Groundswell

Wetsuits and cover-ups.

Lacey Chabert plays a sous chef who dreams of running her own restaurant. Her “boyfriend” is a famous chef and her boss. When he not only fails to introduce her to an influential food critic who is in raptures over her food and concepts but takes credit for her work as well, she dumps him. So that was good on her. She flees to her Aunt June’s mansion in Hawaii which is right on the beach and must be worth over $30,000,000. She starts to take surfing lessons from a handsome still sad widower.  And in what must be a first for Hallmark, he doesn’t have any kids! Crazy! Other than that, there are no surprises here plot-wise at least. By the end of the movie she learns to surf, wins a $50,000 cooking contest with sad widower’s nice brother, gives her disrespectful user of an ex-boyfriend a final heave-ho (he followed her to Hawaii), gets the guy, and opens her own restaurant there in paradise.

The most interesting thing about this one was waiting for Lacey Chabert to put on a bathing suit. Here she is in Hawaii, living on the beach, taking surfing lessons in the ocean, and she never puts on a swimsuit. What makes it even odder is that her love interest who is giving her lessons is very tan and fit with many abs fully displayed in appropriate swimwear. The optics of it were so weird, that Hallmark scriptwriters felt the need to address it by having him tease her about the wetsuit when she shows up for her first lesson. Something along the lines of, “You’re not in Cape Cod in the winter, you’re in Hawaii, in the summer.” It doesn’t work. Not even a one-piece in the whole movie. I guess when Lacey Chabert doesn’t want to wear a swimsuit, she doesn’t wear a swimsuit! I don’t really blame her for her modesty, but going forward, maybe she should avoid filming in tropical climes when she is required to go in the ocean.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

August 29, 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.

Always Amore

The Recipe Needed a New Twist

This was well-acted by the talented and beautiful Autumn Reeser, as always. She has never disappointed and I approach a Hallmark movie featuring her with optimism. The same goes for Tyler Hynes, who gives a warm and natural performance. He plays a kind of restaurant whisperer hired by the primary investor in Autumn’s restaurant to turn things around.  Kind of like chef Gordon Ramsay in Kitchen Nightmares but super nice and not swear-y. Unfortunately, this one is the done-to-death “save the restaurant” plotline. Autumn plays a still-grieving widow who is struggling to keep her late husband’s legacy, which is his restaurant, alive.  The problem is that doing that means keeping herself, the restaurant, the menu and recipes, and the staff mired in the past. Case in point, as pointed out incredulously by Tyler, despite being on the verge of bankruptcy, they are still expensively importing their tomatoes from Italy because that’s what her husband did. I sincerely doubt that Italian tomatoes are any better than good ol’ American tomatoes. And so does Tyler, who is exceedingly compassionate and patient despite some very trying hostile attitudes. He finally convinces her that there is no legacy without a functioning restaurant. A restaurant emphasizing love, family, and tradition is all very well, but there is none of that if a profit is not being made. Once that pilot light is turned on, it’s just a matter of convincing the bank to give her a loan to buy out her main investor who is going to sell to a big corporate entity. But the bank is not going to do that until the restaurant shows some signs of life. She has to convince her husband’s protege, himself a brilliant chef, to enter a food competition to generate buzz.  He is reluctant because he perceives that as being disloyal to his mentor. After plenty of annoying waffling, he agrees. And Autumn contributes her awesome baking skills to the effort. But what about when intimidating but beloved Mother-in-law Patty “Bad Seed” McCormack finds out what they are up to? Is she going to be like lovely wise “Nonna”, or scary Rhoda?

Besides the talented cast (including a personal fave, Latonya Williams, as the contest head, and the talented child actor, Erica Tremblay, as Autumn’s daughter) the food photography is gorgeous and the menu items look delicious. Or as they describe in the movie, “glorious, stunning, delectable, genius, a miracle, etc.”. Heavy on the tension and distress, as well as the thesaurus, and light on the wit and humor, the script is the same old retread of the same old “save the business” story and with nothing special to set it apart. Autumn’s recovery from grief and finding her own path and a new love was fine, but it was hardly anything new.

Despite the finest freshest ingredients, if the recipe isn’t good, neither is the dish.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

April 7, 2022

Welcome to Mama’s

Where’s the Pizza?

Isn’t there a saying somewhere to “Never eat at a restaurant called “Mama’s”? Or is that “Mom’s”?

Long after “Papa” “left us”, “Mama” has also passed away and left her restaurant to Amy, a young friend and former manager of another restaurant, whom she used to take care of and mentor. Her will stipulates that Frank, the current head chef, retain his position. Mama’s (husky-voiced Lorraine Bracco) story is told in flashbacks in between the present-day story of trying to save her legacy. Her restaurant was struggling when she retired and it has been in a death spiral under the care of Frank. He was fired from his last job for refusing to comply with his boss’s menu. When Mama agreed to let him be in charge of what he cooked, introducing new dishes to her beloved if tired menu, it didn’t exactly overwhelm the critics or the clientele. His answer is to put a noisy arcade game in the dining area as if it were a sports bar. So no, Frank isn’t exactly God’s gift to chefdom or humanity for that matter. But boy, he acts as if he is. When Amy, the new owner comes in to take over, he is uncooperative and pissy. He refuses to follow his boss’s (Amy’s) orders which got him fired from his last job (he lied to Mama that he had learned his lesson in order to get hired). He also goes behind her back to interview with another restaurant telling his friend he will use his new recipes at Mama’s as a testing ground and then leave if he gets the new position. When Amy finds out that Frank wasn’t honest about what a flop his creations were with an influential critic, she tells him she is replacing his menu and hands the changes to him. He doesn’t even check it out and preps his own menu which causes havoc on the soft opening. In short, Frank is an incompetent louse and not the sharpest knife in the drawer either.

Now you may well ask, why doesn’t Amy fire his sorry A**? Why does she fall in love with him? Why is Amy, a qualified manager such a wuss and give him chance after chance? Why is the restaurant called “Mama’s Ristorante and Pizzeria” when they don’t serve Pizza? Why were Mama and Papa called “Mama” and “Papa” when they didn’t have any kids? Ask away, but I’m afraid I can’t help you. Now this wasn’t all bad. The cinematography was great, the food looked delicious, the acting was tolerable, but the looming shadow of bad (but very cute-I’ll give him that) Frank was just too much to overcome.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

February 28, 2022

The Wedding Veil Legacy

Last but not Least

The script was not a challenge for good actors: no great emotional highs and lows, but the whole cast of seasoned Hallmark actors did an excellent job. All handled the good humor and banter with aplomb. I particularly enjoyed Matty Finochio as the assistant, Stanley.

Tracy, played by Alison Sweeney, the third woman in the triumvirate of Wedding Veil owners begins her story by breaking up with her boyfriend, Finn. It is handled very maturely. He has gotten a great job across the country, and Tracy does not want to leave New York or her own great job. They are sad to part ways, but as we have gathered from the previous two installments, they have grown apart lately anyway.

Tracy takes the veil to a tailor(?) to have a snag repaired and meets Victor Webster getting fitted for a tuxedo. There is some good-natured raillery. Allison is planning an important party for her job and is in the market for a new caterer. Her search brings her to a new restaurant accompanied by Autumn and Lacey. Lo and behold Victor is the head chef and part-owner with his family. The meeting between the women and Victor is chuckle-worthy thanks to the three actresses’ comic timing and easy rapport.

The side story of Tracy’s mission to obtain a newly discovered early draft of the famous Emma Lazarus poem for the museum where it can be enjoyed by the public is interesting. It adds some suspense and provides the pretext (Victor might know an investor), along with picking out art for the new location of Victor’s restaurant, fun with food, and rug hauling around, for the promising couple to spend more time together. Alison and Victor make a good pair both age-wise and in physicality.

Unlike the second installment, the plot is tightly written. There are quite a few little stories, but the focus remains on the couple and their developing relationship. Every individual side element gets tied into the whole, including the Emma Lazarus poem welcoming immigrants to America. The continuing mystery of how the veil got to San Francisco is well incorporated into this final chapter and provides a satisfying conclusion involving a lovely coincidence and a twist. After the veil does its job of finding husbands for the three likable friends, it finds its own happy final home.

Of the three movies, I rank the first one the best for its humor, this one second for the well-constructed plot, and the second one my least favorite. 7 1/2 stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

February 21, 2022

Love & Where to Find It

Pretty Dull, but Credit Where Credit is Due.

This one starts off owing a lot to You’ve Got Mail. Leena’s little local coffee shop is threatened by a big corporate store that also sells coffee moving in across the street. She meets cute with the manager, Jonah, and they really hit it off before she finds out who he is. Meanwhile, she is helping her best friend send messages to a guy she likes on a dating app because her friend is not a good writer and she is. She really has a rapport with him. It turns out that the guy she is getting personal with via text message is not her friend’s potential date but is Jonah. He is doing the same for his friend as she is. By now the manager is “the enemy” but little does she know.

Thankfully, they drop this trope once the two friends meet on a real date and no longer need a go-between. The main couple starts running into each other and despite her hostility, it is amazing how much they have in common.  They are even friends with the same pig, Bella, at an animal rescue farm. He: “ When I look into Bella’s eyes it’s like she is staring into my soul.” She: ”Totally!” I’m not kidding. And it’s not like “Bella” is even one of those cute pigs. Bella makes a brief cameo appearance and she is the ugliest pig I’ve ever seen. No wonder she got kicked to the curb, poor thing.

Bella

He volunteers at the rescue center during Thanksgiving “rescuing turkeys.” What that involves, I don’t know and I’m not sure I want to, but she is all in. “I’ve always wanted to do that!” He: “You totally should, It’s so fulfilling!” They are both pretty flaky, but I give UPtv points for straying from the usual conventional personalities and interests that are usual for the main couple. As well as promoting Animal Rescue. There’s also a lot of talk about Vegetarianism. The secondary couple loves meat so that provides some balance. Even though the coffee shop goes out of business they avoid all the drama and angst that usually accompanies that plot development. Her main interest is in baking, so her attitude is “Oh well, onward and upward.” Points for that too.

All in all, this was not that good. The reason this earned 6 stars from me was Clayton James who played Jonah. He was charming and lovable and was totally smitten with Leena, who was not very lovable in my opinion. But he was really sweet, and the secondary couple was likable as well.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 1, 2022

Butlers in Love

These Butlers Didn’t Do It For Me

I was very favorably disposed to like this one. I loved the setting: Butler School! How unusual! I look at a lot of shows that have butlers. And I loved the fresh-faced youthful girl next door looks of the female lead. The guy was pretty cute as well.

 It started off pretty good with a beautiful setting, interesting factoids and elements involving behind the scenes of being a butler.  The main guy started off as an entitled snooty jerk, which was promising in that I was drawn in by the story behind that and anticipation of a nice character arc. When it was revealed what accounted for his attitude, all was forgiven. The rest of the story was OK. Maxfield Caulfield, playing the head of the school, paired the two leads together to help both of them. Emma, despite her lifelong dream of being a butler, was flunking out due to gross incompetence which was stupid, but she had the commitment and passion for the job which Henry lacked. They helped each other and fell in love.

Unfortunately, it ended with a whimper. Emma, thanks to Henry, graduated near the top of her class and earned the sought-after letter of recommendation needed to secure the position of her dreams. Thanks also to the help of Henry’s parents she was happily ensconced on an estate in Scotland serving the type of society movers and shakers she had dreamed of doing all of her life. It was the fantasy opportunity of a lifetime. And then she quits. The job was everything she was told time and again it would be. Nothing bad or even surprising happened. So much for passion and commitment. What a flake. It was for no other reason than the writers not being able to get her back together with Henry for the happy ending. They wrote themselves into a corner. They end up working together in a hotel (I think) somewhere and making out on the job in full view of the public. So much for appropriate behavior. It was a bad message to send to young girls who dream big and work hard.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

January 31, 2022

Coffee Shop

The Same, Yet Different.

This little 2014 movie had a very different vibe from the usual Hallmark or other network romances being produced today, so it already had a leg up with me. I think it was probably produced for a Christian production company because there were several references to God, the Bible, or Christian faith. Other than those gratuitous references, there was no other indication that faith or religion had much of an impact on their lives. So it was great for people who are affirmed by that sort of thing, but it was not intrusive.

The film started with a voice-over by the heroine by way of exposition of her dating trials and tribulations after a break up with her “perfect” boyfriend. The beautiful Laura Vandervoort plays Donavan, the beloved owner of a beloved coffee shop on the verge of foreclosure. After a scary and unpleasant meeting with her banker, played by Jon Lovitz, she sees him talking with a stranger, Ben, and thinks they are in cahoots. In reality, Ben is a once-successful playwright who is struggling to write another successful play after two failures. He is visiting his good friend who happens to be Donavan’s sister’s boyfriend. Because of the mistaken identity, Donavan treats Ben very rudely much to his bewilderment. He is just meeting his friend for a cup of coffee and he is being treated like he is a hostile invader. It’s a funny scene and well played.

We know right away that Ben is the love interest. He is very cute and likable, they just had a “meet cute”, and he really gets Donavan. She is trying to re-establish her love life but she is subverting her own personality and preferences in order to please her dates, rather than just being honest about her own likes. He sees this right away. After a rough beginning, and despite her sister who has taken him in dislike for some reason, they start to fall in love.

He soon has some competition with her ex-boyfriend who has slimeball written all over him. He has come back to town to ostensibly woo her back but really to help the banker sell her coffee shop to one of his big-city clients who is going to (gasp!) turn it into a parking garage! Betrayal!

I enjoyed this. Although it was a very simple and predictable love story, it had really nice warm cinematography and a cozy, intimate atmosphere. There were no silly scenes or gratuitous montages that only serve as a substitute for story-telling. The secondary characters had their own little stories and nicely sketched in personalities. There was suspense and anticipation as to what would transpire and how the inevitable happy ending would come about. In the end, we get Laura’s voice-over again which wraps up the story nicely. And even a breaking of the fourth wall with a little wink at the audience by Laura. It was a nice little touch.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

January 26, 2022

The Perfect Pairing

“I’m the Bad Guy!”

**Spoilers**

This was a very well-constructed story about the danger of being too rigid and the importance of second chances. We learn almost from almost the first scene that Our Heroine is very flawed and know right away that she has lessons to learn and a personal journey to go on in order to become a better person. It is a measure of the actress Nazneen Contractor’s skill and appeal that I didn’t hate her or feel hostile to her. (Unlike with 2 recent hallmark movies in December starring the same actress playing women who also had lessons to learn. I’m looking at you, Jen Lilley.)

Christina Joy Osbourne is a restaurant and wine critic. She is harsh, negative,  demanding, bossy, and rigid. These traits are symbolized at the beginning by her too-high spikey heels and being a bad baker. Her mother tells her she doesn’t always have to follow the recipe to the letter and needs to be more creative and flexible. (This was actually a bad metaphor because, in baking, you actually do have to follow the recipe. But we get the idea.) Her relationship with her almost-fiance is negatively affected by her personality, and we quickly learn that it also caused her writing partner to go solo as well. A writing partner whose fair and balanced “glass half full” approach has pushed her to the top of the wine critic world. We also learned that our heroine has brought a family winery to the brink of ruin by a harsh unfair review and her refusal to give them a second chance. The stage is set.

Christine is assigned to attend a wine festival and in a twist of fate winds up on the doorstep, without her phone or purse, of the family winery she almost ruined. When she learns her mistake, in her haste to get away, she slips on the ice with her spiked heels, hits her head, and gets amnesia. Brennan Elliot and his family kindly invite “Joy” to stay the “3 to 7 days” it will take to get her memory back. Brennan is kind of adorable in this despite his 47 years and the chemistry between the two leads is excellent. Needless to say, she undergoes a sea change without her memory and regains her former happy, fun, kind, easy-going self. This is symbolized by her newfound success in baking and her new comfy shoes. Brennan and Nazneen fall in love.

While on a trip into town, she runs into her old writing partner who tells her who she is. She is horrified as Brennan and family have made no secret of how they justifiably feel about the destructive C. J. Osburne. All proceeds according to the Hallmark planogram. She keeps her Identity a secret, they find out anyway (in a real holy crap moment.) Lots of anger, then forgiveness as “Joy” makes up for her past unprofessional behavior in spectacular fashion and a winery and romantic relationship is saved.

Despite its by the book following of the Hallmark amnesia script bible, I did enjoy this. I liked that Christina had really gotten off track with her attitude, but that we didn’t hate her and could see she was a good person at heart. I liked the touchstones along the way of Spiked heels vs. Comfy shoes, and the baking metaphor for her personality change. As “Joy” she encourages Brennan’s daughter to go with the pink dress she loves even though it doesn’t suit her color palate according to the “rules”. The ice wine background was interesting and educational. Brennan is developing an ice wine to save the winery against his father’s wishes as it is a risky endeavor that he previously failed at. Ice wine was discovered due to a “happy accident” of ruined frozen grapes in 19th c. Germany which were given a second chance. Much like Christina is frozen in her outlook on life and her fall on the ice that caused her amnesia was also a “happy accident.” She should have given the winery a second chance since their submission was bad due to a fluke, just as Dad needs to give Ice wine a second chance. Both Brennan and her old partner give C.J. a second chance. All the little threads came together to fall in with the themes of the story thanks to a very mindful well thought out script. I appreciated the attention to detail.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 17, 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