Let the Games Begin
I think so highly of Kimberley Sustad that I’m not sure whether I liked the non-Kimberley Sustad parts or not. I suspect if her character had been played by anyone else, I would have absolutely hated her. As it was although she was very flawed with many issues to tackle, Sustad managed to make her sympathetic and likable enough that I could put up with her with patience until she started to see light. If only how she managed that could be formulated, bottled, and distributed to her colleagues.
Audrey is a quest and adventure game designer. She is a loner in her personal life-her only friends are an older woman whom she plays board games with at a cafe, and an unseen person that she plays a word game with that is not Words with Friends, but she does “chat” quite a bit with him (or her). Of course, she is not interested in romantic love and dating is a big no-no. If she were a guy, she would be living in her mother’s basement. Right off the bat, she has to be shamed into going on a blind date she had already agreed to arranged by her only friend. She shows up to the elite restaurant in a hoodie and jeans. She has the grace to be embarrassed when her date is a real hottie and smartly dressed. They get thrown out because there’s a dress code. Her date calls her out on her rudeness and arrogance and leaves. Her behavior did not endear her to me either. But you know, Kimberley Sustad. In her professional life, she is known as “Not a Team Player.” She works on her own and doesn’t want help or input from her fellow employees. She wears headphones all the time to keep people away. Nice little detail. When eagerly approached by Patti, a hero-worshiping new employee, adorably played by Christin Park, as yet uncredited on IMDb, she is politely dismissed. Actually, how Audrey treats her is very rude and unkind, but Kimberley plays it so you don’t hate her.
Needless to say, because PLOT, Audrey’s world is about to be rocked. Her boss tasks her to work with a marketing consultant (Matthew, played by Brooks Darnell) to develop a game that will finally win a coveted award and the deadline is only a month away. It will be called “Love Life” and is based on the search for love (Uh-Oh!). Audrey is horrified but she has no choice. Kimberley needs a strong co-lead to keep up with her, and Brooks Darnell fills the bill nicely. Matthew has the opposite problem from Audrey in that he is anxious to fit in and be accepted by everyone. Everything he does is “on trend.” Meanwhile, he has lost his true self.
Audrey does a terrible job developing a game about something she has no use for and finally realizes, thanks to Matthew, that she needs help from others. With the help of her newly formed team, including adorable sweet Patti, they start to make great strides. Both Matthew and Audrey learn about each other and start to like each other. We learn why they are the way they are and they help each other become better. Audrey learns how to play well with others and also starts to get close to Matthew. Matthew starts to shed the need to pretend to be something he is not. He takes down the trendy anonymous abstract painting in his stark apartment and replaces it with his own original photographic art. Symbolism! This from his former profession that he had been pressured to give up as too quixotic and unprofitable. Their learning curve which involves a lot of game stuff takes up the bulk of the movie, and got a little long.
This movie did not escape the usual “big crisis with only 18 minutes to go” syndrome. Kimberly backslides into her old ways which was stupid and didn’t make sense, but it was brief. Had to be because only 5 minutes to go by this time. Anyway, the Hallmark Happy ending followed apace with love, happiness, and professional success for all. Oh. And guess who her Not-Words-with-Friends chat buddy turned out to be? Yup.
The backdrop of game development was pretty interesting and unusual, the script had some nice details, the set decoration and graphics were on point, and the romance was serviceable. The acting and character development were its strength. There was not a lot of humor, except stemming from Sustad’s delivery, warmth, and authenticity. It was good but not outstanding. All in all, I give it a 7 1/2 on my special Hallmark scale.