Christmas for Keeps

Keeping it Real

This was a top-tier Hallmark presentation on par with the best of this year’s Christmas chronicles. And there have been some great ones in 2021. It was almost like a real movie in that it wasn’t just a string of set-pieces held together by clichés. 5 high school friends, 3 still local, get together to honor their recently deceased drama teacher who had an impact on all of their lives. We follow the five friends’ stories as they each deal with their individual challenges while thinking back on their teacher’s past advice. The flashbacks to their high school drama class were superfluous and the teacher’s wisdom was nothing but platitudes but I was very engaged by three of the individual journeys and fairly interested in the other two.

Avery is the one who pushes the four friends to reconnect while patiently and persistently battling their indifference or excuses. She is teaching psychology at the University of Michigan but wants to open her own practice there. Her mother is very overbearing and controlling, but Avery lives her own life in spite of that. She is not a wimp, but she wants her mother to stop. Her mother wants her to keep teaching and move back closer to their Virginia town. She is dead set against Avery opening her own practice. To that end, she actually sends Avery’s resume to the U of V behind her back which results in an awkward convo with the head of HR. Avery is furious and stands up to her mother, who still doesn’t get it (she is actually proud of herself). Her behavior threatens to lead to permanent estrangement. The wise father intervenes and reminds his wife how she was treated by her own mother, who insisted on her way or the highway and how that made her feel. She finally gets it. Don’t ask me why he didn’t speak to his wife 10 years ago. She apologizes to her daughter. ” I guess I learned that love was control and I am learning now that you can’t have both love and control. You have to pick one, and I choose love.” It was a great scene.

Avery is in love with Ben, who is struggling in his business and his personal life. He has pushed away all of his friends and his brother. He has a lot of rage, and we don’t find out what the source of that rage is that makes him act like a petulant toddler throughout most of the movie. When we finally do, it is underwhelming. I didn’t like or sympathize with him at all.

The other story I loved is about the two childhood sweethearts who married each other. The wife is trying to complete her hospital residency so she can take over her father’s medical practice. While she is doing that, her very wonderful husband is a stay-at-home Dad to their two kids and takes care of the house (which is quite the MacMansion considering the family’s lack of income.) She is busy busy busy, but also has a lot of guilt that, understandably, the children are closer to their Dad than her. This was a very adult, realistic story. The Dad loves to bake and when he is encouraged to start a business by the 5th friend, Mia, he is a little reluctant, but is kind of excited too, and goes along with it. His wife finds out and gets angry that he didn’t consult her first and everyone knows but her. “We are leading separate lives”. However, they love each other, the marriage is solid, and she has been making an effort to get away from the hospital to reconnect with her old schoolmates. And her husband. She turns around very quickly which may or may not have something to do with her taking care of the kids by herself for 4 hours. She also probably realizes that without her husband, she would be in a major pickle. Her apology speech to her treasure of a husband was really something.

Mia is a struggling actress who unbeknownst to her friends, is not making it in the big city. Her story was not as interesting and it is tidily resolved at the end. It was one story too many. There was one aspect to her story that was a bit disturbing if I interpreted what was going on correctly.

Most of the characters, even the secondary ones, were not cardboard cutouts. They were layered with both strengths and weaknesses. The movie was well structured with everyone having their beginning, middle, and end. It was a real winner with nice acting from all and great direction and writing.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

December 20, 2021

A Sugar & Spice Holiday

A Breath of Fresh Air

This was off the charts good. Everything came together. The two leads had great chemistry and were very cute in their own right. The writing had some depth in that although there were some Asian stereotypes, each character was well developed. It had both comedy and wit. For example, the Chinese father from Maine had a southern accent because he learned his English from Johnny Cash records. LOLWUT?! There were some clever and amusing extra touches and some straight-up comedy thrown in for good measure. I loved that when each new character was introduced, Suzy, our heroine would picture a bakery item that matched their personality and a graphic would appear over their heads.

The bones of the plot followed a usual Hallmark template: Successful hometown girl returns to her small town and has to save something while working on a project that will make or break their career. In addition to the humor and romance, there was a lot of tension and suspense, both on the gingerbread making front and on Suzy’s career front. But the writer and director switched it up and went against the usual clichés in a number of places, especially with Suzy’s future career path. It had plenty of heartwarming moments, and some good life lessons. The romance was sweet and even touching. I loved it. It’s in my top 3 this year and top 10 all time. Don’t miss it!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

December 14, 2020

Flip that Romance

Too much Fighting!

Yeah, maybe it was the mood I was in, but I got very tired very quickly of the constant bickering and over-competitiveness of the two principals. It was particularly egregious on the part of the woman, who let her emotions run away with her and bid more than she could afford and over the maximum she agreed on with her partner. Just to get one over her ex-boyfriend. She was too hostile for me. I was really frosted by the immaturity and foolishness. Julie Gonzalo was okay as the female lead, but I loved Tyler Hynes as her love interest. He’s responsible for most of the stars I gave this one.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

March 17, 2019

One Winter Proposal

As Cute as a Button!

I don’t remember too much about the first one in this little (eventually, I’m sure) trilogy, but I see I gave it a 5 out of a 10. So this one must be a lot better. I am not usually a Taylor Cole fan, but she was perfectly pleasant in this one. Her relationship with her boyfriend was free of stupid misunderstandings and silly juvenile behavior. I liked their sub-plots of her new mystery book and his fledgling snowboard company.

But, hold the phone, the star of this show was Rukiya Bernard as Megan, her best friend! What a cutie! She was so charming and charismatic I couldn’t take my eyes off her! Not a false note in her acting. And Dewshane Williams as her love interest was a worthy match. I liked the chemistry between the 2 couples with each other and the other two in the foursome. I will certainly tune in to the inevitable One Winter Wedding.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

February 5, 2019

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