Campfire Christmas

Too Campy.

This one was just silly despite the rapport and charm of the two leads, Tori Anderson and Corbin Bleu. Unfortunately, they are overshadowed by the hammy performances of approximately half of the secondary actors. Since they all over-act in the same way, I blame the director. Tori is an aspiring writer who has been working as an assistant in a publishing firm. Unfortunately, every attempt to have any of her manuscripts published by her firm is shut down by her heinous boss. She grew up with a group of friends that attended her parents’ Christmas-themed summer camp. Her parents tell her that they are selling the camp and are going to throw a week-long farewell celebration for all of the two generations of former campers who strangely all seem to be the same age. Weird.  She has kept in touch and sees all of her good buddies except one, her camp romance, Corbin Bleu. When they tried to make their long-distance relationship work outside of camp, it didn’t and Corbin dumped her, breaking her heart. Besides Corbin and Tori the friends include a married couple that met at camp and two contentious gay actors who got the show-biz bug there while competing for the same roles in  “the pageant.” The 3 couples all have misunderstandings and issues to iron out before their Christmas dreams come true and love wins. So there’s nothing new here, including the “big misunderstanding” 20 minutes before the end of the movie. This one is of the “only half the conversation is heard” variety and is particularly dumb.

What makes this one below average is the sheer boredom of watching all of the campers running around like maniacs doing fun activities like they are 10 years old and on sugar highs cheered on like their lives depended on it by Tori’s grinning parents. The one scene that got my attention was provided by Tori’s boss. Besides Corbin and Tori mending fences and discovering the old spark is still there, we have her still trying to get published, this time by writing a history of her family’s beloved camp. Her boss had rejected her latest manuscript because it needed more passion and a more personal connection.  Her boss loves her pitch but then to her horror, asks her, “who are you going to get to write it?” What???!!! I mean, I was floored. Imagine how Tori felt. When her boss goes so far as to hire a writer and asks for Tori’s notes and personal diaries, Tori quits on the spot. She learns later that her boss kept rejecting her manuscripts because she didn’t want to lose Tori as an assistant. This somehow makes her feel better, and in the 6 months later epilogue, we learn that she wrote a children’s book out of the story illustrated by her soon-to-be fiance, Corbin, who is an art teacher.  The married couple are now pregnant and the gay rivals are now a happy couple. Situation normal in Hallmark-Land. It has gotten a pretty harsh reception on IMDb and not just because of all of the diversity.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

July 29,2022

Open by Christmas

Fantastic!

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

Raise a Glass to Love

Subtle Overtones and a Smooth Finish

I went into this one without too many high hopes. Wine has become the new desert food as far as Hallmark food themes go. Also, I have not been overly impressed with the female lead, Laura Osnes. She’s been OK, but just kind of  “meh.”  I liked her in this, and I loved the male lead, Juan Pablo Di Pace. His chemistry with Laura was definitely there, although in truth he would probably have had chemistry with a fence post.

This one centered around a  female character dealing with feminist challenges. Jenna is studying for her 3rd try at passing the notoriously difficult sommelier exam to become a master sommelier. In the United States, there are only 172 of which only 28 are women. One of these real-life women has a small but important role in this movie. The background provided was interesting and educational.

Jenna is the daughter of legacy vineyard owners and a lifelong wine lover. She has a long-term relationship with the owner of a 3-star Michelin restaurant (Matthew James Dowden). Her dream is to become the restaurant’s sommelier. But to become qualified for that position, as in any Michelin-rated restaurant, she must pass her master’s exam. She goes home to her parents’ vineyard to study and meets our hero, her family vineyard’s innovative new Argentinian winemaker. As they spend more time together, she realizes that not only is she attracted to him but that his attitudes and dreams are more of a match to hers than her current boyfriend’s are. Aiden does not respect her opinion on wine and when his master sommelier quits for a better opportunity, he does not even consider her for the position. He apparently has no faith she will pass her master test. In a bit of a twist, when she finally lays all of her feelings and dreams on the table, he changes his mind and hires her whether she passes her test or not. This was actually pretty big for him. Despite this hiccup that separates the potential soulmates, it soon becomes clear that he still doesn’t trust or respect her judgment fully. He depends too much on outside validation such as diplomas and awards on the wine he wants in his restaurant rather than her infallible instinct and taste. His number one concern is the success of his restaurant. Ultimately, she realizes he is a follower, not a leader, and she rightly leaves him and her job. He wasn’t bad, or even wrong. They just did not have the same priorities. The reunion of the two wine lovers is romantic and even touching. They are a perfect match.

It is not rare that Hallmark champions women pursuing their professional dreams over romance (as long as they can have both), but this one was handled with more sophistication and subtlety than the usual Good vs. Bad Boyfriend trope. It added some complications, real-life challenges, and hard decisions that women are faced with when finding their best path to happiness and fulfillment.

P.S. Speaking of sophistication, kudos to the design team on the fresh approach to the promotional poster. Nice to see some whimsy for a change.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

September 24, 2021