The Love Club: Sydney’s Journey, Lauren’s Dream, and Tara’s Tune.

Sydney’s Journey

I said in my review of the first one in this series of 4, Nicole’s Pen Pal, I was not going to seek out any of the follow-ups because that one was fraught with problems. Fraught.  But #2, Sydney’s Journey was the weekly Saturday Hallmark movie, and it was the highest-rated of the 4. I also saw that the final two were unusually both showing in succession this Monday (crazy!), so I went ahead and, Oh Well, I decided to review all 4 of them. I’m going to review all 3 together on this page, but will go ahead and will post this one now since I have it done.

Sydney’s Journey was not half as bad as Nicole’s Pen Pal, thank God. Yes, low bar, but it was quite pleasant. The two leads, Lily Gao and Jesse Hutch were both likable, and the movie was minus any bad behavior on their part and not any worth mentioning on the part of the other 3 women of “The Love Club.” (See previous review) All of the bad behavior was on the part of Byron, the jerk ex-boyfriend who is vain, self-involved, and fickle, but that is as it should be. Sydney, who was an athlete in college, is still hung up on Byron who dumped her for the fourth and last time on New Year’s Eve prior to graduation.  She meets him again by chance when the movie begins 10 years later. He is flirty, and she is interested against the advice of “The Love Club”, who are a little more involved in the proceedings than they were in the first one. Sydney definitely needs help because she still keeps Byron’s photo on her refrigerator despite the years, his terrible personality, and the fact that he is not all that attractive. Luckily, she is paired up with Theo (Jesse Hutch), a struggling and attractive restaurant owner, to train for a half marathon that Byron, has lured her into entering. Sydney is a successful blogger and something of a gourmand and she and Theo bond over food and his restaurant which she is interested in getting on the right path to success. The romance was engaging as they are both likable characters, despite Sydney’s cluelessness in the love department, and the two seemed to really connect. I also noticed that Lily Gao is a pretty good actress. There was tension involving the ex, who was very easy to boo and we know it is only a matter of time before she sees through him and gets together with the good guy. I would have liked the ex to have more of his share of just deserts but he ends up getting his “happy ending for now” with another girl, who at least has a bitchy streak. So we can hope that they will be each other’s punishment as things evolve. But before Theo and Sydney can seal the deal we have to go through the inevitable misunderstanding which is straight out of the “he/she witnesses a goodbye hug and thinks it is a yes I’ll marry you hug” playbook. So that and the fact I wanted Byron to suffer more knock this one down to a 6.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Lauren’s Dream

Without the two lead actors and the chemistry they had together, this one could have been a lot worse. Both Chantel Riley and Andrew Bushell acted their parts very well, especially Andrew. He was pretty charming. But it had a lot of potential to be better. A lot of things did not make sense. After the New Year’s Eve Party where the 4 girls meet and form The Love Club, we pick up on Lauren’s story 10 years later when she only has to sign on the dotted line to finalize the divorce from her husband. This pivotal plot point just did not make sense. Why are they divorcing? They are two attractive nice, intelligent parents of a lovely young daughter. They get along great and have a fun and friendly rapport. Throughout the movie, they are always laughing together. Supposedly she has always put her husband’s needs before her own and has put her lifelong dream to own an art gallery on hold for her family. It would make sense if he insisted on her staying home and being the little wifey and raising their daughter. But this is not the case. He is supportive and respectful of her interests throughout. There seems to be no reason why she has to divorce him to be her own person (because this was her idea 100%). They are obviously still in love. If we don’t buy the divorce, we can’t really buy the movie.

Then we have Hallmark’s (even though this really isn’t a Hallmark production, I am pretty sure) seemingly always ignoring the realities of retail commerce. I have a name for this Hallmark tendency. I call it “bad business.” First off, she is pursuing her “dream” by unsuccessfully applying for curator positions. This is not her dream so why is she doing that? She needed to bust up her family for what is not her dream? It’s only when The Love Club comes to the rescue that she is convinced to do the “own her own art gallery” thing. Within a matter of days, DAYS, I tell you!, she has leased a building, constructed her website,  and gotten her art.  For example, she steals a painting, excuse me, “borrows” a painting she gave her husband as a gift to display in her gallery. She has been collecting local artists for years (she complains that hubby never took her “art collecting” seriously, calling it a “Hobby” which I guess is quite the insult)  and has them on her walls at home and also stashed away somewhere presumably. This is the art she is going to open her gallery with and re-sell. At a profit? Really? These are not obscure 50-year-old discoveries, they are by well know local artists and are not even 10 years old. Why would anyone buy them from her at what has to be a huge markup for her gallery to be viable? Need I add that she and her soon-to-be divorced husband are very very wealthy thanks to his hard work. So all of this independent art collecting and chasing her dream is thanks to him and is totally bogus.

The other strike against this movie is the phony and oily (but handsome!) rival for Lauren’s affection. He is a Spanish(?) sculptor, Carlos, who says things like, “It’s like [the painting] is screaming at me from the canvas” and “It is challenging us. Daring us to look away, knowing it’s impossible!”  And he is serious! She replies, “ I’ve never known an artist who so just captures my soul!” Sorry, I just couldn’t. And the painting is just a bunch of pastel shapes.  To be fair, there is a funny part that’s supposed to be funny.  On a date, he declares,  “his use of color makes me want to weep!” and she starts laughing loudly and hysterically (because she just spotted her husband and wants him to notice she is on a date.)

Well, those are the three main things that put me off this movie.  I won’t go into everything, but “Nic” is almost as insufferable in this one as she was in the first one. There were some good things. One was when the daughter wants her Mom and Dad to plan her birthday party together, but she doesn’t want Unicorns or Ninjas. She wants, “an inclusive gender-neutral party with no stereotypes.” Very cute. I wanted to see what that looked like exactly, but unfortunately, it just looked like any other rich kid’s party.

They are brought back together by her daughter’s original painting called “My Family” (which keeps changing dimensions, by the way.) “The Love Club” really doesn’t do anything except comment like a Greek chorus on all of the events and babysit little Stephanie. I guess Lauren and Peter will have to hire a Nanny when they leave, which if they had just done that in the first place….

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

Tara’s Tune

Will try to get to this, but can’t right now. Watched most of the movie, but really not interested in it for a few reasons, mostly having to do with Tara.

A Pinch of Portugal

Hallmark Pulls a Fast One

I was not looking forward to this one despite its setting in Portugal which, unlike France and Italy has never been used as a backdrop for a Hallmark movie. I think I saw Heather Hemmens in something or other and she was fine. The previews seemed to set up the usual scenario of the beautiful, competent but underestimated heroine meeting the native hunk who shows her the sights while they commence falling for each other.

Heather plays Anna, a prep cook for a world-famous and difficult celebrity chef. They travel the world along with their little crew: the producer, the editor, and the cameraman. But this time, Dean, the Chef, is in contract negotiations so the support staff is sent on ahead to start shooting what they can without him. The second I saw the cameraman who was a dead ringer for Chris Hemsworth (Thor) I thought, “Too bad he’s not the hero”. I like him! Further cementing my approval, he opened his mouth, and out popped an Australian accent! I was kind of smitten despite his blondness. But it is made pretty clear early on that they are just best buddies. And we still had the designated dark-haired handsome hero on the horizon. They have a meet-cute at his farmer’s market and while they sniff and rhapsodize over all of the vegetables, they have lengthy conversations and flirt like mad. Our hero was very smiley. We learn his dream is to own his own restaurant. A girl who dreams of settling down and doing things her own way as a Chef and a guy that wants to open his own restaurant? Yep.  A perfect match. But things started to take a turn at the 41-minute mark. Did I just imagine that smoldering look? It seemed to come out of nowhere. I could scarcely believe it. While the volatile star chef continues to not show up, things started to get interesting. I was actually in doubt as to who was supposed to be the love interest until the 1 hour and 17-minute mark. Hallmark really pulled a fast one, and I heartily approve!

Besides the scenery and the yummy-looking food, there were some other really nice touches in this one.

  • Anna’s supportive mother.
  • Anna’s journey from an awkward fill-in to finally finding her niche and making the job her own was well done and believable. Heather Hemmens was really good, especially in the cooking while seasick scene.
  • Brooklyn, the cute editor, started out as a nothing character but turned out to be a real dark horse. She has one of the funniest lines in the movie. When Anna is taking out her anger on the vegetables she is chopping, She stops her, “You should really use your words. Violence is not the answer.”
  • Some surprises and twists: the sudden reappearance of the evil Chef who behaves like a real jerk. And the hidden agenda of another character that I for one did not see coming.
  • The happy rehabilitation of the bad guy was a surprise but was well-founded and understandable. I liked the way it was done.
  • There is a crisis at the end, but it was not a big misunderstanding between the couple. The romance was nuanced and drama free, but totally involving. My breath was bated.

Hallmark showed some sophistication with the script and casting, and the actors did not disappoint. Of course, Portugal did not hurt either.  There was not a silly minute in it (except possibly the weird moment when Anna grabbed Thor’s delicious-looking ice cream cone and threw it in the garbage.) And last but not least, Anna wore sensible shoes throughout and not only in the traipsing about Lisbon montage.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Sweeter than Chocolate

“Love is Worth the Grief.”

I wasn’t exactly bowled by Dan Jeannotte in the previous movie I remembered seeing him in (turns out I’ve seen him in 4 movies) and was not looking forward to this one. Chocolate. Again. Save the little Shop. Again. But he won me over right away.  He brought humor and charm to his character who started off a little smarmy and full of himself but ended up quite warm and sympathetic. And his chemistry with the female lead, Eloise Mumford, was almost tangible.  She has done an excellent job in several recent Hallmarks. She tends to star in more emotional serious scripts, rather than light comedic fare. Probably because she almost always looks like she is going to burst into tears at any given moment. This movie is sweeter and lighter in tone and she handles the banter and romantic comedy vibe pretty well though it’s not her forte.

The plot wasn’t much and has been done before quite recently (eat magic food-find true love). But despite that, thanks to the pairing of the two leads, and some entertaining side stories, I enjoyed it. Lucy and her mother own a chocolate shop that features their magic chocolate cupids. According to the family legend, anyone who is open to love and eats one of them on Valentine’s Day will meet their perfect match. When her best friend does just that and ends up getting engaged to her boyfriend, she is so over the moon that she posts about it. It goes viral and the little family legend gets the attention of a TV producer who sends her ace investigative reporter to do a story on it. In a little twist, she wants a happy feel good story, not an expose. Unfortunately, too used to looking for scams everywhere, he offends and insults Lucy and her shop and gets thrown out. When his editor tells him that a promotion to the anchor position he covets is riding on his ability to branch out from hard-hitting takedowns of scam artists to include more fluffy morning show-friendly pieces, he convinces Lucy to give him another chance. The publicity would boost sales and save their shop.

The romance between ambitious and cynical Dean Chase and shy and vulnerable Lucy is engaging. Lucy has never tried one of her own chocolate cupids because she does not want to open herself up to love and romance. She was painfully affected by how the death of her father devastated her mother for so long. Despite themselves, Dean and Lucy grow closer as the one story has led to a whole series featuring interviews with couples that the magic chocolates have brought together. She needs the sales that Dean’s stories are generating but the orders become more than the shop can handle. Things get overwhelming, a few things go wrong, Dean may be moving to New York, and Lucy does not handle any of it well. She starts to think that the magic chocolates are cursed, and generally gets all weepy and starts to go off the deep end, which Eloise Mumford is very good at. Luckily for the happy ending, Lucy’s mother steps in with her insights, wisdom, and her own backstory, and helps Lucy to understand that even though opening herself to love may sometimes lead to grief and pain, it is worth the risk. And Grandpa “Opa” would approve.

This Hallmark had a nice balance of emotional struggles, humor, character arcs, and romance. A dash of magic and a good message made for a winning recipe.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

The Wedding Veil Journey

The Best of the Bunch

At the beginning of the movie, The three friends have gotten together and since they are also enjoying their wine, we know it’s been well over a year since the end of “Inspiration” when we learned Emma was newly pregnant. It’s been a total of 3 years since they first bought the veil. We follow Tracy (Alison Sweeney) home and we see that she and Nick (Victor Webster) rarely see each other, as she works during the day as the head of an art auction house, and he at night at his two restaurants. After talking to her friends, Tracy is inspired to give her marriage the kick in the pants it needs and the two end up going on their long-delayed honeymoon. They decide on Greece, the veil in tow, to lend to Nick’s still single sister in Spain. As in the second installment, we are treated to some gorgeous scenery throughout the movie.

I believe this one was very well done. It was very well put together and although not really comedic, had plenty of amusing scenes, dialogue, and a lot of heart. Alison and Nick’s relationship was very loving and mature. Any rough patches were handled by communication and a sense of humor. At one point, Nick starts surreptitiously doing the cooking for one of the owners of the struggling inn they are staying at. His food is inedible which is both a running gag and a real problem. Tracy is irritated when he starts “working” on their honeymoon, but, no worries, it is handled with no silly drama. There is drama in this one, but it is definitely not silly. Tracy and Nick get close to a cute orphan boy, a talented artist and athlete, but who lives at his school under the rule of a temperamental headmaster who actively discourages his art. As he explains to the interfering Americans, Leo will have to earn his living when he leaves the school and can’t afford to indulge his talent in a vocation that will not support him.  He has no one to fall back on, unlike impractical art majors. The neighbor who was raising him after his parents died had to be put in a care facility for early Alzheimer’s. Leo lovingly sends him his drawings weekly but it is doubtful he even remembers Leo. It is a very tragic situation and when Tracy and Nick take Leo to visit him it is a real tearjerker.

Meanwhile, in the light sweet romance department,  the veil works its magic with the young beautiful Inn owner and the grandson of a wealthy aristocrat played by Jane Asher, a British actress most famous for being engaged to Paul McCartney in the 1960s. When the young man called her “Granny”, it was jarring, to say the least. Equally jarring was learning she is almost 80 years old! Off the subject, but hey, we all love the romance and happy endings Hallmark is famous for, right? After her very public breakup with Paul, Jane Asher met Gerald Scarfe, a famous English illustrator and cartoonist. They have been together for over 50 years, and happily married for over 40. Can we have a movie about that, please?

There was a lot going on in this 6th Wedding Veil movie: Mystery (the veil keeps disappearing) light romance, Humor (the inedible food and the victims’ efforts not to hurt the amateur chef’s feelings) suspense and drama ( the antagonistic head of the school), and some real heartwarming moments involving how Tracy and Nick handle their attachment to Leo and how they help him.  Tracy and Nick have to have a think about their whole lifestyle and the kind of people they are individually and as a couple.  I thought it was well handled, with due respect given to balancing each of their careers with their relationship along with how they handle the situation with Leo. Unlike some of its predecessors,  All of the plot threads were fully developed, interconnected, and well-integrated into one coherent story. We are also treated to a thought-provoking defense of the importance of art in everyday life.

Yes, Autumn Reeser and Lacey Chabert do horn in on Alison’s honeymoon, Autumn on a small pretext, but Lacey flying halfway around the world on no pretext whatsoever. This does serve to illustrate what a good sport Nick is, however. Tracy is one lucky woman. I want to add that Alison’s acting in this was superb. I once referred to Alison Sweeney as Hallmark’s best crier. She is, IMHO, but in this one, her performance was truly moving. And she was funny too.

After a 7th couple is brought together by the Wedding Veil, (Nick’s sister is now married, we hear,) Tracy, whose skepticism is a running thread throughout the series is forced to admit that she has no choice but to believe in Magic.  The movie ends with the women going shopping, being lured into a shop, and tempted by a beautiful antique necklace that, oh no! has a legend attached to it. Everything has come full circle. Well played, Hallmark.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Hanukkah on Rye


If you’ve seen You’ve Got Mail, In the Good Old Summertime, or The Shop Around the Corner, this movie will hold no surprises as far as the romance is concerned. But this movie adds family, history, culture and food to the classic romance plot line.

Molly in New York City and Jacob in California are the young single scions of Jewish families who have been in the delicatessen business for 3 (or maybe 4?)  generations. Jacob in California is being sent to New York City to finalize buying their new location. Molly helps run her family’s deli, Gilbert’s, which turns out to be on the same street as the future site of Zimmer’s, Jacob’s family’s new location. Gilbert’s is old school featuring only Jewish food and promotion and technology averse. Zimmer’s is just the opposite, carrying food for all ethnicities and embracing modernity. While Jacob is in NYC his grandmother engages a matchmaker for him as Molly’s family does for her, anxious as they are for them each to find nice Jewish spouses to spawn a new generation of deli owners. They very reluctantly agree to give it a try. They write to each other long hand on paper per the rules under aliases which they will dispense with if they think they may have a future. The very notion of not using the internet to communicate freaks them both out. (“Does she also want me to write with a quill on papyrus under candlelight?!”) They coincidentally also live in the same apartment building getting to know each other face to face while writing to each other anonymously.  You know the drill.

Molly is struggling to bring her family’s business into the 21st century as it is on the verge of going under. Jacob, who finds out that he is actually writing to the same woman he is falling in love with in person struggles both with knowing he will soon be hostile competition and also his guilt in not having the guts to tell her the truth.

When his family shows up in NYC concerned as to why Jacob is dragging his feet and still hasn’t closed the deal, the fit really hits the shan. The two Bubbes both meet the matchmaker at the same time intent on demanding a refund, and Jacob’s true identity comes to light. The ideal solution to the problem of two competing delis on the same street is solved when the two grandmothers learn how it could be possible that their two families’ secret latke recipes are identical. An assist from The Fiddler on the Roof did not come amiss either, reminding one and all that change should be embraced and not avoided.

The whole cast was on point.  Paula Shaw is a standout (as usual) as Jacob’s Bubbe. Whenever she narrows her eyes into slits of anger or suspicion it would cause strong men to tremble and cower in fear. She is hilarious. Another stand out is the anonymous doorman who knows all between the two anonymous correspondents right from the beginning. Also a hoot while barely saying a word. Jeremy Jordan, who was so great in Mix-up in the Mediterranean, plays Jacob, and Yaol Grobglas is sympathetic and lovable as Molly. A classic plot, a well-written and witty script, excellent acting, and attractive leads. Check, check, check, and check. I also have had good luck with Hanukkah stories at Christmas. Check.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Serving Up the Holidays


A restaurant-owning chef whose sales are flagging a bit after a strong debut is sent on a retreat for amateur foodies and chefs by her partner to recharge and find inspiration. This is a Christmas movie, so the main reason for her struggles is Christmas related. She is a daughter of a renowned Chef whose restaurant was always open at Christmas, and because her parents were so busy during the season and always working on Christmas Day, she never got the warm fuzzies for the season. She refuses to institute a comfy simple nostalgic Christmas menu and insists on sticking with her uber-sophisticated artistic creations that we are told are not in demand during the Christmas season. She gives in when she and her partner learn that their main investor is about to pull out due to a lack of Christmas buzz. She arrives at the mountain retreat and learns to her consternation that the class is being taught by her old Cordon Bleu rival and frenemy, James, the love interest.

 I liked the looks of the actress who played chef Scarlett. I think she had a certain edge to her delivery as well. However, the character was written as an arrogant and rude brat. A legend in her own mind. She is contemptuous of her fellow classmates because they are just beginners. She isn’t outwardly unkind to them, but with her body language and cold eyes, you can just feel her disdain for the situation she finds herself in. She rudely doodles on her notebook and conspicuously ignores the chef/teacher while he is trying to lead the class. She contradicts him. When tasked with coming up with ideas for gingerbread that isn’t a gingerbread man, she comes up with designs like a ship in a bottle that are clearly, if not impossible to realize, certainly beyond the scope of the class. She was thoroughly unlikeable and behaved badly throughout most of the show. The character needed an actress who could balance some of the bad traits with some warmth and vulnerability, not enhance them.

Of course, she softens later and learns a thing or two from Chef James and her mother who is also a respected chef but also unpretentious and a breath of fresh air. But by that time, her character is so firmly established that I just didn’t buy the transformation. The hero was a peach and she was a pill, so the romance just didn’t work for me either. He was too soft for her and on her. What she needed was a thorough comeuppance. And she didn’t get it.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

The Holiday Stocking

And an Angel Gets his Wings

A family of a mother, 2 daughters, and a son, are excited about their tradition of pulling out a Christmas riddle from their special Holiday stocking. Whoever solves it first gets to pick out the charity the family as a whole will participate in. 5 stockings, 5 charities.  Even though they have their differences, working together for others at Christmas always brought them together. Thirty or so years later, the brother has died and is about to enter heaven. But first, he is allowed to try to correct his biggest regret, the estrangement of his sisters who have grown apart over the years. In fact, because of long nursed grievances and being too busy with their separate businesses, they are actively hostile and don’t speak. Robert has 12 days (the boss has a thing for the number 12) to bring them back together. He is allowed to come back to earth to fix matters and decides to get them to participate in their old Christmas tradition. But nothing doing. Dani is too busy with being the owner of the biggest black-owned marketing firm in Chicago and Marlow is too busy trying to make her bakery a success. Charity work is not even a stray pen mark on the to-do list. That is until Dani is on the verge of losing a big business opportunity due to no community giving or participation, and Marlow realizes that her daughter Gia is becoming a mercenary self-involved little brat. They both agree to participate in the holiday tradition, led by the executor of the dead Robert’s will, RJ Angel, who is really dead brother Robert in disguise.

The journey to the sisters becoming family again, Gia becoming a good kid, Marlow‘s marriage getting a kick in the pants, and a little romance entering all three ladies’ lives, is very entertaining. It is well-paced, and full of humor, tender moments, and angst. The road to reconciliation is not always smooth, and of course, we have the climatic drama with about a half hour to go in the movie to get over, but all their lives are on the right path at the end. There is a shocker at the end involving CEO Dani that I didn’t see coming, and even dead Robert has a personal revelation that needs some tending to. Penned by prolific black scriptwriter and sometime novelist Cass Sigers-Beedles and directed by Tyler Perry’s first assistant director, Roger M. Bobb, this movie was in the best of hands and it showed on screen. I had never heard of any of the actors but they were all fantastic, particularly Tamala Jones as Marlow.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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.

A Kismet Christmas

Kismet Kookies

Anyone who looks at Hallmark movies or their copycats to any great degree gets used to questionable plot points, plot holes, and many opportunities to suspend disbelief. But this one had more than the usual problems you just have to ignore and move past. Going in, I was hopeful and curious to see Sarah Ramos, because I remember her as Lauren Graham’s daughter on Parenthood. Carlo Marks usually gives a likable performance.

Sarah is a prominent children’s author who has to return to her hometown to reward the winner of a contest promoting her new book. Of course, as is required of fictional Hallmark authors, she is suffering from writer’s block and is having trouble finishing it.  It turns out the little winner is the daughter of Travis the boy next door she had a teenage crush on and had been avoiding for over 10 years. After humiliating herself by bursting into his wedding and declaring her love, she has never returned home because of the bad memories. Yeah, it was pretty embarrassing. But why did Travis even answer the door in the middle of his vows? Was this lout raised by wolves? And how did Sarah not know her friend and next-door neighbor was getting married?

Here’s the second problem. Her beloved grandmother Mia (Marilu Henner) still lives in the house across the street. Are they telling me Sarah never visited Grandma Mia when she is supposed to be so devoted to her? 10 years of phone calls, emails, and Hallmark Cards, I guess.

She meets Travis because he lives in his parents’ old house now and gets to know his little girl,(who hugs everyone all the time. I’ve never seen such a huggy little girl) and a rekindled romance ensues. But where is the wife? Is she dead? Divorced? On vacation? I was expecting her to pop up any minute. We find out after a great deal of flirting has been going on that they are divorced and she travels with her band a lot. Whew!

And why did grammy stop making the beloved Christmas cookies again? She taped up the recipe after Sarah ripped it up. Sarah finds it hidden away behind a wall, and she goes ahead and whips up a batch of 12 cookies. These cookies have been missed greatly by the community because they have the magical power of revealing your true love in a dream.(this is what got Sarah into all that trouble)  Yet, we are told there was a line out the door for them. How could there have been “a line out the door” for  12 cookies, especially when at least 4 were already given away?

As usual, there was an unnecessary conflict at the end which was more fake than usual and made no sense. She runs away when Travis suggests that she stay in New Britain to explore their relationship and buy Grammy’s house. Why? After she has a convo with Benny, her agent, in which nothing she didn’t already know is imparted, she changes her mind. She also realizes that the cookies really are magic because she and Travis now love each other as adults and, Yay! He is now single.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

October 27, 2022