It took me at least three tries, but I finally finished this one. So safe to say, it didn’t keep me enthralled throughout. Fortunately a strong ending with a very well-integrated and multilayered Christmassy message all but erased the parts that literally put me to sleep. To be fair, I was trying to look at this one in bed at the end of and in the middle of the night.
Liv is a photographer for the San Francisco Chronicle who reports to Jack Wagner who plays Charles. She is assigned to work with Henry, a newcomer from Bangkok, to write about the Chang family’s famous Christmas party that raises money for the Chinatown community, affectionately called The Changtastic Christmas. It is circus-like, outlandish, and unapologetically over the top. Little do her boss and new partner know, Liv Rose is actually Liv Chang. She has always kept her identity a secret because she has always been embarrassed by her “Crazy Loud Asian” family, especially at Christmas. She prefers quiet elegance and muted tones. It’s a tribute to Shannon Chan-Kent’s portrayal that her character isn’t thoroughly dislikable. It is made clear that other than her blind spot about her family’s Christmas traditions, she loves them very much and she has a good heart.
It is not long before Henry, who is thoroughly charmed by the Chang family, finds out Liv’s true identity as their beloved daughter. She agrees to help with the story as long as she and her connection to the family are kept out of it. She cares too much about what people think and does not want her connection to her parents (Mom played by Tia Carrere) made public. It is not long before love between the two journalists is on the horizon. Unfortunately, the romance is a weak point in the movie. Henry is very bland and has a very weird accent. For me, the vibe was “friendly colleague” rather than “smitten true love”. He is kind of stand-offish with her even at the end. Too bad, I really liked him in The Conjuring.
Henry submits his story to Charles who gives it a thumbs down, saying it needs a more personal connection to the famous Changs. This is where Liv confesses her secret identity to Charles. With her OK, they set about giving the feature a more personal spin and bringing in more about the family. Henry goes with Liv to collect the donations from each family in the community which are hung in red bags on the Christmas tree at the party. (the donations, not the families.) This is where it all goes sideways. Liv (and Henry) lose the big bag of money on the trolley car! This in turn leads to what might be an unhealable and hurtful breach with her family. Words are had.
As I said, this had a very strong and satisfying ending. We learn about a childhood incident that caused Liv to put up her boundaries in the first place. A depressed and contrite Liv seeks refuge at her local church, the historic Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral on Grant Avenue. She is given wise advice and hope from a nice woman who works there. She finds a way to make good on the donations, heal the breach with her family, her community, and embrace her culture regardless of “what people think.” And it all results in their story being featured on the front page of the newspaper! Ka-ching ka-Chang!
One of the reasons I really enjoyed this one is that there was so much going on. Every subplot and character was well written and engaging. Jack Wagner made a delicious antagonist with his diabolical self interfering in his son’s love life and his mission to buy our two main leads’ smaller but more exclusive organic vineyard. I liked that leads were attractive but normal-looking people. Sometimes that actors and actresses are more glamour-pusses than able to give their character’s personality and appeal. That said, I didn’t care much for the behavior of the hero throughout almost all of this story. He was whiny and kind of a snot until he admitted he needed her help. I liked the girl. She was smart, successful, ethical, hard-working, ambitious, and had a lot of moral character. Even at the end, I got the feeling that she could have done better romance-wise.
But I Doubt It. This is the one where Olivia and Mick finally get married. But not before dealing with the wedding of another couple. There was an interesting dynamic going on with them. At first, the guy, who is a fast-rising movie action star(the actor was miscast), seems like an exemplary nice guy and totally devoted to his down-to-earth bride-to-be. As the movie goes on, though, we see that he is a manipulative passive-aggressive jerk while putting self-promotion before his wedding despite promising faithfully to keep it low-key with no hype or publicity. His favorite trick is to tell his increasingly frustrated and unhappy fiancé that this is a one-off and if he doesn’t do the interview/photo-op/magazine spread it will be harmful to his career. And then he tells his bride: “But you decide. It’s all up to you.” Knowing full well that she will go along with it or be the mean selfish bitch.
The sensible bride probably would have drawn the line in the sand long before she did except that at the beginning of the movie, Josie/Olivia advises her to be more flexible to her future husband’s career needs or risk a break-up. And then, after giving her that piece of questionable advice, she lets her twist in the wind while meekly putting up with the groom’s nonsense and continual changes of plan. Olivia couldn’t have taken her aside to amend her advice to “flexible within reason?”
Other than the step-by-step descent of the groom from nice guy to stupid jerk, the rest of the film was the usual string of disasters with flowers, cake, dress, caterers, vows, etc. I think many viewers are tired of this series, including Olivia and Mick’s two daughters who I guess were too busy to attend, or weren’t invited. Plus, the age difference between Jack and Josie is starting to get noticeable. It would have been fine except that they are supposed to be the same age.
I am happy to report, however, that Josie Bisset finally has gotten her hair situation, which has been a source of suspense and amusement throughout the previous 5 movies, somewhat under control. Luckily though, in the end, we are treated to a series of flashbacks from the previous movies which highlight her struggles.
For the Love of All that’s Holy! Will Someone Please Help Josie?!
Although the plot is tired and the writing unoriginal, this one was worth looking at due to the principal love interests. Cindy Busby has been a favorite for quite a while. Tyler Hynes caught my interest as soon as he appeared in a Hallmark last year. He has now become a big favorite. I will give any Hallmark a chance if they have one of these two actors.
On the other hand, poor Josie Bissett’s hair situation has become a concern. She is a lovely woman who has aged gracefully and plays women of her own age. The pairing with Jack Wagner works. I am not sure what is going on with her health or her hair, but there are plenty of attractive wig options out there for those who are in need of some extra assistance. If she has been wearing wigs, they are frightful: stiff and cottony looking. If that’s her real hair, please buy some conditioner or go back to the darling pixie haircut she was once famous for. Sorry, but this is something is totally fixable. I am being cruel to be kind.
This one was actually not bad at all. The chemistry between Jack Wagner and Josie Bissett was good. They were both age-appropriate despite numerous comments about Jack Wagner being 11 years older than Ms. Bissett. They looked fine together. At least, at 45, she was playing a woman with a college-age daughter instead of a toddler. Same for him. I liked that they did not try to follow the usual Hallmark formula and manufacture a secondary romance between their 2 kids. Instead, casting two talented young actresses who became instant buddies. Jack’s daughter looked like a tall and thin Scarlett Johanssen. The one wrong note was Josie’s god-awful wig. Why? Surely, if she needed a wig, Hallmark could have afforded one that looked natural. This one was so ugly, I am surprised Miss Bissett herself didn’t speak up. I have seen more flattering wigs in a Halloween costume shop. It was all very strange, especially since her make-up looked quite pretty instead of being laid on with a trowel like many of the Hallmark makeup artists do. **8 out 10 stars**