In Merry Measure

Right in Tune

The previews of this one were funny and charming and I was so glad the movie lived up to them. I really liked the glimpses of the lead actress, whom I didn’t recognize. It turns out that Patty Murin has been in a few Hallmarks before, but usually plays the not-as-glamorous best friend role. She was adorable in this and her comic timing was tops.  It also starred Brendan Penny, a Hallmark go-to guy, whom I like, as the love interest. They had a great rapport and bounced off of each other naturally with their acting of the often fast-paced dialogue.

Darcy is a former pop star whose popularity has faded and now sings in small intimate venues. When she loses her agent, she goes home to Dayton Ohio for Christmas and ends up coaching a high-school singing team with her high-school rival, Adam (Brendan Perry). How this all comes to be is a very good story. Her widowed sister’s daughter tries out for an opening on the championship choral team and totally blows it because of her lack of confidence. In fact, the coach didn’t even let her finish the audition! Really mean and insensitive. This pisses Darcy off so much, that she gets all of the rejects together to form a competing team. They start out to be awful (and hilarious), but Darcy’s coaching style gives them confidence, and they quickly are just as good as their rivals, if not better. The #1 team recognizes their talent and the kids propose to the two bickering antagonistic coaches that they join forces and form a new group to compete in the county(?) competition. The two frenemies are now co-coaches.

Brendan Penny plays an interesting character. At first, he really is quite an arrogant jerk. He is also whiny and self-pitying. And then he has a dorky nerdy thing going on as well. Not exactly leading man material, but the banter and snarkiness between the two coaches is witty and funny. Thankfully, he learns from Darcy’s more positive and affirming approach with the kids. When he admits his harsh and insensitive methods with the kids were wrong and apologizes, things warm up considerably between the two. They become friends, but it’s not until he shows up at Darcy’s doorstep without his nerdy glasses and a bit of a makeover, that Darcy starts to fall for him. It’s a cliche, but it’s one I love.

After a lot of work, and many disappointments, Darcy finally gets a chance at a contract with a big record label. Predictably, she has to choose between meeting the bigwigs and being with the team on their big night. I’m not sure what old Hallmark would have done, but with new Hallmark, she goes to New York with the blessings of everyone to meet the VIPs without a second thought. She gets the contract, but instead of schmoozing the night away, which the powerbrokers want her to do, she risks offending them and tells them she has to go back to Dayton to be with her team. Good for her, and they respected her for it.

Besides the excellent acting, funny dialogue, and good message, this movie featured a really great Christmas song selection and some equally great singing. There was actually an original song, written by our songwriter heroine that was actually really good! I’m glad Hallmark has moved away from trying to pretend Christmas is not a Christian Holiday and embraced a few Christmas Carols that are actually about the birth of Jesus. Last year, a movie “la-la-la-ed their way through Joy to the World to avoid singing the words. That was a low point. It all ended with a series of flashback scenes from the movie we just watched. I guess they needed some filler, but it was creative and something different.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Time for Them to Come Home for Christmas

A Road Trip to Remember

Amnesia stories usually provide rich material for a nice story, and this one is no exception. Jessy Schram, a favorite of mine, plays a young woman who gets dunked in a river after being bumped by a car. We next see her in the local hospital near the Canadian border with amnesia. Her luggage has been lost. The only clue to who she is is an ad for a Christmas Tree lighting in Charleston, SC that she left behind at a local diner. It has a handwritten message on the back saying “Please Come” and signed “Mark”.

“Jane Doe” is an immediate hit at the hospital due to her friendly, spirited, and outgoing nature. Jessy conveys all of that with the underlying vulnerability that she is so good at. She makes a friendly connection with a nice nurse, Paul, who offers to drive her to Charleston as it is on his way to his family’s home. It is almost immediately apparent that Paul is hiding some secret pain as he is very conflicted about going home. Jessy and Brendan are perfectly cast and their performances are spot on. I like that they made Paul a nurse instead of a doctor, thus it made sense when he drives her in an old dilapidated car that conveniently breaks down on the way. A doctor would have flown.

On their road trip, they have a positive impact on all of the people they meet along the way. Including Alison Sweeney in a brief cameo appearance! This is a real thing this year. This is the third movie I have seen in which other Hallmark stars appear briefly in another movie not their own. I think it’s really cool. And very smart given the competition other networks are giving them for the attention of the Christmas movie viewing public.

The movie keeps you engaged at all times what with the mystery behind Paul’s sadness and conflicted feelings going home and Jessy’s real identity. Jessy starts having flashbacks which hint that she may be married and have a child! Why would she leave a husband and child? Is she a bad person? Is he a bad person? It won’t be a spoiler to reassure you that she is not a bad person and her future lies with the nice and attractive Paul.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

November 29, 2021

Heavenly Match

A Fresh and Wholesome Romance.

This is a delightful romance between two clergy-persons. Samaire Armstrong as Casey is battling sexism and some hostility among the board of trustees and her own feelings of insecurity and self-esteem. The actress who plays her is very attractive in a “girl next door” way and I liked her portrayal. Her love interest/colleague is played by Brendan Penny who is a reliable Hallmark stalwart. I do have a soft spot for romance involving clergy so full disclosure. I think it adds a certain tension and interest when the parties have to be responsible to a community and maintain a certain standard of behavior that their feelings and emotions might conflict with. The movie does not hit you in the head with Christianity, but also does not shy away from bringing Christian values and church politics(usually the opposite of Christian values) into the story. I was touched by some of the developments.

Adding to the enjoyment is the delightful Leanne Lapp as Casey’s secretary and supporter, Letoya Luckett-Walker as her fellow pastor and wise friend, and Jody Thomson as the supportive trustee. Not to mention Gabrielle Rose as the “baddie” who has a story of her own.

Highly recommend it for Hallmark movie lovers who are sick and tired of the stale Hallmark plot lines but who want a wholesome sweet romance with a little character growth, conflict and suspense. With more and more options to choose from with PixL and UpTV on the scene, Hallmark would be well-advised to stop taking their loyal audience for granted and provide some fresh material and casting as this one does.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

May 31, 2020

Magical Christmas Ornaments

Jessica-Look at this Movie and do the Opposite

I don’t want to pile on to poor Jessica Lowndes, so I will say that I quite enjoyed her in Christmas at Pemberley. I mentioned in that review that she had toned down her looks a bit. If Jessica wants to continue being a Hallmark staple, she needs to continue to follow the example in the recent movie. Caught about an hour of this earlier Hallmark movie last night. This one serves as a cautionary reminder of what Jessica should stay away from. Oh my Lord. That eye-liner! She looks like a reincarnation of Nefertiti. I am sure if she ever catches this one herself, she will be wondering what she was thinking. Hallmarks are better suited to the girl next door types, not the exotic beauties, in my opinion. I also agree with the commenter that pointed out her rapid fire delivery which serves to make her seem like a line-reader rather than a thoughtful actress who is really inhabiting her character. She also had the habit of speaking from the back of her throat like she was trying to be a ventriloquist. She must have been studying her craft a bit in the year since this movie, because she has really improved. She is not great, but she is on the right path.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

December 21, 2018

Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe

A Waste of a Good Idea

This one was a pretty solid effort which kept my interest. it was somewhat multifaceted with some interesting corporate politics along with the usual city girl v. small town Christmas. I liked the pairing of Lacey Chabert with Brendan Penny. Lacey is a solid actress, and with this one, she seems to have tamed, a bit, her nervous giggle tick that she seems to have developed in later years. I liked her family, especially Sherry, who was one of the stars in one of my favorite Hallmark-like romances, This Matter of Marriage, which was actually produced by Harlequin. It was great to see her again. This one did feature the usual boring boyfriend, but it was refreshing that she really just let him go and didn’t hem and haw about it.

Like another Hallmark movie this year, I think it is pretty shameless to try to reel in Jane Austen fans, with the title of the movie, while not incorporating any of the themes in the actual plot or character. It’s too bad, because the role reversal of the heroine taking the Darcy role, and the hero taking the Elizabeth Bennett role could have been great. I don’t recall that that gimmick has ever been done before. Would have been pretty interesting. **7 out of 10**

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

December 4, 2018

Summer in the Vineyard

Cashing in on a Better than Usual Original. Unfortunately It’s Nothing but a Pale Imitation

A pale sequel to the very good Autumn in the Vineyard. The same beautiful landscapes without any of the interesting suspenseful plot points and multidimensional characters of the original. Frankie and Nate are trying to keep their new venture afloat but have conflicting management styles and suffer from a lack of communication. At the end they learn to work together. Thanks to a miracle at the end their vineyard is saved. Yawn. **4 out of 10 stars**

August 22, 2017

Autumn in the Vineyard

Cheers!

One of the better productions in a long time. Set in beautiful wine country, the country-side was gorgeous. Rachel Leigh Cook makes a great Hallmark heroine and her chemistry with the love interest was very good. It started out with some good conflict with her father who not only took her for granted but figuratively slapped her in the face by denying her her rightful place in his business. She rightly struck out on her own by buying her own vineyard, much to his dismay. I love a good comeuppance story. The plot moved on nicely, forcing the h/h to co-manage their vineyard which was somehow sold to both of them at the same time. They had a history and a rivalry already, which added interest to their romance and the development of their relationship. There was a little hint of a secondary romance of an older couple (the hero and heroine’s parents and the heads of competing vineyards.) and a younger couple. There were plenty of interesting secondary characters to keep things moving along. I really like the actress who played the friend. (Ali Leibert) And it was interesting that his family was kind of sketchy. They avoided a real T.V. remote throwing potential plot twist by avoiding the trap of having her save her dad from bankruptcy by giving up her own successful venture. That would have been a terrible message to send. So thank-you. **8 out of 10 stars**

October 11, 2016