Here's a checklist of all the Hallmark original romance movies from 2021 along with my comments on those I've seen.
Special movies of note are marked Favorite, Good, Okay, and BAD.
✓ Taking a Shot at Love (Winterfest • Alexa PenaVega and Luke Macfarlane • January 2, 2021)
Oh noes! Luke Macfarlane is a hockey player with an injury! Oh noes! Alexa PenaVega is a ballet teacher with diminishing students and rising rent. Lucky for everybody, the ballet teacher is also an expert at helping athletes recovering from injury... but she hates it. HATES IT! But when you need money, you do what you gotta do. And so now she's training him. I hope they don't fall in love! This is a mediocre effort to start out the year because there's just not much there. Thin story. Even thinner chemistry. Oh well. At least it wasn't yet another "snowed-in-at-the-lodge-that's-going-to-be-closed" movies.
✓ Good A New Year's Resolution (Winterfest • Aimee Teegarden and Michael Rady • January 9, 2021)
I'm just going to say it... some actors can salvage a terrible movie and make it bearable to watch. Historically, Michael Rady is not one of those actors. But when he has a good story to work with? A good cast to play off of? He's one of my favorite Hallmark actors. This time he gets both. Aimee Teegarden is adorably sweet and the plot for A New Year's Resolution perfectly plays to his strengths. She's a television producer who keeps missing out in life, so she decides to say "yes" to every social invitation she receives for a month. While at a party she explains this to a marketing guy and likes him enough to slip her number into his pocket. This is something that happens a lot in Real Life, but I can't remember seeing it in a Hallmark movie (can't have the ladies being too forward!). From there on out it's a fairly original, funny, and realistic story (for Hallmark), which was a pleasant surprise. Kinda a missed opportunity to not have this be the first movie of the year.
✓ Two for the Win (Winterfest • Charlotte Sullivan and Trevor Donovan • January 16, 2021)
You've got to be kidding me. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. Look two movies above this. Replace skating with skiing, hockey with downhill, and Luke Macfarlane with Trevor Donovan. That's pretty much what this movie is. Competetive downhill skier has an injury. He recovers physically, but is having trouble mentally. He goes back home where he ends up getting trained by his old flame. It's like Hallmark isn't even trying to have unique stories. Now they're even copying movies within the same year! Or, in this case, within the same month. Lazy and sad.
✓ Favorite A Winter Getaway (Winterfest • Nazneen Contractor and Brooks Darnell • January 23, 2021)
It's not as if the whole "mistaken for a billionaire" trope hasn't been done before... but it doesn't usually happen with this kind of charm. All too often the "regular guy" who gets thrust into a world with a price tag way above his comfort zone plays it as if he's stupid. Like he couldn't possibly understand how "rich people stuff" works. And, in the beginning, I was afraid that was going to be the case (I mean, how long can you play with an airline seat before it becomes idiotic?)... but Brooks Darnell is fantastic. He's not stupid... he's just amazed by it all. And it's actually fun to watch. Combine that with his effortless chemistry with Nazneen Contractor, and this one was a treat. But anyway... she works for a personal concierge company for the rich and famous, and Brooks Darnell has been gifted an all-expenses paid skiing vacation to Banff under her care. She is puzzled because all the luxurious foods and experiences are lost on him... he'd rather have a cheeseburger than a six course meal. Ultimately this one ends exactly as you'd expect, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It looks like Hallmark shot this movie and Snowkissed (below) in the same trip to Banff save resources, which is pretty darn smart. But a weird to have back-to-back Banff. Thankfully they are different enough in story and tone that it's not too weird. And we get some really beautiful scenery. Alas, the music is BLASTING OVER THE DAMN DIALOGUE AND YOU CAN BARELY HEAR THEM SPEAKING DURING THEIR BIG SCENE AT THE END! HOLY CRAP! DOES ANYBODY AT HALLMARK OVERSEE THIS?!??
✓ Good Snowkissed (Winterfest • Jen Lilley and Chris McNally • January 30, 2021)
Jen Lilley, whom I've enjoyed in way too many Hallmark movies plays a neurotic New York City writer who has to go to Banff, Canada to land an interview with a lifestyle guru she admires. Chris McNally plays the charmingly smart-assed co-owner of the B&B where Jen Lilley and her photographer sidekick are staying. But he's also a wannabe tour guide who is trying to make new business for his B&B by offering a service that other B&B's don't have. Problem is, he's really bad at it, and it's up to Jen Lilley to fix him. At first glance, this is a solid start. But, in reality, Jen Liley plays the character way too erratic and irritating, and I fail to understand why she couldn't have been more of a match for Chris McNally instead of having to come across as borderline psychotic. Heaven only knows she's capable of it! But the worst offense is that you have to believe that all four characters fall madly in love with each other when they barely know each other after three days. Jen Lilley does a 180° so outrageous that you are left seriously questioning her mental stability. And then there's the photography stupidity that Hallmark propogates over and over and over again. Jen Lilley's photographer friend character (that absolutely nobody bothered to make even remotely realistic) is a heinous joke. She's taking scenic photos and selfies with a telephoto zoom that's fully extended, which makes her look like an idiot. This (along with people drinking out of cups that have nothing in them) is a huge pet peeve of mine. JUST LOOK THROUGH THE DAMN CAMERA AND YOU'LL SEE THAT YOU'VE TOTALLY SCREWED UP! IS IT REALLY THAT HARD?!? What saves this from being merely "okay" to actually being "good" boils down to Chris McNally totally nailing his character... and the gorgeous Banff scenery. It's more than a little sad that they're wasted in what could have been something great, but that's the Hallmark crapshoot we always seem to endure.
✓ Beverly Hills Wedding (Love Ever After • Brooke D'Orsay and Brendan Penny • February 6, 2021)
Newly engaged couple on a budget turns to the bride's wedding photographer sister (and newly-minted maid of honor) for the planning. On a lark, she enters them in a contest for a fully-paid wedding in Beverly Hills... and wins it! Problem is that the photographer's ex-boyfriend is the groom's brother (and best man) which means they're going to be spending time together. This is going to be awkward because he ditched her in their small Oregon town in order to pursue his dreams in Seattle! Until it isn't awkward. At which time she realizes that the wedding she's planning for her sister isn't actually for her sister at all. Shocker, I know. This is a perfectly serviceable movie with a good cast and decent story. But that's about all it is... aside from the Beverly Hills location shoot and the fact that the wedding planner character has a husband... coming from notoriously homophobic Hallmark who shoots everything in Canada, this is kinda a big deal.
✓ Good Playing Cupid (Love Ever After • Laura Vandervoort and Nicholas Gonzalez • February 13, 2021)
A teacher has her students create businesses to raise money for their school. One of the students decides to create a matchmaking business and match up her fellow students for Valentine's Day. But the most inspired match may be between the teacher and her divorced dad! This movie started out really good... but then didn't seem to know where to go with the story. Still, it's something new and different and has some clever moments. Most importantly, the teen angst was nonexistent, as there was no "I HATE YOU, DAD!" moment that I was 100% expecting. It's a crutch that has been used so many times in so many movies. That counts for something. As does a steamy tortilla-making kitchen scene and a song by Marvin Gaye!
✓ Good Mix Up in the Mediterranean (Love Ever After • Jessica Lowndes and Jeremy Jordan • February 20, 2021)
Wow. Hallmark filmed this one in actual Malta. Not Canada pretending to be Malta... but MALTA, Malta. Real Valletta and everything! What I don't understand is how Jessica Lowndes gets top billing over Jeremy Jordan when he's playing his own gay twin brother! What's funny is that they're using all the old body-double tricks and split-screen camera illusions to make it work... not CGI. Even more interesting is that Callum Blue was tapped to play the gay brother's husband. I loved him in Dead Like Me and haven't seen him forever. But anyway... a deli cook in Alaska gets convinced by his twin chef brother to go to Malta and watch him compete in an international culinary competition. Alas, the chef brother throws his back out and cook brother decides to impersonate him for registration. What he doesn't know is that contestants are given a permanent wrist-band for the duration, so now he has to compete in his brother's place. So now he has to not only pretend to be a chef, he has to also pretend he's gay... which is darn inconvenient when he starts falling in love with the event coordinator. Jeremy Jordan totally makes this work, and really should have gotten top billing.
✓ It Was Always You (Love Ever After • Tyler Hynes and Erin Krakow • February 27, 2021)
I gotta say... Tyler Hynes is the best thing about this movie, using his trademark wit to sell his character even if the story doesn't. That comes as a huge surprise given how big a fan I am of Erin Krakow. In this mediocre effort she is getting married, but when her fiancé can't make it home for the wedding planning... and the fiancé's brother Tyler Hynes can... well, you get the picture. And that's it. There's nothing more to this movie than that.
✓ Fit for a Prince (Love Ever After • Natalie Hall and Jonathan Keltz • March 6, 2021)
Thanks to A Winter Princess I would watch any movie Natalie Hall would care to make. This time she's not the princess falling for a commoner, but a commoner falling for a prince. As the true genius behind a famous fashion designer, Natalie Hall is tasked with dressing a royal family for an important party while visiting Philadelphia. But evil people and bad luck abound, making her life miserable from every direction. Having the prince pursue her just adds to her complications. Unfortunately, the ridiculousness of this movie made it really tough to invest in. The story and situations are absurd, and the only thing worth watching was Natalie Hall.
✓ Chasing Waterfalls (Spring Fling • Cindy Busby and Christopher Russell • March 20, 2021)
For the love of God, why can't Hallmark hire a photographer to review their script and consult on-set for a few days? They don't even have to break the bank with a professional. A hobbyist who would do it for free food would be fine. Because the absolute insanity in every movie featuring a "photographer" drives me insane. In this one, a woman has to set out to a major tourist attraction lodge in order to photograph a waterfall which has never been photographed before (right). I could forgive this ridiculousness if she at least acted like she actually knows how to take a photo. Waterfall photography is all about shutter speed... where you slow things down to get that pretty white water spray... but Cindy Busby does none of that. She has the wrong lens and snaps away like she's shooting a plate of fries. PLUS, GET THIS, SHE'S A WOMAN WHO CAN'T READ A MAP AND GETS LOST ON WELL-MARK TRAILS! Nothing like sexist tropes to build your movie upon. But anyway... she needs a guide to show her where the mythical waterfalls are, and enlists a divorced dad and his lovesick daughter to help. While not awful, it was predictably basic in every way (except Christopher Russell singing?). Even if the photography angle wasn't stupid.
✓ Don't Go Breaking My Heart (Spring Fling • Italia Ricci and Ryan Paevey • March 27, 2021)
I actually thought I'd like this one when it started because it felt like it was being semi-serious about relationship therapy instead of being a cheesy, dopy embarrassment looking for a story. But it had two major problems... it had a "YOU BETRAYED ME!" moment that was more absurd than usual AND came from the journalist-writing-a-story trope that's been beaten into the ground... and, even worse, it was heinously boring with minimal chemistry. It felt like they were trying to do something new with the same old material, but it ultimately ended up being so lazy, tired, and dull that it just didn't matter.
✓ One Perfect Wedding (Spring Fling • Taylor Cole and Jack Turner • April 4, 2021)
After One Winter Weekend and One Winter Proposal, I expected that we'd be in for One Winter Wedding. I was wrong. Instead we get this installment (which easily could have been One Winter Wedding because it's at the same resort in the winter like the last two). Which begs the question: Other than the All of My Heart series, which isn't terrible... is there any other Hallmark series that doesn't get consistently worse with each installment? This was a mess of a movie that didn't have any real story or plot. It's just wedding planning foibles from start to finish. If you like that kind of thing, this is your movie. I was dead-bored. And disappointed that the money, actors, and resources wasn't put into a much better movie.
✓ Good As Luck Would Have It (Spring Fling • JoAnna Garcia Swisher and Allen Leech • April 10, 2021)
When an American New Yorker is tasked with acquiring a castle in Ireland to raze for a new resort, she's immediately rebuffed by the town council because she's only just arrived and is not familiar with the town or its customs. Her solution? Join a local match-making festival! But in her quest for the castle, she may just end up with true love instead! What saves this well-tread story from monotony is that it was actually filmed in Ireland, providing a lush backdrop for the story to unfold against. In particular, a detour to Glendalough, one of my favorite places in the country. Otherwise? The story has been done before (and done better) but this film is not without its charms.
✓ Good Right In Front of Me (Spring Fling • Janel Parrish and Marco Grazzini • April 17, 2021)
The entire time I was watching this one I kept thinking "Just once I'd like to be surprised... taken completely off-guard... by one of these movies!" It, of course, didn't happen. It never does with Hallmark. They made a slight, half-hearted effort to misdirect, but it was a botched attempt and you never buy it for a second. Probably a good thing, because the two leads were great, and you don't go experimental when you have that. Anyway... wedding designer and amateur dress designer "Carly" goes on vacation where her college crush just happens to be attending a wedding. And of course everything goes wrong with the wedding, so she has to step in to save everything. There she meets a chef who's struggling under a domineering boss who won't let him cook his own way. Sparks fly, and soon she realizes that she's been chasing the wrong man. Then Hallmark happens. This film is a bit of a slow burn, but Janel Parrish and Marco Grazzini never let things get boring. This movie was good... the cast fantastic... I enjoyed it... but something was missing in the story to elevate it past the usual fare. Still, worth your valuable time!
✓ Hearts Down Under (AKA "Romance on the Menu" • Cindy Busby and Tim Ross • April 24, 2021)
A chef and restaurateur inherits a diner in a small town in Australia left to her by her aunt. So she flies Down Under so she can meet with a realtor and sell it except, oh no, it needs repairs and all the contractors are busy with other jobs! Fortunately the handsome cook knows his way around a hammer and will reluctantly perform repairs if she takes over cooking duties. Too bad that the employees don't want the diner to sell, and try sabotaging things! Also too bad that the chef and the cook totally clash and are on the way towards hating each other! But then something TOTALLY UNEXPECTED HAPPENS... they fall for each other! Awwwww... I am so in shock right now! The movie takes advantage of the Aussie location a little bit, but not enough to make this something so unique that it couldn't have been filmed someplace else. Oh well. Standard Hallmark romcom fare that doesn't suck but also doesn't stand out.
✓ Sweet Carolina (Summer Nights — Lacey Chabert and Tyler Hynes • May 15, 2021)
Boring. Mind-numbingly, unbelievably boring. Lacy Chabert inherits guardianship of her sister's kids after she dies in an accident. While taking care of them and adjusting to life back in her home town, Lacey Chabert runs into her high school boyfriend, Tyler Hynes. Boring, secondary romance ensues.
✓ You Had Me at Aloha (Summer Nights — Pascale Hutton and Kavan Smith • June 5, 2021)
A travel TV show is losing its host... which means Pascal Hutton makes a deal to go back to television hosting after an embarrassing incident caused her to quit in exchange for developing her own program. Too bad she has to do it with a guy who's "extreme travel" breaks all the rules and forces her to confront her past. Mildly amusing take on a tired old concept thanks to decent chemistry between leads... and some fantastic on-location shooting.
✓ Favorite The Baker's Son (Summer Nights — Eloise Mumford and Brant Daugherty • June 12, 2021)
Okay. This one was cute. The fictional San Juans island town of Windward, Washington is suffering a tourist drought and the local economy has taken a turn for the worse. But all that changes when bread baker Brant Daugherty falls in love with a visiting dancer which causes his bread to become incredible. This causes a tourist rush to visit his bakery, and the town just might be saved. But when his romance falls apart, will the island's newfound renaissance be halted by bad bread? Or will the baker's best friend Eloise Mumford be the key to a solution? The chemistry between the leads is aces, and the cinematography of the water-side town quickly becomes a character all its own. By slowing down and trying to go for realism over hokey romance, this movie was a welcome addition to Hallmark Summer Nights.
✓ Her Pen Pal (Summer Nights — Mallory Jansen and Joshua Sasse • June 19, 2021)
I became a massive, massive Joshua Sasse fan after the series No Tomorrow and went back to see what else he's done. Turns out... not much! He was in the series Galavant and Rogue. and a couple other things and that was it. This time around he's a French guy who struck up a pen-pal friendship with an American girl in school. They drifted apart until she ends up in France planning her friend's wedding and reconnect. Hallmark Ensues. Despite decent performances all the way around, this was a 100% missed opportunity. They actually filmed in in France and yet didn't really take advantage of it in any real way. Sure there were shots that were unmistakably Paris, but they were never really engrained into the story... or anything, really. If not for Sasse's French accent and an occasional landmark, this could have taken place anywhere. Talking about how good a pastry tastes does not France make, and it's hugely disappointing that they wasted a location budget on a story that just didn't care except in the most superficial ways.
✓ Sand Dollar Cove (Summer Nights — Chad Michael Murray and Aly Michalka • June 26, 2021)
Maybe it's because I've seen just about every Hallmark movie ever made that this one caused so many eye-rolls with its non-stop predictability... but sheesh. Not even Chad Michael Murray's easy charm could save this one from being a snooze. Aly Michalka is representing a real estate company that wants to build a big hotel resort right on the beach of Sand Dollar Cove. Alas, Chad Michael Murray doesn't want that because it would mean tearing down the damaged pier that his grandfather built. Or great-grandfather. Or something. This means that Aly Michalka has to try and sweet-talk him into changing his mind over her two week stay. But this is Hallmark, so you just know it's going to end up being the other way around. And of course a painfully obvious compromise is reached that you never see, because Hallmark won't kick a couple thousand in for an architectural rendering. It's just "We'll repair the pier and build the hotel around it!" and that's the end of it. You don't even get to see the frickin' drawing that Aly Michalka creates to show her boss what she had in mind. Pathetic. Even more laughable is that her company is paying her to sticking around for two years to oversee construction so she can shack up with Chad Michael Murray. WTF? A real estate broker is suddenly a contraction supervisor? An architect? An interior designer? What? Look, I'm not asking for a lot, but just a tiny amount of actual logic would be nice.
✓ Crashing Through the Snow (Christmas in July — Amy Acker and Warren Christie • July 10, 2021)
Amy Acker has been invited by her ex-husband and his girlfriend to her family's Estate in Aspen so that she doesn't have to be away from her daughters on Christmas. Despite several setbacks in a friendly mom-slash-girlfriend-rivalry, Amy Acker manages to come out on top thanks to the girlfriend's handsome brother flying in from Tokyo to open a restaurant. Ten buckets of stupid and insufferable moments of whiny kids ensue. The movie was annoying from the start, but once Amy Acker tells her ex-husband that she wants to let their eldest daughter get her ears pierced... and he decides it's a great idea for his girlfriend to be the one to take the daughter to get it done WITHOUT TELLING AMY ACKER... you kinda have to wonder exactly how frickin' stupid he is. And how frickin' stupid the girlfriend is that she actually goes ahead and does it without thinking that it was something that a mom-and-daughter might want to do together. They could have at least made her evil so that it makes sense, but they didn't even bother to do that much. It's this kind of idiocy (and groan-inducing Amy Acker clumsiness driving the plot) that makes me believe Hallmark knew this film was a stinker, but thought that nobody would notice if they got Amy Acker to star and aired it in July where there's no other sane movies to compare it to. I noticed.
Love, For Real (Chloe Bridges and Scott Michael Foster • July 31, 2021)
Haven't seen yet.
The 27-Hour Day (Autumn Reeser and Andrew Walker • August 7, 2021)
Haven't seen yet.
Sealed with a Kiss: Wedding March 6 (Jack Wagner and Josie Bissett • August 14, 2021)
Haven't seen yet.
Love in the Afternoon (Jen Lilley and Ryan Paevy • August 21, 2021)
Haven't seen yet.
Sweet Pecan Summer (Christine Ko and Wes Brown • August 28, 2021)
Haven't seen yet.
Roadhouse Romance (Lauren Alaina and Tyler Hynes • September 11, 2021)
Haven't seen yet.
✓ Favorite Blueprint to the Heart (Laura Mitchell and Dennis Andres • January 10, 2021)
The simple truth about most of these "Hallmark-Style Rom-Coms" is that the parts are fully interchangeable. You could swap actors and the movie may be better or may be worse, but it's still going to be pretty much the same. There are exceptions, of course... like Paul Campbell in Surprised by Love (2015) where he's pretty much irreplaceable in that character. And here we are again with Dennis Andres in Blueprint to the Heart. This movie 100% relies on his goofy charm to work, and he totally delivers. I cannot fathom another actor stepping into this role and completely nailing it like he did. But I digress. A woman with a home restoration television show is threatened with cancelation if she doesn't shake things up for the new season. The solution is to do a "lifestyle makeover" on a quirky carpenter who blundered into filming for the season finale. As she works to change the carpenter, his home, and his life for ratings gold, she finds that there are some lines she won't cross to achieve success. But some she's happy to stand by and watched be crossed by others? This movie is so close to being great... and could have been if only UpTV had taken another pass on the scenes which take place outside the filming of the restoration show. These interludes drag and detract, which causes the flick to screech to a halt each time. But even so, I liked this one quite a lot, and was completely blown away by Dennis Andres and his easy chemistry with Laura Mitchell. If Hallmark doesn't nab him for one of their films, they are failing at their mission.