A Fabled Holiday

Pretty Packaging

I wavered between a 7 and an 8 for this one. I liked the trappings and the framing of the story but the basic plot of strangers coming together to repair what is wrong with their lives was tired. None of their arcs had a lot of substance or originality. Or, failing substance, humor, suspense, drama, or engaging romance. On the positive side, it did have Brooke D’Orsay and Ryan Paevey as the main couple. Their performances were charming as usual.  I like them separately, and they were OK together, but just OK. Maybe they are both just too nice to generate much romantic tension with each other.

It all starts out with a little girl and her father reading a fairy story about a magical town called Wunderbrook. Sadly the Dad dies and the little girl and her mother move away. Before she goes, she gives her storybook to her best friend Anderson and she promises to send him her stories as she writes them.

When next we see her, she owns a bookstore. Her aspirations to be an author have died on the vine due to her lack of self-confidence and fear of failure. Meanwhile, we catch up on her childhood friend Anderson who is now a surgeon who is questioning his calling due to losing a patient. We also meet a married couple who have grown apart and are on the verge of divorce and an old man who is very lonely since his beloved wife died.

Through various magical means (a detour on a road, a wrong number, getting lost, and a flooded basement) they find themselves together in Wunderbrook. It is the magical town of the storybook come to life. It turns out that they all had the book as children, but for some reason, it is only Brooke that starts to make the connection between the story and the real-life town they find themselves in. She is poopoo-ed throughout the whole movie, almost. As they spend time with the owners of the B&B and their daughter (really the King, Queen, and Princess), and the other denizens of the place, including the wicked witch, they start to get cured of what ails them. The hostile bickering couple starts to repair their marriage and the old man finds a friend in the owner of the bar/restaurant who is also bitter and lonely (the witch.) The two childhood friends start to fall in love as well as, in the end, get over the fears that are holding them back from fulfilling their dreams. It all comes together at the end with not only our friends on a happy road to love and success but Wunderbrook itself being saved, thanks to a certain aspiring writer.

Their individual stories of love and learning are told by a storyteller as if they were characters in a storybook. This was a new path for Hallmark to take and I liked and appreciated the creativity. Christmas Magic is a common trope but usually has to do with Santa and time travel. This was something quite different and, again, I appreciated it. Unfortunately, they forgot to find engaging stories to put in all that creative framing. It was, to paraphrase one of Brooke’s publisher’s rejections, “cute” but not entirely enough for me.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

A Bridesmaid in Love

“The Big Misunderstanding”

I really like Tori Anderson and her pretty smiley eyes. She’s been in at least two other Hallmarks I’ve seen, and she was the primary reason why those movies were at least watchable. In one, she was the only bright spot, and in the other, she was an important ingredient in a production that worked in several ways. In this one, everything was going along fine, until towards the end when we came to “big conflict” time.

Let me back up. Tori plays a freelance writer whose specialty is tips and advice for brides and weddings. She is kind of like a wedding planner, but she actually is a “professional bridesmaid” who solves problems or possible disasters that crop up and adds great ideas to make good weddings even better. She does this for brides in exchange for a healthy contribution to a worthy charity. Then she writes about it. When her childhood friend whose brother Matt was also once one of her best friends, is planning her wedding, Tori steps up. She has recently broken up with her loser boyfriend of 1 year, and Matt is the love interest. I really liked Matt. He was very attractive in a guy next door kind of way and was super sweet, like Tori. They were perfect for each other and were soon well on the way to googly eyes and true love, with Tori saving her friend’s wedding from disaster right and left. Venue, caterer, dress, you name it and Tori saves it.

Everything was burbling along fine, with a few side plots in addition to the wedding adventures. Her veterinarian ex starts to pop up as well, which added to the anticipation and suspense. We see that he is regretting his assholery, and we are seeing that Tori (along with the viewer) is wondering what the heck she saw in him in the first place. I mean, when he shows up at her Dad’s coffee shop on his way to the “Hamster Rehabilitation Conference” and her eyes start to dart around looking for escape, we know she has moved on. But he is clueless and he makes time in his busy busy Kitty and Puppy schedule to trap her alone so he can propose marriage.

And this is where the movie takes a turn for the worse. Nice Matt sees him getting down on one knee and, despite their burgeoning love, good times, soulful gazes, and intimate conversations, he turns his back and leaves the premises without bothering to see the outcome. Because of course if a guy gets down on one knee, there is only one conclusion one can make, right? The girl has to say yes. No. There are two possible outcomes, Matt. “Yes, I will marry you,” or “Thanks, but no thanks.” To make his insulting conclusion jump much worse, he acts like a total jerk to her for the last 20 minutes of the movie. He gives her the cold shoulder and is very rude. Tori is confused and heartbroken, and I was irate. It was a very very bad example of “The Big Misunderstanding”. The utter stupidity ruined a pretty decent movie.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

March 11, 2022

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

Eat, Drink, and Be Married

Why? What? Huh?

Billie is consulting with an engaged couple, Jess and Max, about their wedding. Jess is being a bit of a control freak in her strive for perfection, and Max could care less. She even has a diagram of the exact dimensions of the flower vases she wants. Right away I’m on Team Max. After the meeting, they decide (rightly) to take a break. When Max’s brother hears about it, he storms into Billie’s place guns a blazing (figuratively). He blames Billie for the breakup because she was the last person the couple talked to. Meanwhile, Billie learns that the beloved old building that her family had had her business in is being sold after being in her family for 3 generations. Which begs the first question. How could her beloved building be sold? Don’t they own it? If not, why not? Did they forget to? Anyway, Charlie enlists Billie to save the wedding, and in return, he will save the building because he’s in real estate. And his Uncle’s company is the one that is going to tear down the building and put up a parking lot (literally). Everything goes as expected from there, including Charlie being unsuccessful in handling his end of the bargain. By the end of this, I was left with more than several nagging questions.

She makes a living how though? Takes old after wedding detritus and gives it to charity? I must have missed something? I guess she’s also a wedding planner? Are weddings the only event that has leftover flowers, decorations, and food? (Might has a problem with the health department there, though) and what charity needs flowers? I’m sure this was addressed, but I missed it, I guess.

What was with that long cheesy speech Charlie made to Billie after she gave him the boot encouraging her to let her true self shine through because she is such a spectacular person and has no reason to be so closed off, insecure, and damaged. Huh? As far as I could see she was a cheerful, confident, successful, very together woman. I was very confused. Was he trying to gaslight her into thinking his “lying and deceit” was her fault?

Why didn’t Charlie help Billie with her presentation to the committee-who-decides-what-buildings-to-protect-from-mean-developers after sending an email giving her the advice to apply for protection? He wasn’t doing anything else after quitting his job. Why not pitch in with a helping hand and get back on her good side?

Why should the committee save her warehouse despite the fact all were in agreement that the place held no historical value due to burning down in 1910? Even Billie? Because Billie loved it and lots of nice things happened there. Sounds like an investigation is in order especially since Jess was on the committee and didn’t recuse herself.

Why did Billie wear a prom/bridesmaid floor-length formal to Jess’s dressy-casual daytime wedding? Oooof.

Lastly, Joceyln Hudon, who played Billie, was cute but was robotic in her line delivery and it caused me to lose focus and interest. I might have even dozed off for a minute. Maybe this is why I didn’t catch all of the subtleties in the plot. I was curious and looked up her resume and sure enough, this is strike two for her, from me. She needs to do better, as do the writers who wrote this thing.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.