A Magical Christmas Village

Team Summer

Summer is an architect and a single mother who is busy busy busy. She is all about fixing things, control, rules, and organization. She doesn’t have time for a serious relationship, and plus she just hasn’t felt that “spark” yet. She is kind of forced to take her hippy-dippy mother in, (Marlo Thomas) when her lover leaves town and sells the house she has been living in.

Her mother, Vivian, is the exact opposite of Summer. She believes in living in the moment and letting “the universe” guide her life. Plans Schmlans. Because of her lifelong irresponsibility, she is in a financial mess, without enough money to live on. Luckily, Summer and her other daughter, April, provide a safety net. But to my irritation, that does not stop her from nagging Summer about her overly planned-out life which has stopped her from living freely, finding love, and stopping to smell the roses. All while living in Summer’s home, on her dime, one step away from homelessness. At one point, she complains, “I didn’t ask you to be my keeper!” In my mind, she should have been humbly grateful and refrained from criticizing the work ethos that enabled Summer to help her. She certainly was not in any position to give Summer advice. She moves out. But where does she go? To her other daughter’s house!

The irony is that Summer is the way she is because of Vivian’s unstable parenting. It is revealed that 16-year-old Summer had to go to the bank and set up a payment plan after 6 months of living without electricity because Vivian just couldn’t be bothered to pay the bills after her husband died. That was heartbreaking. Throughout most of the movie, Vivian thinks she is some kind of wise shaman with all of the answers, which was far far from reality. I was not a fan, especially when Vivian’s refusal to discuss her financial situation combined with her defense of her lifestyle brought Summer to tears of frustration. Alison Sweeney is a really good actress.

The main story is about how the two women learn from each other and learn to find a happy medium. The always charming Luke Macfarlane provides the love interest and he has great chemistry with Alison Sweeney, which, TBH, I was kind of surprised about.

Their happy ending, and to a lesser extent, the rapprochement between Summer and Vivian is guided by the Magical Christmas Village that Vivian sets up at Summer’s house. Summer’s daughter starts to move the figurines around and soon figures out that she is also guiding the footsteps of people in real life as she does so. It was a cute concept if you don’t think about it too hard. This was pretty good, despite the fact that I hated Vivian’s guts through most of it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Christmas in My Heart

Points for Allowing Ethnic Diversity to be Diverse

I appreciate Hallmark’s efforts to incorporate more diversity into their love stories. But so far they have not tailored the script to even acknowledge the difference in ethnicity or the unique challenges that an interracial relationship might entail. The black (or other) person of color might just as well be played by a white actor. It’s been giving a new meaning to “color-blind.” They don’t in this one either. But they do touch on the complications that a white father might have raising a black daughter. The black mother of his late wife has a talk with her granddaughter while discussing her hairstyle options for a special concert. The young girl, beautifully played by Maria Nash, states that she thinks it would look more “professional” slicked back. The grandmother (Sheryl Lee Ralph), a little taken aback, then takes the opportunity to encourage her to be proud of her heritage and her different hair and to be herself. But also, whatever she chooses, she will look beautiful. In another scene, the young daughter confides in her black mentor and her father’s love interest that she almost quit playing the violin because she didn’t see any other violin players that “looked like me.” Also, the father, Luke McFarlane, a favorite of mine, is overprotective of his daughter. He is a big country star on a hiatus due to the death of his wife, and although not stated, it is implied that he fears some friction or hostility from social media and the tabloids because of his black daughter. I was curious, and I checked the writers of this. And sure enough, one of the trio of women writers is black.

The love interest, also the product of an interracial marriage, is played with warmth and dignity by Heather Hemmens. I like the way she handled Luke rudely telling her to back off when he finds out his daughter has been confiding in her about the loss of her mother. It was well played. I won’t critique the plot. There was a lot going on with Luke and Heather’s career prospects and their different tastes in music, as well as their attraction to each other. Luke, who is usually in more comedic roles, is very effective in this more dramatic plot. However, I could do without his singing next time. Luke, I love you, and I suspect it was that god-awful song rather than your performance, but I was as stunned as poor Heather looked during the private audition of his new tune. She handled it with tact and kindness.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

October 28, 2021

A Valentine’s Match

Plot: Boo! Actors: Yay!

The plot wasn’t anything much. It follows the usual formula:1) successful career-woman with useless boyfriend gets fired and goes back to small hometown to recharge. 2) Meets Old Boyfriend she has been avoiding for 10 years due to misunderstanding. 3) 2 interfering mothers, sensible father 3) A festival is saved after the 2 exes are forced to work together. 4) they fall in love again only to have another blow-up which sends heroine back to the big city with terrible boyfriend. 5) they come to their senses and reunite for a happy ending. Not to mention: 6) black actors relegated to the best friend zone. So why does this get high marks from me? The Acting and Appeal and Chemistry of Bethany Joy Lenz and Luke McFarlane. Luke has long been a favorite of mine and they both breathe life and humor into unremarkable lines that in less talented actors’ hands would result in a snooze-worthy cookie-cutter romance. The 2 love scenes were emotional and steamy, especially the slow dance near the end. Their break-up was tense and sad, and in-between, they were funny both together and apart. The end scene was cheesy in the extreme but at least it didn’t end with the smooch, and some loose ends were tied up.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

February 3, 2020

Sense, Sensibility, and Snowmen

A Defiant 10

I’ve read all of Jane Austen’s books and seen all of the films and series based on her books numerous times. I’ve read a lot of Austen-based modern interpretations as well. I am drawn to the numerous modern riffs on Austen and enjoyed many of them. My favorites are Clueless and Bollywood’s Bride and Prejudice. So of course I’ve seen the previous attempts Hallmark has made to capitalize on Austen’s current popularity. They were shameless exploitations because neither the plot nor the characters had anything to do with Jane’s works.

This one was different. Like Sense and Sensibility, we have two sisters who have an “Us against the world” mentality. One is flighty and starry-eyed, and one is practical and down to earth. They run a party planning business together. They are a believable version of what a modern Marianne and Eleanor might be. The love interest is a reserved button-down and shy corporate head who is dominated by an over-bearing parent and romantically linked to a childhood sweetheart. There is also a secondary love interest called Brandon. But here’s where the scriptwriter wisely mixes it up. Instead of All-business practical Marianne (they also switch the names of the two sisters) being paired off with the Corporate stick-in-the-mud, It is the lively Ella who takes him by storm and shakes up his life and attitudes. It is very cute and more suitable for the modern Rom-com. The chemistry between the two couples and the sisters was romantic and touching. The acting was some of the best I have seen in a Hallmark lately. Erin Krakow was wide-eyed, energetic, and outgoing as her character called for. Erin surely has been doing these Hallmarks for 2 decades, but she hasn’t changed a bit. She was charming. Kimberley Sustad, a Hallmark stalwart, made Marianne likable and understandable despite her buzz-kill personality. Even though the two characters had conflicts and conflicting world-views, their love and loyalty to each other were touchingly done and affecting. Luke McFarlane was superb. He usually plays cardboard cut-out romantic heroes. In this one, he started out as a real pill who slowly and realistically melted and opened up. I was very impressed by the job he did with the Edward Ferrar personality. He was funny. I loved the chemistry between Luke and Erin, and couldn’t wait for the final chaste clinch.

So yes, I give this a 10. Overgenerous? Perhaps. But with this one, I’m grading on the Hallmark curve against a singularly lackluster couple of years of Hallmark Christmas movies. I’m amazed at some of the sour and overwrought reviews this one has gotten. I can only think that their experience with modern Austen takes is pretty limited.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

December 3, 2019