by Ronnie Rowe, Jr. Now Evan is a very interesting character. To say he is not a people person is putting it mildly. He is brilliant but cold and uncaring of his employees. He cannot seem to understand or have empathy toward others. He almost behaves as if he is “on the spectrum.” 3 valuable employees have resigned, citing his management as the cause and because of that, he is in trouble with the board of directors. They tell him not to be such a demanding taskmaster and get a life, essentially. If one more employee quits, he will be fired. Yet right after that, due to a deadline, he informs his employees that they will have to work Christmas Eve and possibly Christmas. He is just clueless and disconnected. It is too much for Tamera, and she tells him off and quits on the spot. But that day, she had to bring her daughter Grace to work for a few hours, and the little girl, nicely played by Isabel Birch, takes one look at her mother’s hateful boss and believes he is the “Christmas Prince” from a story passed down through her family. She believes this fantasy figure, who picks out one little girl or boy every Christmas to grant 12 wishes to, is real. Tamera knows what’s up with her boss’s bosses and tells him she will return to work if he poses as the Prince through Christmas. If she doesn’t he will lose his job. He is horrified but has no choice. Yes, she probably should have told her daughter the truth and not blackmailed her boss, but then we wouldn’t have a movie, would we?

As Evan spends more time with Tamera and her little girl, he starts to open up and warm up. His communication skills improve as well. During their first dinner, for example, his conversation is like, “I see you eat carrots. Do you eat carrots often?” Scintillating! But soon they are opening up to each other, confiding, and empathizing. He learns she is a widow. Three years ago, when her husband died, he approved her bereavement leave but didn’t even care enough to ask who died! When she reminds him of this, he is shocked. It causes him to see himself clearly and make an effort to change his ways. Besides his personal relationship developing with Tamera and Grace, By the end of the movie he becomes a great boss, and even gets promoted, instead of fired!

That Ronnie Rowe Jr. makes his character sympathetic is little short of a miracle. His transformation is slow and subtly done, even changing his body language and the way he stands. Fantastic Job. Mowry-Housley was so funny, warm, and charming in this. The Maitre d’ scene was a stand-out. The secondary characters are entertaining as well. She has a support group she started to help her cope with her husband’s death. It includes Caitlin Stryker, a Hallmark veteran who is always good. I’ve never seen Nathanael Vass who plays Lorenzo, her “work husband” but he was a treat as well. I hope I see him again. Definitely Hallmark Hero material. Even the other little kid actors did well, especially “Sherman.”The actual plot was cheesy as heck, but the writing was bright and amusing, and considerably elevated by the actors’ talents.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Merry and Bright

Candy Canes Incorporated

I came upon this older Hallmark Christmas movie by chance a couple of minutes in and up popped Andrew Walker and in walked Jodie Sweetin. I looked it up and not only had I not reviewed this, I had not even seen it. Since I am not reviewing GAC or GAF or whatever they are calling themselves these days anymore, I had caught up with all the movies I had on my DVR.  As I have mentioned, while Jodie has not always been a favorite, she has grown on me in the last 2 years. Her acting and looks always give a down-to-earth relatable aspect to the characters she plays. And she has a killer smile. Andrew is always good, and with the right partner, he can be great. I came in at the “meet cute”. Jodie’s mother (the talented and award-winning Sharon Lawrence) is always trying to fix her up, and Jodie thinks Andrew is a prospective date sent by her mother rather than an important business associate. The misunderstanding results in some pretty amusing back and forth.

Jodie has taken over her grandmother’s candy cane business after her death. It is the family legacy and it is struggling. How successful can a business be with a product you can only sell for 4 or 5 months a year? She knows what she is doing as she has an MBA and gave up a good career in California to take over. The investors or the board of Merry and Bright, the name of the company, have called in a consultant (Andrew Walker) to figure out how to generate more profit for the business. He is Christmas and small-town averse and doesn’t want to be there as much as Jodie doesn’t want him there. They butt heads as Jodie wants to do things her way. This could have been a lot more frustrating than it was, but luckily Jodie is a smart businesswoman and already knows they have to expand their product line.

As Andrew and Jodie work together they soon begin to like and respect each other. Can romance be far behind? That was a rhetorical question. Meanwhile, Sharon has a nice, funny, but heartwarming storyline. I can see why she took this part. She is not a dog person, but a dog at a shelter has caught Jodie’s eye, and Mom reluctantly adopts it for Jodie a week before Christmas as a surprise. Her antics in trying to hide it but not having the heart to leave it alone in the house is cute and sweet. Adorable dogs always elevate a Hallmark movie or any movie, for that matter. Unless the dog is in danger. The final solution to the business problem is clever and sensible. And Jodie lets her Mom keep the dog when she sees how attached they have grown to each other.

This perfectly enjoyable story is capped off by a nice epilogue where we see the renewed success of the business and Andrew getting down on one knee to propose marriage. That is an increasingly rare conclusion to the romance end of these shows these days, and it was refreshing.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Christmas at the Golden Dragon

The More the Merrier

This is a delightful interconnected multi-story movie with an ensemble cast along the lines of Love, Actually, and the Garry Marshall helmed holiday-based productions. The casting and the acting were impeccable. The stories center around a popular Chinese Restaurant whose owners are retiring and will permanently be closing its doors on Christmas Eve. Each story is an engaging little gem and they all come together in a well-organized and balanced way. All of them are wrapped up like a neat little Christmas gift, but leave us wanting more.

First, we meet a lonely widow, played by the classy Barbara Niven, whose CEO daughter, Sara Canning, is frustrated with her for her inability to move on from her husband’s death. They do not remember their late husband and father in the same way at all. At the restaurant, she runs into an employee of her corporation she is friendly with, a divorced father (Antonio Cupo, Wow!) of two girls. He is struggling with how to parent his girls as a single father. Next, we meet the weak son of the owners. He flunked out of college, is quite lost, and with the restaurant closing, his future is up in the air. He is secretly a talented chef but is discounted and dominated by his traditional father. Will he find a backbone with the help of an old friend and classmate? Working as the restaurant delivery boy is a hard-working, kind, and caring young Hispanic who has been accepted at several prestigious universities but can’t afford to go without a scholarship. He is afraid of his father’s reaction if he tells him about his college aspirations. Finally, we have the daughter of the family who has never experienced a traditional American Christmas because she has always worked at her family’s restaurant on Christmas Day. This one provides most of the humor. She is finally free to leave and visit her non-Chinese boyfriend’s family for a “real” Christmas, which, to her confusion and disappointment, turns out to be nothing but a fantasy. It’s actually pretty funny thanks to the lovely boyfriend and his patient family.

I liked that almost all of the characters start out with some unlikeable qualities. Their relationships with each other with the restaurant serving as the foundation serve up much-needed personal growth, shaking up, and change for the better. As they all come together to keep The Golden Dragon open through one more Christmas Day, we see sadness and frustration left behind and reason for hope and optimism in the future. And just maybe a few promising romances on the horizon.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.