Wedding of a Lifetime

A Breath of Fresh Air

Jake and Darby have known each other for 15 years and engaged for 10. Yes, I know. But there was a career-derailing skiing accident and Nana ( the wonderful Paula Shaw) had health issues. It will be no surprise that they are in a rut and have lost that special spark. In fact, they are about ready to call it a day and break up when their parents and friends enter them in the “Wedding of a Lifetime” competition on national television. Rather than hurt their loved ones’ feelings they decide to enter and lose on purpose. Unfortunately, they both are pretty competitive and hate to lose.

This was a breath of fresh air.  Even though we all knew where this was going, the plot was new and fresh, not one of the usual in the Hallmark grab bag. The acting by Jonathan Bennett was top-notch both in comic scenes and dramatic scenes.  Brooke D’Orsay is always very appealing and lends sweetness and authenticity to any production, but this one gave her more to work with than usual.  Her scenes of heartbreak were very affecting and her comedic ones were amusing. She is one of the best criers at Hallmark, the other being Allison Sweeney.

The couple acted like rational mature adults. Even though they have an argument, they don’t flounce off in a snit.  Darby gets great news via text right in the middle of it, and the argument is forgotten and Jake is happy for her and supportive. The next day, they apologize to each other. What a concept!

Thanks to working together as a team they find their way back together and decide to give their relationship another chance. They win the competition, and “The Wedding of a Lifetime”. But it’s not over yet! When Darby has to deal with a hilarious wedding dress from hell (see picture but with braids like Heidi), and Jake is given fake groomsmen, they both quit in despair and walk out at the same time. Is it the notorious “Big Misunderstanding?” It’s about 15 minutes til the end, after all. NO! They embrace in solidarity in the middle of the street. Damned if it’s not the opposite of “Big Misunderstanding!”

With the gratifying side story of their failing businesses saved by the publicity from the show, this would be an 8 out of a 10. But I’m adding a point for the cute graphics, the funny bickering TV hosts, and the excellent cast of secondary characters. Not to mention a pretty hot scene on a balance beam.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

September 20, 2022

Dating the Delaneys

Very Punny

The dating adventures of three generations of Delaney women make for great entertainment. It’s a treat when Hallmark’s romantic comedies are actually romantic and actually funny. And this one has a nice message as well. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting a relationship, but it’s better when you discover you don’t need one.” The main focus is on Rachel Boston with her daughter as a side story. Widowed Grandma is already happily dating a nice pickleball enthusiast when the story begins. Rachel, as bakery owner Maggie, also has a son whose function is to demonstrate what a terrible father her ex-husband is. Brendan Zub added some edge to the thankless role. Maggie is friendly with a widower, played by the talented and funny Paul Campbell, whom she sits next to at her boy’s high school basketball games. They discuss how hard it is to get used to dating after many many years of marriage. One thing leads to another and they decide to “pretend” to date for “practice”.

There was so much to like about this one. First of all Rachel Boston was really good in this, and her rapport with Paul Campbell was easy and sweet and, in my view, much more successful than an earlier pairing. She makes a great mother. She should play one more often. In fact, the whole family dynamic was a big plus, adding humor and warmth as well as a bit of drama.

The disastrous blind dates were genuinely funny. When Maggie’s rude pig of a dinner date gets up for the restroom the waiter zooms in to tell her to just leave while she has the chance. ”Blind Date, right? How did you know? The whole restaurant knows!” She looks around and everyone is nodding at her. I actually laughed out loud. Besides the funny situations, the banter was fun as well. Her likable and savvy assistant can’t believe Maggie is not using a dating app. “You went on a blind date? What in the 1986 is that?” I loved the family’s love of corny puns. It was cute and quirky but also served to show how important a shared sense of humor is in a relationship.  Both of the Delaney women are as clueless as their hopeful suitors are smitten.  The daughter’s slow realization that the dorky Josh Groban lookalike is the one for her rather than the popular loser she has a crush on is just as sweet and engaging as the grown-up romance. Other than the terrible puns that just won’t quit, this one shone in every way. But I love terrible puns, so it’s a 10.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Bodyguard

by Katherine Center

I listened to this on audio, and it was an entertaining romantic comedy. Our heroine is a female bodyguard hired to protect an A-list movie star (male, of course) from a female stalker/corgi breeder/sweater knitter. It was fun and funny with lots of both comedy and snark. There was some drama-our heroine, Hannah, has some self-esteem issues which she tends to over-compensate for and the hero, Jack Stapleton, is estranged from his brother due to the tragic death, blamed on Jack, of their youngest brother. Hannah is put in charge of Jack’s security while he is visiting the family ranch. His mother is recovering from a bout with cancer, and not wanting to put undue stress on her, it is decided that Hannah will pose as his girlfriend rather than his “executive protection agent”. It was a cute concept. Let the romance begin.

Written in first person, the book was narrated by Patti Murin who, with her tomboy-ish tone was perfectly cast as Hannah. I love Katharine Center’s authorial voice, as I did with the other book I read by her, Things You Save in a Fire, about a female firefighter. She has a real talent for establishing an intimate, “best-friends” relationship with the reader which puts you right in the midst of things. The heroines in the two books are similar, in that they both are a little too anxious to prove their badassery. Hannah started off very cantankerous to the point that I was a little put off at first. Once she settled into her role at the family ranch she calmed down, and we are taken up with Jack’s relationship with his family and what was going on there. Not to mention Hannah’s reluctant attachment to the Stapleton family. And Jack, of course.

This was a straight-up rom-com. Nothing more and nothing less. For the com part, we are treated to a lot of funny banter, and fish out of water scenarios. We have some pretty entertaining cheating ex-boyfriend and beautiful mean ex-girlfriend action added to the mix. As for the rom part, it’s never smooth sailing (it can’t be, can it?) but the roadblocks to the relationship between Jack and Hannah were entirely of her own making. Her determination to not believe in Jack, who was perfectly lovely by the way, didn’t sit too well with me. Especially as Hannah goes to great pains to tell us what a genius she is at reading people. Her obtuseness almost leads to catastrophe.

The final wrap-up made up for the quibbles I had as a whole. Katherine Center really knows how to end a book. There was one part that was even quite moving but it involved a very peripheral character we barely know. So. The Ballad of Jack and Hannah was an entertaining story but didn’t go very deep. No thrills or chills for me, but that’s OK. It accomplished what I think it aspired to. It was fun. I can’t blame it for not being what it wasn’t even trying for.
3 1/2 stars I’ll round up thanks to the ending.

Thank-You to Net Galley and Macmillan Audio for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

June 4, 2022

My Birthday Romance

Painful.

The fake boyfriend romance trope is one of my favorites and has resulted in some of the funniest and most romantic Hallmark movies made. Among them, My Fake Fiancé, Holiday in Handcuffs, Holiday Date, Snow Bride, Surprised by Love, Holiday Engagement, and many more. I was really looking forward to this one. What a bust.

This movie was completely ruined by Callie’s dysfunctional parents. And dysfunctional in a not humorous way. They were smothering, overbearing, and controlling. They were on her every. single. minute. to get a boyfriend even when she flat out told them that she didn’t need a man to be happy and that she was concentrating on building her business. She is constantly set up on blind dates by them and her sister. Usually, in these romances that feature inappropriate over-involvement in grown children’s lives, one of the spouses is the voice of reason and provides some balance and common-sense advice to the other parent. Not so in this one. I don’t know which of the two parents was more offensive. Possibly the mother, because she made a big point of confiding to Callie that she made her husband wait to marry until she finished grad school. Her desperation to get Callie married did not make sense. And it was made more annoying because Callie, our heroine(?), did not nip it in the bid like any other 35-year-old woman would have. She should have quit being so nice and told them flat out to BACK OFF. If they refused, cut off communication until they get the message.

Instead, she finds a fake date to her birthday party to get her parents off her back, but instead, the parents are on them like vultures. They treat them as if they are madly in love, making them kiss, and immediately act like marriage was right around the corner, instead of just a date she has only known for a week. They publicly toast the happy couple at the Birthday in front of everyone. They make her make a speech when she doesn’t want to and she ends up spilling the truth in a way that humiliates her whole family and herself as well.

She actually declares she wishes that she really was Will’s girlfriend because being his fake girlfriend was just so awesome. By the way, Will is mysteriously absent from most of the party and later Carrie starts looking for him after the debacle and is surprised and disappointed he had left. Then 5 minutes later, when he told her he heard her speech, she says she thought he had gone by that time. So did she know he was not there when she gave her speech, or was she surprised and disappointed at his absence? Lazy writing. Well, it all ends as you would expect. But it was just such a painful journey.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

March 8, 2021

A Fiance for Christmas

Amanda Payton is a “10”.

This is a very enjoyable version of the fake fiancé trope thanks mostly to plenty of wit and humor in the script and the acting of Amanda Payton. She is adorable and hilarious. When her sweet tooth inflicted obstetrician stuffs a whole cookie in her mouth with her eyes daring the fake fiancé to say anything, I was sold.

Amanda opens a private make-believe wedding gift registry for some retail therapy. When it becomes public all of her friends, coworkers, boss, and mother think our workaholic too busy to date heroine is engaged and act accordingly with unrestrained joy and a bridal shower. Her mother even remodels a spare room into a nursery. As one thing leads to another she feels too trapped to confess the truth and is forced to recruit the handsome brother of a patient into being her fake fiancé. He agrees with alacrity, and I don’t blame him. Even her future career rests on not revealing her lie. Romance and hilarity ensue as Sawyer “I wanna marry this dough” and the agreeable Landon become more and more entangled.

Unfortunately, Adam Gregory as Landon is too passive and not up to the task of keeping pace with the force of nature that is Amanda Payton in her role as Sawyer. He is conventionally handsome and just plain conventional, bringing nothing to the table other than his too-perfect looks. There is no spark or chemistry although Amanda gives it her all. Marie Osmond is way over-the-top as the high-strung flakey Mom, totally unbelievable as a respected anthropologist, but she is funny. Will someone please tell her to get her hair out of her face though? In looking at Ms Payton’s resume it appears she has missed her calling as a comedienne.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

December 10, 2021

An Unexpected Christmas

Unexpectedly Overwrought

Jamie and Emily have broken up their long-term relationship. Jamie has headed home for Christmas in small-town Fulton, Illinois. Coincidentally, Emily is also heading there for work. They arrive at the terminal at the same time and Jamie’s family, who love Emily and haven’t been told of the break-up, are thrilled that Jamie has brought Emily home to spend Christmas. Emily needs a place to stay and Neither wants to ruin the family’s Christmas so they continue the deception that they are still together.

There were some good things and not-so-good things with this one.

The Good:
Bethany Joy Lenz and Tyler Hynes performances and their chemistry together. Bethany was very funny in the comedy parts and very touching in the emotional parts. Tyler Hynes performance made an essentially weak and troubling character tolerable.

The script had some unusual aspects and was witty.

The banter between Jamie and Emily was good.

Tyler’s new hairstyle.

The cameo walk-through blink and you might miss it of Bethany’s frequent co-star, Andrew Walker.

I like the scope big families provide in Hallmarks and this one had one.

The Bad:
That big family? They were so-o-o-o-o-o-o-o energetic, loud, and overbearing that it became exhausting.

Jamie’s character. He dumped Emily because she was more successful than him and he didn’t want to hold her back. OK. But his self-esteem problem was rooted in his need to be perfect in everything and vice versa. Even though we are told that his Grandfather also was a perfectionist, He grew up in a happy, stable, and supportive family. This debilitating complex did not seem to be founded on much. It also causes him to be afraid of being honest with his family about his break-up and why. BTW he never does get the backbone to be forthright about it. And he’s a liar.

Jamie’s struggles with writing the governor’s speech. He was unable to write a word. His paralysis (again, it had to be perfect) was like a big depressing specter over the whole movie.

The plot was all over the place. The Christmas play his sister directed was needless and was a distraction. Bethany’s project came to nothing. The lightening-bolt like lesson of the newlyweds’ rocks in the fountain was not used in the governor’s speech, or Emily’s theme for her project (what it was-I am unclear) the speech itself was short and lame. All that angst over THAT?

Some of the happenings were too silly. The Christmas play and the scene in the restaurant with the waiter. I don’t mind silly sometimes, but silliness is not comedy.

A lot of negatives were outweighed by the acting and appeal of the two leads, and strong production values. I did not approve of Jamie’s actions or inactions, but it did lend some depth and complexity to his character. I’m just not sure I want all those problems in a Hallmark hero.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

November 28, 2021

Grounded for Christmas

Winter Storm Meghan is Back and Better Than Ever!

One of my favorite romantic plot devices is the bringing a fake boyfriend home for whatever reason. This one did a great job thanks mostly to the great chemistry between the two likable leads. Cheryl Ladd as the warm and loving mom was a welcome addition. I have seen her also play a cold ruthless boss this Christmas movie season. She was equally believable in both roles. So that must mean she is a very good actress. And she still looks beautiful. The ex-boyfriend was really creepy, by the way. It was hard to swallow how Nina could ever had had her heart broken by him. Very cute and romantic ending.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

November 15, 2020

Wedding Every Weekend

Way to Go, Hallmark!

I agree with all of the positive reviews regarding this movie. Kimberley Sustad is a very likable and talented actress and does comedy very well. I liked the plot and the slow-building realistic growth of her feelings for Paul Campbell and his for her. It’s been a long time since I have looked forward to the inevitable happy ending with such anticipation in a Hallmance. Too often it’s just a big yawn. They did avoid most of the usual Hallmark tent poles in the plot although the “big misunderstanding” was front and center.

Yes, the diversity was laid on with a trowel. Jewish, Black, multi-ethnic, and gay weddings. But sometimes the politically correct thing is also the right and good thing. In fact, the only “normal” (Ha Ha) couple was the lead couple, now that I think about it. Hopefully, the religious right can take some comfort in that. As for me, I hope Hallmark doesn’t think they’ve done their duty for the time being as far as diversity is concerned and non-WASP non-straight people go back to being relegated to tokens. I choose to give them the benefit of the doubt that they will be guided by the praise and not the invective.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

August 17, 2020

Holiday Date

And for Something a Little Different…

This is a genuinely amusing little variation on the usual Hallmark template. It starts off with all of the clichés in place: Nice girl gets dumped before the holidays when she is expected to bring the dumper to meet the family for the first time. she can’t bear the humiliation or to disappoint them so she falls in with a plan to substitute an actor to impersonate the architect “Mr. Christmas” ex-boyfriend. He is a born and bred New York City actor who is anxious to visit a small town to get a feel for a role he is up for. One problem. He is Jewish and can’t even build a gingerbread house. The chemistry between the charming leads was great, there was some ample support from veteran actors Bruce Boxleitner and Teri Rothery. And the talented Anna Van Hooft, who usually plays the villain in Hallmark movies, does a credible job in a throwaway part as the supportive sister, for a change. And let’s not forget the contribution by a Hallmark stalwart Peter Benson as the brother-in-law and all of his helpful advice.

This was a nice romance with some good laughs fueled by the tension of when will the truth come out, and what will happen then, and the cluelessness of fake fiancee Joel, played with aplomb by newcomer Matt Cohen.

One of the best this year. Hallmark Christmas movie fans: Don’t miss it!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

December 16, 2019

Snow Bride

I Can’t Say Enough About This One

When one sees one of these early Hallmarks (2013 for this one), it is evident how the brand has slid into mediocrity in the last year or two. I guess it’s to be expected, considering the sheer volume that is churned out nowadays. It is evident also in how much kinder I am in my ratings now. My standards have well and truly slipped. My expectations are so low, that when I actually enjoy one, it is kind of an event. I’ve re-watched a few of the older ones that I have given low or average marks to and finding that, compared to what is aired nowadays, they weren’t all that bad. I originally gave this one a “7”.

Snow Bride had everything I love about the Hallmark movies and is so rare today. Our heroine, a tabloid reporter, gains intimate access to a prominent political family under false pretenses. It was both funny and witty. The image of her tromping and tripping through the snow in her friend’s wedding dress had me laughing out loud. It had some funny repartee as well. The suspense of waiting for the truth to come out had me in a state of anticipation throughout. The big reveal had me cringing for our heroine and the comeuppance to the bad guys was very cathartic. The evil ones had me hissing and booing. There were some heart-tugging moments and a satisfying twist near the end that I didn’t see coming. Considering the vaunted predictability of Hallmarks, this was a real coup. Excellent writing. The actors were all great. Patricia Richardson was wonderful and wise as the mother. I loved the secondary romance and the story behind it. Very affecting. Katrina Law had great comic timing and also brought emotion to her role. She’s no Teri Polo, Meredith Hagler, Autumn Reeser or Melissa Joan Hart, but she was just fine. Unfortunately, she was not served well by the make-up artist. Bobby Campo as the brother added depth to his redeemed character. He is a favorite of mine from subsequent Hallmarks. The hero, Ben was a bit blah but was very handsome. It really had all the ingredients. I wish Hallmark would go for quality over quantity, but at least they still show these oldies but goodies from time to time.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

November 28, 2019