This is a delightful interconnected multi-story movie with an ensemble cast along the lines of Love, Actually, and the Garry Marshall helmed holiday-based productions. The casting and the acting were impeccable. The stories center around a popular Chinese Restaurant whose owners are retiring and will permanently be closing its doors on Christmas Eve. Each story is an engaging little gem and they all come together in a well-organized and balanced way. All of them are wrapped up like a neat little Christmas gift, but leave us wanting more.
First, we meet a lonely widow, played by the classy Barbara Niven, whose CEO daughter, Sara Canning, is frustrated with her for her inability to move on from her husband’s death. They do not remember their late husband and father in the same way at all. At the restaurant, she runs into an employee of her corporation she is friendly with, a divorced father (Antonio Cupo, Wow!) of two girls. He is struggling with how to parent his girls as a single father. Next, we meet the weak son of the owners. He flunked out of college, is quite lost, and with the restaurant closing, his future is up in the air. He is secretly a talented chef but is discounted and dominated by his traditional father. Will he find a backbone with the help of an old friend and classmate? Working as the restaurant delivery boy is a hard-working, kind, and caring young Hispanic who has been accepted at several prestigious universities but can’t afford to go without a scholarship. He is afraid of his father’s reaction if he tells him about his college aspirations. Finally, we have the daughter of the family who has never experienced a traditional American Christmas because she has always worked at her family’s restaurant on Christmas Day. This one provides most of the humor. She is finally free to leave and visit her non-Chinese boyfriend’s family for a “real” Christmas, which, to her confusion and disappointment, turns out to be nothing but a fantasy. It’s actually pretty funny thanks to the lovely boyfriend and his patient family.
I liked that almost all of the characters start out with some unlikeable qualities. Their relationships with each other with the restaurant serving as the foundation serve up much-needed personal growth, shaking up, and change for the better. As they all come together to keep The Golden Dragon open through one more Christmas Day, we see sadness and frustration left behind and reason for hope and optimism in the future. And just maybe a few promising romances on the horizon.
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!
I don’t have a bad word to say about the actors in this new Hallmark mystery series. Gonzalo and McPartlin were just fine, and they had a good rapport. But boy oh boy was it dumb. This is a new entry in Hallmark’s spunky female amateur detective line. They usually run their own “womanly” business so they can take off whenever one of their acquaintances or customers gets murdered in order to catch the killer. We have flower shops, bookstores, antique stores, and bakeries. We also have matchmakers(!?), wedding photographers, crossword puzzle editors, and podcast hosts. Strangely, in two of my favorites, Aurora Teagarden and Mystery 101, the spunky female amateur detectives actually have mainstream professions. With the arrival of Cut, Color, Murder, we now have beauty shop owner. What took them so long?
In this one, Julie is taking her talents to the world of beauty pageants in which her younger sister is a participant and she is doing hair. The bitchy showrunner gets murdered and there are plenty of suspects because she was evil to absolutely everyone. Julie is the widow of a policeman who was killed in the line of duty (or was it unsolved cold-blooded murder?). So she has ties to the police department primarily through the chief of police who she has wrapped around her little finger. Enter new guy, Ryan McPartlin, a handsome hotshot detective with whom she butts heads because he is a professional. After Julie meets an anonymous text-messager alone in a spooky abandoned house at night because he/she has info about her husband, it was remote throwing time. Except I had to find it first because I had already throw
n it after all the laws she broke and chain of evidence procedures ignored in the meantime. She is rescued from certain death by Ryan and let’s just say this show leaves no cliche unincluded.
We know this is a series because after the mystery is solved we have a bit of a cliffhanger while Julie is having a pow-wow with her dead husband at the cemetery because she has decided to move on (is that something you just decide to do?) and wants to give him a heads up ( I guess?). We know that there is going to be an over-arching mystery of her trying to solve her husband’s murder and getting into all kinds of trouble. Not a spoiler, because I’m not psychic, but I predict that the murderer of her husband turns out to be the indulgent good-guy/father-figure/police chief in an unknown number of episodes hence.
A single father who is also a sexy fireman gets caught on video doing a ballet dance with his young daughter. It is adorable. (It really is!) It goes viral and he is anointed America’s Favorite Single Dad. He is inundated with women trying to date him and the media trying to interview him. But he is a low-key down to earth kind of guy and doesn’t let his sudden 15 minutes of fame go to his head. Meanwhile, he meets his daughter’s ballet teacher, and the attraction is mutual. The romance is mature, slow burn, and realistic. They are well aware that any relationship must be serious with no rush into a temporary fling. Although there are some humorous moments and some dramatic suspense, the overall tone to this one was serious and steady.
During one of their dates, she confides that her ballet studio is in trouble and she is being nagged by her parents to move down to Florida to live with them. I immediately thought, “Uh Oh here comes the “I need a big loan or I’m going to leave” scam. But then I remembered this was not a Lifetime movie, but a Lifetime Christmas movie. The other roadblock to their happily ever after is his young daughter. She starts acting up out of jealousy. The young actress is a highlight of this movie. She is adorable and sweet when required, wise beyond her years when required (“Dad don’t patronize me!”), and a petulant little brat when required.
Thanks to some wise advice from his happy-go-lucky brother and a “woman-to-woman” talk between grandmother and granddaughter, the family roadblocks are removed. A neat resolution is also found to her financial trouble and it is one that comes full circle to the original viral video. The hint of romance at the end between Noah, the brother, and Olivia’s best friend is very cute.
There sure are a lot of mean reviews for this movie. Sounds like some are trying to knock the ubiquitous Candace off of her Hallmark throne. I am not a huge Candace fan, but she’s harmless and she has never looked lovelier than in this tribute to The Wizard of Oz. I thought it was very cleverly done with the names, the characters, and the situations. There wasn’t much of a plot, but at least it wasn’t a stale rehash of the same old Hallmark set-pieces. I watched it to the end with not fast-forwarding, and that’s worth at least a 6 or a 7. I’m not sure why she got so mad at “Glen Goodman” (Glenda the Good witch, Ha Ha) at the end, but that’s just standard Hallmark procedure to provide some tension and to set up the happy ending.
I am afraid I gave poor Danica McKellar a pretty hard time for her last Hallmark effort, A Crown for Christmas. She was too old for the part, she was not a good match for the fabulous Rupert Penry-Jones, and she wore too much makeup. It was just awkward, including her performance. She was excellent in this. This one confirms that the casting of the two leads makes all the difference. She made a good match for Kavan Smith, who played her love interest. They were both age-appropriate for the story and attractive enough, but not drop-dead gorgeous. A very pleasant outing.
It was nice to have the drop-dead gorgeous one (Christopher Russell) paired with someone else in the secondary romance. His love interest was a mismatch, and sure enough, to my mild surprise, they did not work out their problems and split up in the end. Bruce Boxleitner was a pleasure to see, as usual. **8 stars out of 10**