Dream Moms

Dream a Little Dream

I liked this one more than I expected. It had some problems, but overall I liked the cast, the acting, and the message.

Chelsea Hobbs and Tamera Mowry-Housely play Claire and Danielle, the Dream Moms. Strangers, they meet through Danielle’s brother’s dance studio. They are both hard-working and devoted to their families. Claire is a divorced mother of two sons and their Dad is not in the picture. She works in the garment district and is hard put to handle her job and raise her two boys on her own. To add to the financial and time pressures, her oldest son, ably played by Glen Gordon, a Hallmark regular, has been accepted into a prestigious prep school, but can’t go unless she comes up with the tuition money or he wins a scholarship. Danielle is married to a successful attorney who is up for partner in his firm. She has a daughter who is a talented ballerina. Her whole life revolves around being a helpmeet to her husband, a support to her daughter, and volunteer work. Both of the women were once Broadway hopefuls, Claire a dancer and Danielle a singer who can also dance. But they both have traded their own dreams in to support their families and their hopes and ambitions.

When the ladies meet at Danielle’s brother RJ’s studio he has the idea of putting them together to enter a nationally televised talent competition for duos only. The prize for the ultimate winner is  $100,000. Chelsea is all in because she needs the money, as does RJ in addition to the publicity. Tamera finally agrees in order to support her brother although she really doesn’t need the money.

The time they need to devote to the success of their act causes tensions within their respective families. In Claire’s case, she is forced to accept help from her sweet and handsome neighbor, Sam, played by Matthew James Dowden, who is a peach and a mensch. (she has trust issues, of course, because her husband deserted her). At one point he intervenes when her son Paul gets all pissy with her because she missed his brother’s ball game and is no longer at their beck and call because of rehearsals. After Sam points out a few home truths to her son, he gets on board, which was very satisfying. In Danielle’s case, she is mostly OK until she finds out that her final competition night is the same night OF COURSE as her daughter’s most important dance showcase which will ensure her acceptance into a prestigious ballet school.

Danielle struggles with the decision and keeps putting off telling her family, and, more importantly, Claire. This was the source of quite a bit of frustration on my part because I knew what she should do, no question.

I liked the message this show ultimately sent to parents and their children. Danielle’s epiphany comes during a conversation with her daughter when she realizes the message she is sending to her husband and her daughter by her constant self-sacrifice is not necessarily a healthy one. Even though she has always been loving, supportive, and always present for her daughter and her husband,  she has also modeled the idea that being married and being a mother means giving up your own dreams and not having a life of your own.

The actors who played the children of the two women were wonderful. As the two families get to know each other and become friends (which I loved) Claire’s son and Danielle’s daughter have an innocent teenage romance which was sweet, but get in a little bit of mischief and trouble as well. Tamera Mowry-Housely, not surprisingly, was a stand-out as Danielle. Her marriage was healthy and happy, although the husband had a few things to learn for sure. I liked that. It was a wise and not surprising choice to have the successful well-off family be black and the struggling family be white. It was well-paced and kept my interest throughout. Danielle was not one of those neurotic mothers who live life through their children and are overly protective or overly involved in their lives. She was a good mother and counselor but needed to look at things in a new light. That is to the writer’s credit. Hallmark loves crazy mothers. I also liked that when any of the characters pissed me off, they came to their senses in a timely manner. Claire’s learning curve was not as dramatic as Danielle’s, but the scene where she reads an essay that her son wrote about her was touching and gives her the courage to make a brave decision.

The only real problem was the Dream Mom’s act itself. Tamera sang and danced nicely, while Chelsea danced with her and around her. And though she wasn’t bad, she didn’t really bring anything to the table. There really wasn’t any reason for her to even be there. Kind of like Richard Carpenter or the Captain of The Captain and Tennille. Their act and rehearsing for the act are throughout the movie so it’s hard to ignore and is pretty glaring. I will say that the original songs were good and the performances were not an embarrassment which is not always the case with Hallmark. Bless ’em. Despite Matty Finochio playing the part of the host, the actual TV show was pretty feebly done as well.

The movie ends with *spoiler alert* everyone’s dreams coming true, though not in the way you might think. Romance was not the focus in this one, and I like that Hallmark is seeming to get the fact that it does not always have to be the be-all and end-all. That said,  Sam and Claire getting together did provide a little romantic satisfaction.  Matthew James Dowden and his low-key pursuit of Chelsea was a highlight for me.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Made for Each Other

Careful What you Wish For…

When I saw this starred  Matt Cohen, I was prepared to love this, and it didn’t let me down. I loved him in Holiday Date, and his funny delivery and endearing demeanor were on target in this one as well.

Rachel, played by lovely new-to-Hallmark, Alexandra Turshen, is a sculptor and art teacher who is content in her life but has always wanted to be an artist, rather than just a teacher. She also would not be adverse to a serious boyfriend, but she is very very picky. “Her ideal man is a complete fantasy. If you’re human you don’t stand a chance.” Too picky for her obnoxious almost bullying mother who wants nothing more than for Rachel to get married and have babies. Veteran Hallmark actress Teryl Rothery as the mother has never been so unpleasant and unlikeable. God, she was terrible. Teryl overplays it a bit. Thank goodness, Rachel has a backbone, does stand up to her, and refuses to be manipulated into dates with men her mother relentlessly arranges for her. One evening, Rachel and her best friend, played by Illeana Douglas, are in her studio and Rachel shows her her life-sized sculpture of “her perfect man” who is “ Kind, smart, loyal, dedicated, and someone I can bring home to my Mother. He’s a hopeless romantic, we are always on the same page, No conflicts, A best friend.” Illeana tells her the Jewish legend of the Golem, and with the help of an ancient amulet, Rachel’s “perfect man” comes to life the next morning. Meanwhile, we have met David Cohen, Rachel’s soon-to-be brother-in-law’s best friend. We know right away that he is the one. Although he is a lawyer, he is following his dream of being a professional stand-up comedian. Besides being very attractive in a slightly unconventional way, he is funny and smart. He seems to like Rachel, but kind of sees through her tough exterior as well. Another point in his favor is that Rachel’s mother does not like or approve of him.

Rachel and “Clay,” the statue come to life as her perfect boyfriend, become an item. Funny scenes ensue, including the introduction to her mother, his love of eating all the time (he turns out to be a wonderful cook), and generally just being a fish out of water. He becomes a model because he has a perfect body thanks to Rachel’s skill as a sculptor. The humor flows naturally from the fact that he really is perfect. He is smart and kind, loyal and dedicated. He loves Rachel, is a hopeless romantic, and is even a good kisser. Rachel is enamored. At first.  Rachel also gets to know David, who has well and truly fallen for her (those longing looks!)  but believes he does not have a chance against her perfect boyfriend.  Even he cannot help but like the guy! But she likes David. “He is blunt, sarcastic, and doesn’t care if he annoys me. He is the opposite of Clay, but I like talking to him. He makes me laugh.”

 It all comes to head as Rachel is trying to get up the courage to enter a prestigious art contest. She confides that she is afraid to risk rejection. Clay tells her not to do it because he doesn’t want her to be sad if she doesn’t get in. “If it makes you feel bad, it must be wrong.” David challenges her to follow her dream despite the risk, just as he is doing in his own life. At last, Rachel realizes that a partner that always agrees with her, likes everything she likes (or pretends to,) and will never challenge her, is not what she wants.

When Rachel wins the Art Contest, Clay cluelessly steps up to propose in the middle of her big moment thank-you speech. It is a funny and chaotic scene with friends and family either thrilled or incredulous. In the confusion, David, who was supposed to be across town having his big break, runs up with a half-dead bouquet of flowers and confesses that he is in love with her. “This is the most exciting exhibit we’ve ever had!” says the museum director.   A flower breaks off (symbolically) and Rachel has found her happy ending with the perfectly imperfect guy. Clay is gracious in defeat. David remarks, “he’s even perfect when she’s breaking up with him!” The highest compliment I can give this Hallmark is that it does not have a lot in common with a typical Hallmark except for familiar faces and a happy ending. Very satisfying wrap-up as well.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Just One Kiss

Too bad They’re All Not This Good-but then, It wouldn’t be Hallmark.

I knew this was going to be a 10 out of a 10 in the first 10 minutes. The dialogue was sharp and witty from the get-go. The stars were appealing and didn’t have the usual GQ male model vibe for the male or beauty pageant runway vibe for the female. Upon our first meeting with the striking Mia, an English professor, she is delivering a bitter cynical lecture on romantic poetry. Two students comment on her diatribe: “Professor Rivera needs a date.” …” Or a drink!” The girls make a few more appearances throughout the movie with their astute conclusions on the state of her love life going by the tone of her lecture. Very cute. We learn she is on her way to her lawyer to divorce her too handsome husband. He is 90 days sober but was a lying alcoholic who lost their house. He wants her back. And her tween daughter wants them back together too. She meets cute (a couple of times) with our leading man who is handsome but in a normal guy kind of way instead of looking like he just stepped out of a Vanity Fair ad. He is a lounge singer (now isn’t that an unusual profession for a Hallmark hero!?) and the music is wonderful. He is a bit of a flirt and plays the field but thanks to his conversations with a good friend and bartender we know he is a good guy and a keeper.

Despite her suspicious hostile attitude toward love and romance they bond over a love for old movies and he gradually thaws her icy sarcastic façade. The romance is facilitated by their two mothers who meet in the movie theatre the two frequent and know they would be perfect for each other. “He likes her! And she HATES him!… It’s perfect!”

Despite being wisely advised and cheered on by her best friend and his husband, all does not go smoothly in their enemies to friends to lovers journey. Mostly thanks to her jerk of an ex-husband and the inevitable misunderstanding with 20 minutes to go. I loved the unusual-for-Hallmark creative touches. The authentic New York vibe, the black and white dream sequences, the songs, the Greek chorus-like moms and the two female students, and even the original movie poster (not pictured but you can still see it on IMDb as of this writing)!

There is a cute twist at the end that was telegraphed early and often, and it just added one more unusual touch to the whole wonderful production. The cast of fresh faces have outstanding resumes, including Illeana Douglas. There were a few Hallmark veterans (Matty Finochio, David Ruttle, and Peter Benson in a short cameo.) and to my surprise, this was written by a veteran Hallmark writer. They must have told her to “do the opposite of what you think we want” or something. A movie like this is one of the reasons I doggedly look at almost every Hallmark movie. In addition to the crazily predictable and boring, there’s always a chance they shock with a truly excellent romantic comedy.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

April 3, 2022

Welcome to Mama’s

Where’s the Pizza?

Isn’t there a saying somewhere to “Never eat at a restaurant called “Mama’s”? Or is that “Mom’s”?

Long after “Papa” “left us”, “Mama” has also passed away and left her restaurant to Amy, a young friend and former manager of another restaurant, whom she used to take care of and mentor. Her will stipulates that Frank, the current head chef, retains his position. Mama’s (husky-voiced Lorraine Bracco) story is told in flashbacks in between the present-day story of trying to save her legacy. Her restaurant was struggling when she retired and it has been in a death spiral under the care of Frank. He was fired from his last job for refusing to comply with his boss’s menu. When Mama agreed to let him be in charge of what he cooked, introducing new dishes to her beloved if tired menu, it didn’t exactly overwhelm the critics or the clientele. His answer is to put a noisy arcade game in the dining area as if it were a sports bar. So no, Frank isn’t exactly God’s gift to chefdom or humanity for that matter. But boy, he acts as if he is. When Amy, the new owner comes in to take over, he is uncooperative and pissy. He refuses to follow his boss’s (Amy’s) orders which got him fired from his last job (he lied to Mama that he had learned his lesson in order to get hired). He also goes behind her back to interview with another restaurant telling his friend he will use his new recipes at Mama’s as a testing ground and then leave if he gets the new position. When Amy finds out that Frank wasn’t honest about what a flop his creations were with an influential critic, she tells him she is replacing his menu and hands the changes to him. He doesn’t even check it out and preps his own menu which causes havoc on the soft opening. In short, Frank is an incompetent louse and not the sharpest knife in the drawer either.

Now you may well ask, why doesn’t Amy fire his sorry A**? Why does she fall in love with him? Why is Amy, a qualified manager such a wuss giving him chance after chance? Why is the restaurant called “Mama’s Ristorante and Pizzeria” when they don’t serve Pizza? Why were Mama and Papa called “Mama” and “Papa” when they didn’t have any kids? Ask away, but I’m afraid I can’t help you. Now this wasn’t all bad. The cinematography was great, the food looked delicious, and the acting was tolerable, but the looming shadow of bad (but very cute-I’ll give him that) Frank was just too much to overcome.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

February 28, 2022

The Wedding Veil Legacy

Last but not Least

The script was not a challenge for good actors: no great emotional highs and lows, but the whole cast of seasoned Hallmark actors did an excellent job. All handled the good humor and banter with aplomb. I particularly enjoyed Matty Finochio as the assistant, Stanley.

Tracy, played by Alison Sweeney, the third woman in the triumvirate of Wedding Veil owners begins her story by breaking up with her boyfriend, Finn. It is handled very maturely. He has gotten a great job across the country, and Tracy does not want to leave New York or her own great job. They are sad to part ways, but as we have gathered from the previous two installments, they have grown apart lately anyway.

Tracy takes the veil to a tailor(?) to have a snag repaired and meets Victor Webster getting fitted for a tuxedo. There is some good-natured raillery. Allison is planning an important party for her job and is in the market for a new caterer. Her search brings her to a new restaurant accompanied by Autumn and Lacey. Lo and behold Victor is the head chef and part-owner with his family. The meeting between the women and Victor is chuckle-worthy thanks to the three actresses’ comic timing and easy rapport.

The side story of Tracy’s mission to obtain a newly discovered early draft of the famous Emma Lazarus poem for the museum where it can be enjoyed by the public is interesting. It adds some suspense and provides the pretext (Victor might know an investor), along with picking out art for the new location of Victor’s restaurant, fun with food, and rug hauling around, for the promising couple to spend more time together. Alison and Victor make a good pair both age-wise and in physicality.

Unlike the second installment, the plot is tightly written. There are quite a few little stories, but the focus remains on the couple and their developing relationship. Every individual side element gets tied into the whole, including the Emma Lazarus poem welcoming immigrants to America. The continuing mystery of how the veil got to San Francisco is well incorporated into this final chapter and provides a satisfying conclusion involving a lovely coincidence and a twist. After the veil does its job of finding husbands for the three likable friends, it finds its own happy final home.

Of the three movies, I rank the first one the best for its humor, this one second for the well-constructed plot, and the second one my least favorite. 7 1/2 stars

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

February 21, 2022

Merry In-Laws

Enjoyably Screwball

A young mother from a scientific background who abjures anything fantastical gets herself engaged to Santa Claus’s son. And she doesn’t even like Video Games. This was cute, funny, and a nice romance. It was interesting to see Lucas Bryant in a more light-hearted role. Lately he has been playing the sullen, strong, silent types. Shelley Long was way over the top in my opinion, but I couldn’t help laughing. Also there were a few truly badly behaved, even hateful characters (her father) in this one which added some tension to the comedy.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

November 20, 2020

Jingle Bell Bride

Above Average

Pretty good. Julie Gonzalo was charming and funny and I liked that they incorporated her Latino heritage into the character. I usually appreciate it when there is more going on than just the love story, and this one brought in her professional life and challenges. I like the tension with her coworker trying to steal her client when she got stuck in Alaska. A Sweet love story and I was actually a little moved at one point.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

November 2, 2020

Holiday Date

And for Something a Little Different…

This is a genuinely amusing little variation on the usual Hallmark template. It starts off with all of the clichés in place: Nice girl gets dumped before the holidays when she is expected to bring the dumper to meet the family for the first time. she can’t bear the humiliation or to disappoint them so she falls in with a plan to substitute an actor to impersonate the architect “Mr. Christmas” ex-boyfriend. He is a born and bred New York City actor who is anxious to visit a small town to get a feel for a role he is up for. One problem. He is Jewish and far from being an architect, he can’t even build a gingerbread house. The chemistry between the charming leads was great, there was some ample support from veteran actors Bruce Boxleitner and Teri Rothery. And the talented Anna Van Hooft, who usually plays the villain in Hallmark movies, does a credible job in a throwaway part as the supportive sister, for a change. And let’s not forget the contribution by a Hallmark stalwart Peter Benson as the brother-in-law and all of his helpful advice.

This was a nice romance with some good laughs fueled by the tension of when will the truth come out, and what will happen then, and the cluelessness of fake fiancee Joel, played with aplomb by newcomer Matt Cohen.

One of the best this year. Hallmark Christmas movie fans: Don’t miss it!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

December 16, 2019

Bridal Wave

Dynamic Duo in a Valentine’s Treat

Spoiler alert to follow the letter of the law only. Come on, this is Hallmark: We all know how this is going to go down.

Arielle Kebbel and Andrew Walker team up again for another Hallmark Romance after 2012’s highly rated (for a Hallmark!) “A Bride for Christmas.” I didn’t think I’d like this at first because the heroine was too gorgeous and the story was crazy predictable. The characters were even more so. Stodgy but successful workaholic fiancé? Check. Snobby disapproving future mother-in-law? check. Cute rebel outside the lines rival for her hand? Check. Nice middle-class family of the bride worried that their oldest daughter is going to become an “Old Maid”? Check. Arielle, however, proved to be down-to-earth, irreverent, and funny. The script served her well. She was surprisingly relatable despite her beauty. The hero was very attractive with a lot of charm. Jaclyn Smyth added nothing. Still beautiful, she obviously has had some work done, but still looks fairly natural. She should have been more evil to get that tension and suspense ratcheted up a bit . Nice “One Year Later” epilogue: Very Sweet with some amusing little touches.**8 out of 10 stars**

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 20, 2015