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

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

Five Star Christmas

Perfect Set-Up for a Sequel

Hallmark will have SERIOUSLY disappointed me considering the comparatively weak movies that they do build on if they don’t follow this one up. It is very rare that I give 10 stars to a Hallmark movie. This deserved every one of them. The highest praise I could give is that this almost could have been a regular theatre movie. I said almost. It was laugh-out-loud funny while being heart-tuggingly touching. And without being manipulative like the “soldier’s sad widow who finds a new love” movies are. There were multiple engaging story lines and a nice romance. Lucy and her siblings meet at home for Christmas only to discover that their Dad has turned it into a B&B and is making a mull of it. They all join forces to help their Dad turn it into a success. When who they think is an influential B&B reviewer drives up, they all pretend to be staff or happy guests, as there are no real ones, and that would not be a good look. The direction was awesome by veteran Hallmark director, Christie Will Wolf. She has not always helmed good movies, but in this case, the good script was made something special. The acting by most concerned fills the bill.

Once I got used to Bethany’s new eyebrows and Victor Webster as her love interest, it did not put a step wrong. I like Victor, but he was a little miscast. And can you believe no flour throwing scenes or snow-ball fight or snow angels to be found?! Instead, there was a Taffy-Pull! What a concept!

Each cast member had a very engaging story, and any one of the characters could be the focus of a next spin-off or two. Or Three.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

November 28, 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

Just My Type

An Extra Star for Bethany Joy Lenz and the Lack of a “Frolic” Scene

This one follows the Hallmark template almost perfectly. All of the plot points and characters are straight off the mix and match stock list and hardly one is left out. The only thing it didn’t have was a cutesy snowball fight, snow angel or snowman session, baking flour fight, food fight, splashing or dunking in the water, etc., etc., etc. Of course, I did doze off for a minute or two so I may have missed the frolic scene. Bethany Joy did manage to snag herself with a fishing hook, but that was actually kind of amusing. So why a 6? That’s my grade for Ho-hum but not blatantly insulting or cringe-worthy. Lenz’s comic timing and likable portrayal bumped it up at least one star. Her love interest was a non-entity, and the romance was unbelievable and practically non-existent. I hope she goes back to Portland.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

April 1, 2020

A Valentine’s Match

Plot: Boo! Actors: Yay!

The plot wasn’t anything much. It follows the usual formula:1) successful career-woman with useless boyfriend gets fired and goes back to small hometown to recharge. 2) Meets Old Boyfriend she has been avoiding for 10 years due to misunderstanding. 3) 2 interfering mothers, sensible father 3) A festival is saved after the 2 exes are forced to work together. 4) they fall in love again only to have another blow-up which sends heroine back to the big city with terrible boyfriend. 5) they come to their senses and reunite for a happy ending. Not to mention: 6) black actors relegated to the best friend zone. So why does this get high marks from me? The Acting and Appeal and Chemistry of Bethany Joy Lenz and Luke McFarlane. Luke has long been a favorite of mine and they both breathe life and humor into unremarkable lines that in less talented actors’ hands would result in a snooze-worthy cookie-cutter romance. The 2 love scenes were emotional and steamy, especially the slow dance near the end. Their break-up was tense and sad, and in-between, they were funny both together and apart. The end scene was cheesy in the extreme but at least it didn’t end with the smooch, and some loose ends were tied up.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

February 3, 2020

The Christmas Secret

Great Acting Makes this One Shine

The main attraction for me, in deciding to re-watch this Hallmark Christmas movie from way back in 2014 was Bethany Joy Lenz. She is a very talented actress, very likable in all of her efforts with Hallmark, and is an excellent comedienne. She didn’t have too much of an opportunity in this one to show off her great comic timing, but she really touched my heart in this portrayal as a down and out single mother who is being harassed by her heinous ex-husband. He was credibly played by Greyston Holt, who we usually see as a Hallmark hero these days-I really hated his guts.

Actually she is only down and out for the first 20 minutes or so, because as soon as she gets fired from her job as a waitress for being late for work, it is all uphill from there. She’s late because she saved a woman’s life(Susan Hogan).  She loses her beloved locket in the process, but magically, good things start to happen. She gets a much better job in a bakery with a nice lady, Betty. She meets a nice handsome man who is looking for the woman who saved his step-mother’s life. (Guess who?) Due to mistaken identity he does not find her until the end. Her daughter has a fall and is concussed, but she’s OK and it leads to her meeting the lady that her mother rescued. Through coincidences and magical doings, everything bad turns to good for our lovable brave heroine.

I do want to especially give kudos to the two actors who played Christine’s children. They were both great, but Jaeda Lily Miller is a treasure. She is probably the most talented Hallmark child actress ever, and in this one, one of  her first efforts, she is absolutely adorable. She steals every scene she is in.

And the icing on the cake that really sets this one apart is that Christine gets a big romantic kiss from her nice handsome man well before the last scene. No tentative interrupted at the last second chaste tender one either, but a real seal the deal sexy kiss.

I gave this one a 10 back in 2014. Yep, still a 10.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

June 29, 2021