Lights, Camera, Christmas!

Cute and Clever, but I Didn’t Buy the Love Story.

Hallmark had a little fun with this parody of Hallmark Christmas movies. And I had fun with it as well. Kimberley Sustad, who is a favorite with many viewers including me, plays Kerry, a formerly aspiring dress designer who now owns a dress shop in a small town. She lives with her mother and her shop is on the verge of failure. She is very self-effacing and lacks confidence. Hallmark, oops, excuse me “Dazzle”, comes to town to film their latest Christmas movie, My Favorite Santa, which is super-cheesy. We get to know the cast and crew including the male star and love interest, Brad “the King of Christmas” Baxter.  He embodies all of the cliches attached to a phony vain movie star, including his trademark flirty wink to the camera which caps off all of his movies. When the production’s costume designer quits, Kerry is dragooned into taking her place. She proves her worth time after time. As she gets to know  Brad, she realizes that beneath the Hollywood facade, he is a nice guy. They start to fall for each other.  There is a secondary romance as well between the producer and the director. They are exes who used to be the most successful movie-making team at Hallm…um, “Dazzle”. They go from only being able to talk to each other through an intermediary, a put-upon P.A., to mutual respect, and then re-igniting their love for each other.

Unfortunately, although very promising, it fell short for me. First of all, it was kind of boring. There was no drama, tension or suspense. The enemies-to-lovers conflict between the divorced showrunners was slow and predictable with a minimum of fireworks. I didn’t buy the Brad character. How could a truly genuine and nice guy act like such a dolt? His character is meant to be funny, but also mildly contemptible as well. He certainly wasn’t worthy of Kerry especially as played by the lovely and talented Kimberley Sustad. At one point, he offers Kerry a job as his costume designer after he gets a game-changing movie role in London. She takes a leap of faith and turns down her dream job in New York to go with him. But when he reads a piece criticizing his going against type to play a villain, he chickens out and backs out of the gig. He didn’t even think of his promise to Kerry. So Kerry lost her dream job and the London opportunity.  Thanks, Brad.

I give Hallmark props for parodying itself in an amusing and effective way. And the structure was unusual for Hallmark as well. It is told in flashbacks at the premiere with the principals taking questions from the audience. We learn that Brad changed his mind again and took the role in London (without Kerry) but she is now working in Hollywood as a costume designer for the re-married team with a 6 picture contract. Brad and Kerry get together at the end after Brad apologizes and vows to change, but I didn’t believe in the relationship. And, so far, I’m not a fan of John Brotherton. I have to add that the final scene was very funny. I chuckled.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Autumn in the City

New York is so Nice!

This was fairly watchable despite a few troublesome aspects. One of which was the mismatch in the casting. Aimee Teegarden is an attractive and relatively youthful Hallmark leading lady and Evan Roderick as her love interest was a fresh new face and did well. Unfortunately, together, the pair didn’t work. Aimee is in her early 30s playing an almost 30-year-old. Evan Roderick is 6 years younger and could pass for 17. So, for me, the chemistry was off.

Piper has escaped from her hometown and her over-protective parents to pursue her dreams in New York City. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have any dreams other than escaping from her dead-end life in Iowa or Omaha or whatever. This leads to a series of temp jobs where she hopes that her destiny will hit her “like a bolt of lightning.” She is almost 30 years old. Honey, if lightning hasn’t struck by now, it’s not going to. The thing is, her passion is right in front of her, but she is totally oblivious. Big Clue: She is constantly drawing and coloring in her sketchbook which is never far from her side. So, Piper, art? Maybe? While waiting for her bolt out of the blue, Piper waves aside several amazing opportunities that most young ambitious *20* somethings starting from scratch would kill for. I could neither sympathize, understand, nor relate. She turns down a supervisory position in a museum, which I’m pretty sure would be snapped up by most master’s degree holders in the field just to get their foot in the door. She takes a job as the personal assistant to a Broadway star. But she is about ready to go on a national and international tour, including London. Piper doesn’t want to go (why not?????!!!!!!!) and quits or is fired. Then she gets a job in an art gallery where she promptly sells a painting they have been trying to get rid of for months and earns a 10% commission which the owner has to insist she accept. New York certainly is the land of opportunity and New Yorkers are all just waiting to give nice mid-westerners cool jobs. But not cool enough for Piper. Despite being a closerthanthis match to her artistic talents, she quits to go back home to her boring life and suffocating parents even ditching her own birthday party. (She is sad because her boss told her her cute sketches weren’t quite gallery show material.) Spoiler alert. She changes her mind at the last minute.

While all this is going on she gets to know Austin, the son of a world-famous journalist and Piper’s next-door neighbor. He is writing a  children’s book about Nathan the Squirrel rather than following in his egotistical mother’s footsteps. His mother won’t let up and she gets him a job he doesn’t want as a reporter and instead of just turning it down, he is a waste of space, acts like a petulant child, and gets fired. Both of these two lead charmed lives, however, even for Hallmark. Austin submits his manuscript to a publisher, thanks to some shaming from Piper, and, even without an agent, it gets accepted. And not only accepted but they want a whole series about Nathan! He had talked Piper into doing the illustrations for his pitch. Lightening Bolt! By the end, after a lot of “tragedy” and triumph, she has her dream career and a boyfriend. There were no pumpkins in this one (pumpkin spice lattes don’t count) but lots of leaves. Attention young midwesterners! Life in New York City really isn’t like this!

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Romance in Style

Go Ella!” Literally, Just Go.

This was good for the first 70%. The premise was intriguing and anytime Hallmark resists the urge to fall back on their go-to templates, it always feels fresh.

Ella (think Cinderella), a sewer (I guess I should have said seamstress) in the fashion industry, has aspirations to be a dress designer specializing in clothes for the average woman, such as herself, both in price and size. She has already gotten some love from a premiere designer who has seen promise in her designs (think Vera Wang). She has a meet-cute with a seemingly entitled self-absorbed (but handsome!) man at a coffee shop on her way to is doing some freelance sewing work for the fashion magazine her friend works at (think Vogue). We meet her friend’s mean-girl bosses who are very much like Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt from The Devil Wears Prada. Lo and Behold, it turns out that the charming gentleman (Prince Charming, that is) whom she traded good-natured barbs with at the coffee shop is the son of the new owner of the media company who has been sent to turn things around for the struggling magazine.

I really liked that the powerful love interest, Derek, played by Ben Hollingsworth, and our heroine were aligned on the same side against Meryl and Emily who did not want to expand their fashion coverage to include anyone over a size 4. He likes her and he likes her ideas. Recognizing her talent and knowledge, he relies on her to tutor him in the ins and outs of the fashion industry. They work together to develop the digital version of the magazine to appeal to a larger audience. No pun intended. He decides to feature her and her designs much to the resentment and anger of the mean girls. The stage is perfectly set for drama, sabotage, confrontation, and a hopefully massive take-down of Meryl and Emily, the wicked stepsister and stepmother.

The precarious current state of print media and its challenges are not ignored. Usually, with Hallmark, successful independent bookstores abound and magazines and newspapers are super successful and legion to provide gainful and glamorous employment for our heroes and heroines. The set design and graphics were stylish and imaginative and the fashions actually looked fashionable. The pace was energized and the dialogue snappy.

Unfortunately, the ending was extremely weak and brought my final rating down a whole star. The big misunderstanding at the end was too dumb for words. It entailed Ella swallowing the obvious lie from mean girl #2 that Derek really didn’t care anything about her and was just using her. Why would she even stay in the same room with the nasty venomous bitch let alone listen to and believe her? Ben had never been anything but kind and supportive. Anyway, she does, and leaves the big launch party in a huff before Ben can introduce her to the fashion world as a hot new designer. She simultaneously disses the Vera “fairy godmother” Wang character and embarrasses everyone into the bargain. She not only potentially tanks her romance with the rich, powerful, and nice Ben but her dream career as well. Talk about self-hatred! Of course, the happy ending can’t be denied. All is forgiven. But then we are robbed of the pleasure of seeing the wicked stepsisters being taken down by turning them into nice girls at the last minute for no reason other than expediency. (“Go Ella!”, they cheer.) If you’re going to do Cinderella, don’t leave out the best part.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

August 16, 2022