Dream Moms

Dream a Little Dream

I liked this one more than I expected. It had some problems, but overall I liked the cast, the acting, and the message.

Chelsea Hobbs and Tamera Mowry-Housely play Claire and Danielle, the Dream Moms. Strangers, they meet through Danielle’s brother’s dance studio. They are both hard-working and devoted to their families. Claire is a divorced mother of two sons and their Dad is not in the picture. She works in the garment district and is hard put to handle her job and raise her two boys on her own. To add to the financial and time pressures, her oldest son, ably played by Glen Gordon, a Hallmark regular, has been accepted into a prestigious prep school, but can’t go unless she comes up with the tuition money or he wins a scholarship. Danielle is married to a successful attorney who is up for partner in his firm. She has a daughter who is a talented ballerina. Her whole life revolves around being a helpmeet to her husband, a support to her daughter, and volunteer work. Both of the women were once Broadway hopefuls, Claire a dancer and Danielle a singer who can also dance. But they both have traded their own dreams in to support their families and their hopes and ambitions.

When the ladies meet at Danielle’s brother RJ’s studio he has the idea of putting them together to enter a nationally televised talent competition for duos only. The prize for the ultimate winner is  $100,000. Chelsea is all in because she needs the money, as does RJ in addition to the publicity. Tamera finally agrees in order to support her brother although she really doesn’t need the money.

The time they need to devote to the success of their act causes tensions within their respective families. In Claire’s case, she is forced to accept help from her sweet and handsome neighbor, Sam, played by Matthew James Dowden, who is a peach and a mensch. (she has trust issues, of course, because her husband deserted her). At one point he intervenes when her son Paul gets all pissy with her because she missed his brother’s ball game and is no longer at their beck and call because of rehearsals. After Sam points out a few home truths to her son, he gets on board, which was very satisfying. In Danielle’s case, she is mostly OK until she finds out that her final competition night is the same night OF COURSE as her daughter’s most important dance showcase which will ensure her acceptance into a prestigious ballet school.

Danielle struggles with the decision and keeps putting off telling her family, and, more importantly, Claire. This was the source of quite a bit of frustration on my part because I knew what she should do, no question.

I liked the message this show ultimately sent to parents and their children. Danielle’s epiphany comes during a conversation with her daughter when she realizes the message she is sending to her husband and her daughter by her constant self-sacrifice is not necessarily a healthy one. Even though she has always been loving, supportive, and always present for her daughter and her husband,  she has also modeled the idea that being married and being a mother means giving up your own dreams and not having a life of your own.

The actors who played the children of the two women were wonderful. As the two families get to know each other and become friends (which I loved) Claire’s son and Danielle’s daughter have an innocent teenage romance which was sweet, but get in a little bit of mischief and trouble as well. Tamera Mowry-Housely, not surprisingly, was a stand-out as Danielle. Her marriage was healthy and happy, although the husband had a few things to learn for sure. I liked that. It was a wise and not surprising choice to have the successful well-off family be black and the struggling family be white. It was well-paced and kept my interest throughout. Danielle was not one of those neurotic mothers who live life through their children and are overly protective or overly involved in their lives. She was a good mother and counselor but needed to look at things in a new light. That is to the writer’s credit. Hallmark loves crazy mothers. I also liked that when any of the characters pissed me off, they came to their senses in a timely manner. Claire’s learning curve was not as dramatic as Danielle’s, but the scene where she reads an essay that her son wrote about her was touching and gives her the courage to make a brave decision.

The only real problem was the Dream Mom’s act itself. Tamera sang and danced nicely, while Chelsea danced with her and around her. And though she wasn’t bad, she didn’t really bring anything to the table. There really wasn’t any reason for her to even be there. Kind of like Richard Carpenter or the Captain of The Captain and Tennille. Their act and rehearsing for the act are throughout the movie so it’s hard to ignore and is pretty glaring. I will say that the original songs were good and the performances were not an embarrassment which is not always the case with Hallmark. Bless ’em. Despite Matty Finochio playing the part of the host, the actual TV show was pretty feebly done as well.

The movie ends with *spoiler alert* everyone’s dreams coming true, though not in the way you might think. Romance was not the focus in this one, and I like that Hallmark is seeming to get the fact that it does not always have to be the be-all and end-all. That said,  Sam and Claire getting together did provide a little romantic satisfaction.  Matthew James Dowden and his low-key pursuit of Chelsea was a highlight for me.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Unexpected Grace

Past is Prologue

When I read what this was about, I started watching it fully expecting to turn it off.  It is about a mother whose teenage daughter has passed away who befriends the daughter of a single widower. Before she died, Toni, the daughter,  released a balloon in the air with a short letter searching for a best friend. It is found by 13-year-old Grace two years later who was forced to move into their new town by her father because of his job. He didn’t consult her about the move, and she is resentful. Their relationship has suffered over and above normal teenager/parent friction. She is having trouble fitting in at school and making friends. When Grace follows the notes invitation to write back, I thought I saw where this might be going. I was on high alert and expecting to pull the plug as I did not want to get entangled in a maudlin grief fest and a mother trying to replace her dead child with a vulnerable live one.

Well, it didn’t go that way at all. The mother,  Noelle, does respond to Grace’s letter, but under her own name. It is true that she does not tell Grace that Toni has died nor that she is her mother but I felt it was out of empathy and sensitivity and that she did not want to hurt or discomfort Grace. She responds to Grace’s emails a couple of more times, but, realizing that this is heading down a dangerous road, tells Grace the truth about who she is and kindly tells her that there will be no more emails.  She thinks that is the end of it, But to Noelle’s consternation, Grace shows up at Noelle’s door still wanting to be friends with Toni.  Noelle still can’t bear to tell her right then that her daughter has passed away. But shortly thereafter, along with Grace’s dad, Jack (Michael Rady), who she has gotten to know and like thanks to a series of coincidences, does tell her the truth about Toni’s passing. This decision of not to prolong the misunderstanding flies in the face of how things usually go with  Hallmark stories. Grief is to be wallowed in, and open communication is to be avoided at all costs.  So instead of the plot getting stalled over a prolonged deception and lack of truth-telling, the plot explores other aspects of the characters’ progress toward peace and happiness. We follow Grace’s path towards success in school and making friends, Her father’s possible romantic entanglement with a neighbor, Jack and Grace’s continuing frustrations with each other and how they resolve them, and Noelle coming to terms with her imminent divorce.  And of course Noelle and Jack possibly making a romantic connection. There is another crisis later in the story where it looks like Grace and Michael may have to move away again, negating the progress toward healing that, together, all three of the main characters have made. How it is all resolved brings all of the threads together in a touching way.  It hints that it was more than just coincidences that brought these three together for their own good and the good of the community. Perhaps a little celestial magic and angelic guiding hands were at play as well. “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” There is a lot of Shakespeare in this as well.

All of the actors did a wonderful job, but special kudos go to  Erica Tremblay, a serious young actress who has appeared in several other Hallmark movies. I’ve always liked Michael Rady. Erica Durance not so much, but she is a good actress.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Open by Christmas


Once again, Hallmark is raising the bar, as this entry in the Hallmark Christmas movie sweepstakes demonstrates. Although many of their new movies follow the usual pattern, many have not. This one, for example, features a dual storyline of two best friends who have separate and different challenges to overcome. It leaves the well-worn and predictable path in some refreshing ways.

Simone is getting ready to marry her fiance during the Christmas season. She is conflicted because her 15-year-old son is growing up and, she thinks, away from her. He is bonding too almost too well with her fiance! Both of them spend more time with each other than with her.  In response, she becomes clingy and tense. To add to the strained atmosphere, her future mother-in-law will be visiting and she doesn’t like her, thinking her too critical.

Her friend, Nicky, played by Alison Sweeney who is wonderful in this, is coming home for Christmas. Right away, this one got my attention. When her parents tell her fearfully that they are selling her childhood home, instead of weeping and wailing and trying to “save” it, she is all for it! Hallmark indulging in a little inside self-deprecating humor?  Anyway, Nicky is a confirmed single woman who finds an anonymous Christmas love letter that was written to her when she was in high school. Nicky always felt she was an outsider during her high school years and thinks of those years with embarrassment and regret. In part, it is why she has remained single. She has been afraid of rejection and never put herself “out there.” The letter shows her that maybe she was mistaken in her perspective. The two friends go on a mission to find the letter writer, and Nicky learns that most of her classmates admired and liked her and her impact was positive.

Brennan Elliot, playing against type as an awkward, shy, and a little too eager real-estate agent plays Nicky’s love interest. He was very winning in this role and the two have super chemistry. Lacey Chabert should be jealous. It is telegraphed right away that he is the letter writer. I will not go further into the plot as it is complex and many-layered and this review would be very long. What made it great was the unexpected ways things developed. The two friends do not pander to each other and tell each other the truth no matter how unpleasant. “Be a normal person!” They get genuinely hurt by upset and with each other but in the way of true friends do not let things fester. The mother-in-law is set up to be over-critical and unpleasant. They do clash, but she ends up being supportive and gives Simone good advice. There was an interesting shocker when it is revealed that Jeremy, Simone’s fiance is the one who wrote Nicky the love letter! What?! Wait!

 It was heartwarming. It was suspenseful.  It had some important lessons to impart.  It was humorous. “Nothing says “Christmas” like a tamale!” And best of all, there was no meaningless Christmas filler. Every scene was important and advanced the plot. There were a couple of things I could be snarky about but I won’t.  It was fantastic.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

November 21, 2021

Sweet Carolina

Hallmark Takes a Daring Step Forward

It’s not often Hallmark actresses get to portray anguish on camera. Luckily they have a real pro and bona fide actress in Lacey Chabert, who did a very credible job. I can think of very few in the stable of regulars who could have pulled off the scene where she learns her beloved sister and brother-in-law have been killed. I cried. The whole ensemble handled the story very well. You can tell they pulled out the “big guns” to meet the challenge of a script that actually called for a range of emotion: Gregory Harrison and Teryl Rothery as the parents, good ole Peter Benson as the city boyfriend who gets dumped for the small-town coach, who was played by the always welcome Tyler Hynes. I appreciated that they got a normal-looking kid who could act to play the introverted son.

There were very real problems and conflicts that had to be resolved. The father was a good guy, but too controlling. Gregory Harrison managed to keep him likable. I groaned when they were setting up for the customary Hallmark food fight ( or snowball fight if it’s winter) but it was actually funny, thanks to the performances.

It was good to see Hallmark break out of its own box a little bit. Fear not, most of the usual templates were still in place, but baby steps! Kudos.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

May 17, 2021

P. S. I just noticed that Lacey Chabert was actually one of the writers. You go, girl! **8 stars out of 10**