Fly Away with Me

Happy or Homeless?

Natalie Hall has never been a favorite. Many Hallmark actors have changed my opinion in the past, so I always try to go in with an open mind, but I have not yet been able to warm to her. Unfortunately, Hallmark seems to really like her and plugs her in whenever “antics” are called for and one of the older more mature actresses would be awkward and unsuitable. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but her acting seems a little forced and unnatural. She seems to be trying too hard, and that carries over to her overdone hair, make-up and clothes. This one did surprise me by having her wake up in bed in the morning with minimal or no makeup still on her face. So props there.  

This is about Angie and Ted who rent in a desirable apartment complex that is strictly pet-free. Ted is babysitting a cute dog for his sister, and Angie has a parrot fly onto her balcony on her first day. The rest of the movie is about helping each other hide their pets from the kind of creepy female apartment manager. In the meantime, Angie is trying to find the parrot’s owner or at least a good home for the bird. Some more things are going on as well. Ted is an air traffic controller who has failed at getting his pilot’s license. Which gave me pause. I mean, 14-year-olds have pilot’s licenses.  I mean, fun fact, even Andy Griffith’s Aunt Bea had one.  Angie is very successful at her job in the television industry where her boss who is also her ex-boyfriend is trying to get back with her. But she wants to be a script writer which she is terrible at, by the way. Partially because she keeps setting her “scripts”, which read more like short stories,  in the jungle. Meanwhile, the apartment manager keeps hanging around because she has a crush on Ted and keeps snooping around making it difficult to hide the dog and the parrot. Ted and Andy are attracted to each other right away but avoid, for some unknown reason, any romance or physical contact. They almost kiss once, but break apart when she hears a ding on her phone, and, thus discouraged, never attempt it again until the very end.

Angie quits her job because she wants to concentrate on writing and her boss, Kyle, is being a d*ck. Her goal seems to be finishing a script, not selling one. How is she going to pay for rent and food without an income? Angie and Ted get found out and Angie is evicted. Ted also volunteers to be evicted in solidarity but not before Angie thinks he betrayed her resulting in the big misunderstanding. Reconciled, they end up flying away in Ted’s plane off to the jungle, leaving the tight Chicago rental market behind them. So Ted has his pilot’s license but has abandoned his job, and unemployed Angie has an unsold script. I predict tough times ahead. Because no one is buying that stupid script.  The actor who played Ted was not bad. The apartment manager, Gineen, was very good (and gorgeous), and it was great to see Kathryn Kohut as Angie’s best friend again. She was the best thing in Feeling Butterflies as Mandy, the rival butterfly wrangler. Time for a promotion to head girl, in my opinion. And while Ted and Angie are flying off into the wild blue yonder and probable homelessness, the movie ends with an amusing scene back at the apartment building.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

October 2, 2022

Wedding of a Lifetime

A Breath of Fresh Air

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

September 20, 2022

Marry Go Round

Round the Bend

This is the surprise surprise still married to old husband trope. It’s tried and true, but unfortunately, I did not like the behavior of the old husband and really liked the new fiance who was eventually and inevitably dumped. Needless to say this negatively impacted my enjoyment of this movie.

Amanda Shull was excellent and sympathetic as the successful marketing executive who is soon to be married and moving to Paris.  And Brennan Elliot, her leading man, has some quirks, but in general, is still a favorite of mine. Top 10, anyway ( used to be top 5). But the character he plays is a bad guy hiding behind a nice guy smiley facade.

When preparing for her marriage and the move to Paris, Amanda finds out that due to some paperwork snafu, she is still married to her old high school boyfriend whom she hasn’t seen or heard from in 20 years. When she goes back to her hometown to straighten this out she meets him in court and he won’t sign the divorce papers. He needs time to “digest” this. “It’s not chicken salad! There’s nothing to digest” She cries. Amen Sister! The guy broke his marriage vows and abandoned her and their marriage and moved over 4000 miles away where he couldn’t be found like a coward. No discussion, no explanation, no goodbye except a note left on her pillow. **spoiler alert*** He let himself be bullied by her awful mother into deserting her because her acceptance letter from Princeton came in the mail. What. So no married person ever went to college? They did not discuss the possibility of her acceptance before they got married? Letters of acceptance from Princeton just don’t come in the mail without a lengthy application process.  Besides treating his bride as a child with no agency in the marriage by abandoning her, he doesn’t contact her for 20 years. Not a peep. And this isn’t some strangers in the night, they got married in a fever situation. They had been friends since childhood. Amanda was devastated and emotionally and psychologically crippled for years because of his cruelty. But once she has recovered and is happily engaged, he wants to derail her life again.

With the exception of Sweet Home Alabama, this trope usually only works if the other woman/man is a jerk and the heroine/hero doesn’t love him. But Amanda and Edward, her fiance, profess their love throughout the movie. And Edward is not a jerk. He is a demonstrably better man than the hero.

Amanda is not blameless in this fiasco, by the way. Needless to say, Brennan Elliot wheedles and manipulates her until her heart starts to soften. Isn’t there some sort of guy-rule about not making the moves on an engaged woman? Well, someone forgot to tell Brennan. But we already know he couldn’t care less about promises and marital commitment, so no surprise, I guess.  When the strong mature, wise, patient, and loving Edward shows up, Brennan scurries away. Now that he has all but won her over to giving him another chance, he starts playing hard to get. Or maybe he has either developed a conscience or at least a sense of shame? Nothing so profound. He was just embarrassed, and probably scared of Edward punching him in the nose. No such luck.

Before the “happy ending” Edward releases her to find her happiness with her still husband. He lets her go (face to face, unlike Brennan) saying “I deserve your whole heart.” Not only is he the better man, but he is eloquent too. I appreciate that Hallmark didn’t follow the usual template of making the new man a weasel, but they did too good a job of not making him a weasel and on top of that they made the so-called hero the weasel.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

September 15, 2022

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.

Big Sky River

A Parable for Step-Parents.

This was a low-key pleasant way to pass the time while also serving as a cautionary tale for loving step-parents. There’s not a whole lot of action, but then again it also avoided a lot of tired tent pole scenes and tropes that Hallmark is famous for. This was on Hallmark Murders & Mysteries, and those usually have something a little more to offer than the usual stuff that Hallmark churns out like an assembly line.

Tara is a recent divorcee whose ex-husband wants to distance her from his daughter, her step-daughter, Erin, so she can bond with his new girlfriend without Tara in the way. Tara and Erin love each other dearly. Of course they do. Tara is the only mother Erin has ever known, and Erin has been Tara’s daughter for 10 of her 13 years. But Tara has no rights now that she is divorced from Erin’s father. This is a sad and scary situation for both of them, but being a mature, reasonable woman Tara respects James’ wishes (not that she has much of a choice) and is leaving for the summer. As a young girl, she spent a vacation at a dude ranch in Parable, Montana with her parents and she has always thought back on that time fondly. No, surprisingly, this is not a Dude ranch story. The dude ranch is now defunct but she is renting a house nearby.  

While in her summer home she takes care of the resident chickens, rides horses, makes friends, and dances, but more importantly meets a handsome next-door neighbor who is also the local sheriff, and his two boys. They form a connection right away, but being parents they are cautious and careful. And, as they both know, Tara will be leaving at the end of the summer. Meanwhile, the ex-husband, Hallmark’s longstanding never-the-romantic-lead-and-also-director Peter Benson, is not having a smooth time with his daughter. She has chased off 4 nannies and the agency won’t send anymore. He basically wants to just get rid of her and she won’t go to camp. He calls Tara and asks her to take Erin for the rest of the summer. Both Tara and Erin are thrilled and Erin happily joins her mom and makes herself at home in Parable.

And that’s about it until the big crisis. I won’t go any further, but it results in Tara finally putting her foot down with James and James caving in immediately. It was the highlight of the movie.  By the end, Tara and Erin will be together in Parable with Tara and Boone pursuing their promising relationship and hopefully forming one big happy family.

I appreciated late 30 and 40-somethings dealing with age-appropriate situations. Too often, Hallmark has their 40-year-old actors dealing with life situations more common to twenty-somethings. The moral, or parable, if you will, of this story is, that if you’re the loving parent of a stepchild, better go ahead and adopt them. Marriages are not always forever but parenthood is. Don’t lose your rights to your child.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

August 18, 2022

Romance in Style

Go Ella!” Literally, Just Go.

This was good for the first 70%. The premise was intriguing and anytime Hallmark resists the urge to fall back on their go-to templates, it always feels fresh.

Ella (think Cinderella), a sewer in the fashion industry, has aspirations to be a dress designer specializing in clothes for the average woman, such as herself, both in price and size. She has already gotten some love from a premiere designer who has seen promise in her designs (think Vera Wang). She has a meet-cute with a seemingly entitled self-absorbed (but handsome!) man at a coffee shop on her way to is doing some freelance sewing work for the fashion magazine her friend works at (think Vogue). We meet her friend’s mean-girl bosses who are very much like Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt from The Devil Wears Prada. Lo and Behold, it turns out that the charming gentleman (Prince Charming, that is) whom she traded good-natured barbs with at the coffee shop is the son of the new owner of the media company who has been sent to turn things around for the struggling magazine.

I really liked that the powerful love interest, Derek, played by Ben Hollingsworth, and our heroine were aligned on the same side against Meryl and Emily who did not want to expand their fashion coverage to include anyone over a size 4. He likes her and he likes her ideas. Recognizing her talent and knowledge, he relies on her to tutor him in the ins and outs of the fashion industry. They work together to develop the digital version of the magazine to appeal to a larger audience. No pun intended. He decides to feature her and her designs much to the resentment and anger of the mean girls. The stage is perfectly set for drama, sabotage, confrontation, and a hopefully massive take-down of Meryl and Emily, the wicked stepsister and stepmother.

The precarious current state of print media and its challenges are not ignored. Usually, with Hallmark, successful independent bookstores abound and magazines and newspapers are super successful and legion to provide gainful and glamorous employment for our heroes and heroines. The set design and graphics were stylish and imaginative and the fashions actually looked fashionable. The pace was energized and the dialogue snappy.

Unfortunately, the ending was extremely weak and brought my final rating down a whole star. The big misunderstanding at the end was too dumb for words. It entailed Ella swallowing the obvious lie from mean girl #2 that Derek really didn’t care anything about her and was just using her. Why would she even stay in the same room with the nasty venomous bitch let alone listen to and believe her? Ben had never been anything but kind and supportive. Anyway, she does, and leaves the big launch party in a huff before Ben can introduce her to the fashion world as a hot new designer. She simultaneously disses the Vera “fairy godmother” Wang character and embarrasses everyone into the bargain. She not only potentially tanks her romance with the rich, powerful, and nice Ben but her dream career as well. Talk about self-hatred! Of course, the happy ending can’t be denied. All is forgiven. But then we are robbed of the pleasure of seeing the wicked stepsisters being taken down by turning them into nice girls at the last minute for no reason other than expediency. (“Go Ella!”, they cheer.) If you’re going to do Cinderella, don’t leave out the best part.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

August 16, 2022

Christmas in Toyland

Evil Wins

This one was kinda depressing. Charlie is a Data Analyst for a failing toy company, Big Teddy Toy Company. First off, no wonder they are failing. Their name makes it seem like they only sell Teddy Bears. And their stores don’t have any toys in them, just gaily wrapped boxes piled all over the place and a ton of Christmas decorations. In a big meeting, she learns that they will be closing all of their locations and selling their toys online only. Charlie is horrified and saddened over all of the people who will be losing their jobs right before Christmas. Also, as we learn later,  she had a very tough childhood with her single mother having to work 3 jobs and her spending a lot of time being babysat in a toy store which provided her with a safe, wholesome, and fun atmosphere in her depressing life. But hold on. Being the ace data analyst that she is, she points out that there is one small town location a short trip from New York City that is logging steady sales increases month after month, year after year. What is their secret? Charlie will go to that location, learn their mysterious ways, and hopefully replicate what they are doing and save their brick-and-mortar stores. She is promised that she will have until Christmas Eve to present a plan of action to save the stores, much to the displeasure of her rival, the rat fink evil Dave.

There is a heavy doom and gloom feel to this one despite its relentless surface cheeriness, We know in our hearts that despite what she learns from the little store that could, The already in motion plans of the corporate bureaucratic suits will not be stopped. Winter is Coming. Especially when we find out that despite their promise to Charlie, all of the west coast stores are closed a week before Christmas. But Charlie forges on despite the betrayal. She becomes close to the little store’s employees and especially its unconventional manager, Grant. She proposes that corporate make the shop its flagship store and save the east coast stores by using Grant’s successful methods as their model. To that end, she throws a Christmas Eve party there and invites all of the bigwigs. The whole town pitches in, and all of the big city businessmen have a great time. They are wowed by Charlie’s idea of the flagship store, but they ignore her advice and go with Evil Dave’s proposal of building it in Las Vegas! Sin City! And close all of the remaining locations throwing everyone out of work! I told you this was depressing! And apparently, the suits don’t understand you can’t have a “flagship store” unless you have other stores to go with it! Idiots.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Despite the bad guys winning and hundreds of nice people losing their jobs at Christmas time, it turns out that Charlie didn’t want to be a data analyst anyway, she wanted to be a toy designer. And Grant did not want to be a store manager, he wanted to re-open his Grandfather’s old toy store, Tinker Town. So they decide to do that and they kiss.

This show sorely needed an epilogue. We hope that Charlie and Grant will be successful in realizing their dreams but don’t know that and we don’t see it. We hope that Grant’s own store will actually have toys in it instead of just a ton of red and green boxes and Christmas decorations. We also needed Dave and the other corporate bureaucrats to get what was coming to them for their bad behavior and stupidity. We needed some Gosh Darn good triumphing over evil! Especially at Christmas in July time.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 31, 2022

Campfire Christmas

Too Campy.

This one was just silly despite the rapport and charm of the two leads, Tori Anderson and Corbin Bleu. Unfortunately, they are overshadowed by the hammy performances of approximately half of the secondary actors. Since they all over-act in the same way, I blame the director. Tori is an aspiring writer who has been working as an assistant in a publishing firm. Unfortunately, every attempt to have any of her manuscripts published by her firm is shut down by her heinous boss. She grew up with a group of friends that attended her parents’ Christmas-themed summer camp. Her parents tell her that they are selling the camp and are going to throw a week-long farewell celebration for all of the two generations of former campers who strangely all seem to be the same age. Weird.  She has kept in touch and sees all of her good buddies except one, her camp romance, Corbin Bleu. When they tried to make their long-distance relationship work outside of camp, it didn’t and Corbin dumped her, breaking her heart. Besides Corbin and Tori the friends include a married couple that met at camp and two contentious gay actors who got the show-biz bug there while competing for the same roles in  “the pageant.” The 3 couples all have misunderstandings and issues to iron out before their Christmas dreams come true and love wins. So there’s nothing new here, including the “big misunderstanding” 20 minutes before the end of the movie. This one is of the “only half the conversation is heard” variety and is particularly dumb.

What makes this one below average is the sheer boredom of watching all of the campers running around like maniacs doing fun activities like they are 10 years old and on sugar highs cheered on like their lives depended on it by Tori’s grinning parents. The one scene that got my attention was provided by Tori’s boss. Besides Corbin and Tori mending fences and discovering the old spark is still there, we have her still trying to get published, this time by writing a history of her family’s beloved camp. Her boss had rejected her latest manuscript because it needed more passion and a more personal connection.  Her boss loves her pitch but then to her horror, asks her, “who are you going to get to write it?” What???!!! I mean, I was floored. Imagine how Tori felt. When her boss goes so far as to hire a writer and asks for Tori’s notes and personal diaries, Tori quits on the spot. She learns later that her boss kept rejecting her manuscripts because she didn’t want to lose Tori as an assistant. This somehow makes her feel better, and in the 6 months later epilogue, we learn that she wrote a children’s book out of the story illustrated by her soon-to-be fiance, Corbin, who is an art teacher.  The married couple are now pregnant and the gay rivals are now a happy couple. Situation normal in Hallmark-Land. It has gotten a pretty harsh reception on IMDb and not just because of all of the diversity.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

July 29,2022

Caroline?

More Than I Expected

This movie came to my attention thanks (many thanks) to a comment on one of my reviews. Thank-you Sally Silverscreen of https://18cinemalane.com/. In reading the brief synopsis I thought I was in for a juicy soap opera/romance along the lines of The Scapegoat or Barbara Stanwick’s No Man of Her Own. The first scene challenged my preconceived expectations when it opens as two adults are discussing the death of someone who appears to be the eponymous Caroline. The rest of the movie is told in a flashback beginning 2 or 3 decades earlier.

An attractive young woman appears at the door of a mansion and claims to be the long-believed dead daughter of the house. Suspiciously just in time to claim her part of an inheritance. Is she an imposter and a scammer? Seems likely. And yet it isn’t really about that. Whether she is or isn’t it becomes clear as she interacts with the rest of the family that she is a good person and very smart and capable. Further, she seems to be on a mission to improve the lives and futures of her two young possible step-siblings. The young daughter is stricken with cerebral palsy and spoiled and overly protected by her mother. She is treated like a pet or a baby to the point that her parents don’t even know she can read let alone put her own coat on. They expect her brother to be her constant companion. He is destined to be her caretaker when their parents are no longer able to. So he is trapped and isolated as well, with no friends, future prospects, or chance of happiness.

Caroline’s developing relationship with the children and with the other family members, her conflict with the mother’s wrong-headed ignorant notions of how to treat her children, her brave strategies to help the young kids, and the complex relationships among the family members add up to a compelling drama. To add to this we have deeply interesting and complex characters (especially the children) and the overarching mystery of who is Caroline really, and how and why did she come to this family. The answer is revealed near the end in a letter to the boy and it is not shocking but quite touching. The final bookend scene in which all is revealed as to Caroline’s accomplishments up to her death, the impact she made on the 2 children, as well as the entire community and beyond, is poignant and beautiful.

Of course, the whole plot is wildly implausible, and there are certainly some unanswered questions.   There was some drama and suspense created at the expense of common sense and established characterization. There is a whiff of Lifetime Movie Network about this Hallmark Hall of Fame production. But so many positives completely outweigh the flaws and make it very deserving of its 1990 Emmys for Best Direction and Best Made for Television Movie. Not to mention Patricia Neal and Dorothy Macguire adding their considerable cachet in small but key roles. I highly recommend seeking it out. It isn’t hard to find and is free on YouTube and Amazon Prime.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

July 11, 2022