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.

Love in Zion National: A National Park Romance

Hallmark Takes on The Anasazi

Love in Zion National is the type of Hallmark movie that you can watch while doing your household chores. Actually filmed in Zion National Park, the scenery is beautiful. Cindy Busby is a Hallmark actress that people seem to either really like or really not like. I’ve always liked her, and she has never looked better, seemingly having resisted the urge to immobilize her forehead. Liked her new straight hair too. Once you get the gist of what is going on you can basically turn off the sound for great stretches of time and not miss a thing. So that’s a problem. Another problem is with the love story. Their relationship seems to have more of a Big Sister/Little Brother vibe rather than loverlike. Other problems include inaccurate history and legal improbabilities on many fronts. Also Hallmark’s usual problems with packing, only this time its backpacks and not suitcases.

Cindy plays assistant curator Lauren whose Denver museum might lose 3 rare pieces of Anasazi pottery that have been willed to them by a wealthy and loyal supporter. Her heir who is a really really bad guy wants the pottery for himself and is challenging the will. Seems very much of a desperate longshot, but the museum is thrown into a tizzy. He is really hateful. Lauren realizes that the 3 pieces are part of a set of 4 and travels to Zion National Park in an unofficial capacity to try to find the missing piece. She hopes that securing the 4th piece for the museum will ensure that they all stay together there. Before hiking into the park, she meets Ranger Adam Proudstar who tells her a mess of things she should have known already about the pottery. She realizes that she will need him as a guide to take her on the weeklong trip to and from “the hidden passage” where she hopes to find the missing vessel. Meanwhile, the bad guy figures out what she is up to and also heads to the park to find it before her.

There is a lot of hiking through the stunning scenery, a twisted ankle, North Star gazing, an encounter with a rattlesnake, and romantic campfires. They find the hidden passage with the help of ancient drawings matching the vases that have somehow escaped the prior notice of God knows how many archeologists and scholars. Selfie time! But before they can find it, the bad guy swoops down out of the sky in a helicopter and takes the vase from right under their noses! This gives us a chance for the big conflict because for some reason Adam is upset that she didn’t tell him that the ownership of the vases was in dispute, and he could have prevented the lost vase from getting stolen. It’s all a bit of a muddle of poor reasoning because all he has to do is get on his satellite phone and have him intercepted and arrested for stealing the vase. It’s not exactly finders keepers when it comes to ancient artifacts, I’m sure. And that applies to Lauren and the Museum too, by the way. Maybe this is why she was so mysteriously cagey with him which seems a little shady? This is typical of Hallmark’s very loosey-goosey relationship with real life. We’re meant to kind of close our eyes and move on, and I’m usually fine with that, but this is one of those times that it just seems really wrong. A writer actually had to write this script and presumably had to do some sort of research?

But never fear, the museum gets the vases back when it is proven that Adam Proudstar’s family actually crafted the vases at least 1000 years ago and they belong to them. This is laughable and absurd and not just borderline offensive. And why did Grandma Proudstar keep these supposedly historical and culturally groundbreaking photos and documentation secret? “Because you didn’t ask me.” Oy Vey. The stunning scenery is beautifully photographed, though.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Dream Moms

Dream a Little Dream

I liked this one more than I expected. It had some problems, but overall I liked the cast, the acting, and the message.

Chelsea Hobbs and Tamera Mowry-Housely play Claire and Danielle, the Dream Moms. Strangers, they meet through Danielle’s brother’s dance studio. They are both hard-working and devoted to their families. Claire is a divorced mother of two sons and their Dad is not in the picture. She works in the garment district and is hard put to handle her job and raise her two boys on her own. To add to the financial and time pressures, her oldest son, ably played by Glen Gordon, a Hallmark regular, has been accepted into a prestigious prep school, but can’t go unless she comes up with the tuition money or he wins a scholarship. Danielle is married to a successful attorney who is up for partner in his firm. She has a daughter who is a talented ballerina. Her whole life revolves around being a helpmeet to her husband, a support to her daughter, and volunteer work. Both of the women were once Broadway hopefuls, Claire a dancer and Danielle a singer who can also dance. But they both have traded their own dreams in to support their families and their hopes and ambitions.

When the ladies meet at Danielle’s brother RJ’s studio he has the idea of putting them together to enter a nationally televised talent competition for duos only. The prize for the ultimate winner is  $100,000. Chelsea is all in because she needs the money, as does RJ in addition to the publicity. Tamera finally agrees in order to support her brother although she really doesn’t need the money.

The time they need to devote to the success of their act causes tensions within their respective families. In Claire’s case, she is forced to accept help from her sweet and handsome neighbor, Sam, played by Matthew James Dowden, who is a peach and a mensch. (she has trust issues, of course, because her husband deserted her). At one point he intervenes when her son Paul gets all pissy with her because she missed his brother’s ball game and is no longer at their beck and call because of rehearsals. After Sam points out a few home truths to her son, he gets on board, which was very satisfying. In Danielle’s case, she is mostly OK until she finds out that her final competition night is the same night OF COURSE as her daughter’s most important dance showcase which will ensure her acceptance into a prestigious ballet school.

Danielle struggles with the decision and keeps putting off telling her family, and, more importantly, Claire. This was the source of quite a bit of frustration on my part because I knew what she should do, no question.

I liked the message this show ultimately sent to parents and their children. Danielle’s epiphany comes during a conversation with her daughter when she realizes the message she is sending to her husband and her daughter by her constant self-sacrifice is not necessarily a healthy one. Even though she has always been loving, supportive, and always present for her daughter and her husband,  she has also modeled the idea that being married and being a mother means giving up your own dreams and not having a life of your own.

The actors who played the children of the two women were wonderful. As the two families get to know each other and become friends (which I loved) Claire’s son and Danielle’s daughter have an innocent teenage romance which was sweet, but get in a little bit of mischief and trouble as well. Tamera Mowry-Housely, not surprisingly, was a stand-out as Danielle. Her marriage was healthy and happy, although the husband had a few things to learn for sure. I liked that. It was a wise and not surprising choice to have the successful well-off family be black and the struggling family be white. It was well-paced and kept my interest throughout. Danielle was not one of those neurotic mothers who live life through their children and are overly protective or overly involved in their lives. She was a good mother and counselor but needed to look at things in a new light. That is to the writer’s credit. Hallmark loves crazy mothers. I also liked that when any of the characters pissed me off, they came to their senses in a timely manner. Claire’s learning curve was not as dramatic as Danielle’s, but the scene where she reads an essay that her son wrote about her was touching and gives her the courage to make a brave decision.

The only real problem was the Dream Mom’s act itself. Tamera sang and danced nicely, while Chelsea danced with her and around her. And though she wasn’t bad, she didn’t really bring anything to the table. There really wasn’t any reason for her to even be there. Kind of like Richard Carpenter or the Captain of The Captain and Tennille. Their act and rehearsing for the act are throughout the movie so it’s hard to ignore and is pretty glaring. I will say that the original songs were good and the performances were not an embarrassment which is not always the case with Hallmark. Bless ’em. Despite Matty Finochio playing the part of the host, the actual TV show was pretty feebly done as well.

The movie ends with *spoiler alert* everyone’s dreams coming true, though not in the way you might think. Romance was not the focus in this one, and I like that Hallmark is seeming to get the fact that it does not always have to be the be-all and end-all. That said,  Sam and Claire getting together did provide a little romantic satisfaction.  Matthew James Dowden and his low-key pursuit of Chelsea was a highlight for me.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

When Love Springs

What Does that Title Even Mean?

Adorkableness is hard to do right and Rhiannon Fish was way over the top in this. No one acts this nutty, bubbly, and cute in real life without blowing a gasket. It was exhausting, but thank goodness she did manage to tone it down later in the movie.

Ms. Fish plays Rory, a “junior publicist” whose big dream is to become a partner in her firm. She works for the owner, a very angry and unpleasant task master who holds Rory’s ambition over her head to pile on the work. She and her goofy sister (she carries around a toaster) are joining her parents on vacation at the B&B where they first met to help them renew their vows. Rory has agreed to work while on vacation but continually misses deadline after deadline because she is so distracted by A) The handsome son of the Inn owner who is running the thing while his Dad is out of town, B) Her old boyfriend who dumped her and has shown up at the B&B with a beautiful new girlfriend, and C) Her scheme in which she gets Noah the B&B guy to pose as her new boyfriend to make old boyfriend jealous and save face. In return, she will use her expertise to rebrand the B&B to impress an important travel critic who can hopefully save the Inn with a good review.

Despite a towel shortage, no WiFi, no televisions in the rooms, no pool, and no employees, the big push to wow the travel critic is for her sister to design a new logo.

The fake boyfriend plan and the usual entertaining shenanigans that trope entails kind of falls by the wayside while Rory and Noah swan around the countryside falling for each other. I should say falling further, because it was pretty much a coup de foudre for them both. No old boyfriend in sight. Rory is all set to ditch her job with her always-irate boss when Noah declares his undying…friendship. Rory is understandably confused as was I.  I guess it had something to do with Rory hugging her ex Jason after his new girlfriend dumped him. Seemed pretty obvious she was just being nice, but whatever. With Rory’s guidance, the B&B leans into the homey, no-frills, or fancy amenities vibe. When Penny the travel critic finally shows up she is impressed and writes a favorable article. Rory’s boss calls her (irate as usual) about the article because Rory has broken faith with her by neglecting her work and missing deadlines all the while working for someone else. I really couldn’t blame her for being angry. But Rory, Instead of just quitting because, Wow, her scary boss really really hates her, and her future with the company is now kaput anyway, she fights with Noah and ditches her parents’ ceremony in order to be back on the job Monday morning.

When next we see her, she is back at the B&B just in time for her parents’ celebration. She has seen the light, but we are cheated as the whole “Take this job and shove it, you crazy b***h” happens off-stage.

Even though the plot didn’t live up to expectations, there were some bright spots. Rhiannon Fish’s wardrobe was sophisticated and stylish. Loved the polka dot halter dress which was actually not the color in the above picture, but a very pretty eggplant purple. The scenery was gorgeous, although someone fell a little too much in love with the split screens. James William O’Halloran as Noah is a find. He is very attractive and really effective as the love interest. His appeal was enhanced by the actor who played Rory’s ex, who was fine, but looked like a kid next to him. It was never believable that Rory would be even mildly tempted to give him a second chance with Noah gazing at her hotly. Finally, Rory’s family was a plus. I liked her sister, who ditched the toaster, and her parents in particular were sweet, understanding, and sensible. Fun and odd fact: The entire cast is from Australia. A grumpy**6**.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Hearts in the Game

Error on the Pitcher

This one started out well, but in the end, it kind of collapsed under the weight of mystifying motivations and irrational feelings and decisions on the part of the hero, which was key to the whole purpose of the story.

Erin Cahill plays Hazel, a NYC-based publicist known to be the best in her field. She is hired to get a star pitcher, coincidentally her former high school boyfriend who broke her heart, some good publicity and rehabilitate his image. No team wants him due to him mysteriously freezing on the mound in the 7th game of the World Series, losing his former team the championship. As a baseball fan, I understood the concern. The New York Mets are thinking about hiring him, but not without positive publicity high profile enough to assure the owners and the fans that it won’t happen again. It goes without saying that this must include the explanation of his breakdown on the mound. Ideally, the explanation must not destroy his reputation further but restore it. But Diego refuses to talk about it to anyone. It is completely off the table. When Hazel meets him and his agent, she is treated with hostility and sarcasm by Diego. I was intrigued by the mystery of what in the world she did to him to deserve his snarky anger. Hazel succeeds in convincing him to trust her and gets him an interview with a respected magazine and journalist, Morgan, on the condition that it takes place back in their hometown (which neither has visited for, I’m guessing, about 10 years). Once back in Ashtabula County Ohio, it soon becomes clear that Hazel also has some beef with her old best friend who wanted to be a writer once but now is a teacher, a wife, and a mother. So, three mysteries to keep my interest going, although by now, I realized that this movie was not holding up to its early promise. This is because the romance part including the big misunderstanding is telegraphed clearly at the beginning and it’s old and boring. Since Diego stubbornly refuses to disclose the reason for his breakdown, the only reasonable conclusion is that it must be very very bad, intolerable, inexcusable, unforgivable, and humiliating! So there is still hope for a couple of shocking reveals, a touching redemption, and a strong ending.

I’ll skip right to the chase which is why this movie fizzled so badly. **spoilers** Let’s start with the high school breakup. It turns out Diego stood Hazel up the night of the Senior Prom. But why? Because he found out that night that his beloved mother was sick with cancer. But he didn’t have the decency to call her and explain. He just ghosted her on prom night. Dude! I guess that explains the initial hostility on his part towards Hazel. Not! Then, when he finally explains after a romantic evening, Hazel apologizes to him for not being the type of person he could confide in. What. Moving on.

 It turns out the big secret as to why he lost his team the World Series is because it was the anniversary of his mother’s death and he always has a panic attack on the anniversary of his mother’s death. Plus it was additionally triggered by seeing a mother in the stands who looked like his mother and her child. Yes, that certainly is shameful. I can certainly understand why he is killing his career by keeping that nefarious information secret. Not!

On to the big misunderstanding with 20 minutes to go. He overhears Morgan the journalist telling Hazel the article is dead, because Diego will not explain why he froze on the mound. He becomes irate because Hazel “sold him out.” Huh? Surely the article being pulled proves that Hazel did not sell him out. Quite the contrary. He leaves the diner in a rage after bullying poor Hazel into admitting she promised Morgan the true story when he told her it was not up for discussion. So what? (”I was just going to read my biggest secret as a headline????!!!!!”). But first, he yells at Hazel over his shoulder while running out of the diner where this drama occurs, to go ahead and “tell Morgan anything you want to tell her.” Drama queen. Of course, Hazel keeps his shameful secret even though it will ruin her career. Later, Diego finds out from his agent what he already knew, that the article has been killed, which makes him so happy(??????) that he invites Morgan the journalist to his house to interview him and tells her the whole freaking truth, including how he lost the “love of his life” on Prom Night. It just made no sense. This Diego guy, our hero, was dangerously irrational and erratic with no judgment, common sense, or balance.

As for the third mystery, the cause of Hazel’s fallout with her girlfriend, it was a big nothing. I won’t even go into that side of the story. In the final couple of minutes of this mess, we learn that Diego is now a Met, and has pitched a no-hitter on his first outing, Hazel is representing her old girlfriend who is now a best-selling author, and Diego and Hazel are together forever in New York City. Hallmark really piled on the happy endings with this one. To top it off, Diego is being touted by the press as a  champion of mental health. Snort. Now it is certainly possible that Hallmark had the laudable intention of addressing the serious issue of mental health. But they whiffed. He comes across as emotionally stunted and asinine, not mentally ill. What exactly was Diego’s problem? So much machismo that he could not admit to softer emotions? Mommy issues? Unhealthy grieving process? Self-hatred? Plain old arrogance? Self-sabotage? Anger management problem? I would hardly call one panic attack a year as having a mental health problem. Or not being able to talk about it and then being able to talk about it. Don’t look too closely at the future of Diego and Hazel’s relationship. Be like Hazel and ignore all of the red flags.

On a historical note, Hazel’s best friend and personal assistant is Jax, played by a non-binary actress, Donia Kash. it is never stated, but it is inferred that the character is also non-binary. Donia/Jax was one of the few bright spots in this production.

Rating: 3 out of 10.

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.

The Wedding Cottage

Nothing to fix except the Cottage

In watching the previews for this one, I was irritated to see that Erin’s eyelashes looked very black and furry. Over-the-top false eyelashes are on my list of make-up “no-nos”. Ahem Natalie Hall. Plus I had already yelled at her a while back for this very issue. However, she won me over pretty quickly and I soon forgot about them. Erin was very good in this and I also appreciated that the upper half of her face helped her convey the appropriate emotions unlike some of her peers. In fact, the whole cast was great, and her chemistry with Brendan Penny could not be denied. I normally don’t talk about “chemistry” because I think it’s pretty much in the eye of the beholder, and it’s kind of cliche, IMO. But to me, those two had “it.”

Erin plays Vanessa, a former Wedding Planner who has moved on to writing wedding guides. To promote her first one she has chosen a deserving couple as the winner of a free wedding of their dreams. They want to be married at The Wedding Cottage in Stoney Bridge, Vermont, where her grandparents were married. To Vanessa’s dismay, she soon finds out that the historic and famous Wedding Cottage has been closed permanently for 5 years upon the death of the elderly owners. Advertising a closed venue in her guidebook and disappointing her hand-picked couple would be very bad publicity and a severe blow to her credibility. She goes up to Stoney Bridge to see what she can do and is further alarmed by the state of disrepair the old cottage is in. The owners’ hostile and grouchy grandson appears and tells her to get lost. He is in a bad mood because he is a famous sculptor, and, like all artists and writers in Hallmarks, is blocked and can’t do his thing. And (of course) he has a looming deadline. I loved Brendan Penny in this. He needs to keep the scruffy beard and do more cantankerous heroes. He was a good foil for cheerful and very very animated Erin. He is dead set against a wedding in the Wedding Cottage but finally relents at Erin’s desperation and her offer to restore the old building to its former glory all at her expense. She has to beg him to take this very sweet deal which seemed a little improbable. It isn’t long before Brendan starts to soften towards Vanessa and the project, and even starts to pitch in to help.

I liked the relationship-building in this one. The attraction and subsequent falling in love did not come out of nowhere. I didn’t count them, but I bet there were at least 4 or 5 kissing scenes as opposed to the usual lone smooch at the very end.  Although the plot was basically wedding planner theme 101 and very predictable, the script flowed well and made sense with some nice touches (grandma’s paintings), good dialogue (You don’t have to bow!), and funny scenes. Erin and Brendan made the most of these opportunities for comedy. That was not Vanessa wrestling with the leaf blower, but Erin having a ball with it. The new bride and groom were charming and Matreya Scarrwene especially as the bride was absolutely adorable. That smile! The scenery was very pretty. Finally, the plot of Brendan regaining his sculpting mojo by rejecting his old dark urban rebel approach to his art and embracing the peace and beauty of the countryside worked well. His sculpture (in wood rather than metal) was beautiful and even sexy, reflecting his new hopeful relationship with Vanessa. A job well done.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

The Blessing Bracelet

The Blessing Bracelet, Part 2: “Failure and Shattered Dreams”

There are a few things that really get my goat when it comes to Hallmark movies. One is inappropriate or strange makeup choices, and another is how out of touch with non-fictional business and financial realities Hallmark writers are. And don’t get me started on the magic suitcases because that has nothing to do with this particular story. And Amanda Shull’s makeup I had no problem with. There are so many examples of naivete and ignorance about financial matters from trying to save a store with hardly any merchandise, to dealing in products that will only sell one month of the year,  to people with little or no income who live in beautiful expensive homes.  Although I will circle back to the heroine’s bracelet business, I do want to talk about the more positive aspects of this movie.

First, this was very much a faith-based story with lots of church in it. I am not much of a church-goer anymore but I did like this aspect very much. It was a tad preachy, but the message was about hope, gratitude, and forgiveness and who can get upset about that advice and guidance, even though it comes from a minister as well as friends and family?  Amanda Shull is very good as Dawn, a single mother who is still trying to dig herself out of the financial mess her irresponsible ex-husband left her in when he took off 3 years ago. Luckily she has the little ray of sunshine that is her 13-year-old son to keep her spirits up. His one (and only) fault is that he keeps hounding her for a dog in every scene he is in. No pun intended. The bank is about to foreclose on her house, and though she goes there personally to beg for mercy it’s no dice because of all of her credit card debt and her car payments on top of her not paying her mortgage. She is pinning all of her hopes on trying to find a second job. It all seems pretty hopeless.

While getting ready for a night out with the girls she runs across one of her old “blessing bracelets” that she and her still best buddy used to make to raise money for a high school project. She starts to wear it and uses the 4 beads to count the few good things in her life. Kind of like a rosary but with bigger and fewer beads. It gives her a more positive confident attitude in spite of her crushing debt and the blessings start to pour in. She goes back to church. The rest of Dawn’s story is about how the bracelets and her new attitude save her house and get her out of debt once she starts to sell them.  The love story part is between her and the bank manager who has been unwittingly foreclosing on her. They don’t know who each other is because they first meet outside of the bank when he takes his pooch to the vet clinic which is her real job. Carlo Marks is well cast as Ben, the too-nice-for-his-own-good foreclosure guy. He is excellent as usual. Dawn and Ben are both very attractive and very kind and sweet and a perfect match. Ben also bonds with her son via said dog. Why isn’t this prize married already? Because he is “married to his job” (which he hates) is the only explanation we are given.

This was a good Hallmark with an uplifting message, some tension and suspense, and a nice romance between two good and likable people who you really root for. Hallmark usually handles religion and church-oriented stories pretty well: low-key, positive, and no Jesus talk, keeping things vague and all-encompassing. This one was no exception. I wish I could say the same about the way they handle money matters. A business plan that relies on an unsustainable no overhead and free labor does not bear looking at too closely. But of course that is exactly what I am going to do!

The whole enterprise gets started when she finally finds a second job (Blessing #1) as a waitress to help with her debt. The waitress who is training her tells her she gets better tips when she gives each of her customers a piece of candy. Dawn decides to give her customers her Blessing Bracelets. Whoa! That’s quite a leap! From a mint or a butterscotch button to free bracelets? I don’t know, if my waitress gave me a piece of jewelry along with my bill, I would think it was super creepy and sketchy. But maybe that’s just me.  And between her full-time job, part-time job, raising her son, and volunteering for her church, when does she have time to make them all? A lady from her church wants to buy 30 of them for her prayer group. This leads to a website and, the 30 bracelets are so popular that it leads to a second order for 500 from the same woman.  But when she can’t fill the huge order, the ladies of the same church (presumably including the prayer group who just bought 30 of them) pitch in to help her make the bracelets voluntarily for free.  It just doesn’t add up. It’s fairly clear that the bracelets are being bought by women affiliated with this church or their friends. They are buying the same bracelets they are making for free? That is just super nice and generous to do that, even for church ladies. And then further complicating the fantastical nature of this bracelet selling, orders are pouring in from the new website, and a local store wants to carry the bracelets, orders 1000 of them, and needs them by Easter. I paused on the website and they are selling for 24 to 30 dollars each retail. If you do the math, that is a chunk of change. Is she selling them to the head of the church group wholesale? Then to add to the already incestuous nature of this enterprise, Dawn announces that she is donating 15% of the sales back to the same church. That’s nice of her, considering. My eyes were rolling while my head was spinning trying to put it all together. And the pastor is so touched and grateful! It doesn’t even occur to her that maybe Dawn wants to keep her flock as free labor even when selling to stores and her retail website.

My favorite part was when her smarmy husband comes crawling out of the woodwork after 3 years, bearing a 10,000 dollar check for her, the first of many, he says.  Despite his apologies and claims that he has changed, it soon becomes clear that he has not changed a bit. She turns down the money and gives him a piece of her mind. A very good scene and I was cheering for her, but should she really have turned that money down? He is her son’s father, and he really owes her that support for his son’s sake. The roof over the boy’s head was still in danger from the bank at this point.

The final straw was when Ben (remember Ben?) quits his job foreclosing on people in order to help customers start new businesses. He buys a storefront in order to rent it to Dawn for her new bracelet business without even consulting her! Maintaining a bricks and mortar store is quite different than selling online, or so I’m told. Even if her son is willing to manage it (after school?) just for “free pizza.” At first, she thought he was giving it to her! “You bought this for me?!”  Of course, she couldn’t accept such a gift, but what if she had followed that with “Thank you!! Thank You!!”? That would have been a super awkward conversation.  “Well no, I really love you, and happy you are forgiving me for almost foreclosing on you when I didn’t know who you were but it’s not a gift. I’m renting it to you, not giving it to you. Your first payment is due Tuesday.”

I approach faith-based stories with an, I hope, open mind but on the other hand I am always on the watch for sanctimony and emotional manipulation. (Hello CCB and Gack/Gaff) In this case, the message was really nice and I liked Dawn, Ben, and their story a lot as a whole. Unfortunately, the bracelet selling may have been the answer to Dawn’s prayers, but there were just too many questions about it for me. Young Justin does get a puppy in the end, in case you were wondering.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

The Professional Bridesmaid

Harmless Fun

This was light, fun, and amusing in spots. A pleasant diversion, especially if you are really into wedding stories, one of Hallmark’s main spring themes. And what Hallmark fan doesn’t like weddings? The two leads, Hunter King and Chandler Massey, were young, attractive, and appealing, and the set decoration made it nice to look at. The rest of the cast was on point. There wasn’t anything annoying about it. Or even anything even vaguely irritating. There was one “Huh?,What?” moment, but it wasn’t anything big or super stupid. Hunter King seems to be being groomed for a role as a Hallmark regular and I’ve enjoyed Chandler Massey in previous productions with no reservations.

Hunter King plays Maisie Ryder (real name Maggie), an undercover “professional bridesmaid.” She has been hired to make the Mayor’s daughter Alexis’s road to her wedding as easy and as stress-free as possible. As her love interest, Chandler Massey plays Henry, an investigative political reporter who is forced to cover her wedding. He is under strict orders to stay focused on dresses, cakes, and flowers, rather than whether or not the Mayor is going to take a stand on saving a local park from development. But he just can’t help himself because he loves the park so much. Maisie’s job description is soon expanded to include keeping Henry away from the mayor. He is running for office, doesn’t want to commit to a stand on the park just yet, and wants to avoid bad press. Henry falls hard and fast for Maisie/Maggie and is adorable doing so. The feeling is mutual.

There were the usual almost disasters with dresses, the bridal shower venue, invitations, and gift bags, most of them courtesy of the Maid of Honor, a disorganized and flaky young lady trying too hard to make up for past missteps with her cousin, the bride. All were averted thanks to Maisie’s competence and professionalism. I liked the actress, Lillian Doucet-Roche, who played the maid of honor. She had an expressive face and good delivery. I wouldn’t be averse to seeing her again as the head girl. Also kudos to Francesca Bianchi, who played the beautiful and down-to-earth bride.

Much of the humor stems from Maggie’s cover story to protect her identity and function. The bride, put on the spot, came up with her name and cover on the spur of the moment. A champion rider, She names Maggie after her horse and tells everyone Maggie is a wine sommelier or distributor or something. Maggie knows nothing about wine and comes up with some real howlers. The “Huh, What” moment? Henry googles “Maisie Ryder’s” name and she doesn’t exist on the internet. Hmmm. He narrows his search and up comes the bride, “rider,” and “Maisie,” Alexis’s horse. How odd. But it doesn’t trigger any questions or further research on the part of our crack investigative reporter. And it’s such a shocker when Henry learns that “Maisie” is really Maggie and has not been forthcoming truth-wise. Always grounds for temporary heartbreak and temporary conflict in Hallmark World.

**Spoiler Alert**The Wedding goes off without a hitch, Maggie gets her business loan thanks to the Mayor (yes, there’s that), and the reconciliation of the two sweethearts happens. Henry is back on the political beat, the Mayor turns out to be a good guy after all, and the Park is saved.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Love in the Maldives

Armchair Adventure.

For some reason, I didn’t hate this, although I probably should have. The plot did not deviate from the standard Hallmark playbook except for the geography and had some silly eye-rolling elements in it to boot. But the setting in the Maldives instead of Small Town, U.S.A counted a lot in its favor. It was nice.

Rae is a writer for a magazine whose regular feature is her solo action-packed physically challenging adventures in dangerous places. Emphasis on the solo. She climbs mountains, rafts down raging rivers, goes on polar expeditions, slashes through jungles with snakes, and stuff like that. Her magazine is changing focus, however, and her boss sends her to a luxury resort in the Maldives. To Her Horror. (!) She wants her to write something personal and introspective instead of her usual which is the opposite of that. Can she even do that? Her job depends on it but it doesn’t seem likely. When she gets to the beautiful partially underwater resort, she keeps looking around for exciting adventures in defiance of her intimidating boss’s direct orders but all she finds is a yoga class. Not her thing.

But right off the bat, she develops a sweet relationship with an older widow, they talk and help each other and go to couple-oriented activities together. I really liked this part and the actress, Lucy Newman-Williams, was just great. Rae gives Debra the courage to strike out and do things on her own without her beloved husband, and Debra gets Rae to give her own solitary existence a critical second look. She also gets to know the yoga guy who is the “Experience Director” of the resort. Jared’s yoga class is part of a program he wants to “take international” called “Clarity and Connection.” You get the picture. They start to fall in love while snorkeling, dancing, shopping in nearby Mali, meeting his friends, and rescuing sea turtles. He also knows where the location of a famous shipwreck that sunk with a plundered treasure on board is. That is right up Rae’s street. This is the main eye-rolling part. Rae agrees to keep it a secret and not write about it if he takes her to it and he does. What a chump. But by this time, she is starting to buy into this turning inward instead of outward deal. He takes her out to the wreck which is sticking right up in the air in shallow water in full view of any passing plane or drone or Josh Gates. She is agog. Why haven’t all of the greedy treasure hunters discovered it? “Because it’s not near anything.” Plus it’s called the “Wandering Shipwreck” because every time there is a typhoon or monsoon, it is carried off again to a new place. Wait a minute. Could the ship be a metaphor for Rae’s life up to now? I’ll put a pin in that one.

Rae screws up and takes a selfie with the famous lost ship in the background which her boss sees because they have a shared hard drive. She forgot about that. Of course, her boss gets all excited and books a whole block of bungalows for a camera crew to film the exploration of the ship which Rae discovered and do a whole big thing. Secrets out. Tourists, treasure hunters, and reality show hosts will not be far behind disturbing the peace of paradise (and the exclusive $15,000-a-night resort.) Yoga guy Jared thinks she betrayed him on purpose, and yadda yadda yadda until all is resolved very patly with the shipwreck remaining a secret, the treasure staying in the Maldives, and him taking his Clarity and Connection program international with Rae’s collaboration. Her “Reservation for One” feature has turned into “Table for Two.” Awh.

The two leads in this are married in real life and seemed very comfortable working with each other. I liked Jocelyn Hudon in this though she has been in a couple of stinkers and one good one in the past. Her husband though. Nothing against the actor, but he came across as a slightly vacant teenage surfer dude while Jocelyn was believable as a successful worldly professional. It was as if Christopher Atkins had been marooned on The Blue Lagoon with his Highschool English teacher instead of Brooke Shields. He even had Christopher’s same tousled frosted tips. Just FYI and in fairness, in real life, they look to be a nice young couple and Jake Manley (yes) is actually 5 years older than his wife. I was surprised. I would not be averse to seeing them work together for Hallmark again as long as he lets his hair grow out and buys a comb.

Rating: 7 out of 10.