As of this writing, this same movie is on IMDb two times with different titles, different ratings, and different reviews. Both iterations have the release date as March 4, 2023, but one has 9 reviews dating back to February 10. And that right there is the most interesting thing about this movie. Will this ever get corrected? I’m betting no. They still have two Cindy Busby movies, Heart of Down Under mixed up with Follow me to Daisy Hills mixed up with Love on the Menu and it’s been 3 years. This one, titled The Love Club: Nicola’s Pen Pal or just Nicola’s Pen Pal or just The Love Club (episode 1) is the first of a 4 part series. Each episode is a stand-alone and features one of the 4 women in the club. The Wedding Veil double trilogy seems to have been the inspiration for this concept. It is a good concept and a pretty clever strategy to theoretically increase the ratings of all 4 movies. Once people start on a set of something, it is human nature to try to finish it. Unfortunately, this was not good. Any romance based on lying and cheating is just not good. Do not recommend. Nope. FGI (For Get It).
On New Year’s Eve, 10 years ago, Nicola is stood up by her anonymous male pen pal she has grown close to through their correspondence. His support and compassion saw her through a difficult period. At that New Year’s Eve party, she meets 3 other women who are also dealing with romantic disappointment. They form The Love Club and agree to help each other through romantic problems and crises. Despite her recent engagement, she has never been able to forget her connection with “J.” When her unsuspecting fiance leaves for a business trip, she finds her old letters and decides she must find “J.” to see if he is “the one” instead of her fiance. With the help of her 3 friends, she narrows the field down to 2 possibilities. Instead of going to see him and just explaining the situation and asking whether he could be her pen pal of long ago, she conceives this elaborate plot to impersonate the interior designer he has hired for his Bed and Breakfast to covertly figure out if he is J and see if they still have a “connection.” (despite the fact that he stood her up all those years ago and they haven’t been in contact since.) Believe it or not, it just gets even more silly and stupid from there. I won’t belabor all of the boring ridiculousness-es that follow. But for one, it turns out that Josh (J.) is her pen pal, but he did not write the letters because he had dyslexia at the time. He confesses this after they start to fall in love so she is all angry, betrayed, and self-righteous. Keep in mind that she hasn’t told him she is engaged to be married and has been and still is impersonating a professional colleague behind his back. It is not until the end that it comes out that even though he didn’t put pen to paper, he actually dictated his thoughts to a guy who essentially wrote them out for him. So after all of the drama, shenanigans, and resulting stupid rabbit holes (and more lies) which I won’t even go into, he actually, for all intents and purposes, although a cheater, was her pen pal after all. Why didn’t he just say that at the beginning? Dyslexia of the vocal cords? So I guess he was kind of lying about lying? she surely wouldn’t have had a problem with him being a cheater in his class. With her being a cheater too and all.
All of this hot mess, which includes a very uncomfortable and creepy massage scene, is acted with the energy of a deflated wet balloon. The two leads are Hallmark veterans Marcus Rosner and Brittany Bristow. Marcus does the best he can and isn’t too bad. But Brittany acts her role as if she is under some kind of duress or a spell of some kind. The other three in the series have already been made and are showing somewhere mysterious. Possibly Canada? But I won’t be seeking them out.
The human cast was OK but the dog stole every scene. He was adorable and hilarious. What an actor! Hallmark better get “Nova” locked down with an ironclad contract before GAC comes a-callin’. Just saying.
Andrea Brooks plays Kyra, a young and ambitious marketing person who works in a pet store. In order to impress her new boss, who she is also crushing on, she lies about having a dog. In order to cover her tracks, she goes to a local rescue organization to adopt a dog. The owner (Marcus Rosner-Kevin) is very picky about who rescues his dogs. She has to lie to him about her qualifications in order to fulfill his strict requirements. She really had to jump through a lot of hoops. Believe me when I tell you that Nova, who plays Sam, the dog, was absolutely pure liquid joy.
On a home visit(!) to Kyra’s house, to make absolutely sure Sam and Kyra are doing OK, it is obvious to Kevin that she doesn’t know what the hell she is doing as far as discipline and training are concerned. Sam has trashed her house in 10 seconds flat. Kyra goes through an amusing montage of prospective dog trainers. They range from militaristic to a holistic new-age approach, and none are a good match for the dynamo that is Sam. Kevin ends up with the job and the rest is history.
Andrea Brooks was energetic, perky, and cute. I liked her, but I can see that a little of her could go a long way. After many many secondary roles in the Hallmark factory, she deserves the promotion to head girl. Marcus Rossner was fine, but I felt he was a little miscast. I feel like the part was written for a nerdy underdog type (no pun intended), and Marcus is anything but. But he carried it off.
Anyway, this was a perfectly serviceable Hallmark as far as plot and character, but OMG, that dog!
I approached this one with not a whole lot of enthusiasm or hope. I’d never heard of the main actress before, and Marcus Rosner has never really stood out for me one way or another. I had just seen him in Love Stories in Sunflower Valley with an actress that I really do not like and I was unimpressed once again. He is very handsome, but not much personality. What a difference an easy rapport and chemistry with your co-lead can make! He was very engaging, entertaining, and even funny in this one. The lead actress was gorgeous in a fresh natural way that really appealed to me. They were a great match.
The movie got my attention right away when I learned Marcus Rosner was actually engaged to an internet influencer and our heroine was sent to do a piece for her magazine on their imminent wedding. They were exes and each thinks they were rudely and coldly ghosted by the other. We only know her side of the story at first, and she is understandably upset to find out that he is the prospective groom. When the love interest is set to walk down the aisle, it really raises the stakes on the tension and anticipation of what is to come. The dialogue and situations were fast-paced and funny. The secondary couple’s courtship was cute and involving. He is a widower and she is our heroine, Sam’s, best friend in the old hometown where the action takes place. The two have massive crushes on each other, but they are shy and scared. It was sweet.
But the star of the show is Leanne Lapp playing against type as the self-centered, shallow, and very bubbly fiancé. I have always liked her but she usually plays the supportive friend or sister to the heroine. I didn’t even recognize her at first. She is hilarious as the bride who is more concerned with getting her wedding perfect and publicized than the actual marriage. On top of that, she is angling to get Marcus away from the small town and vineyard (yes, there’s wine-always a plus) he loves and back to the big city she loves. Despite her machinations, such is Leanne’s take and performance of the character, we somehow still like her. When Marcus finally stands up to her and states the obvious, that they are not a good match, we are relieved for him and her. It was about time. Despite her being dumped she doesn’t have the expected meltdown but is a good sport about it. It was very refreshing.
All ends as it should for the two couples and Leanne, who is not exactly heartbroken. I hope this movie propels this talented actress out of the friend zone and into the lead role she deserves.
This is a no more than serviceable Prince Pretending to be a Commoner in America story. He is visiting a small town trying to discover the true meaning of Christmas, so camouflaged as it is in the palace by meaningless tradition and formality. He goes to the town where a late former friend of his mother lived and that to him embodies the spirit of Christmas via her letters to his mother, the queen. He gets on the wrong side of a woman who is trying to save the local library by reviving her mother’s yearly project, the Winter Fest. Her mother, it turns out, just happens to be the woman whose letters to his mother have brought him to town.
Teryl Rothery plays the queen, who is pretty unpleasant throughout almost the whole movie. Marcus Rosner, a Hallmark veteran is good as the square-jawed dimpled prince. He was princely. I actually liked his use of a quasi-English accent when in his prince persona and an American accent when in disguise. Unfortunately, the actress who played his love interest was not a good match, in my opinion. For one thing, she seemed too mature and worldly-wise to be a romantic lead for a prince in disguise in Small-Town U. S. A. The character got on my bad side right away by foolishly turning down his enthusiastic offer of help with saving the library because he was a visitor and not “part of the community.” Especially since No One in the Actual “Community” stepped up to the plate. Everyone had an excuse.
There is a priceless scene near the end of the movie where Queen Teryl orders Prince Nicolas to kneel before her and pulls out a crown that looks like it was snagged from the Burger King mascot. She **spoiler alert**coronates her son right there in the middle of Winter Fest. I’m not sure whether this added a star to my rating or subtracted a star. But one thing for sure, Teryl and Marcus looked distinctly uncomfortable.
This one had every freaking Christmas cliché in the book. Country good/city bad, specious current boyfriend/fiancé versus Christmas-phobic single Dad, Save the festival, magical Santa, frolicking in the snow, Christmas Cookies, and Christmas-centric small town. And… the boyfriend who appeared like a jump-scare in a horror film. I still liked it. I am one of the majority that really likes Ashley Williams. The screen loves her and she is never less than a sweetie-pie. This entry also featured two other shining stars: Jaida Lily Miller and Rukiya Bernard. Young Jaida is a Hallmark regular for good reason. She is a great little actress and a charming presence. I wish Rukiya were more of a regular than she is. I have seen her as a supporting player in 3 other Christmas Hallmarks and she quite simply lights up the screen. She needs to move over to Lifetime, Hallmark mysteries, Up, or Ion and start starring in her own movies. Move over Tatiana Ali. All this goodness was marred by the irritating mother who was a little too dependent on her beloved daughter. She needed a little therapy, as does many of these Hallmark mothers. As did the town, which couldn’t seem to function without the capable heroine.
I guess I expected a bit more effort to support Megan Hilty, a fairly high profile singer-actress. I was disappointed in the writing as Greg Rossen has penned some of my favorite Hallmarks. And Lifetime movies are usually a bit of a cut above. Neither the plot nor the motivations of the MCs or the townspeople made sense. Instead of welcoming their home town star, they turned a cold shoulder to her when she was trying to be involved in helping the community. If your town is in trouble, here is a hint. Be nice to the famous and rich superstar who is coming home for a visit. If they were trying to be loyal to their beloved mayor and ex-boyfriend of our star, that’s wack too. He was the one who stood her up, not the other way around. I did not understand the lack of communication(do I ever?). They should have done a better job with Laney’s character arc, which was non-existent. She was nice (if understandably busy) from beginning to end. All in all a cookie cutter assembly line effort complete with a “cute” popcorn fight instead of the usual cliché snow-ball fight. I expect to roll my eyes a bit during a Hallmark-type movie, but cringing is a no-no.
A Harvest Wedding was above average due to the likability and good acting of the leads, Jill Wagner and Victor Webster. They played age-appropriate, mature, and sensible characters with good heads on their shoulders. Because of this, the plot was not packed with silly misunderstandings, stupid behavior, or battles between good and evil. Jill Wagner has a real Scarlett Johannsen thing going on, though much more down-to-earth looking. Victor Webster was almost too handsome, which made him an unlikely farmer, but his acting was good.
Jill played a wedding planner, Sarah, given the gig of a high-profile society wedding which would really put her on the map career-wise. In addition, a prestigious wedding magazine is doing a piece on the wedding because of the prominence of the family involved despite the fact that the bride, a super nice down-to-earth girl (Andrea Brooks), chose Jill over much more established wedding planners. To add to the complications, the bride does not want a super-fancy formal spectacle, but a simple country wedding at her fiance’s family farm. I liked that the mother of the bride was set up to be a momzilla, but knock me down with a feather, after a heart to heart talk with Sarah and her daughter, she stepped up and helped give her daughter the wedding she wanted, not what fulfilled her own elite society wedding dreams.
In addition, the ending was a refreshing breath of fresh air. Without fail, In Hallmances, the big city career girl gives up all of her professional progress and achievements and moves to the country to be a wife. In this one, the farmer, thanks to his development of a method of rooftop gardening, divides his time between the country and the city, allowing Sarah to pursue her dreams. This is a real departure for Hallmark. The final scene was a treat.**7 stars out of 10**
Cashing in on a Better than Usual Original. Unfortunately It’s Nothing but a Pale Imitation
A pale sequel to the very good Autumn in the Vineyard. The same beautiful landscapes without any of the interesting suspenseful plot points and multidimensional characters of the original. Frankie and Nate are trying to keep their new venture afloat but have conflicting management styles and suffer from a lack of communication. At the end they learn to work together. Thanks to a miracle at the end their vineyard is saved. Yawn. **4 out of 10 stars**
One of the better productions in a long time. Set in beautiful wine country, the country-side was gorgeous. Rachel Leigh Cook makes a great Hallmark heroine and her chemistry with the love interest was very good. It started out with some good conflict with her father who not only took her for granted but figuratively slapped her in the face by denying her her rightful place in his business. She rightly struck out on her own by buying her own vineyard, much to his dismay. I love a good comeuppance story. The plot moved on nicely, forcing the h/h to co-manage their vineyard which was somehow sold to both of them at the same time. They had a history and a rivalry already, which added interest to their romance and the development of their relationship. There was a little hint of a secondary romance of an older couple (the hero and heroine’s parents and the heads of competing vineyards.) and a younger couple. There were plenty of interesting secondary characters to keep things moving along. I really like the actress who played the friend. (Ali Leibert) And it was interesting that his family was kind of sketchy. They avoided a real T.V. remote throwing potential plot twist by avoiding the trap of having her save her dad from bankruptcy by giving up her own successful venture. That would have been a terrible message to send. So thank-you. **8 out of 10 stars**
A high-strung writer gets hooked up with an irreverent laid back fellow and a seemingly happily married couple on the way to visit their families on Christmas. They are thrown together when a snowstorm cancels their flight and they decide to share an automobile to get to their destinations. The Candace Cameron character is traveling to the Hamptons to meet her fiancée’s family for the first time. It is a road movie in which romance blossoms, true character is revealed, and secrets are uncovered. The fiancé and his parents are deliciously evil, Cameron-Bure, while always reliable, is quite likable and funny, and the married couple and the hero are well played, interesting, and nice to look at.
What I really want to address, and this movie is a perfect example, is Hallmark’s penchant for casting 40 year-olds in the roles of 20 or early thirty-year-olds. Aren’t there any promising young actors and actresses out there?. I am tired of seeing the same faces over and over. It is particularly absurd in this one. The older experienced couple who have a 20-year relationship and a daughter old enough to have a beautiful old home, are played by actors who are the same age, if not younger, than the couple they are meant to be mentoring! **8 out of 10 stars**