A Bride for Christmas

Great Cast

I recorded this on a whim when I looked at the cast and vaguely remembered that it was pretty good. Sometimes I just don’t have what it takes to invest in a recent premiere movie that I haven’t seen yet. I just read what I wrote there. That is a sad commentary right there. Usually, I look at these re-dos in bed when I wake up in the middle of the night or the last thing before I try to fall asleep.

The plot was entirely predictable of course. The appeal lay in the cast of  Arielle Kebble, Andrew Walker, and Kimberley Sustad in particular. Arielle Kebble is one of the better early Hallmark actresses. Her movies for Hallmark are as memorable as they are few and far between. She is particularly good in those that emphasize lighter comedy rather than earnest heart-tuggery. Although don’t count her out when the story calls for heartbreak, however temporary (as this one does). Our heroine is a runaway bride who we meet Just as she is about to go down the aisle to wed door #3. We know trouble is on the horizon in the dressing room when she asks her mother how she knew her Dad was “the one.” But she walks down the aisle with a big smile. Arielle is very funny as her smile turns from happy and excited then stiff and then a bit panicked as she keeps walking past the wedding party and out the side door without a pause. Andrew Walker does his usual thing (which is a very good thing) as the commitment-phobe who bets his buddies he can get get a woman to accept his marriage proposal by Christmas. It was a little unclear what this was meant to prove. He settles on Arielle.

This is classic romantic comedy material as the “player” courts the gun-shy reluctant jilt and they fall in love for real. Kimberly Sustad, who was only 22 when this movie was made, practically a baby by current Hallmark standards, plays Arielle’s sister and turns a nothing part into one in which she almost steals every scene. I also want to single out Sage Brocklebank as Mike, the jilted bridegroom who is a creepy looming presence as he hopes to win Arielle back and sees her and Andrew falling for each other. He manages to elicit pity for his heartbreak and uneasiness as to what menace he is capable of.

I gave this a ‘7″ initially, but by today’s standards it is a solid “8.” Terrible promotional poster by the way.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 26, 2021

An Unexpected Christmas

Unexpectedly Overwrought

Jamie and Emily have broken up their long-term relationship. Jamie has headed home for Christmas in small-town Fulton, Illinois. Coincidentally, Emily is also heading there for work. They arrive at the terminal at the same time and Jamie’s family, who love Emily and haven’t been told of the break-up, are thrilled that Jamie has brought Emily home to spend Christmas. Emily needs a place to stay and Neither wants to ruin the family’s Christmas so they continue the deception that they are still together.

There were some good things and not-so-good things with this one.

The Good:
Bethany Joy Lenz and Tyler Hynes performances and their chemistry together. Bethany was very funny in the comedy parts and very touching in the emotional parts. Tyler Hynes performance made an essentially weak and troubling character tolerable.

The script had some unusual aspects and was witty.

The banter between Jamie and Emily was good.

Tyler’s new hairstyle.

The cameo walk-through blink and you might miss it of Bethany’s frequent co-star, Andrew Walker.

I like the scope big families provide in Hallmarks and this one had one.

The Bad:
That big family? They were so-o-o-o-o-o-o-o energetic, loud, and overbearing that it became exhausting.

Jamie’s character. He dumped Emily because she was more successful than him and he didn’t want to hold her back. OK. But his self-esteem problem was rooted in his need to be perfect in everything and vice versa. Even though we are told that his Grandfather also was a perfectionist, He grew up in a happy, stable, and supportive family. This debilitating complex did not seem to be founded on much. It also causes him to be afraid of being honest with his family about his break-up and why. BTW he never does get the backbone to be forthright about it. And he’s a liar.

Jamie’s struggles with writing the governor’s speech. He was unable to write a word. His paralysis (again, it had to be perfect) was like a big depressing specter over the whole movie.

The plot was all over the place. The Christmas play his sister directed was needless and was a distraction. Bethany’s project came to nothing. The lightening-bolt like lesson of the newlyweds’ rocks in the fountain was not used in the governor’s speech, or Emily’s theme for her project (what it was-I am unclear) the speech itself was short and lame. All that angst over THAT?

Some of the happenings were too silly. The Christmas play and the scene in the restaurant with the waiter. I don’t mind silly sometimes, but silliness is not comedy.

A lot of negatives were outweighed by the acting and appeal of the two leads, and strong production values. I did not approve of Jamie’s actions or inactions, but it did lend some depth and complexity to his character. I’m just not sure I want all those problems in a Hallmark hero.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

November 28, 2021

My Christmas Family Tree

Too Many Questions

**Spoilers**

Overall, this was a very good Hallmark. A young 30-year-old woman does a DNA test along with her best friend and discovers she has a paternity match. Her mother had died when she was 9 years old, and she never knew her father. She and her father decide to meet. The casting and the performances were excellent and the plot was compelling. First of all, there was no Hallmark Christmas set piece that wasn’t crammed in somewhere. I know some people enjoy the obligatory clumsy ice-skating scene and the gingerbread house making, etc. But I find them to be just filler most of the time: tedious and lazy. I’ve learned to live with them though.

There were several aspects, however, which took it down a notch or two for me. The idea that a DNA matching company would mix up the DNA results just because the two clients had the same name is way over the line. Did they also have the same birthdate? Same place of birth? Same social security number? And then according to the story, their desperate phone call to Vanessa was just another big oopsie, they were right the first time, and Vanessa really is Richard’s daughter? Not because of another phone call from the DNA company admitting their mistake, but just because he finally had the revelation that both “Patty” and “Trisha” are both nicknames for “Patricia.” OH, and he found a picture of the girlfriend in question and she bore a strong resemblance to Vanessa?

And what about that? So Richard had completely forgotten what his girlfriend looked like until he found her picture? A girl whom he was in love with, had meaningful sex with, and whom he had tried to find after he got back from his tour of duty? Whose picture he had kept in a box for 30 years? Because as soon as he saw Vanessa, wouldn’t the phrase, “you look just like your mother?” been uttered as soon as they met? Apparently, when he first met Vanessa, she didn’t even look vaguely familiar! What about the other Vanessa? Is she going to show up at some point? As another reviewer pointed out, didn’t Richard and the other Vanessa get the same phone call from the DNA folks that Vanessa got?

And how cruel to reveal that she wasn’t Richard’s daughter in front of the whole extended family. If she just couldn’t take it anymore, leave the room and ask to see Richard and Mrs. Richard privately so he could maintain some dignity. And so he could break the news gently to his young children. She is not twelve, she is thirty.

They should have had a “1 month later” where all these dangling loose ends were made palatable with some kind of explanation and closure, no matter how lame. I didn’t care about the romance, it was definitely secondary to the main story. The script gave Andrew Walker very little to work with.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

November 16, 2021

Snowed Inn Christmas

Sooooooooo Good!

With Bethany Joy Lenz and Andrew Walker taking the lead, how can it not be at least good? The popular duo play 2 journalist colleagues sent to Aspen to compete for top spot at their magazine. They both are “off” Christmas. Andrew, because he can’t bear to go home to his lovely family since his Dad died. Bethany, because her boyfriend just dumped her after looking forward to spending it with him and his family. They get stranded in Santa Claus, Indiana, at a B & B run by Mr. And Mrs. Winter with both trying to find a Christmas story there that will save their jobs. Rivalry leads to mutual appreciation, liking, then love, even though they are so different from each other.

Andrew’s character seems a little sneaky at first. But when he finds out Bethany was an unadopted orphan who made up her happy Christmas tradition stories, he takes her to his nearby home so she can have the family Christmas she has always dreamed of. It was sweet and touching and embodied the true spirit of Christmas.

Bethany realizes right away that there is something magical and mysterious going on with the B & B and the Winters. The fantasy is handled with wonder and without silliness thanks to Belinda Montgomery and John B. Lowe who play the couple and the excellent script. When she finds a photograph of the Winters dated 1842…Well. I will say no more, but she knows she has her story. If only she can find a certificate designating the Inn as a property of historical significance that will prevent its demolition. Yes, there is that going on as well.

The only quibble I had was when bad boyfriend showed up, she took way too long to dump him. The actors all shine in this one, with a special shout-out to Tasha Scott, a former Tyler Perry stand-out, who made the small part of their boss entertaining and special. The last short scene with “The Winters” is worth an extra star all by itself.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

November 22, 2020

Bottled With Love

Bethany Bottles Charm

This is another take on You got Mail, which was a new take on In the Good Old Summertime, which was a new take on The Shop Around the Corner. That’s OK because it is a  sure-fire and enjoyable trope for a romantic comedy. Closed off  Abbey is disappointed in love again, and on the advice of her aunt pours out her heart in a letter which is found by Nick. He emails her and they start a correspondence. They really connect on a deep level.

Meanwhile, free-spirited Nick is summoned from his vagabond life by his father and sister who want him to temporarily help with the family corporation. Their star employee is none other than focused, efficient, no-nonsense workaholic Abbey who is paired up with Nick, who definitely marches to a different drummer. They strike sparks off of each other because they are so different, but as they get to know each other, they see the other’s value, and become attracted.

The pen pals finally agree to meet, but before that can happen, Nick realizes that his soulmate pen pal is none other than uptight Abbey. He freaks out and stands her up. She blocks him on email.

On a mission for the company, which is a whole other story, Abbey and Nick continue to bond and fall in love especially since Nick now knows Abbey’s business self is so different from her personal self. Nick finally confesses that he is her secret pen pal and humbly apologizes for not telling her sooner and crying off from their big date. Now here is where the Hallmark version differs from its predecessors. Instead of being thrilled that her pen pal soulmate is the same guy she is falling in love with in person, she gets mad! This is because the Hallmark formula demands a conflict and misunderstanding that has to be resolved in the last 20 minutes of the show. In addition to resolving the romance, Nick’s shaky career prospects are taken care of quite nicely as well.

Bethany Joy Lenz is a joy as always and she teams well with talented and attractive Andrew Walker. The scene where she blisses out over her beloved pancakes Nick surprises her with is delightful.  I just can’t say enough about Bethany Joy Lenz. She elevates every show she is in.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

October 15, 2021

Sweet Autumn

No Cliché Left Untouched

Soooooooooooo Boring. I’ll have to disagree with most of the reviewers here. I usually like Nikki Deloach and Andrew Walker. But Nikki had a weird hairdo and no opportunity to shine because of the dull script and Andrew was just meh in this one for the same reason. It all centers on the over-used-to-death plot of the successful woman’s having to return to her small town to run a business she inherited but has to share with a handsome man who she conflicts with. Lord, I almost fell asleep typing that. Throw in the obligatory festival and a frolic and there you have it. This one, however, is made worse by the dead aunt from whom she inherited the candy store (SWEET Autumn, get it?) reaching back from the grave by leaving cloying and hackneyed words of advice for the couple in order to bring them together. This was a lazy effort and unworthy of the talent.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

October 23, 2020

The 27 Hour Day

Chill!

**spoilers**

This was a very calm Hallmark with the usual shenanigans showing up only briefly. A highly successful A-type personality who is an efficiency expert has the rug yanked out from under her when she is not invited on a speaking tour with an Oprah Winfrey-like self-help guru. “Oprah” tells her that her life is efficient but meaningless. Lauren, played by Hallmark fave, Autumn Reeser, is annoying but thanks to Autumn’s charm and acting talent, not intolerably so. She goes on a prescribed retreat in Montana where she learns to calm down and sit still for a minute. She and the son of the family who owns the retreat share an attraction and become friendly. And that’s about it. He is having some easily solved financial problems and is sort of starting to regret his decision to give up veterinary school. There is a honey fest, a super-cute pig instead of a dog, and there is a group cooking scene where no food is thrown(!), but brownies are burnt. Also, there is a kiss between the two 30-somethings that is not interrupted by a rainstorm, a snowball, or a busybody but fades to black. Do we see them waking up together the next morning? No. But I think Hallmark was testing the waters here. If the “family-friendly” crowd doesn’t rise up in protest, this type of scenario may be in the offing at some point for two mature adults.

By the end, Autumn, her work-life balance back in balance visits her mother and turns down Oprah’s invitation because a speaking tour would throw things back out of balance. The retreat owner returns to veterinary school in upstate New York which is just a “short plane ride” from Autumn’s home base, New York City. There is only a vague hint and hope that their relationship may turn into something more significant. Another interesting take for Hallmark.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

August 8, 2021

Love Struck Café

Textbook Hallmark

Nothing special at all. Not much to like here other than the reliable Andrew Walker. I am sure he appreciates the paycheck and the work as an actor, but if he is not careful, he is going to be labeled the Crown Prince of Hallmark movies. I mean, how many of these things has he been in? I didn’t understand the motivations of the heroine. Completely nonsensical. She is given the assignment to convince an old friend and neighbor to sell her property so her boss can encase a beautiful country lake setting in a concrete monstrosity of a residential development. She knows this is a horrendous idea, yet blithely does her best trying to get the nice lady to sign on the dotted line. Why? because of a vague promise of maybe she can be promoted to an architect? To keep a job with a firm that obviously is the lowest of the low? Why would anyone of any character put up with this? She compromises her integrity and endangers a bucolic picturesque ideal location for a resort. Of course, she ends up designing a more suitable project, which her stupid boss (surprise, surprise) just loves. This one was kind of insulting, actually. **3 stars out of 10**

October 19, 2017

A Dream of Christmas

Another Hackneyed Plot Device, but…

Our heroine, Penny, (Nikki DeLoach) frustrated because her loving but frequently absent husband may not be home for Christmas, casually voices a random thought about how she wishes she had never been married. Voila! A busybody and eavesdropper behind her in line uses her Christmas Angel powers to grant her her “wish.” Except it is not a real heartfelt desire, it was just a momentary voicing of some mild frustration. She loves her husband dearly, and her husband is crazy about her. He is absent because he is a wildlife photographer, and it is now or never to catch the reindeer migration for his book, which is a mutual dream for the couple. She can no longer go with him because they decided she had to give up her marketing of his photos to get a paying job to support them until his business becomes profitable. And now she has to give a presentation that may lead to a big promotion.

Horrified and bewildered at her new life, she encounters the Christmas demon…er, angel again, but the cold rhymes with witch refuses to take back her thoughtless whim…er, sincere wish. It was nice to see Cindy Williams again, but the character she plays is really creepy, scary, and mean. I don’t think this was intended. I blame the director. She has the gall to blame Penny’s dilemma and tragic consequences (her happily married sister is now single and her children no longer exist) on Penny and then on God himself, refusing to see it was her grossly inappropriate and unasked for meddling that is at fault and it is her responsibility to fix all of the collateral damage.

Enjoying some of the perks of her rich and successful new life, Penny briefly flirts with just moving forward and forgetting her past. A very handsome new client wants to date her, she likes her VIP status, her important position and the work she does, and her Jaguar. Who wouldn’t be tempted? Luckily she and her husband never had children. So that is an important hurdle she doesn’t have to jump. Only two things are wrong. She misses her husband, and her sister is no longer a happily married mother.

It sounds like I didn’t like this movie, but I really did. It is based on a very weak premise, but Penny’s journey really is done well. Her flirtation with the client, who seems at first like a great guy, is tanked because she knows and feels like she is still married. She seeks out her husband, now a very successful corporate photographer, and sparks still fly. The chemistry between them is some of the best I’ve seen in a Hallmark movie. Andrew W. Walker, a Hallmark perennial, really touched my heart in this, as did Nikki Deloach, as Penny. Of course, all is settled in typical Hallmark fashion but this one had some intriguing qualities and even a few surprises. **9 out of 10 stars**

December 11, 2016

Bridal Wave

Dynamic Duo in a Valentine’s Treat

Spoiler alert to follow the letter of the law only. Come on, this is Hallmark: We all know how this is going to go down.

Arielle Kebbel and Andrew Walker team up again for another Hallmark Romance after 2012’s highly rated (for a Hallmark!) “A Bride for Christmas.” I didn’t think I’d like this at first because the heroine was too gorgeous and the story was crazy predictable. The characters were even more so. Stodgy but successful workaholic fiancé? Check. Snobby disapproving future mother-in-law? check. Cute rebel outside the lines rival for her hand? Check. Nice middle-class family of the bride worried that their oldest daughter is going to become an “Old Maid”? Check. Arielle, however, proved to be down-to-earth, irreverent, and funny. The script served her well. She was surprisingly relatable despite her beauty. The hero was very attractive with a lot of charm. Jaclyn Smyth added nothing. Still beautiful, she obviously has had some work done, but still looks fairly natural. She should have been more evil to get that tension and suspense ratcheted up a bit . Nice “One Year Later” epilogue: Very Sweet with some amusing little touches.**8 out of 10 stars**

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 20, 2015