Taylor Cole has never been a huge favorite with me but in the past year or two, she has really grown on me. She is very beautiful but does best playing more down-to-earth family-oriented characters. In some roles, her beauty is a almost little off-putting. And she finally settled on a hairstyle that works. This quiet well-paced story really worked for me.
Haley finds out that her mother, who was adopted, had a brother from whom she was separated as a child. Her mother, beautifully played by Jacqueline Ann Steuart, has been sad and reclusive since the death of her husband. As the perfect Christmas gift for her mom, she decides to see if she can find this mysterious brother. With the help of a friend, she narrows the possibilities down to a builder of mountain cabins in Colorado. She goes to visit and meet him to see if he could possibly be her long-lost uncle. The more she learns, she is by turns hopeful and discouraged. In some ways, he fits what she knows about her mother’s brother, but he will not talk about his past and at one point tells her that he never had any siblings. But Haley doesn’t give up and will not be put off, while still trying not to be intrusive and rude. It is a very delicate balance. The truth finally comes out, the mysteries are solved, and it all concludes very touchingly.
Benjamin Ayers, who plays a protege of the possible uncle, and Taylor made a good couple. She needs a strong-looking male lead, and Benjamin fits the bill. The romance seemed right and definitely added to the story. The actor who played her uncle had a strong impact as well. The mystery of why he did not want any contact with the past and wouldn’t acknowledge that he had a sister kept my interest going. He had a lot of charisma. The other aspect that really added to the story was Haley’s friendship with the mysterious Gordon’s daughter, a furniture maker. While Taylor was kept busy in Colorado, her mother is also making progress in joining the land of the living again, thanks to the patient efforts of a compassionate and wise friend. Along with still another side story, of Taylor’s career-defining interior design project and its setbacks and successes, there was a lot going on in this. And that was good. I usually think a number of side stories keep interest up in main plots that almost by definition, have to be predictable and by the book.
Finally, I do want to give Hallmark props for doing away with the bottomless suitcase. Taylor plans only an overnight trip to Colorado and packed accordingly. In the past, regardless of only bringing minimal luggage for a trip, the leading lady pulls out outfit after outfit with different bulky and matching coats out of the magical suitcase. In this one, Taylor actually wears the same sweater two days in a row and makes a point of having to go shopping for more clothes when her trip is extended. Proof positive that Hallmark reads their reviews, as this phenomenon has been a favorite topic with Hallmark commenters for quite some time. The more I think about it, such an issue is made of her not having enough clothes that I think Hallmark is indulging in a little self-deprecating inside humor. Well Played.
I’ve never been a member of the Danica McKellar fan club except when she was Winnie on The Wonder Years. I also like her advocacy for girls and math in real life. I’m a little troubled about why she signed an exclusive contract with GAC Family. A network that, apparently, is an alternative for those who are uncomfortable with Hallmark’s new commitment to diversity, and their more inclusive view of “family values”. Personally, I like Hallmark’s more friendly view of “Family” better these days. We’ll see. Anyway, Danica always looks troubled or worried about something or other. She has a resting frowny face. Although I recognize that she is accounted to be very attractive, her looks have never appealed to me.
Danica aside, this was a big miss for me. Although the science was kind of interesting at first, the whole process drew out way too long. Do your scientist thing, solve the problem, and move on from the rather boring problem of falling tree needles. Both of the leads’ crises were of their own making. I mean, his only use for his land was to grow evergreen trees which had no monetary value except at Christmas time? What did he do the rest of the year? It’s not like trees need a lot of care. He kept saying he did not want to diversify because the advice from his father was to do one thing well rather than many things poorly. Well, he didn’t do his “one thing” very well, did he? Farmer Ben Ayres did not have a backup plan, as Danica relentlessly pointed out, and Danica was not open and honest with her mother, preferring to be a victim, I guess. I admit Danica is pretty good at conveying victimhood. I do usually like Ben Ayers. He is very good at playing masculine, kind of grouchy men. So he was pretty well-cast as a stubborn loner-type farmer whose Christmas Trees were dying right before Christmas.
Taking a page from a trend of reuniting actors from old shows, Jason Hervey, also, like Danica, of The Wonder Years, played the bad guy. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
This is a mature and well acted offering that explores what it takes to have a happy marriage despite the challenges. Nikki DeLoach and Ben Ayers were fantastic and have wonderful chemistry. They play a separated couple, who have to pretend to have a solid marriage because they are publicizing their small town festival which will promote their family business for a TV show. It was like they were really married and falling back in love. They were a perfect match. Nikki is so sincere in her delivery, you really believe that everything that comes out of her mouth is from her heart. The whole cast was great, except for grandma who was a little teensy bit over the top. Sorry Grandma. The script was excellent with humor, heart, and a few tender moments. And it managed to avoid most of the Hallmark set pieces. Even the big misunderstanding near the end was handled with maturity and aplomb. The challenges to the happy ending were complex and real. No phony silliness at all. A breath of fresh air.
Thanks to the excellent acting of all concerned, especially the two leads, this was a very enjoyable little movie. The gimmick in this one was amnesia. This is not one of the usuals. A stressed-out and manipulated best-selling young adult author makes her getaway right before she is about to be interviewed on TV. Yes, she leaves everyone in the lurch at the last minute, very unprofessionally, I might add. She has an automobile accident and gets amnesia. In order to give her a week or two without her memory for a story and a romance to develop, the viewer is called upon to suspend their disbelief for a bit. She is a world-famous author who was about to be on the red carpet for a world premiere of a movie based on one of her novels. And no one except her sister and her boyfriend/manager knows she is missing. Add to that, the police do not search for a car which should have been found in hours as a tree fell across the road where her car drove into a gully. Big red flashing arrow there, officers. Of course, her cell phone and all the clues to her identity are left in her car.
Oh well, these are the little things you just have to roll with when looking at a Hallmance. The degree of watchability rests largely on the appeal of the leads and secondary characters, and, based on this, it was a win. The actress, Julia Gonzalo, reminded me of another actress, and it was driving me crazy until I figured it out: A little-known in America English actress, Charity Wakefield. Looked just like her.
I liked the widowed doctor as portrayed by Benjamin Ayers as well. Very likable guy. Pleasant scenery, gentle romance, nothing much to mock. The amnesia trick added some suspense and interest as well. I loved the way the set decorators stuck fake orange leaves in random places as well to convey the Fall theme. Very amusing. Well worth watching.**8 stars out of 10**