Christmas With the Darlings

A Darling Family Story

I really liked this Hallmark movie when it first came out in 2020 but never reviewed it. With the Hallmark assembly line of new movies slowing to a crawl, I’m reaching back to some past favorites that I can re-watch without pain or boredom and review. Christmas with the Darlings focuses on family dynamics and the struggle of a younger son to escape from his irresponsible past and become a full-fledged contributor to his family and the family business.

An excellent script is bolstered by a great cast led by Katrina Law, Carlo Marks, and a personal favorite Steve Bacic. Steve (Charles) learns that his late middle brother’s three orphaned children can no longer stay with their relatives in Australia and their guardianship has fallen to him and his irresponsible youngest brother, Max. Unfortunately, he is leaving on a lengthy trip abroad for business so he sees no other alternative, given the flighty partying nature of little brother Max, to put them in a boarding school over Christmas. Fortunately, he has a long-time personal assistant in Katrina Law (Jess) who is not having it. She will soon be leaving her current role to be a lawyer in the corporation and convinces Charles to let her devote her last vacation to taking care of the kids for the Christmas season and showing the 3 orphans a good time. As Steve leaves the country, I reluctantly had to swallow that he was not the love interest. Boo Hoo. Oh well. Max steps up to the plate and Jess soon learns that there is more to Max the goofball than meets the eye. He has done a lot of maturing when no one was paying attention. The kids love both him and Jess. Max has always had a crush on Jess but thought he wasn’t good enough for her. (And he would have been right.) Now Jess is returning his feelings. When Charles comes home he has the opportunity to see Max’s hidden depths, especially since both he and Jess are responsible for wowing a potential client with their family-centric old-fashioned Christmas party instead of the sophisticated affair that he had originally planned. Unfortunately, Max has done too good a job at proving himself because Charles makes him the liaison of the Taiwan division which means he will be separated from Jess and the Children. (Don’t worry, (as if) he doesn’t get on the plane but still has a good future with the company and with Jess) This one could really use a sequel, unlike so many Hallmark sequels that should never have been.

I was initially disappointed that Steve Bacic was not the main man, but he really made the most of his role as the tough brother and boss, but who really wanted to do the right thing for the children. He was a good man as well as a great and successful businessman. His priorities were just temporarily out of whack. Carlo really won me over as the love interest. He conveyed his yearning for Jess, his love for the children, his regret at disappointing his family in the past, and the conflict of wanting to make his brother proud, but sadness of having to leave Jess and the kids. And the kids were great too. They each had their own personality(!).

It is worth noting That this was one of the first of the Hallmark Christmas offerings to include a gay romance, however secondary it was. Jess’s best friend Zoe, a shy surgeon, has a crush on a bartender, Kate, that we see is definitely returned. Not a lot is made of it but it is unapologetically there and very sweet. Later in this 2020 season, a gay couple is featured prominently as a main couple.  That movie incurred all kinds of wrath and bitterness (and happy support and praise.) This one was like, “Let’s put this one in there and get people used to it one step at a time. By the end of the season, they won’t even know what hit em’.” Well, people did notice and many were not amused. Reviewing this halfway through 2022, I am proud of Hallmark. They deserve a lot of credit for doubling down on all kinds of diversity despite boycotts and even a rival “family-friendly” network starting up and wooing away some of their top stars. They have not backed down, and I even see by the previews that they are premiering a black-centric (is that a word?) series of movies called “Mahogany” this August on their Murders and Mysteries. So, “Yay,” Hallmark and “yay” Christmas in July.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

July 6, 2022

Love, Classified

All About Emilia (or Trudy or Jan)

This one started off extremely well. The writing was intelligent, and Melora Hardin (A.k.a. Trudy Monk) delivered her lines with verve and vivacity. It was clear that this was going to be one of the Hallmark 2.0s that the network has been flirting with lately that eschews the usual fill in the template set-pieces and characters. Paul Campbell in a cameo appeared as a bartender who serves to introduce the main character, Emilia, played by Melora. So I was set to enjoy this. We later see an uncredited appearance by Ashley Williams and a welcome cameo by Michael Kevin Anderson. And Steve Bacic is a big favorite of mine as well.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the mother, Emilia’s, past abandonment of her children after the death of her husband. Yes, people make “mistakes”. But a 5-year absence is not a “mistake,” it is a heartless, selfish, cowardly choice. And while I know that health crises do cause people to rethink the importance of family and old ties, I thought it was significant that she didn’t come back to see her children until she felt personally vulnerable. Apparently, when everything was going well, her children were not very high up on the priority list. And as for self-centeredness, her hurt daughter was a chip off the old block. She was very unlikable. I don’t fault her for her feelings towards her mother, but I didn’t like her childish acting out, especially towards her very faultless and innocent love interest, Her mother’s doctor. Her son, on the other hand, handled everything perfectly. He was cautious about his mother’s reappearance in his life but willing to give her a chance. When she (predictably) was set to run away again, he called her out on her propensity to run from trouble and conflict instead of sticking it out. I liked his anger.

As the movie went on, Melora Hardin’s performance started to grate on my nerves more and more. Her over-the-top emoting was just hammy. Her speech at her book signing was just cringe-inducing. The self-involved airing of all of her bad behavior and embracing her children’s successes was not an apology to her children, it was another “all about me” TMI performance. So, what promised to be a more sophisticated (lesbian romance front and center instead of a brief hint in the background) version of family-friendly fare, just fizzled, for me. Stars for the good things about it.**6 out of 10**

Rating: 3 out of 5.

April 24, 2022

All for Love

Romancing the Seal (Navy)

I thought I’d re-watch this one, because I usually really like Sara Rue, and the very sexy Steve Bacic has become one of my favorites. He is a very busy actor and occasionally stops in to do a Hallmark movie. I wish he’d do more. I thought I would be bumping this one up to an 8 after I saw it again, but no, it’s still a 7. The main reason was that Sara really got on my nerves. Both the actress and her character. The actress really overacted and over-did the “I’m so adorable and spunky” bit.

Jo is a romance novelist whose last novel was panned because she got so many details about firefighting wrong. She is in a slump because her novels have lacked authenticity. The current rough draft is about a Navy Seal, and it suffers from the same problem. Her editor, a wonderfully no-nonsense Teryl Rothery, sends her to Seal training school, run by her brother Colin, a former Seal. (Just go with it) Steve Bacic is perfectly cast as the ex-Navy Seal. And Sara Rue is as well as the soft and feminine Jo.

Jo’s wimpy behavior at the end when she jumped to conclusions about Colin still being hooked up with his ex was very irritating. I hate the “big misunderstanding” cliché which could be quickly resolved with a little honest communication. When she learned the truth, which had to stalk her and attack her and overpower her to be believed, she was still very namby pamby about going after him. She had to be coerced and implored by all and sundry to fix her stupidity.

This one had a lot of potential, and was still pretty cute, but Sara’s over-the-top performance and her character’s lack of gumption in the end really disappointed me.**7 out of 10**

June 13, 2021

Nearlyweds

Stupid and Maddening

This Hallmark movie had no characters worth rooting for. All 3 of the husbands were class “A” stupid jerks. All of their better halves could have done so much better considering their beauty, overall niceness, and successful careers. But they still settled for their men with one (thank-God) exception with a minimum of groveling on their part. Naomi Judd (why do women who aspire to be actresses freeze their faces?) is a truly evil pervert and her husband, oops, son, is so in her thrall and so weak and naïve that words fail. She literally almost murders her daughter-in-law, a doctor, by the way, and all is forgiven after a not very believable apology. The solution to their little problem is that the couple pay her to move out of the house she should not have been in to begin with. Stupid girl #2 makes a fool out of herself longing for and stalking a husband who hires as his secretary his ex-high school sweetheart, “his first love,” he tells her, who tortured and bullied his new (very cute) wife when they were teenagers. And he has the gall to leave her when she dares to call him on it. Our heroine #3, actually does not take her psychotically controlling male chauvinist future wife abuser back, even though he begs her (quite satisfyingly). She would have been OK had it not been for her devotion to her very irritating dog, causing a modicum of sympathy for the husband. It is hard to enjoy a movie when 5 out of 6 protagonists is worthy of nothing but contempt. **3 stars out of 10**

April 12, 2014