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

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.

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: 5 out of 10.

September 15, 2022

One Summer

Hallmark Blues

This one is a throwback to those old time very earnest Hallmark Hall of Fame-type productions that play sometimes on Hallmark Drama. Thus it makes sense that they showed it on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries rather than the main Hallmark Channel. Because Hallmark Drama just shows reruns and this one doesn’t fit with regular Hallmark’s mission statement. Apparently.

It is about a man who lost his wife while he himself was dying from a mysterious disease he got while deployed in Afghanistan. When his wife was getting him medicine she dies in a car crash, leaving him, his 15-year-old daughter, and his younger son bereft. He “wills” himself well from this unknown but fatal disease. It’s a miracle.

He takes his kids to the little (North?) Carolina Island where his wife grew up so they can heal from all of this sad trauma. He becomes friendly with a nice café owner and his daughter becomes infatuated with her son. The dead wife starts to appear to Sam Page, the Dad, to guide him through his grief.

This is not a real light-hearted cheerful movie. The actors do a fine job. Sam Page, who usually plays such conservative buttoned-up-looking characters with the straightest hair part in Hallmark-land, really lets his freak flag fly with longish tousled hair and a scruffy beard. I liked it. Amanda Shull as the ghostly wife and Sarah Drew as the alive love interest do a fine job as usual. Madeline Grace Popovich who plays the typical teenage girl, that is, unreasonable, obnoxious, and whiny, makes you really dislike her. Almost as much as you dislike the annoying and controlling mother of the dead wife. But the young actor who plays the sad anxious little son is fantastic, and really tugs at your heart.

This drama is not about romance. What there is between the parents and their teens is only to cast a hopeful rosy glow on the final scene of the movie. Do not question or think it through. Things cannot proceed with the two single parents until the kids are out of the house because that would be more than just awkward. Enough said.

I like the direction that Hallmark seems to be going with some of their features. Whether they can keep it up throughout the upcoming rampage of Christmas Movies remains to be seen.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

October 8, 2021