The Courtship of Eddie’s Father

A Great Cast, but This is Ronny Howard’s Movie

I have just seen this movie again after many years. It was always a favorite, and if I remember correctly I may have first seen it in the theatre when I was a little younger than Ronny Howard was when he played the titular role. It is based on a very short book of the same title by Mark Roby. It is very faithful to it. It has all of the pivotal scenes and most of the small ones. It even expands some characters that play a very small part in the book. The new housekeeper, renamed Mrs. Livingston, to the recent widower, Tom, and his son Eddie has a greatly expanded role. She is perfectly played by Roberta Sherwood and the Spanish lessons are added as well. The role of Dollye Daly played by Stella Stevens and her romance with Tom Corbett’s employee, the radio personality and playboy, is also greatly enhanced. Although Stella competently plays the ditsy, sweet but book-smart Dollye, she is comic gold in her bowling scene and her drum solo. Neither are in the book. We completely understand why Norman, the quintessential womanizer, played by Jerry Van Dyke, is very intrigued during the former, but falls for her hook, line, and sinker when she screws up her courage to favor the nightclub with her unforgettable stylings on the drums.

Glenn Ford is great as the still-grieving father struggling to raise his son as a single father in New York City. Dina Merrill is perfectly cast as the sophisticated career woman whom he falls for. She is not a villainess, but does not have a maternal bone in her body. Shirley Jones plays the warm lovely next-door neighbor whom we know is going to be “the one.” But the movie really belongs to Ronny Howard whose performance brings Eddie to life. He is adorable and real. He makes the funny lines funnier and the sad parts more poignant. When he conflates the death of his goldfish with the death of his mother the resulting hysteria and horror is heartbreaking and terrifying. Tom does not understand and in his panic and pain cries, “A fish is a fish but his mother was his mother!” But Elizabeth does. This was Ronny’s big scene and it is a tour de force. But he handles the subtle scenes masterfully as well. His quiet politeness hiding his uncertainty and suspicion during his first meeting with Rita (Dina Merrill), His fear and desperation when Tom tells him he is going to marry her. His happiness and hope when his Dad finally asks Elizabeth for a date. There is not one phony second in his performance.

This is one of those movies that has something for everyone: Wit, physical comedy, drama, suspense, tenderness, and a slow-burn romance. And it delivers on every one.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

January 14, 2022

North to Home

Finding Your True North

This is another high-quality offering by Hallmark and was shown on Hallmark Murders and Mysteries. They seem to be using this branch of their network to show productions that go a little deeper and are a little more complex than a romantic comedy. They are more about family relationships, drama, overcoming problems, and learning life lessons. There is a bit of a romance included but it’s hardly the main attraction.

The movie starts off with three sisters and their relationship. The two oldest live in the same city, not in Alaska, and are at odds because the oldest, Hannah, is so wrapped up in her career that she has no time to spare for the younger and her two daughters. She is married happily and, also happily, they do not have any children. The younger, Beth, is a happily married stay-at-home Mom, who is getting tired of that role and feels unfulfilled. She is being tempted to go back to her successful career. The younger sister, Posy, lives in Alaska with the parents. She yearns for travel and adventure but feels obligated to take over their parents’ café upon their imminent retirement. They are all about to meet up in Alaska to celebrate their mother’s 60th birthday which is also the 25th anniversary of a mysterious bad happening.

As the movie goes on, surprising aspects to the girls’ relationship and their family are revealed. All is not as we were first led to believe. The career-oriented Hannah learns she is pregnant (not terminally ill-Yay!). What will be the fallout with Adam her husband? Beth’s husband finds out she is secretly testing the waters of going back to her successful career and feels betrayed. Posey is falling in love with a mountain climber and travel writer which falls in with her dreams of travel as opposed to running her parents’ café.

The lesson of the story is “”sometimes you find your calling but sometimes you’re calling finds you” and each of the sisters in turn learns this is true for them. In the process, a tragedy is explored, a mother is released from a 25 year long guilt, a young man finds closure. And revelations lead to understanding and new paths forward.

The actors were well cast, and their parts well-acted, especially Kimberley Sustad as the middle sister and overprotective mother, Beth. At one point she is accused of “Catastrophizing everything!” I also loved Matthew James Dowden who played Adam, Hannah’s husband. He usually plays sketchy characters, but he was wonderful as an unqualified good guy in this. The one fly in the ointment was the casting of Luke, Posey’s love interest. His looks, demeanor, and speech cried vacant surfer dude, not educated sophisticated world traveler and author. It was laughable. Where was Ali Liebert, the director? Everything else was so good.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 13, 2022

Rose Hill

Good Concept but no Depth-should Have been a Two or Three Parter.

I tried to read the book years ago, but I just couldn’t get into it. Probably because I was too used to reading her medieval romances. My point is that my rating has nothing to do with what a disappointment the movie was compared to the book. The bottom line is that they tried to do too much in two hours. The story was just too big. It needed four hours minimum. Too many characters, too many plot points, too much time elapsing, etc. It ended up being too choppy and just skimmed the surface leaving the viewer uninvested in the characters or the happenings. At least 4 or 5 of the short scenes could have been made into movies by themselves. this was a hallmark hall of Fame production as opposed to just a Hallmark movie of recent years. Fun Fact: this was Vera Farmiga’s first role.

One thing for sure: I might give Julie Garwoods original novel, For the Roses, another try!

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

March 11, 2021

The Wedding Veil

Lacey and Lace

This was pretty entertaining and I’m looking forward to the next 2 installments of the trilogy starring Autumn Reeser and Alison Sweeney. This first one featured Lacey Chabert with Kevin McGarry playing the love interest.

Three friends are in San Francisco for their yearly get-together. They are out antiquing and Lacey spies a beautiful vintage wedding veil. The owner tells them that the veil comes with magical powers. Whoever owns the veil will meet their true love while it is in their possession. The girls decide to all buy it together, and Lacey will take it home. She soon meets Kevin McGarry and they have an instant connection. Coincidentally they both live in Boston where they plan to continue to see each other. While at the airport, Kevin sees the wedding veil with Lacey and overhears her having a conversation about planning a wedding that he assumes is hers. (It’s not.) He immediately gives her the brush and leaves. Lacey is confused and disgusted.

They keep meeting up while in Boston because Lacey is an assistant curator of a museum and he is the rich philanthropist who is hosting a gala to raise money for the museum. What follows is a quite amusing series of encounters between the two where Lacey seems very open to a relationship while Kevin thinks she is about to get married. He acts very attracted to her and then keeps backing off, confusing and angering poor Lacey to no end. Meanwhile, he can’t understand why such a seemingly nice woman is acting like a cheat and a tease. It’s Cute. The truth finally comes out after an hour and 15 minutes. The subplot is also interesting. Lacey discovers a dirty and faded 19th-century portrait of a bride wearing a very familiar-looking veil in the Museum’s basement and finds out it is a lost masterpiece. She wants it to be the centerpiece of the gala but it has to be restored in record time. So there is a lot of running around and intrigue over that.

Lacey’s wardrobe choices in this were very odd. She wears a lot of flowery floating low cut off-the-shoulder dresses one of which, I swear, looked like a filmy nightgown. You could see right through much of it. They would have been OK for a formal garden party but not for shopping, at work, or rooting around filthy basements. I’m also not sure I liked the pairing with Kevin McGarry although they were fine individually. The chemistry between the 3 queens of Hallmarkland was off the charts, however.

After Lacey and Kevin tie the knot, Autumn Reeser will be taking the veil to Italy with her to have it researched to see if it’s the same veil in the portrait. The suspense is killing me.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 10, 2022

It Was Always You

Good Hair!

Elizabeth is engaged to a fellow dentist, safe boring George, a childhood friend. They go to their old island neighborhood to throw a party for George’s mother and to prepare for their upcoming wedding. George’s brother David with whom she has had a stormy relationship with is also there. When George is stranded on the mainland, Elizabeth and David are thrown together planning the party.

I did not like the relationship between Tyler Hynes (David) and Erin Krakow who played Elizabeth. Tyler Hynes was his usual rough around the edges attractive self. I really usually like him. But his character in this one was irritating. He was out of line about things that were none of his business. The whole relationship bordered on the inappropriate and stalkerish. She was engaged to his brother and he needed to lay off and leave her alone.

And why did the fiance brother not just get a boat over to the island when the bridge was under repair? Ridiculous.

I disagree with the apparent majority opinion about Erin’s hair. I liked the different cut from the way her fans are used to seeing her on When Calls the Heart, which I’ve never seen, (with the inauthentic modern flowing locks in 19th century Canada). It gave her an edge that improved her usual placidly wholesome look.

I did like the end. I’m a real fan of the “One year later” endings. I like that Erin followed her dreams of travel. Tyler’s childhood note to Erin was really sweet and romantic. And I liked that the stick-in-the-mud brother had finally loosened up with the right woman.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

March 2, 2021

Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses

Promising Start and Some Good Scenes but Didn’t Like the Romance.

Jill Wagner plays a hardworking single Mom who wants to get back to Interior Designing but is afraid to leave her stable job as a programming director at an assisted living facility. Donna Mills encourages her to apply for a primo job with her big-shot son redecorating and re-purposing their old unused mansion for office space and a Christmas gala. Donna who was pushing 80 when this was filmed in 2019 looks absolutely gorgeous.

The setup for this is good as Donna’s son is cold, “imperious,” and has no sense of humor, and his V.P. and trusted advisor, Kate, is a cold bitch. They both make it crispy clear they are not impressed by her qualifications or demeanor. And I can’t say that I blame them. For while we like Abby who is warm, enthusiastic, and charming, her qualifications were not the best, and she misspoke during the interview. When they haughtily dismiss her, she has a meltdown and acted like the “interview” was just a formality and she was guaranteed the job. She yells at them and storms out of the room. She’s hired because she has “spunk”.

Jill remains as charming and likable as ever while trying and succeeding in jollying up the Scroogey Nick. He slowly but surely warms up to her, her son, and her ideas (which are diametrically opposed to Kate’s who keeps getting meaner and meaner). His character arc takes up a large chunk of the movie and they start to give each other smoldering looks. Meanwhile, Abby meets a nice doctor who loves kids and whom we like as well. It is a measure of Jill Wagner’s appeal that she remains likable while stringing the nice doctor along while being attracted to Nick and behaving very unprofessionally at times.  Nick keeps following her around like a puppy dog and even at one point stalks her while she is on a date with the doctor and actually horning in on it with scary Kate at his side. It is very awkward and painful to watch.

He loses an important client because he is neglecting his business and I actually started sympathizing with Kate and her frustration. He gives a nice speech to Abby about why his business needs his full attention. Abby’s work on the mansion is a triumph and the writers now decide to rehabilitate Kate instead of punishing her for being so mean to Abby. She acknowledges Abby’s good work and admits she was wrong. A.) They need her to give the good doctor some romantic closure as he is left twisting in the wind by our heroine which is not a good look. B.) They need her to take on the bulk of Nick’s business responsibilities so he can have more of a work/life balance with Abby. So she gets a promotion.

This one ultimately did not fly for me despite Jill Wagner’s appeal. I could never warm up to Nick, especially due to the worthy competition of the sexy and nice doctor. She had more in common with him and it seemed like it was just physical attraction between Abby and Nick. Also, I just couldn’t get quite forget that the actor who played him was that blockhead Warner from Legally Blonde.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

December 21, 2021

Dancing Through the Snow

Dating and Dancing

A single father who is also a sexy fireman gets caught on video doing a ballet dance with his young daughter. It is adorable. (It really is!) It goes viral and he is anointed America’s Favorite Single Dad. He is inundated with women trying to date him and the media trying to interview him. But he is a low-key down to earth kind of guy and doesn’t let his sudden 15 minutes of fame go to his head. Meanwhile, he meets his daughter’s ballet teacher, and the attraction is mutual. The romance is mature, slow burn, and realistic. They are well aware that any relationship must be serious with no rush into a temporary fling. Although there are some humorous moments and some dramatic suspense, the overall tone to this one was serious and steady.

During one of their dates, she confides that her ballet studio is in trouble and she is being nagged by her parents to move down to Florida to live with them. I immediately thought, “Uh Oh here comes the “I need a big loan or I’m going to leave” scam. But then I remembered this was not a Lifetime movie, but a Lifetime Christmas movie. The other roadblock to their happily ever after is his young daughter. She starts acting up out of jealousy. The young actress is a highlight of this movie. She is adorable and sweet when required, wise beyond her years when required (“Dad don’t patronize me!”), and a petulant little brat when required.

Thanks to some wise advice from his happy-go-lucky brother and a “woman-to-woman” talk between grandmother and granddaughter, the family roadblocks are removed. A neat resolution is also found to her financial trouble and it is one that comes full circle to the original viral video. The hint of romance at the end between Noah, the brother, and Olivia’s best friend is very cute.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

December 7, 2021

Christmas With a Prince: The Royal Baby

Silly and Laborious

This was very silly. The script was silly, some of the acting was silly, and the production values were lacking, which made some of the scenes silly. I’ll deal with the production values first. At one point, we see the hospital where (spoiler alert!) Dr. Tasha our American princess heroine is having her baby. The smoke or steam from a chimney is frozen in midair and not wafting upwards. Obviously, a photograph stuck in front of the camera. And what was Dr. Tasha wearing during a TV interview? A green dress, red shoes, and a yellow hat? Why? Was she impersonating an elf? They didn’t have any clothes in the wardrobe department that went together? The 3rd strike on the cheap budget issue was the fact that one of the main characters, Charles Shaughnessy was seen entirely on video. Even when he was supposed to be in the same building, they talked to him via an electronic device. In the one scene where they couldn’t get around not having his presence (the baptism), he was obviously put in via green screen or some other movie trick. Covid? I guess? But they could have made it more seamless. This was definitely phony-looking. The weird thing was that some of the sets were very lavish looking and authentic. And most of the other wardrobe was unobjectionable.

The acting of two of the actors trying to be funny was laughable. In that they were not funny. Specifically, the actor who played Dr. Tasha’s brother, and the actor who played Blevins, Prince Alexander’s butler(?) courtier(?) Major Domo(?). Their mugging should have been taken down a couple of notches by the director. Speaking of acting, was Princess Tasha having (spoiler alert!)  babies or did she have a cramp in her toe? And speaking of giving birth, No one, including Dr. Tasha or her obstetrician knew she was having (spoiler alert!) twins until the second one popped out? I won’t belabor the silliness of that like I won’t mention the silliness of the possibility of declaring a hospital room part of another country.

I will mention one more silly scene. Nurse Jeff puts an engagement ring into a cup of tea and leaves it on the counter. A hospital employee drinks the tea and just leaves the cup in the sink with the ring still in it. I hope neither of these two is allowed around sick people.  Sorry, one more scene. OK, so Dr. Tasha, who is a highly educated, sophisticated, and worldly woman who has been a princess for over a year, has to be taught table manners before she is allowed to go back to visit her own country? (Don’t reach across the table to grab the roll with your bare hands! Use the tongs!) I admit, although I saw the first one in this trilogy I don’t remember it. And I haven’t seen the second one in the trilogy. But I don’t think it was established that Dr. Tasha was born in a barn.

The main conflict had to do with the king not knowing a girl baby would be able to inherit the throne. He kept insisting the boy was born first even though he was told the girl baby was born first numerous times. I won’t spoil how all that was resolved.

All in all, although I am used to overlooking ridiculous aspects of  Christmas movies no matter what the network and still enjoying them, this one was just too dumb.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

November 14, 2021

Much Ado About Christmas

A Strong Debut from the New Kid on the Block

I always enjoy modern riffs on classic works particularly Jane Austen ones. This is Shakespeare and it was well done. Setting it in England, presumably London, and all of the English accents added to the overall charm. I like that they explained why the American mother and daughter’s home was in England. A sweet young couple fall in love, practically at first glance. He is a young advertising executive, Claude, who, along with Ben, works for Don. They are about to try to win a contract with LeonaLloyd, a rich and powerful head of a major corporation. She is also the mother of Haley, who is sweet and down-to-earth. She heads the charitable end of the corporation and is the best friend of Bea, who once dated Ben, Claude’s friend. It did not end well. Anyone who is familiar with the Shakespeare comedy can guess where this will go. The conflict between the young lovers, Claude and Haley, comes not from suspected infidelity, but because Haley does not tell Claude the truth about who her mother really is. She just wants to be treated like a normal girl. When he finds out the truth, in a very dramatic fashion, he is humiliated and dumps her and she is devastated.

 The casting was on point.  I’ve never seen Susie Abromeit before but she was fantastic. I was not impressed with Torrance Coombs in a previous Hallmark production, but he was perfect in this, playing Claude. Sweet and love-struck when called for, and cold and unyielding when needed as well. The Bea and Ben romance was wisely very much in the background. The relationship between Leona, Hailey, and Bea, and the advertising agency’s efforts to win Leona’s favor provided interesting background to the romance.

Although there have been some stale plots and casting in Hallmark Christmas movies this year, in general, they have upped their game. If this is because of strong competition from other productions like this one, I’m all for it.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

November 12, 2021

A Mrs. Miracle Christmas

“Isn’t that Fortuitous!”

The Mrs. Miracle Christmas movies, based on books by mainstream novelist Debbie Macomber, were a cut above typical Hallmark Christmas fare. I was very happy to see a new one in the series with Caroline Rhea taking over the eponymous character. I was not at all surprised that she brought her own comedic talents, warmth, and energy to the role. I am certain that this will be a yearly event now that they have their new Mrs. Miracle. And we got an extra bonus with the appearance of her daughter, “Mercy,” charmingly played by Jordan Ashley Olsen.

In this one, Mrs. Miracle comes to the rescue of a school teacher and her husband, and the young woman’s “Nana” who are all finding it difficult to move forward from grief. Lauren and Will from the loss of their foster child, and Nana from the death of her husband. Lauren also harbors hurt and abandonment issues because of a dead mother and an absent father. Although certain aspects are as predictable as usual, it does avoid some usual Hallmark conventions. For one thing, money is an issue. Lauren and Will started living with Nana because of financial problems. Loss of religious faith is touched on. The big 20-minutes-to-go-in-the-movie conflict over a new foster child is in no danger of escalating because the couple is married and love each other. So they communicate.

Once she settled into the role, Lauren is ably played by Kaitlin Doubleday who is a dead ringer for a young Kelly Ripa.

Steve Lund who is usually in lighter fare, is effective as her husband who is trying to get his wife to look forward and try again.  It was no surprise that he was great in this more dramatic role and they couldn’t have cast anyone better than Paula Shaw as the funny, feisty Nana. All three are caught up in the force of nature that is Mrs. Miracle who is a firm believer that “Sometimes we don’t know what we need until it is placed right in front of us.” It is all capped off with a very satisfying “3 years later” epilogue.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

November 11, 2021