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 Hint of Love

A Winning Recipe

Dennis Andres shines in this entertaining and well-written TV romance. This is the second time I have seen him and he is even better in this one. He plays a cookbook author and blogger whose cooking is aimed at busy single fathers who want to serve up a home-cooked meal in less than 30 minutes. In order to expand his brand he gets hooked up with our heroine who is a Cordon-Bleu trained cookbook editor who specializes in high-end hoity-toity fare. Hilarity, conflict, and romance ensue.

As the down-to-earth rough around the edges hero, Will, Dennis Andres overflows with charm and appeal. He is attractive but not GQ male-model handsome. His line delivery is natural whether funny or heartfelt. A few times it sounded like he was ad-libbing his lines. I guess that means he is a good actor. As his love interest, Debs Howard is well cast with her patrician looks. Her character has a good character arc. At first, pretentious, snobby, and self-righteous (as Will tells her to her face), we learn that all is not what it seems on the surface. We find out she is from Albuquerque, her parents are down-home “just folks” and her abandoned dream is to open her own restaurant. The “opposites attract” chemistry between the two is right on and the kiss at the end was…yeah.

The script has some wit and good banter: “Who hates Nachos?! That’s like hating Freedom!” Couldn’t agree more. The initial hostility between the two food-lovers is well balanced. They are at odds but both have some good points in their arguments. They gradually get on the same page through compromise and listening. There is some good conflict from a snooty boyfriend to a weasel of a boss, and cheer-worthy good triumphing over evil scenes at the end.

I will definitely be looking forward to more TV romances with this talented new-to-the-genre actor. Hope he isn’t “discovered” too soon!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

March 3, 2021

Where Your Heart Belongs

Dreadful

This was dreadful. Jen Lilley seems doomed lately to playing contemptible characters. And contemptible characters that are written poorly. Mackenzie is a top marketing executive in New York City who is losing her clients to a shiny new rival. She is stressed out about that when her best friend moves her wedding up and needs her help to pull it off in their old hometown. She hasn’t been home since her mother died and did I hear right that it’s been 10 years? Her father has health problems and his maple syrup business is failing because he stubbornly refuses to modernize despite the financial support and advice of his “employee”, Mackenzie’s old boyfriend played by Christopher Russell. It doesn’t help that the trees he is tapping are not Maple trees.

Her friend wants a simple hometown inexpensive wedding because that is the kind of down-to-earth person she is. Mackenzie basically hijacks her wedding to promote herself to her rapidly departing clientele. The kicker is that she knows she is doing wrong, but just continues to do it. Her actions are contemptible but Jen Lilley plays it with a sugar coating that only makes her seem like the ultimate phony. She uses her friend’s easygoing nature to run roughshod over her while being on the phone almost constantly to her New York assistant talking about her career problems. She browbeats the bride into going with an ugly over-the-top designer dress instead of the flattering simple gown she loves and gets the lovely little country church trashed by the famous D. J. she hires and his followers who also deface a tree that has a sentimental history to the bride and groom.

Meanwhile, even though she finds out her father’s farm is in foreclosure, she makes no attempt to help or find out what’s going on. She is just too busy and important unless she is flirting with Christopher. Near the end, she goes to the banker/lawyer who tells her that Christopher actually has her father’s power of attorney. That finally gets her attention and she somehow concludes that CR is trying to steal her father’s business when he was really financing it to save it. She pouts and sulks when she isn’t looking panic-stricken and is just generally an A-#1 jerk to lovely Christopher as well as everyone else. But does she try communication? Heck, no. In fact, when Christopher tries to set her straight, “she doesn’t have time” to hear it. No idea why her career is on a death spiral. I don’t mind a character who starts out very flawed but has a character arc over time. Jen Lilley is horrid throughout the whole movie until she ruins everything and she has nowhere to go but up.

To make it all worse, Jen Lilley delivers many of her lines so quickly and incoherently it’s like she wants to get them over with instead of actually acting. She has no connection whatsoever with Christopher Russell. The fact that he, her father, and her friends put up with her throughout the whole movie just made this viewing experience even more unpleasant. The only one who finally stands up to her is the bride. Nelson Wong, (for once not named “Kenny”) who usually is a charming presence in any movie, is annoying and horrible in this, and the ending and resolution made no sense whatsoever. This production is populated with many regular Hallmark supporting players but even they cannot prop this one up.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

January 2, 2022

Gingerbread Miracle

Gingerbread Had Nothing to Do With It.

Instead of “save the store,” in this one we have “sell the store.” Don’t worry, with Hallmark no store is ever allowed to be sold, they are all saved, so we’ll just get that out of the way right now. The cheery Merritt Patterson is a freelance lawyer who is trying to re-establish her career in the big city after a bad breakup sent her back to her hometown. The glum and sinister-looking (but nice) Mexican baker (I thought all bakers were jolly?) and proprietor wants to retire, so he asks her, a trusted friend, for help in finding a buyer for his bakery. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? However, his nephew, a big city lawyer, visits for Christmas and wants to horn in. I found him very out of line, pouty and whiny to boot. He doesn’t like being a lawyer and wants to be a baker instead, but instead of having the guts to do something positive about it, he tries to put the kibosh on the sale of the bakery. Rude.

Merritt and Alex, the nephew, have a history of mutual crushes on each other, bad timing, and communication problems as teens. As adults, the reboot of their romance goes pretty well, and they do have some chemistry. Alex is very attractive and once he got over himself and Merritt realized that she was happy in her hometown rather than re-joining the rat race, all proceeded to the usual conclusion despite the appearance of a handsome French patisserie owner.

There was also some magical gingerbread involved but it was more of a superfluous gimmick than a miraculous gamechanger. It was cute though. I also enjoyed the Mexican Christmas customs. All in all, this was perfectly pleasant, but nothing really special.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

December 18, 2021

Christmas on the Menu

SMH

Josie’s bakery failed because of a review by Tanner, an influential restaurant critic. She is working at her friend Nina’s restaurant and preparing to go home for Christmas to develop a menu for her Mom’s Bed and Breakfast when Tanner walks in with his editor, Pepper. Nina serves him Josie’s new dessert, her Red Velvet Cheesecake, and Tanner loves it. When Josie goes home to the B&B, surprise surprise, Tanner shows up. He explained that his original review was not so mean, but it was re-edited to get more notice and to boost circulation. The romance begins.

I liked Kim Shaw’s performance in this, but a lot of the movie didn’t make sense. First, Cynthia Gibb looks way too young to be a 35-year-old’s mother. (Good for Her!) Also, the actor who played Kim’s ex-boyfriend was 7 years younger than her and they were supposed to be the same age. Kim Shaw has a very fresh-faced look and looks young, but somehow, the ages seemed squished together. I was confused by why the ex-boyfriend was hanging around Kim’s mother all the time at the B&B.

The love interest/food critic was handsome but kind of a non-entity. And since when does a professional food critic agree to only give a good review or no review? His editor, Pepper, was the antagonist who doctored honest reviews to make them negative. And food critic just let her do that without a peep. What a wimp. Where is the integrity? She follows Tanner to the B&B because she “likes likes” him, and presumably to prevent Tanner from repairing his relationship with Josie. Luckily, also present at the grand opening of Mom’s B&B were two nationally known reviewers who loved everything. If the little newspaper gave a bad review, it would reflect on them, not Josie, the chef (who was also famous and lauded in her own right anyway.) To sabotage Josie’s dessert, Pepper eats a whole big bowl of Kim’s special whipped cream the night before! A trigger warning for binge-eaters would not have gone amiss. And she didn’t even deny it! Why didn’t she just say she broke the bowl when she was getting something else out of the refrigerator? Such a strange choice to sabotage a rival. Pepper needs her own movie, especially since we saw the glimmerings of regret as she drove off. Or it may have been all that whipped cream.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

December 20, 2020

Entertaining Christmas

The Message is to “Be Yourself.”

**spoilers**

How refreshing to have a normal-looking woman with a normal-looking figure be the lead character. Let’s be honest here. I can’t be the only person that noticed that Jodie is not some beauty pageant-ready glamor-puss. And in this storyline of a daughter trying to live up to her mother’s impossibly high standards, it really works.

Jodie is the presumptive heir to a Martha Stewart-like empire but let’s just say her talents lie in her financial and business skills rather than cooking and crafting. And she has people skills and a generous heart as opposed to the brittle competency of her mother. I won’t regurgitate the plot, but it really showcases Jodie Sweetin’s comedic skills. I have never been a fan, but she really shines in this one. And I liked that her mother was not stereotyped. Her reveal at the end, that she actually felt insecure compared to her daughter’s qualities and talents and really admired her, was a very nice development.

I found Brenden Fehr very attractive as a leading man. I wish he hadn’t been so bullied by his boss though without him getting some of his own back. And I think it would have suited the storyline better if there had been more of a gradual realization of his feelings for Jody and his appreciation of her value and unconventional beauty. But other than that, I really enjoyed this movie and appreciated the areas that they made some unconventional choices.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

December 18, 2020

A Cookie Cutter Christmas

Watch this for One Hilarious Scene

There is one scene in this movie that makes it worth watching despite its problems. Or better yet, when it comes up again on TV, fast forward to around the last 45 minutes.

Two elementary school teachers have been engaged in a rivalry since childhood when one horned in on the other’s song solo. From then on, whatever one does, the other one has to better it. Each cannot stand the other to be in the spotlight. It’s fairly harmless until a handsome widower with a daughter comes to town. The story is mostly told through Erin Krakow’s character, so we know that she is the one we are supposed to root for with the actress’s trademark sweet, gentle, and sincere demeanor. Despite her questionable behavior throughout, we know she is a good person at heart. Her rival is effectively played by Miranda Frigon best known for playing the grumpy police chief in the Aurora Teagarden Mysteries.

Skipping to the scene in question. Miranda has invited all of the festival (there’s a festival) volunteers to a party at her home and is forced to invite Erin (“Your invitation will be shoved in your In-box”) Miranda is very proud of her singing ability and announces that she is going to favor the group with her solo rendition of Silent Night, snagging the handsome widower to accompany her on the piano. She has no shame, but as soon as she starts singing Erin starts sneaking up to her side as if she is under the Confundus charm and joins in. I’m like, “Oh no she is not going to….” But she did! Silent Night gets louder and louder as the two try to drown each other out, to the total befuddlement of all the guests, and the horror of Erin’s mother. When they get to the last line “When Chri-ist was born”, “Christ” comes out so loudly and aggressively as each of them vies for supremacy, that it’s almost sacrilegious. Then Miranda ends with a pose like she is the Madonna cradling Baby Jesus in her arms. It is the most irreverent and intentionally funniest performance I have ever seen in a Hallmark movie.

It provides the turning point in Erin’s journey. She walks out of the party with her deer-in-the-headlights look thoroughly shocked at her own behavior. She has finally gone too far. After some skullduggery on Miranda’s part to get through, the two former friends make up, and Erin gets her man.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

November 5, 2021

A Sugar & Spice Holiday

A Breath of Fresh Air

This was off the charts good. Everything came together. The two leads had great chemistry and were very cute in their own right. The writing had some depth in that although there were some Asian stereotypes, each character was well developed. It had both comedy and wit. For example, the Chinese father from Maine had a southern accent because he learned his English from Johnny Cash records. LOLWUT?! There were some clever and amusing extra touches and some straight-up comedy thrown in for good measure. I loved that when each new character was introduced, Suzy, our heroine would picture a bakery item that matched their personality and a graphic would appear over their heads.

The bones of the plot followed a usual Hallmark template: Successful hometown girl returns to her small town and has to save something while working on a project that will make or break their career. In addition to the humor and romance, there was a lot of tension and suspense, both on the gingerbread making front and on Suzy’s career front. But the writer and director switched it up and went against the usual clichés in a number of places, especially with Suzy’s future career path. It had plenty of heartwarming moments, and some good life lessons. The romance was sweet and even touching. I loved it. It’s in my top 3 this year and top 10 all time. Don’t miss it!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

December 14, 2020

Cranberry Christmas

Hallmark Christmas Movie for Grown-Ups

This is a mature and well acted offering that explores what it takes to have a happy marriage despite the challenges. Nikki DeLoach and Ben Ayers were fantastic and have wonderful chemistry. They play a separated couple, who have to pretend to have a solid marriage because they are publicizing their small town festival which will promote their family business for a TV show. It was like they were really married and falling back in love. They were a perfect match. Nikki is so sincere in her delivery, you really believe that everything that comes out of her mouth is from her heart. The whole cast was great, except for grandma who was a little teensy bit over the top. Sorry Grandma. The script was excellent with humor, heart, and a few tender moments. And it managed to avoid most of the Hallmark set pieces. Even the big misunderstanding near the end was handled with maturity and aplomb. The challenges to the happy ending were complex and real. No phony silliness at all. A breath of fresh air.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 7, 2020

Once Upon a Main Street

Vanessa is a Shining Star Again

Amelia and Victor are in competition to win a property owner’s contract to buy his storefront. Amelia wants to open a year-round Christmas shop, and Victor wants to open a chocolate shop. Vanessa Lachey is feisty and charming as always and was a good match for Ryan McPartin. They both played pretty irritating characters at the beginning, but once they started to work together this was an amusing and romantic story which was actually quite touching at the end. They did have the traditional big misunderstanding near the end which threatened to blow up all their hard-won progress. But lo and behold, they resolved it immediately with frank communication and a humble confession. Incredible. It was good to see Polly Draper again. She played a scary-crazy potter which added some tension and suspense. I wish she would be in more things. So far the beautiful Vanessa Lachey has proven adept at comedy and I have enjoyed her vehicles. Except one, but that wasn’t her fault. I hope to see her star in more TV movies.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 1, 2020