Call Me Irresistible

by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Not sure what book I was thinking of when I gave this Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel only 3 stars on Goodreads. Must have been another book. It is not only a 5, but one of my favorites. I listened to this on Audible this time, and it is at least my 3rd go-round with this one. I’ll have to rely on my memory for this review.

Besides being very very funny, I loved the characters. Both the two main characters and the hilarious, maddening, and crazy residents of Wynette Texas. The two main characters are Ted and Meg. Ted is Ted Beaudine, the only son of Francesca and Dallas Beaudine first introduced in Fancy Pants, one of SEP’s first books, and the one that started the Chronicles of Wynette. Meg is Meg Koranda, daughter of Fleur Savagar and Jake Koranda of her third novel and first contemporary, Glitter Baby. If I started talking about Meg and Ted’s parents it would go on and on but suffice it to say that all 4 of them are forces of nature and legendary in the SEP universe. Francesca and Dallie have significant roles in this novel, and the Korandas make a brief but spectacular and welcome cameo appearance. When they appeared on the scene I actually whooped.

Meg is funny, smart, good-hearted, brave, and something of a screw-up in her own eyes. She has always struggled to measure up to her fabulous parents and her brothers, knew she never could, so has never tried. She spends her glamorous life traveling around the world on her parents’ money, having daring adventures and lots of fun, but she feels like she doesn’t really fit in anywhere. Ted is just the opposite. He is a paragon of perfection. Birds start singing when he appears on the scene, and rays of light seem to follow him around. I have to say that this whimsical trait S.E.P. gives him was genius on her part. (Meg finds it “creepy”.)He is adored and worshipped in Wynette where he solves everyone’s problems and never fails at anything he does.
“He sounds like Jesus. Except rich and sexy.”
“Watch it, Meg. In this town joking about Jesus could get you shot. You’ve never seen so many of the faithful who’re armed.”

Plus he’s a genius and uses his powers for good. And he’s humble. And he’s marrying the perfect woman, Lucy Jorik, of First Lady and daughter of Cornelia Jorik, ex-president of the United States. She’s perfect but we still like her. SEP’s next book, The Great Escape, is Lucy’s story and runs concurrently with this one. Meg, her best friend and maid of honor, senses there is something very wrong behind all this perfection. And when good-girl Lucy ditches Ted at the altar, all eyes turn to Meg. She is blamed by everybody, even Ted and Lucy’s parents. To make matters worse, Meg’s loving parents in a burst of tough love have finally cut her off and she has no money with which to skedaddle out of Wynette and all of the torches and pitchforks gathering at the Wynette Country Inn. The story of how Meg not only survives being destitute, hated, and treated like dirt, but finally starts to fit in, thrive, and find her self-esteem is as entertaining as hell. But strangely, I found Ted’s journey even more fascinating and well-crafted. Meg sees through him almost immediately and understands that behind all that goodness lies a lot of fear. Is there anything behind that emotionally controlled mask?
The answer is yes.
3 stars (???) bumped up to 5.

Rating: 10 out of 5.

Romance Retreat

Dana and Draco

This was an uncharacteristically funny script especially for what people are assuming is a Hallmark-type movie. It has nothing much in common with your typical Hallmark or Hallmark-clone templates other than that it is a romantic comedy. It has some wit and a lot to say about the Yoga and New-Age culture which it fondly sends up along with the journalistic tabloid ethic that will sacrifice truth and fairness in favor of click-bait.

Dana, a workaholic journalist is going on vacation with her fed-up-with-her boyfriend. Because she is so cluelessly obsessed with her career and her phone, rather than paying attention to real life, she thinks she is going to an Indonesian Beach while she ends up in the wilds of Canada with no cell service or internet. Amanda Shull does a great job, exposing our heroine’s unattractive traits and mindset while still making her likable. We root for her (while we are rolling our eyes at her earlier behavior) as her character changes and grows.

In Canada, she finally gets dumped by the guy that brung her due to her attitude and neglect. She ends up becoming friendly with an incognito tech genius/millionaire that she is coincidentally doing an expose’ on. Hilarity and a sweet romance ensue.

Stefan, the love interest is played by Morgan David Jones who is either Tom “Draco Malfoy” Felton’s doppelganger or his better-looking older brother. I would be favorably disposed on his behalf because of this resemblance anyway, but his performance does not disappoint.

This is not a Hallmark movie, but aired on UPtv. In addition to the witty and funny script and the out-of-the-box subject matter, the director is the late Steve DiMarco. He was a respected if eccentric television director of a legit and large body of work and not in the Hallmark “stable.” He passed away last month. RIP.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

January 29, 2021

Persuasion

It Wasn’t That Bad.

It was not my intention to review the much-criticized new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. But such has been the vitriol and bitterness of some of the reviews, that I can’t resist. Because I didn’t hate it. I was confused by it and confounded by some of the decisions that were made particularly concerning Anne’s character, but there was much that I enjoyed. And I certainly didn’t think everyone involved should be “thrown in prison”.

It follows the plot pretty closely. All of the characters are substantially the same people as in the book and the very faithful films.  Except for Anne. Anne is not the same character at all. The mumblings and murmurings started with the miscasting of the gorgeous Dakota Johnson as the mousy beaten-down Anne. And the trailer really got people going. Since Anne Elliott is one of Austen’s most beloved characters, the sneak peak did not sit well with many. Particularly the hyper-vigilant “Janeites”. Because of all the hate, I approached this movie with an open tolerant mind and sat down to be entertained. One aspect of the movie that has incurred much criticism is Anne continually breaking the fourth wall. She makes sarcastic and witty comments to the viewer about the behavior of her family members. Her observations are dead on. “My Father. He’s never met a reflective surface he didn’t like. Vanity is the beginning and end of his character. Also the middle.” She gives the viewers sly glances when one of her fellow characters does or says something particularly absurd. It was clearly an attempt to interject Austen’s own voice into the narrative and simultaneously enliven Anne.

As Sir Walter Elliot, Richard E. Grant could not have been better. In fact, all of the actors except one were good to excellent. But things started to get weird almost immediately. Instead of keeping Anne’s outspoken and barbed observations between herself and the audience, she calls out her relatives directly to their faces. Anne is shown to be publicly full of verve and spirit. If they had kept this facet of her personality a secret between Anne and us, her confidants, they could have kept much of the integrity of her character. They missed an opportunity to show how Anne’s true feelings and opinions are at odds with the way she is forced to navigate her world. She acts out and in the process makes her character eccentric and at times, incomprehensible.  There are many examples but most jarring was Anne spouting off out of the blue and unprovoked during a dinner party to all and sundry that she herself was the first choice of Charles, her sister Mary’s husband. Needless to say, she brings the merry party to a standstill. However true, even the most socially inept meanest mean girl wouldn’t do that! It was almost Tourettes-like. I can’t think of why this was done, as well as the many many other examples of weird behavior Anne displays such as the octopus speech and drinking way too much wine right from the bottle. The director replaced Anne Eliot with Bridget Jones. Remember Bridget’s response at the dinner table full of couples that all singletons having scales? And as Bridget Jones, Dakota Johnson was charming and funny. She just wasn’t Anne Eliot in a work that is supposed to be all about the character regaining her bloom and spirit long suppressed by sorrow and regret. There is nothing to prevent This Anne from going after her heart’s desire right from the get-go.

There was little to no chemistry between Anne and Captain Wentworth, who looked decidedly grungy throughout the production. I didn’t care for him. Henry Golding’s shady and scheming William Eliot actually falls in love with the common and unattractive Mrs. Clay and marries her at the end. Just weird and nonsensical. Back to the good. The cinematography was beautiful and the scenery and fashions were both lovely. I actually liked the contemporary pop-culture parlance (“playlist,” “fashion forward,” “you’re a 10,” “we’re exes”, “I’m an empath,” etc.) I thought it was fresh, whimsical, and definitely brave. I was drawn in as I always am by Jane Austen’s regency world however askew this one was. In fact, I rather enjoyed the off-center vibe.

I was able to tolerate the strange choices by the writer and director while I was looking at it. It was only later upon reflection that my feelings started to sour. I hated that they could have made Anne a modern kick-ass heroine, while still maintaining the integrity of one of Jane Austen’s most interesting creations and her truly moving character arc. I hear that Netflix is (or was) planning to bring more of Austen’s novels to the screen. If they decide to go ahead with this despite the fact that “everyone” hates this one, I will be very curious and interested.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 20, 2022

Rip in Time

Hall of Fame Worthy-It’s About Time!

I had very high hopes for this one, and I was not disappointed. It debuted on Hallmark Murders and Mysteries which serves as the home of more serious movies that don’t fit the usual Hallmark Romance mold. It was written by C. J. Cox who penned one of the best Hallmarks in recent years, Love Strikes Twice, as well as the Reese Witherspoon favorite Sweet Home Alabama and Rene Zellweger’s New in Town. It starred Niall Matter as Rip Van Winkle’s estranged son who travels from his time to ours and meets single mother Torrey DeVitto, and her son and father, the current owners of the old Van Winkle property.  Time Travel stories are always a safe bet and Niall Matter is a favorite of mine. Torrey DeVitto, not so much, but she was fine in this. Niall seems to have an air of melancholy behind his eyes, which was perfect for this role.

The fish out of water aspect was well done with enough shock and awe at the modern conveniences to make it believable and entertaining, but not so much as to distract from the story and relationship building.

When Torrey, armed with a rifle, and her son first discover Rip cowering in the barn, they flip on the light:

“Are You a Witch?!”

“She was, last Halloween.”

“Please do not shoot me, Witch!”

“Keep Calling me that. Give me a reason.”

“Oh. You are a spinster forced to wear pants to protect your family. I did not mean to offend you.”

“I am not a spinster, and I am offended.”

There really wasn’t much of a plot, other than the family not believing his story, trying to figure out who he is really, hiring him as a temporary farmhand rather than having him locked up, and their adventures in New York City to a hypnotist. It is there that he is taken to a doctor which results in a musket ball being removed from his leg. A musket ball that has not been manufactured since 1830 from an old (Revolutionary) war wound. Explain that one, doubters! Because of that musket ball, their last stop is with a quantum physicist (Ben Wilkinson) who posits that time travel is possible and Rip’s story might be true.

Most of the movie is relationship building with Rip helping Torrey’s bullied son, dealing with the jealous suspicions of his rival for Torrey’s affection, a police deputy, and of course the slow burn romance. Also, a festival. Of course.

The writing was full of authentic details, including bringing in Washington Irving’s classic tale and a lecture on farm machinery of the era. Glad to learn about flax breaks.  Not to mention Ben Wilkinson attempting to explain the science behind time travel to a stunned Torrey and a bewildered Rip.

The romantic conclusion was a little too pat, with many future challenges remaining unaddressed.  But the reach across time, by means of a backpack, provided a reconciliation between Rip and his misunderstood father that was touching and satisfying.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

May 24, 2022

The Courtship of Eddie’s Father

A Great Cast, but This is Ronny Howard’s Movie

I have just seen this movie again after many years. It was always a favorite, and if I remember correctly I may have first seen it in the theatre when I was a little younger than Ronny Howard was when he played the titular role. It is based on a very short book of the same title by Mark Roby. It is very faithful to it. It has all of the pivotal scenes and most of the small ones. It even expands some characters that play a very small part in the book. The new housekeeper, renamed Mrs. Livingston, to the recent widower, Tom, and his son Eddie has a greatly expanded role. She is perfectly played by Roberta Sherwood and the Spanish lessons are added as well. The role of Dollye Daly played by Stella Stevens and her romance with Tom Corbett’s employee, the radio personality and playboy, is also greatly enhanced. Although Stella competently plays the ditsy, sweet but book-smart Dollye, she is comic gold in her bowling scene and her drum solo. Neither are in the book. We completely understand why Norman, the quintessential womanizer, played by Jerry Van Dyke, is very intrigued during the former, but falls for her hook, line, and sinker when she screws up her courage to favor the nightclub with her unforgettable stylings on the drums.

Glenn Ford is great as the still-grieving father struggling to raise his son as a single father in New York City. Dina Merrill is perfectly cast as the sophisticated career woman whom he falls for. She is not a villainess, but does not have a maternal bone in her body. Shirley Jones plays the warm lovely next-door neighbor whom we know is going to be “the one.” But the movie really belongs to Ronny Howard whose performance brings Eddie to life. He is adorable and real. He makes the funny lines funnier and the sad parts more poignant. When he conflates the death of his goldfish with the death of his mother the resulting hysteria and horror is heartbreaking and terrifying. Tom does not understand and in his panic and pain cries, “A fish is a fish but his mother was his mother!” But Elizabeth does. This was Ronny’s big scene and it is a tour de force. But he handles the subtle scenes masterfully as well. His quiet politeness hiding his uncertainty and suspicion during his first meeting with Rita (Dina Merrill), His fear and desperation when Tom tells him he is going to marry her. His happiness and hope when his Dad finally asks Elizabeth for a date. There is not one phony second in his performance.

This is one of those movies that has something for everyone: Wit, physical comedy, drama, suspense, tenderness, and a slow-burn romance. And it delivers on every one.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

January 14, 2022

Unexpected Uncle

Very Misguided and a Waste

Very bad romance starring the lovely Anne Shirley, the very handsome James Craig, and the always delightful Charles Coburn. The problem is that Craig plays a spoiled and entitled alcoholic whom Anne falls head over heels for. I don’t know why, because when he is not trying to control and manipulate her he rudely ignores her and is mean to her. He treats her like crap. Instead of Coburn, The Unexpected Uncle, talking some sense into her and finding her a sweet humble boy for her to love, he actually helps him get her back when she finally sees the light and leaves him. Turrible.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

August 29, 2020

Too Many Wives

For Anne Shirley Fans Only

I admit I only watched this one because I have a soft spot for Anne Shirley. Anne was fine in the role. She was matched up with John Morley. Also fine with a Dick Powell like appeal. I enjoyed seeing Jack Carson in a very early bit part and Gene Lockhart. The plot is silly: Its lack of wit is masked by it’s frenetic pacing, fast talking, and wacky but unfunny plot. Barry, unable to get a job as a journalist, is taken up on his offer to be the “fall guy” to distract disgruntled subjects of the paper’s stories. He will placate them leaving those responsible unbothered by the public’s complaints. To shield him from getting fired, he also pretends to be a young married father just trying to support his family. Unfortunately, Betty, his new love, has a complaint against the newspaper and is shocked to learn he is married and a father. Chockful of misunderstandings which still only manages to stretch the length out to 60 minutes or so, it was too long even at that.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

August 28, 2020

It’s Love I’m After

Just Tiresome and So Very Shrill

I was attracted to this movie by the stellar cast. I was very disappointed. Some reviewers seem bewildered as to why this screwball comedy has been forgotten and is relatively unknown. Yeah, well I know why. It was loud, over-acted, and disjointed. All of the characters were very silly and their motivations were nonsensical. Their actions and reactions made no sense. I blame the director. I usually love Bonita Granville, but her performance was an example of what was wrong with this movie. Absolutely embarrassing.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

May 31, 2020

The Tall Girl

Well, I Loved it.

I thought this was funny, romantic, and touching. I guess I missed the insensitive to those who have had to have caesareans caesarean reference. I think some people take things way too seriously and go out of their way to look for “triggers.” And I think it IS hard for some girls to be tall in high school. I loved the alternative to the much criticized and rightly so Pretty in Pink ending. Am I the only reviewer who likes teen movies and romantic comedies? Yes, I root for nerds and underdogs. No, it wasn’t great and groundbreaking and thought provoking (or depressing).Yes, it was full of clichés and stereotyped characters, but it was a cute movie, and ended the way I wanted it to.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

September 16, 2019

Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta

Clever Changes to fit the Story to the Black Community

Well done and clever riff on Pride and Prejudice. Incorporates the black community in 2019 very authentically, I think. Although it mostly matches scene for scene, with its own interpretation, of course, there were some differences which were more welcome then not. Welcome because an exact copy would just be boring. Mr. and Mrs. Bennett had a happy marriage, and Jane was a widow with a young son, for example. Updates include Lizzy being a community activist, Darcy running for public office, Bingley being a professional golfer, Mr. Bennett is the pastor of an urban church. The Georgiana character was cut. Very enjoyable.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

June 3, 2019