A Royal Runaway Romance

” So You Went and Fell in Love with a Princess.”

A royal on a road trip. What could go wrong? This one was ripe for every cliche in the book being a mash-up of two popular Hallmark tropes. But it was actually pretty good. Yes, we had a festival, S’mores at the fireside, save the Bed-and-Breakfast, and a ranch family reconciliation, but thanks to excellent rapport and chemistry between the two lead characters it was slightly above average for me.

The Princess of Bundleberry? Burberry? (obviously not an eastern or southern European  country because it doesn’t end in “ia”) falls for the Chicago, America artist who is painting her portrait. When he goes back home, she schemes to follow him by visiting her Uncle in California. Once in California, her passport is confiscated (S.O.P. for royals in case they want to fly the coop) and she is forced to drive instead of fly to Chicago where the supremely barely interested artist is having a showing. Meanwhile, she is assigned a bodyguard/watchdog. Her Uncle sympathizes with her predicament and gives her his blessing to follow her heart, as he once did, and hires the reluctant (he’s about to go on vacation) bodyguard to drive her across the American west to Chicago (in a gorgeous vintage Mustang) to see if there is a future with this artist fellow. Of course,  the alert viewer understands that there is no chance of this thanks to many clues.

A couple of things pulled this out of the mire. First, the princess, played by newcomer Philippa Northeast, who started out stiff and boring, really opened up once she started experiencing “typical” American culture. Her enthusiasm and embrace of diners, food, festivals, salt of the earth Americans, and the beautiful expanse of the United States was very endearing. The romance going on between her and the bodyguard was well constructed. In addition to the fun they have along the way, they also have a few serious conversations that contribute to their friendship and understanding. He always maintains his professionalism despite being friendly and nice so there was a slow burn thing going on. There is the anticipation of her reunion with the artist and what’s going to happen. We know he was just casually flirting with her in Buttleberry and he is more involved with his career than with a relationship with her. His cavalier treatment was a stretch since he probably owed his current popularity to painting her portrait, she is beautiful and nice, and he is single. We know he is not gay, because that role is filled by the understanding Uncle. Yet he disses her every step of the way, not even returning her calls.  You gotta kind of admire his chutzpah, actually.

I need not say more about how this all plays out except to say it is a much better ending than Roman Holiday.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

April 14, 2022

Second Chance at Love

God and Family First.

Gloria Rubin and Eric LaSalle play Brenda and Jack, the divorced parents of happily married Alicia. We learn from Alicia’s voice-over in the beginning that when her family put God and family first, they were happy. But when her two parents started getting too involved in their careers, they grew apart and when she was twelve they divorced and virtually ceased contact with each other.

As the title and the trailers suggest, this is about the parents finding each other once again after many years apart. But it is also about Alicia’s and her husband Arnold’s marriage as well. While at first their marriage seems solid we see fairly quickly that there are subtle cracks. Arnold is way too flattered when a pretty girl smiles at him. Alicia is way too involved in her parents’ lives, to the point that Arnold feels like he is losing his wife and the intimacy of their relationship. The father dates quite a lot, but when things get serious, he breaks up with them. The mother has no interest in dating, insisting she is fulfilled by her career, NOT LONELY, and is happy on her own. Except she is not on her own. Whenever she feels at loose ends, she goes over to Alicia and Arnold’s house or calls Alicia on the phone. Alicia sees what is happening but can’t and won’t distance herself from her mother. She is very conflicted. When she wants time alone with her husband she does not appreciate her mother’s presence. But when her mother does not have time for her, she is not happy with that either. She keeps saying the right things but keeps doing very foolish things, pushing her loving husband to the limit. Brenda finally wakes up to her pattern of behavior thanks to her own mother who leads a very active social life (the wonderful BJ Harrison) and agrees to “get back out there.” Brenda and Jack, using the same dating app, accidentally meet on a blind date with each other.

This is a movie that deals with challenging relationship problems between couples in love and between parents and children. It is about the impact of divorce. Not everything is black and white with easy solutions. There is a lot of conversation and many one step forward, two steps back situations with both couples. Although both couples have their happy endings, it does not come easily until the end when the carefully constructed challenges and problems collapse into a pile of mush. But before that, this is a Hallmark that is very (very) unusual. It is well-written and well-acted.

Criticism of Hallmark reached a crescendo this last Christmas. Great exception was taken by some to ignoring God and religion (Christianity) in Christmas movies. In one movie, the carolers La-la-la-ed their way through a Christmas carol about Jesus, which was, indeed, ridiculous. This sense of betrayal is also all mixed up with Hallmark featuring mixed-race couples and Gay couples. I hope the disaffected take note of this one. Although not preachy at all or overtly religious, it is not shy about the role of the church and the importance of putting God and family first in life. No, it’s not the only way to lead a good fulfilling life or to have a successful happy relationship. But it is one way. And this movie is an affirmation of that path.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

March 27, 2022

Christmas in Evergreen: Letters to Santa

Take a Chill Pill, Jill

Jill Wagner is usually very natural and believable in whatever type of role she takes on. She is always a beacon of maturity and balance. Not so much in this one. She was a bit over-caffeinated and somewhat exhausting. Could it be the influence of being in holly jolly Evergreen?

Lisa, a big city real estate stager decides to briefly go home to Evergreen, the Christmas capital of the world, or at least Hallmarkland. She is disappointed to see Daisy’s Country Store out of business and up for sale and learns that the VIP citizens of the town are scared that a big conglomerate will buy it and put up a McDonald’s or something in the middle of their picturesque little Christmas village. Haven’t they ever heard of Zoning laws? And how to use them? Lisa decides to stage the store to make it a more attractive investment for someone who will keep it the way it was. And presumably, everyone else who won’t as well? She hires handsome Kevin, a famous contractor, who is visiting his morose Dad in Evergreen to help. They transform the dilapidated store, but the prospective buyers fall through. Eventually, she gets her and Oliver, her business partner and BFF’s number one client, Polly, to visit and hopefully buy the store. Polly OOhs and AAhs but doesn’t bite but wants Oliver and Lisa to work for her exclusively. They are thrilled at the opportunity. Kevin hears about it and decides to leave town. Also, Kevin, who doesn’t realize Oliver is gay, thinks Lisa and Oliver are “together.” Of course, Oliver’s sexual orientation is not stated because it is way back in 2018 before Gay people existed in Hallmarkland. But when Lisa falls in a snowbank laughing hysterically (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! NONONONONONONONO!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!) at the prospect of her and Oliver hooking up, we get the idea.

Anyway, Lisa and Kevin reconcile and Lisa buys the store herself. Christmas miracles abound but not without the help of the magic snow globe (see movie #1) a mysterious key to something or other, and a 25-year-old letter to Santa that went astray and didn’t make it to the North Pole.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

December 10, 2021

The Christmas Contest

I Did Not See it Coming

This movie was a solid 7 until the inevitable emotional crisis of Lara (Candace) at the end which bumped in up to an almost 8, rounded up. This was shaping up as a light and fluffy typical Hallmark plot of 2 exes who begin to rekindle their relationship when they are reluctantly thrown together years after a painful breakup. They are both finalists in a contest over which one can be the most Christmassy. The winner gets $50,000 for the charity of their choice. It involves such things as trivia, baking, singing and dancing, and Christmas tree decorating all of which provide plenty of opportunity for some great physical comedy as well as some witty snarky dialogue.

Candace’s excellent comedic talents are on display throughout. John Brotherton as Ben overacts to the point of obnoxiousness, but at least we know his character is a good guy underneath the immature surface. There were some entertaining subplots involving his relationship with a lonely 12 your old boy, and his mother coming out of her shell. Lara’s mother’s barely concealed antipathy to Ben was very entertaining as well. Everything was pretty funny as Ben and Lara, along with their hand-picked teams try to outdo each other in their quest for the prize. I definitely chuckled. Things are looking up for their relationship as well until Ben breaks Lara’s heart once again. The swift and unexpected turn from comedy to drama was head swiveling. It’s not just a bump in the road as is usual in these things. Candace’s despair and anguish over her disappointment was one of the best pieces of acting in a Hallmark movie I’ve seen. She was heartbreaking. And then, just as we thought we were done with the dramatic developments, it exposes a dark side to her relationship with her mother, beautifully played by the apparently ageless Barbara Niven. Throughout the movie, Lara’s mother seemed to have an ideal relationship with her daughter: loving, supportive, and fun. Almost sisterly, but in a good way. I truly did not see the blowup coming.

Candace’s relationships with her mother and her ex are, of course, repaired by the end. They all vow to change. Even Candace, who all the while had come across as a really together person with her life on the right track. It was a thoughtful and unexpected way to get to the happy ending and with a good message to boot.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 1, 2021

Jingle Bell Bride

Above Average

Pretty good. Julie Gonzalo was charming and funny and I liked that they incorporated her Latino heritage into the character. I usually appreciate it when there is more going on than just the love story, and this one brought in her professional life and challenges. I like the tension with her coworker trying to steal her client when she got stuck in Alaska. A Sweet love story and I was actually a little moved at one point.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

November 2, 2020

The Mechanics of Love

Dude, Run for the Hills!

I’m used to dumb stuff to choose to overlook when I am looking at Hallmark or Hallmark-style movies. But this one takes the cake for the most petulant, stupidest, most incompetent bride ever. With about a week to go before her wedding, Emily Tennant plays the bride who hasn’t done her seating arrangements, hired a caterer, purchased flowers, decided on a cake, or chosen her colors yet. All she does is sit around and whine about how her wedding is “out of control” as far as complications, guest list, and expense. All things she has complete control over. Oh and she’s an artist, so it’s not like she has an inflexible 48 hour a week time-suck of a career.

She viciously turns on her sweet fiance who had the utter gall to give her a fun jokey gift of muffin tins for a surprise extra gift for getting their marriage license. She sulks for days over this and almost cancels the wedding. She is petulant and unreasonable over everything. She selfishly and thoughtlessly disappears on her wedding day throwing her family and her fiance into a panic just so she can sulk some more.

Luckily, the engaged couple was not the main couple. The main lead, her sister, Shenae Grimes, arrives to save the day and while she is back home, dump her bad boyfriend, quit her engineering career as the head of design to become an auto-mechanic, and find a new boyfriend. Tyler Hines is as reliable and attractive as the new guy who has loved her since middle school.

The only thing I loved about this disaster was the bride’s headdress which was gorgeous and very unusual. Yes, unfortunately for the groom, the wedding took place.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

June 28, 2020

Road to Christmas

Some Special Touches

Very pleasant. Nothing super special, but nothing to make you want to throw your remote at the TV set either. The acting was definitely above average by Jessy and Chad Michael Murray. I like the actress who played the mother, Teryl Rothery. She is in many Hallmark films and always very reliable. I liked the plot with the three adopted Brothers finally reunited as a surprise for Christmas. It added an emotional Depth that’s been missing in many of these Hallmark Christmas stories. I love the graphics that showed the journeys of the two protagonists! One normally does not see such creativity and cuteness in a Hallmark movie. It took me by surprise.

One final comment that I hope isn’t too mean but just needs to be said. Jessy Schram has lost way too much weight and looks a good bit worse for wear. If she’s been sick I hope she gets better soon because she really is a top-notch Hallmark actress.**7 out of 10 stars**

Rating: 1 out of 5.

November 7, 2018

Marrying Mr. Darcy

Well Done!

I think I enjoyed this one more than the first one, Unleashing Mr. Darcy. Loved the 2 leads, although Ryan Peavey’s role in this sequel was just to be loving and supportive. The acting of Cindy Busby and Frances Fisher was superb and took center stage here. Cindy really made you feel how torn Elizabeth was between people-pleasing and asserting her own dream of the wedding she wanted. You were with her every step of the way as frustration with Aunt Violet and the way she was subtly taking over the wedding plans built and built. On the other hand, Frances’ acting was such that one felt a little empathy for her point of view as well. You couldn’t really hate her too much. She wasn’t painted as the evil aunt like she was in the first one. You understood how much she loved Donovan Darcy and his sister, and knew that she meant well. And this was due to Fisher’s acting. Another actress might have made her the stock wicked witch character. I loved it when Elizabeth finally rebels during the choosing of the reception details and asserts her own authority. I loved Aunt Violet’s state of shock, and her appreciative “Well Done!” as Elizabeth storms off. The relationship of Jenna and her “Bingley,” Henry Robson, added a nice layer to the principal romance. They were down-to-earth and clear-eyed. They reminded me of the Carrie Fisher/ Bruno Kirby characters in When Harry Met Sally. The romance took second place to the drama of Elizabeth becoming acquainted with the realities of Donovan’s life and his responsibilities, her inner conflict, and the outward drama of Aunt Violet’s influence. And that was more than fine.**9 out of 10 stars**

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

June 4, 2018