Here's a checklist of all the Hallmark original romance movies from 2022 along with my comments on those I've seen.
Special movies of note are marked Favorite, Good, Okay, and BAD.
✓ Where Your Heart Belongs (New Year New Me • Jen Lilley and Christopher Russell • January 8, 2022)
Jen Lilley heads home to Sweet Grove (blergh) with her best friend to plan the best friend's wedding that's been moved up nine months. Once they arrive in town, the best friend drops the bomb that she's enlisted her cousin to help Jen Lilley. And of course they have a past together, because God forbid Hallmark start the year out with something fresh. It's like, okay, this movie is perfectly fine. Jen Lilley and Christopher Russell have decent chemistry, the scenery is nice, and the dialogue isn't awful. But yet another wedding planning movie that happens in a time crunch where the planner goes back to her small hometown where she gets help from an old flame with the wedding planning?YET ANOTHER ONE? And of course she's staying at her dad's maple syrup farm (where the ex-flame works... and did I mention that he's ALSO the best man in the wedding?) which is going to be foreclosed on because he's old and set in his ways. Lord, people joke all the time about Hallmark movies having the same plot over and over, but this is getting stupid.
✓ The Wedding Veil (Lacey Chabert and Kevin McGarry • January 8, 2022)
If I wasn't hopelessly addicted to an art conservator/restorer on YouTube, I'd probably be able to overlook the glaring idiocy about a painting getting restored. But Kevin McGarry's Boston accent cannot be overlooked. It's there... it's not there... it's subtle... it's hilariously in your face... I just don't get why he'd even felt the need. Anyway... this is the first in a trilogy of interlocking movies about a magical wedding veil that is shared between three friends when they find it in San Francisco. In this one Lacey Chabert buys the veil which, legend have it, will gift whomever possesses it true love. Enter a wealthy philanthropist (and fellow Bostonian) who really hits it off with her... UNTIL he spots her with the veil at the hotel lobby and thinks she's engaged! OH NOES! And they carry out this whole "mistaken assumption" storyline for over half the movie. =eyeroll= This would have actually been a pretty good flick if they had been smarter about it. It stars Lacey Chabert, after all. And I really liked the idea of connecting three movies. But hopefully the two that follow are a bit smarter than this one.
✓ The Perfect Pairing (New Year New Me • Nazneen Contractor and Brennan Elliott • January 16, 2022)
It wasn't enough to have a single movie revolve around ice wine (An Ice Wine Christmas) we had to get another one. But I know! Let's combine this new trope with an old trope so we don't have to think too hard! But which old trope? Got it! AMNESIA!! This was a mundane but decently-executed Hallmark effort that didn't seem like it was worth my valuable time. Woman slips, falls, and gets amnesia. Gets taken in at a winery by a widower and his daughter. Turns out she's the reviewer who wrote the review that nearly destroyed the winery. Hijinks and unnecessary drama ensue.
✓ Don't Forget I Love You (New Year New Me • Emilie Ullerup and Clayton James • January 22, 2022)
Awful. Boring to the extreme. An overly dramatic lead with zero chemistry with the male lead and an irritating daughter. The story is also mediocre at best... woman gets a time capsule set up by her dead mother and has to face a series of challenges to claim a gift. This involves long, boring montages of everyday activities which are supposed to be entertaining somehow. I cannot fathom how anybody read through the script and thought "Oh yeah, we gotta make this one."
✓ Butlers in Love (New Year New Me • Stacey Farber and Corey Cott • January 29, 2022)
I liked the idea of this movie better than the implementation (though Corey Cott, whom I've never heard of before, was surprisingly good in his role). A little girl watches a "lifestyles of the rich and famous" type of show about a butler and is so enamored with the profession that it becomes her lifelong dream to become one. Thanks to a last-minute opening fourteen years later, she gets accepted to a prestigious butler school where she runs across an infuriating fellow student who has no desire to be there because he wants to be a chef. Despite studying to be a butler since she was a child, she's totally inept at it and keeps making mistakes. Fortunately the guy she loathes is great at it and agrees to help her. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, they fall in love. This might have been a better movie if the butler school stuff was more interesting, but it just wasn't.
✓ The Wedding Veil Unveiled (Loveuary • Autumn Reeser and Paolo Bernardini • February 12, 2022)
I know these movies are outrageous fiction... but you would think that they would at least try to introduce even hints of realism. After acquiring the mythical veil in the previous movie, Autumn Reeser just happens to be heading to Italy (where the veil was made) in order to teach a class. She takes the veil with her so her and her friends can find out more about it. The first you see of her she's met the guy who will become her romantic interest. Then, within literal minutes, she's ran across the shop where the veil was made and met the descendants of the woman who made it. Then, wouldn't you know it, in comes the love interest. His family owns the shop. The woman in the painting with the veil was his great-great-great grandmother's sister (or whatever). Then, shock of shocks, he happens to be mentoring some students at the same college she's teaching at. It goes on and on and on. Most times it's easy to overlook things like this because coincidences make the story move faster. But in this case it's just so stupid. They might as well have had a magic talking dog walk up and tell everybody that the veil came from outer space. It would be just as believable.
✓ The Wedding Veil Legacy (Loveuary • Alison Sweeney and Victor Webster • February 19, 2022)
So... in the last movie they found out that the magical veil was created in Burano, Italy. They even found the family whose ancestor created it and returned it to them. But then one of the friends was married in the veil, it got snagged, and rather than having it repaired by the family of professional lacemakers who created it... they had some random guy in New York repair it? Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of three interconnected movies, but do they have to be this stupid? And then there's the fact that so-called professional archivists are handling a priceless old document with their bare hands and passing it around in a folder that's likely not even acid-free. I mean, come on. Even the absolute bare minimum of logic applied to this stuff would have gone a long, long way. But anyway, the last of the three friends to be married under the veil runs into a guy at the tailor's shop where the veil is going to be repaired... he turns out to be the chef at a restaurant she just happens to be eating at... and a non-stop train of ridiculousness ensues. Once again burying a talented cast with absurdity. I hope that Hallmark gives the whole interconnected movie idea another shot... but hopefully with a bit more sense smacked into it, because this trilogy was pretty bad.
✓ Welcome to Mama's (Loveuary • Melanie Scrofano and Daniel di Tomasso • February 26, 2022)
Lorraine Bracco started an Italian restaurant with her husband, who dies, leaving her to carry on alone. But then she dies and leaves the restaurant to a woman who used to be like a daughter to her, but they had a falling out. But the restaurant comes with some baggage... namely a chef who doesn't want to stick with Mama's traditional recipes, but wants to do something new. Will the two of them be able to compromise by blending the old with the new? Or will they have a falling out and go their separate ways? Well... shocker... something happens as they work together on a grand re-opening.
✓ BAD! Feeling Butterflies (Kayla Wallace and Kevin McGarry • March 12, 2022)
What's weird about dueling butterfly parties? At least the writer knew how utterly absurd the concept was and decided to just say it early on in the film. And I'm just going to get this out of the way early on in this review... this movie is stupid from start to finish. Not just the concept of a rival butterfly wrangler being a villain straight out of the comic books, but in the inane expositional dialogue and complete lack of internal logic. The first scene is a woman going to her butterfly sanctuary to gather up butterflies to release at a wedding, and her compressor is going out. She talks to it and says that she doesn't have time for it to fail today, and it should fail tomorrow because she's free tomorrow to fix it. And the compressor magically starts up again. Then, at the wedding, she tells her partner that they should head back so they can get ready for a birthday party the next day... you know... when she was totally free. It only gets worse from there. When the handsome dad from the birthday party shows up at the butterfly sanctuary with his annoying daughter, the woman gets a call and this happens: "That was Rebecca O'Keefe." — "Wait, Rebecca O'Keefe as in the heiress to the O'Keefe Publishing Empire?" — "Yep, that Rebecca O'Keefe" — "Who's getting married in a few weeks? It's all over the tabloids!" I could go on and on and on and on. This seriously felt like a budget flick on another network, except it had some money put into CGI butterflies, actual butterflies, and fake butterfly props, which is how Hallmark ended up with it. Though why it ever got put into production in the first place is a mystery.
✓ Favorite A Second Chance at Love (Spring Into Love • Eriq La Salle and Gloria Reuben • March 26, 2022)
You know how this one is going to end from the very start (a woman signs both of her divorced parents up for an anonymous dating app so they can find love again... WHO WILL THEY END UP WITH, I WONDER?). But that's not the point. The point is that the cast is exceptional. They really bring this one home, and I enjoyed it more than many of the more high profile Hallmark movies with Hallmark's biggest stars. I guess when you produce a minimal number of movies with Persons of Color, the few that you DO end up making will be filled with actors that are the cream of the crop. I sure wish Hallmark would do better with diversity. If they're going to tell the same story over and over, the least they could do is make the cast different. I didn't recognize the guy playing the husband of the daughter setting up her parents... Jordan Joseph... but he is the unsung hero of this movie. Of all the roles, his is easily the most difficult to play. He has to be subtle at all times. He can't be angry that his wife spends more time thinking about her parents than she does about him... because viewers would hate him. But he has to be frustrated that his wife treats him so second rate... because then viewers would think he's a doormat. He straddles the line so perfectly in every scene... and he should be recognized for the skill that requires. I sure hope that Hallmark puts him in more projects.
✓ Okay Always Amore (Autumn Reeser and Tyler Hynes • April 3, 2022)
Despite the dream pairing of Autumn Reeser and Tyler Hynes turning in great performances, this movie is so straightforward as to be pedestrian. A widow is in dire straights when her late husband's restaurant is in danger of closing. Fortunately a restaurant consultant is on-hand to turn things around. From there it's a basic story with zero surprises, and the boring take on the overhearing/misunderstanding trope at the end does the film no favors. Had they been even a little ambitious with the story, this could have been something special. But, alas...
✓ Favorite! A Royal Runaway Romance (Philippa Northeast and Brant Daugherty • April 9, 2022)
The concept isn't exactly new... this is a mashup between a runaway princess flick and a roadtrip film... but the fact that this is so well written and acted made it feel like it was a fresh take. European Princess has her portrait painted by an American artist... then heads to her uncle's home in Los Angeles with her mother with secret plans to make her way to Chicago to see the artist she's infatuated with. Ditching her mother, she sets out on a road trip with her uncle's bodyguard. Hallmark happens.
✓ Okay A Tail of Love (Brittany Bristow and Chris McNally • April 23, 2022)
Ever since I saw A Winter Princess (one of my favorite Hallmark movies ever) I have been eagerly anticipating whatever Natalie Hall and Chris McNally do next. I like them both, but they seem to be plagued by mediocre movies. This is another one, but the performances push it a bit higher than usual. Alas, there's a literal villain, so the laziness of the script is grating. But anyway... Chris McNally is military man who inherits his parent's pet food factory. He decides to sell it to an EVIL WOMAN who is intent on bulldozing the dog shelter next door because it turns out it was built on the land she's buying. So it's up to Brittany Bristow and Chris McNally to prove that the land had already been sold so that the dogs can be saved. I hope they don't fall in love while working together! But of course they do.
✓ BAD! Warming Up To You (Cindy Busby and Christopher Russell • May 7, 2022)
If you're going to build your entire movie around fat-shaming, you should at least invest the money into an actual fat suit that moves and hangs realistically. Instead it looks like they shoved a pillow under Christopher Russell's shirt which looked truly stupid in every scene. It also looked wildly inconsistent, like they kept forgetting how big the pillow should be from day to day. In this awful movie, a Hollywood action star gets a gut on him, which results in him going to a fitness camp. They manage to tack on a reason he gained the weight in a last-ditch effort to make him multi-dimensional, but it's too little too late. But no worries... the entire story is the local fitness expert whipping him into shape in an unrealistic amount of time, and that doesn't get short-changed. Too bad it's a story that's a waste of everybody's time.
✓ Roadtrip Romance (Natalie Hall and Corey Sevier • May 14, 2022)
It's Timmy from Lassie! Though, to be honest, Natalie Hall could literally be playing opposite Lassie and it would still be a compelling rom-com worth watching. But anyway... thanks to a baggage-handler strike, former high-school rivals (and current toy company rivals) Natalie Hall and Corey Sevier are stuck in Denver... both needing to get home in a hurry (her for her sister's wedding, he for his dad's retirement party). They end up sharing a car to dive home... AND YOU WILL NEVER GUESS WHAT HAPPENS!
✓ Romance to the Rescue (Andrea Brooks and Marcus Rosner • May 21, 2022)
The premise for this one is painful. To get a man that she doesn't even know, a woman lies about having a dog. Needing a dog fast when her lying plan results in a problem, she turns to a shelter to get her one... where she lies to the shelter owner so that he'll actually push through an adoption. Now she has to agility-train her new best friend into show-quality so she can get out of her lie. The only actor to come out of this thing unscathed was the dog. Everybody else should have never signed on to this disaster... the dog wasn't given a choice.
✓ Hidden Gems (Summer Nights • Andrea Brooks and Beau Mirchoff • June 4, 2022)
I was familiar with Beau Mirchoff from his many random television appearances, including Now Apocalypse, and was genuinely shocked to see him in a Hallmark flick. Though maybe I shouldn't be given that this film gave him a free trip to Hawaii. But anyway... sister and Maid of Honor at a wedding in Hawaii loses the magical ring in the ocean which was given to her by her grandmother. She enlists the help of a local diver to help her find the ring... and a desire to do what she wants to do instead of what she feels she has to do. Ultimately this is a fairly by-the-numbers flick with nothing terribly special about it other than the location. It was basically a huge advertisement for the hotel where the movie took place (Hallmark is running a contest to win a trip there). I understand that product placement is a necessary evil, but building an entire movie around it? No thanks.
✓ Favorite Caribbean Summer (Summer Nights • Heather Hemmens and Ser'Darius Blain • June 11, 2022)
A news producer makes an embarrassing mistake on the job after a break-up and is instructed to take a vacation to a small Caribbean island. Unfortunately, she falls victim to a rental scam and ends up staying in an islander's home. Of course there's no lodging available on the entire island, so he lets her stay in his guest room. Eventually she discovers that he's actually a former lawyer who fled the US after taking the fall for a mistrial scandal. But the real story ends up being a bit more complicated... if their budding romance can survive the truth. This was a beautifully-shot movie with gorgeous locations, a surprisingly smart story, and two talented actors bringing it to life.
✓ Moriah's Lighthouse (Summer Nights • Rachelle Lefevre and Luke Macfarlane • June 18, 2022)
Luke Mafarlane is on a French island where he gets run down by a woman on her bicycle. Things just get more inexplicably bizarre from there. He it trying to find a place to eat, but all the restaurants he visits only speaks French and he doesn't speak French. Except literally nobody speaks French, as everybody on the island speaks in French-accented English, even when just talking amongst themselves. The only time that people speak French is when he's in their presence because HA HA HA HAAAA how funny. Unfortunately, as charming as Luke Macfarlane is, the way they make him such a clueless American is not even a tiny bit entertaining. Like this movie. Which is a shame, because I'm fairly certain they actually went to France to film it.
✓ Good Two Tickets to Paradise (Summer Nights • Ashley Williams and Ryan Paevey • June 25, 2022)
There is nothing even remotely surprising about this one. It's predictable to a fault and is a story you've seen dozens of times before. Except it's in Hawaii. And Ashley Williams and Ryan Paevey are so dang charming that they elevated the material to something you're not bored with. Ashley Williams gets dumped at the altar. She then runs across Ryan Paevey, who just got dumped by his fiancé. After some random coincidences that are beyond belief (but not offensively so), they both end up in Hawaii together. There they decide to hang out together and have island adventures to take their mind off of their romantic woes. Hallmark happens. But then her clueless ex-fiancé shows up to throw a monkey wrench into their budding romance. Oh noes! There are a few cringe moments that could have been rethought to push this movie into being a favorite for me... but it's still a pretty good Hallmark flick even with them showing up.
✓ My Grown-Up Christmas List (Kayla Wallace and Kevin McGarry • July 9, 2022)
I'm a sucker for military Hallmark movies... especially military Christmas Hallmark movies... and am willing to give them a lot of slack when it comes to realism. But this one just goes way too far. The absurdity of the situations that come up are so over-the-top as to be laughable. Which would be fine, except most of the movie's most heartfelt moments hinge on these scenes being dramatic moments... not comedic. There needs to be a balance, and this movie has none of it. In case you want to watch it, I will restrain my comments (they're all spoiler-laden), but I will say BWAH HA HA HA HAAAAAAA HA HAAAAA!
✓ Campfire Christmas (Tori Anderson and Corbin Bleu • July 16, 2022)
This wasn't terrible by any means, but it didn't exactly land either. A summer camp which is famous for a "Christmas in July" week becomes a place for some kids to become lifelong friends. Fast-forward to present-day, and the owners of the camp have decided to retire. And since their daughter (who happens to be one of those kids at the beginning) doesn't want to take over the camp, they've decided to close it down. But first they want to have one last "Christmas in July" celebration with alumni from the camp. It's an opportunity for the friends to come back together. Including the daughter and her old boyfriend who had a bad breakup sometime in the past. And then there's the wacky B-story about the daughter trying to impress her publisher boss enough with her writing to get a book deal. Overall, this just didn't have enough to engage. They tried to inject something new (one of the couples is a gay mixed-race couple, the remaining two are also mixed-race), which was refreshingly diverse but it wasn't enough to make it interesting. I've seen the whole "I WORK AT A PUBLISHING COMPANY AS AN ASSISTANT BUT I WANT THEM TO PUBLISH MY WRITING!" plot so many times that I'm just done with it.
✓ Christmas in Toyland (Vanessa Lengies and Jesse Hutch • July 23, 2022)
If it weren't for Jesse Hutch appearing, I would have bailed from this very early on. It's just so frickin' tired and predictable. Toy company (of course) wants to close down all their stores (of course) right before Christmas (of course) because store sales are dying while online sales are increasing. I'll just set the idiotic logic about making a decision on closing stores before sales figures from your busiest time of year are in... plus all the other illogical crap in this movie... so I can focus on what little is left. ANYWAY... the corporate office sends a number-cruncher to find out why their store in New Jersey is the only one whose sales keep going up. She is anxious to save the stores, but has to deal with a store manager who is a "tough nut to crack." From there she finds out such retail strategies as placing toy displays low enough for children to see them. GENIUS! Add to that the annoying kids that pop up from time to time and I'm not a fan of this flick which has been done to death... at all.
✓ BAD! A Splash of Love (Rhiannon Fish and Benjamin Hollingsworth • July 30, 2022)
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD... This movie was the turning point for me. I'm no longer going to just ignore a bunch of idiocy and let a movie skate by. From now on, BAD movies like this will be marked BAD... something I formerly did with only the worst of the worst. Rhiannon Fish plays a Ph.D. researcher who has been studying orca whales... but has never actually seen them. This alone has to be one of the stupidest damn things I've ever heard, but wait! "Chloe" acts like a damn two-year-old and has trouble with mundane things like unfolding a map... and using a camera... and sitting in a boat. And that's in the first ten minutes! Lucky for her stupid, stupid, stupid ass, there's a local tour guide man who is there to help her out with her incompetence. Because despite her being a frickin' Ph.D. on these whales, she has to ask him all kinds of questions about her field of study... "They're matriarchal, right?" thus setting back feminism a couple decades. I hated this movie's insane level of stupid so much that I did something I rarely do regardless of how much I loathe a movie... I fast-forwarded through most of it. I couldn't take "Chloe" squealing and yelling and acting like a damn baby for over an hour. That's more torture than I can endure.
✓ Favorite Love in the Limelight (Fall Into Love • Alexa PenaVega and Carlos PenaVega • August 6, 2022)
I'm just going to come out and say it... the PenaVega's don't have very good on-screen chemistry. Which is shocking considering they're married in real life. And what's so strange is that I really like their work individually. The latest from the duo is actually a step in the right direction, and I'm not sure how it happened. Famous boyband singer Carlos PenaVega becomes penpals with one of his biggest fans. Fast forward to today and they're both dealing with personal life struggles. Carlos is now a has-been who is having trouble getting work and making ends meet. Plus his girlfriend ran off with another guy. Alexa is a school principal who is having a work crisis because she comes off as cold an impersonal. But things start to change when Carlos accepts a gig in Alexa's city and they finally meet after fifteen years of writing. If you ignore the serious lapses in logic this is a darn adorable flick (at least until they try to add unnecessary drama in a silly way), and if the PenaVegas got stories like this where they're actually in a position to have chemistry, maybe I wouldn't feel like they don't have any.
✓ Romance in Style (Fall Into Love • Jaicy Elliot and Benjamin Hollingsworth • August 13, 2022)
Why oh why do some writers insist on a cartoon-style villain for rom-com films? One cannot help but compare fashion-oriented movies like this with the all-time best of the genre... The Devil Wears Prada. Whereas this genius of that film was that the "villain" was actually just incredibly focused on doing incredible work and expecting the best out of the people who work for her... Romance in Style refused to have such depth, and we end up with a villain character who makes no sense. What's her motivation to be a jerk all the time? But anyway... a seamstress at a fashion house dreams of having her own plus-size fashion line, and the opportunity presents itself when a magazine publisher hires her to educate him on fashion so he can better manage his fashion magazine. The idea is a good one... and I really like the leads... but it was paint-by-numbers talking-heads droning on about the fashion industry with a thinly-veiled romance tacked on, and hardly great entertainment. When teaching the publisher about fashion, she feels the need to explain that silk has "a very soft and sensual hand," like silk was a foreign concept to him. Please.
✓ Good Dating the Delaney's (Fall Into Love • Rachel Boston and Paul Campbell • August 20, 2022)
Paul Campbell is one of my favorite actors in the Hallmark stable because he always has an easy relatability that makes his characters compelling and causes you to invest. Add Rachel Boston to the mix, and it's definitely a recipe for success. Turns out it doesn't quite get to where it needs to be (there's distractions that don't quite pan out)... yet it's still an enjoyable run. Rachel Boston's ex-husband is getting remarried so she decides to start dating again so that she will have a date to the happy affair. After a disastrous set-up date, she agrees to go on a "practice date" with Paul Campbell, the widower father of her son's friend from basketball. Naturally Paul Campbell likes her, likes her, so it's a bit tough for him to sit back while she's real dating. But no worries... Casey Manderson shows up to be a terrible date, so you get a feeling he still has a shot.
✓ Game, Set, Love (Fall Into Love • Davida Williams and Richard Harmon • August 27, 2022)
My hopes might have been a tad high. A new concept (Tennis!) which is executive produced by somebody who knows the game (Venus Williams!)... count me in! And yet... when a former tennis star who quit the game to be a coach ends up competing with one of the hottest tennis stars on the planet in mixed doubles, their game off the court is every bit as exciting as on! Except you never really get to see them on the court (until the end, and for a cringe reason). So it's like... why even bother? The cast is capable and the story is serviceable (but nothing to get excited about). If that's enough for you, then have at it. As for me? I think Taylor should have broken her "no dating employees" rule and gone out with Juan Carlos.
✓ Marry Me in Yosemite (Fall Into Love • Cindy Busby and Tyler Harlow • September 3, 2022)
Cindy Busby is the photographer who is given the laughable assignment of "bringing fresh eyes to Yosemite" but is intimidated because Ansel Adams already photographed it along with... oh... I dunno... A MILLION OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS! (as the movie itself reminds us). Fortunately there's an ex-climber and "all-around capable guy" who is a naturalist that she wants to hire to show her around so she can get all the best photos. Unfortunately they made Cindy Busby and absurd damsel in distress who stupidly gets herself into trouble right off the bat. All because she dismisses the idea that Yosemite can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. =sigh= From there we get treated to her mundane "art" shots... including some from her "favorite 4x5 camera!" Plus even more mundane conversation "I'll help you, but NO collaboration!" This movie was unintentionally funny from start to finish, which was a shame for both the actors... and the location. On the plus side, half-way into it, the movie acknowledge the Native Americans who existed on the land before white people "discovered" it (something they have yet to do with all the Hawaiian films they've made). So much of this movie was cringe and absurd, but there's no escaping how beautiful Yosemite is.
✓ Marry Go Round (Fall Into Love • Amanda Schull and Brennan Elliott • September 10, 2022)
Shades of Sweet Home Alabama! A woman is ready to marry her boyfriend and move to Paris... unfortunately her divorce lawyer never filed the paperwork which means she's still married and has to go back to her hometown to convince her husband to sign the papers. Except... he doesn't want to sign, thus putting her new life in jeopardy unless she can convince him to sign and get her divorce finalized. Blah blah blah. Yada yada yada. It doesn't really matter. My advice? Bypass this and watch the far, far superior Sweet Home Alabama instead.
✓ Favorite Wedding of a Lifetime (Fall Into Love • Brooke D'Orsay and Jonathan Bennett • September 17, 2022)
This movie is about a failed romance getting a second shot at love when a couple on the verge of breaking up (after being engaged for ten years!) is entered in a nationwide competition where the top prize is an all-expenses-paid wedding. They don't want to crush their families with the breakup on live TV, so they decide to enter the competition and lose. Until they remember they don't like to lose. It's a deceptively simple plot, but it takes some real talent to be able to portray the genuine sadness that comes from realizing the love you have isn't enough to save your relationship... then doing a complete 180. And Bennett and D'Orsay are flawless. They just look so bone-weary tired of trying to make it work at the start of the movie... and then you see them start to come alive and feel joy again together. Not a lot of actors could take up such a challenge and do it this well. Plus Bennett is 100% on his comedic game, which makes it a fun flick as well. This was such a pleasant surprise.
✓ Fly Away With Me (Fall Into Love • Natalie Hall and Peter Mooney • September 24, 2022)
Lord. This movie would have been a cute one (and not just because my favorite Hallmark actor is in it, Natalie Hall)... but they had somebody talking in a bird voice, dubbing lines for a frickin' parrot and it was SO dang stupid. Completely destroyed an otherwise enjoyable flick. But anyway... Natalie Hall gets to move into an apartment she won in a lottery. It's a gorgeous place with a corner balcony... and has a handsome neighbor. But they both have a secret which could jeopardize their perfect homes... and it has to do with the "no pets" policy of the building. This could have easily been ranked as "Great," but the whole parrot idiocy makes it barely watchable. Sad.
✓ Good Girlfriendship (Fall Into Love • Tamera Mowry-Housley, Lyndie Greenwood, and Krystal Joy Brown • October 1, 2022)
Okay... I legit skipped over this because I was confusing it with Unthinkably Good Things (from Mahogany over at Hallmark Movies & Mysteries). But once I saw the background in the promo image... I was like "Wait... that's not Italy!" and realized this was an entirely different film about three Black girlfriends. And one I ended up liking better (there is an LOL moment at the very end that sealed the deal). But anyway... three women are away on a birthday vacation, but end up on the wrong island in the wrong place thanks to a screwup by one of their assistants. Instead of a luxury resort, it's a women's retreat to help them reconnect with themselves and their purpose. Resistant at first... they soon learn to embrace this change of events. And while there's a romantic angle for one of the women, this movie isn't dedicated to it. Which is an incredibly refreshing change. Especially when it's done as well as this.
✓ Pumpkin Everything (Fall Into Love • Taylor Cole and Corey Sevier • October 8, 2022)
Budding writer Taylor Cole's crotchety grandfather has an accident so she goes rushing back to her hometown to make sure he's okay. While there she runs into her old boyfriend who is helping grandpa run his shop (called "Pumpkin Everything"). What follows is every last boring Hallmark cliché you've seen a dozen times before and absolutely no surprises or anything to make it worth your time. It's absurd just how uninspired and ridiculous this dreck is when they're not even trying. If all Hallmark movies were like this, I wouldn't watch them.
✓ Autumn in the City (Fall Into Love • Aimee Teegarden and Evan Roderick • October 15, 2022)
Haven't Seen Yet
✓ Favorite Noel Next Door (Countdown to Christmas; Natalie Hall and Corey Sevier • October 21, 2022)
I had a bit of a tough time trying to get a bead on this movie. First of all, it has Natalie Hall, so I was predisposed to love it from the start. Second of all, Corey Sevier plays a guy who had a stroke and is dealing with some challenges that make him a bit of a Christmas Scrooge... something that surprised me because it's just such a terrific bit of representation that makes for a great story. It starts out with annoying kids being annoying, but very quickly becomes something else entirely. This is a simple story with a simple concept that's wonderfully told. Showing that even after all these years, Hallmark still has new corners to explore. Even if the ending was a little over the top.
✓ We Wish You a Married Christmas (Countdown to Christmas; Marisol Nichols and Kristoffer Polaha • October 22, 2022)
A marriage counselor tells a married couple on the verge of divorce to visit Gracious, Vermont (population 513) to rekindle their love. There they check into a charming inn which is run by an even more charming gay couple who conspire to get the unhappy couple reconnect. One thing I will say is the the two leads play snarky and married very well. Plus there's a cute puppy named Jerry. Alas it's sabotaged by EMPTY COFFEE CUPS. And a story that's a bit slow.
✓ A Kismet Christmas (Countdown to Christmas; Sarah Ramos and Carlo Marks • October 23, 2022)
Lord. Talk about taking a concept and running it into the ground... they say "kismet" no less than 50 times in the first ten minutes. But anyway... thanks to a magical recipe for magical kismet cookies that help bring about magical true love, a children's book author who writes about magical kismet cookies returns to her hometown where she runs into the magical boy next door whom she had a crush on years ago. Unfortunately, this same boy married somebody else (even after she put the kismet cookie under her pillow and dreamed a kismet dream that the boy next door was her true love). The rest of the movie is littered with even more stupid kismet clichés. And not in a good way.
✓ A Cozy Christmas Inn (Countdown to Christmas; Jodie Sweetin and David O'Donnell • October 28, 2022)
Demanding Boss in Seattle: ERIKA! I NEED YOU TO TRAVEL TO THE TINY LITTLE TOWN OF GARLAND, ALASKA THAT YOU NEVER HEARD OF TO BUY ME A LITTLE CHRISTMAS INN FOR MY REAL ESTATE TRAVEL PORTFOLIO! — Erika: OH NOES! THE INN JUST HAPPENS TO BE RUN BY MY EX-BOYFRIEND! WHATEVER WILL I DO?? — This is a wholly unremarkable film that doesn't even try to be originals... or even remotely logical. Days until Christmas and she's a genius for thinking that placing a Google ad will fill the inn by Christmas... or whatever? I wouldn't mind a movie plot that's been done to death, but at least try to do something to make it special.
✓ Favorite Jolly Good Christmas (Countdown to Christmas; Rashma Sheets and Will Kemp • October 29, 2022)
Boy needs Christmas gift to impress girl. Boy hires personal shopper. Boy finds the perfect gift for himself may just be the personal shopper. Okay, I wasn't paying attention to the preview when it popped up, and legit thought that this was an Evan Williams movie! (I loved him in Midnight at the Magnolia). But Evan Williams is actually Will Kemp. And though Mr. Kemp is a fine actor in his own right, it's Rashma Sheets who steals the film. She's luminous in every frame, and manages to deftly navigate the story with such ease that you almost forget she's playing a character. This is a fresh story that avoids all the worst clichés and manages to entertain along the way. Imagine that.
✓ Favorite Ghosts of Christmas Always (Countdown to Christmas; Kim Matula and Ian Harding • October 30, 2022)
WELP! When I saw the poster for this, I was all "Ugh. Yet another tired Hallmark movies inspired by A Christmas Carol . I was so unimpressed that I didn't even bother to watch it until a week later. Couldn't possibly have been more wrong. This is an entirely wonderful, remarkably original, exceptionally well-crafted film with a cast that's almost too good to be true. You know the drill... ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future show up to "Scrooge" somebody who lost their Christmas spirit. Except not really! I don't know that I'd call the ending a "twist" or even "surprising"... but it wasn't what I was expecting. Which made the entire movie itself a surprising twist. Plus... Lori Tan Chinn!!
✓ Good Lights, Camera, Christmas (Countdown to Christmas; Kimberly Sustad and John Brotherton • November 5, 2022)
Yeah, I was onboard because Kimberly Sustad was onboard (and she was great as always), but it was John Brotherton (somebody I never heard of before) that kinda stole the movie. He has to be a self-absorbed movie star... but also be charming and likable all the while. He definitely manages to pull it off (he reminds me of Stephen Huszar). But anyway... a clothing designer is tasked with being a costume designer for a movie that's filming in town. It's a job she's well-suited for, but she also finds herself well-suited for the leading actor, "Mr. Christmas." This one at least tries to offer an original spin on the idea of a clothing designer getting caught up in romance. And the cast just makes it that much better.
✓ In Merry Measure (Countdown to Christmas; Patti Murin and Brendan Penny • November 11, 2022)
What's yet another Sister Act remake? A huge waste of time. Patti Murin is a fading pop star who returns home to visit family just as her niece gets cut from the Christmas choir by some old rival from her high school days. Her solution? Why... to form her own choir with all the rejects and build them up to an award-winning group, of course! But, oh noes, this doesn't sit well with her old rival. I hope they don't fall in love! But when her career comes calling again, will she abandon the choir for new success? Of course not. I suppose this is okay if you want to hear retreads of Christmas classics over and over. I do not.
✓ Favorite The Royal Nanny (Countdown to Christmas; Rachel Skarsten and Dan Jeannotte • November 12, 2022)
I was not optimistic about this one at all. Kids and yet another fictional European country? Blergh. But nope! The kids are great, and this is literally the UK. Rachel Skarsten is an MI5 agent who is placed with the royal family as a nanny to protect the prince's children from a credible threat. Bonus? The children's Uncle Dan Jeannotte is a person of interest in the threat... and a person of interest in love! This is surprisingly great on a number of levels. Plus we have a decent mystery along the way to keep things interesting. A total standout in 2022... or any year.
✓ Good Inventing the Christmas Prince (Tamera Mowry-Housley and Ronnie Rowe Jr. • November 18, 2022)
Tamera Mowry-Housley is a rocket scientist. But wait... it gets better! Okay, not really. She's going to quit her job because her boss is an anti-social scrooge who wants her to work on Christmas. But when Tamera Mowry-Housley's daughter mistakes the scrooge boss for "The Christmas Prince" from stories that Tamera Mowry-Housley told her, then her plans to quit are set aside. Now Tamera Mowry-Housley's daughter wants the Christmas Prince to grant her wishes, just like in the stories. AND ONE OF THOSE WISHES IS THAT HE TAKES HER MOM ON A REAL DATE! ZOMG! I hope they don't fall in love! This was a charming concept that was a bit of a slog to get through due to artificial drama that had me rolling my eyes (HER FATHER DIED WHEN SHE WAS FIVE!!!). What saves the film is that the cast is fantastic and the little girl is adorable. And a huge shoutout to Ronnie Rowe Jr. who has to act like he's a socially awkward dorky scrooge while still being likable. Then he has to transition to a warm, wonderful, caring person without it feeling like it came out of nowhere. And he manages to pull it off beautifully. And... let me tell you... that ending is what took this from "Okay" to "Good."
✓ Favorite Three Wise Men and a Baby (Margaret Colin, Paul Campbell, Andrew Walker, and Tyler Hynes • November 19, 2022)
Look, this is a remake of Three Men and a Baby but with a Christmas slant and no criminal subplot. But it's darn funny and has Margaret Colin in it, which goes a long way towards making it entertaining. I just wish that they would have come up with a different ending that wasn't a total lift from the film that they copied. But anyway... three brothers still living at home with their single mom get thrown a curve for the holidays when a baby is left for one of them at the fire station where they work. Hilarity ensues. In lesser hands, this would be an "okay" film, but Campbell, Walker, and Hynes are able to charm their way through it.
✓ When I Think of Christmas (Shenae Grimes-Beech and Niall Matter • November 20, 2022)
These music-based movies never work for me. You're supposed to pretend that these characters are some phenomenal kind of talent and unbelievably good at singing, but they never are. They're just okay. And that's the case here. The story is boring. The concept is overdone. And the singing is just okay. A woman heads back home to move her mom into a new condo and runs into (EVERYBODY SAY IT TOGETHER NOW!) her old boyfriend. Together they make mediocre music together. It's like... until you get Debbie Gibson back or sign up Beyoncé, please just don't. On the plus side... Beth Broderick, who is magic in everything she does.
✓ My Southern Family Christmas (Jaicy Elliot and Ryan Rottman • November 24, 2022)
Despite the fact that Bill Campbell was in this, it was still so painfully pedestrian and expected that I was suffering getting through it all. And in-flight magazine writer gets contacted by the wife of the father who walked away from her when she was a baby wanting to see if she would reconnect with her birth father. It was a hard pass until she found out that she has sisters. So when a misunderstanding at work leads her to her birth father's home town in Louisiana... she swoops in to do a story on his part in a town Christmas festival. But doesn't tell him she's his daughter. And absolutely every... single... beat... after that is exactly what you'd expect. It's the most basic Hallmark possible, and something that the channel really should be trying to escape from.
✓ A Royal Corgi Christmas (Hunter King and Jordan Renzo • November 25, 2022)
Naughty Prince Edmond buys a corgi for his mother The Queen in hopes that he will forgiven for being naughty, but the pooch is a complete disaster, having no training. In order to rectify this, they decide to get a dog trainer. Fortunately for them, a woman decides to apply for the position as a way to solicit money for her dog charity. But she ended up with more than a donation, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. But of course you do, because Hallmark only knows how to do one thing. The best thing about this movie is the adorable dog. Which is not reason enough to watch it, alas.
✓ Haul Out the Holly (Lisa Chabert and Wes Brown • November 26, 2022)
Lacy Chabert breaks up with her man-child boyfriend just before the holidays and gets conned by her parents to return to her home town where everybody cares a little bit too much about Christmas... just as they leave for Florida. Fortunately a childhood friend is around to help her step into her parents' Christmas duties for all the local festivities. This isn't a bad movie... but it does stray a little too much into wackiness thanks to an assortment of eccentric characters. I think that they felt it was supposed to be charming, but it was also annoying. Except when it came to Wes Brown. The guy's character obsesses over Christmas to the point of distraction, and he plays it perfectly.
✓ A Tale of Two Christmases (Katherine Barrell, Evan Roderick, and Chandler Massey • November 27, 2022)
This movie started out so very, very stupidly that it soured me for the entirety of it. Why is it that slapsticky idiocy is supposed to be considered funny? Did the writer and director honestly think "...AND THEN WE PUT THE MODEL UNDER THE HAND-DRYER, AND THE FAKE SNOW BLOWS BACK IN THEIR FACES! BWAH HA HA HA HAAAA! THIS IS HILARIOUS! AND THEN SHE WILL OVERSLEEP! HAAAAA!!!" And, assuming they did think it would be funny, how stupid do they think their audience is? Anyway... this is yet another take on the movie Sliding Doors where one decision splits the timeline in two, showing us what happens in both. Then she gets to choose. Except you already know what's going to happen, rendering the ending moot.
✓ A Christmas Cookie Catastrophe (Rachel Boston and Victor Webster • November 27, 2022)
After a big-city businesswoman inherits a small-town cookie company from her deceased grandmother, she's facing an uphill battle trying to win the hearts and minds of the board of directors... and the town. But it's all made worse when her grandmother's secret recipe is stolen! Having to team up with a local baker to recreate the recipe ends up teaching her a lot more than just how to make cookies. This is a by-the-numbers Hallmark movie that actually ends up with a nice plot twist that you'll see coming from a million miles away... but it's not a bad one, so all is forgiven, I guess.
✓ Favorite A Holiday Spectacular (Carolyn McCormick and Derek Klena • November 27, 2022)
I'd rather watch paint dry than sit through a performance from the famous Radio City Rockettes, so I didn't have much hope for this film. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how wrong I was. Hallmark managed to build a uniquely great story around a woman in the 1950's who wants nothing more than to become a Rockette. Problem is that she's a Philadelphia socialite who is engaged to a guy she doesn't love with parents who won't allow it. But when she wins an audition, she heads to New York anyway to pursue her dream. And ends up with more than she bargained for in the process. A darn good effort which features appearances by Ann Margaret and Eve Plumb.
✓ Good A Big Fat Family Christmas (Shannon Chan-Kent and Shannon Kook PLUS TIA CARRERE! • December 2, 2022)
A Hallmark movie with a primarily all-Asian cast? What a nice surprise. Also a surprise? They didn't get stuck with a horrible story. Nope, this is perfectly nice... blending Chinese traditions with Christmas in a way that actually works. A staff photographer gets an assignment to cover a Chinese family Christmas celebration... which just happens to be her family (unbeknownst to the editor). A bonus is that she's paired with a new staff writer, who just so happens to be a snack. Together they learn about traditions old and knew that hold a community together. This is wildly charming... and wonderfully different... because Hallmark thought to add interest to their offerings via diversity. I wish they'd do more of this instead of making us slog through 40 movies that are all the same.
✓ BAD! A Fabled Holiday (Brooke D'Orsay and Ryan Paevey • December 3, 2022)
Look, the leads did a fine job with the material that they were handed, but unfortunately the material was crap. People with problems end up in a fake town with magical properties and magical bells ringing when magical things happen... it was all just so annoying and bad. And the big "reveal" at the end was just so contrived and ridiculous. Lord.
✓ Good Undercover Holiday (Noemi Gonzalez and Stephen Huszar • December 4, 2022)
Hands-down one of my favorite Hallmark stars is Stephen Huszar. The guy always puts some thought into his characters... even when they're in the background (his supporting character in 2019's My One & Only was hysterical), and when he's given his shot as a lead, it's usually in awful films (2019's Mistletoe Magic comes to mind). Here he's a lead in a movie that doesn't suck... as a former Navy SEAL turned bodyguard to a rising pop-star. Who has to pretend to be her girlfriend when she heads home for Christmas so her family won't worry. AND HE IS GOLD! And so is Noemi Gonzalez. So, yeah, this is a low-stakes retread of Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard, but it's still pretty good for what it is.
✓ Okay The Most Colorful Time of Year (Katrina Bowden and Christopher Russell • December 9, 2022)
This film had something truly new to offer by way of story, which was so refreshing. Unfortunately, they inserted loads of crappy drama where it wasn't needed and took what could have been a beautiful and touching story and made it so artificial and ridiculous. And the absolutely absurd pretext that somebody with colorblindness who longs to see colors wouldn't put on a pair of frickin' glasses to see if they work for them to see colors is tough to get past. I'd recommend skipping this movie and instead heading to YouTube and search for "enchroma glasses" to see something far more entertaining and worthwhile.
✓ Christmas Class Reunion (Aimee Teegarden and Tanner Novlan • December 10, 2022)
This is just a bland, boring movie about high school friends who get together for a reunion in the hopes of breaking the "curse" which has plagued all their previous get-togethers. And along the way there's relationship drama that just doesn't mean anything because the context for it is all exposition. Another example of an idea that was better than the actual film.
✓ Favorite The Holiday Sitter (Jonathan Bennett and George Krissa • December 10, 2022)
It's just mind-boggling how good this movie turned out. Far from just ham-fistedly cramming a gay couple into a straight story and hoping for the best, this was actually crafted to fit the characters. And of course Jonathan Bennett completely killed it, as usual. The script was hilarious, but could have fallen so flat in lesser hands. And the kids, which are usually so annoying in these things, actually worked exactly as they were needed to make the movie work. It's crazy how Hallmark shunned diversity for so long in order to shove the same thing down our throats year after year... when we could have been given something truly different like this. Gay uncle on his way to Hawaii for Christmas vacation gets waylaid by his sister and her husband who have to go get their newly-adopted baby. But since he's a complete disaster with kids, he hires the gay next door neighbor to help him out as an "uncle consultant"... the result is funny, touching, and well-executed.
✓ Good Holiday Heritage (Lyndie Greenwood and Brooks Darnell • December 16, 2022)
Yay! More diversity! Just like Hallmark went half-Christmas, half-Hanukkah with their initial Hanukkah offering... before going full-on Hanukkah now... we're getting a Kwanza story that's easing people in with plenty of Christmas sprinkled in. The story has a mother-daughter bakery in shambles when the daughter (Holly Robinson Peete!!) wants to move on because life and business with her mom has gotten difficult. Fortunately her daughter and her daughter's ex-boyfriend are conspiring to get them back on the same page and keep the family together. Overall this movie is very good... having a nice story with fantastic dialogue delivered with an exceptional cast. I just wish that they would have leaned a little harder into Kwanza to make this a bit more different than the standard Hallmark fare. I mean, isn't that kind of the point? Still... a good start.
✓ Favorite Hanukkah on Rye (Yael Grobglas and Jeremy Jordan • December 18, 2022)
Just like last year... one of the best Hallmark movies of the season is... THE HANUKKAH MOVIE?!? And just like last year I'm confident it's because Hallmark only makes one Hanukkah movie so they pick the best script available. Whereas we get dozens of Christmas movies, so they make all of them no matter how awful. This movie is darn adorable and has one of the better endings of a holiday film. Guy from California heads to New York City to scout a location for franchising his grandmother's diner. While there, he runs across a woman whose family has a diner of their own. Coincidentally, they are both set up by their respective grandmothers with a matchmaker. From there it's essentially You've Got Mail... with a twist.
✓ Favorite! The Presence of Love (Eloise Mumford and Julian Morris • March 13, 2022)
I have no idea why this lovely little film aired on Movies and Mysteries instead of Hallmark Channel proper, but here it is. It could be that it's quite different from the usual rom-com fare, which is all the more reason to like it. It basically comes down to a half-dozen things blending together so seamlessly... including on-location filming in beautiful Cornwall, a child actor who isn't terrible, and two lead actors who are remarkably gifted. Eloise Mumford is an adjunct professor who takes a trip to the village in England where her mother grew up so she can collect her thoughts and write a paper to get hired for tenure. While there she stays in a bed and breakfast on a sheep farm run by a divorced man, his daughter, and his curmudgeon of a mother. He's having a tough time running the farm while tending to his daughter's dyslexia and his mother's unwillingness to diversify so the farm can survive. — This is a beautifully-written story that unfolds slowly and with purpose. And you could not ask for a more wonderful cast. I expected Eloise Mumford to be amazing... but, surprisingly, it's Julian Morris who steals every scene. And then there's the daughter. Usually I can't stand it when children intrude on these movies because they're usually just so bad... but Amy Sharp is fantastic, and I actually looked forward to her appearing on-screen. I anticipated liking this one just because Eloise Mumford was in it. My every expectation was exceeded, and this was a far more special movie than I could have guessed. Flawless.
✓ Favorite! Rip in Time (Torrey DeVitto and Niall Matter • May 22, 2022)
Two favorites in a row? Awww, Hallmark, you shouldn't have! I really should keep a checklist of the number of times Casey Manderson appears in these films. But anyway... Hallmark has done the whole "Displaced in Time" trope a few times, and I can't recall it ever failing. On the contrary, it's historically resulted in some darn good films. This time Niall Matter (as Rip Van Winkle II) has somehow popped forward from 1787 to our bewildering and strange future (the guy is having a ball with the role, and it's a joy to watch). There he awakens in a barn that belongs to an organic farmer and her son, with no memory of what's happened to him. You get the typical "What is this sorcery!" kind of situation, but the movie itself is quite good, smartly not dwelling on such tired takes. This is a sweet film that wins thanks to Torrey DeVitto and Niall Matter's talent and chemistry.
✓ Okay Color My World with Love (Lily D. Moore and David DeSanctis • June 12, 2022)
First of all... kudos to Hallmark for working some diversity into their programming. And kudos again for making an effort to do so without being exploitative. A couple with Down Syndrome become engaged, and the young woman's mom is concerned that her daughter may not be ready for marriage. But once mom starts falling for the young man's friend and "big brother" she starts to have a change of heart. But then the road to marriage becomes a bit rocky and things start falling apart. Will mom be able to put her reservations aside... for both her daughter's relationship and her own? There were stretches of this flick that felt a bit forced and artificial, and I wish that they had tried to do something a little more interesting, but it was ultimately a good effort with a talented cast that was worth my valuable time to watch.
✓ Okay 14 Love Letters (Vanessa Sears and Franco Lo Presti • June 31, 2022)
When a goat farmer finds letters copied from old love letters in her mailbox, she makes it her mission to find out who's sending them to her. Is it Bachelor Number One... the guy next door who wants to buy her farm. Is it Bachelor Number Two... the local school teacher. Or is it Bachelor Number Three... the new veterinarian in town. The answer is surprising, but not unexpected. Right up until the end, this is a pretty good flick. But then they do the whole "YOU BETRAYED ME!" trope where no actual betrayal actually exists, and my eye-rolling kinda negated a lot of what preceded it. Which is a darn shame, because it was so entirely unnecessary.
✓ Big Sky River (Emmanuelle Vaugier and Kavan Smith • August 7, 2022)
After the beautiful The Presence of Love back in March, there really was nowhere to go but down, but you'd think that Hallmark would at least try to do something worthwhile. And this ain't it. Woman gets divorced and heads to Parable for the Summer (a city you won't forget given that they name-drop it constantly) where she runs into widowed town sheriff next door along with his two boys. She's there to "do country things" (or whatever) but what she really does is bore you to death and treat you to some corny dialogue that doesn't even try to be engaging. And then her stepdaughter shows up to add unnecessary (and inexplicable) drama, and I was done. I'd call this one a swing and a miss... but it doesn't even feel like they took a swing to miss.
✓ Good The Journey Ahead (Holly Robinson Peete and Kaylee Bryant • August 14, 2022)
Dangit! The concept is great (Holly Robinson Peete is an actor who's quickly getting replaced by younger models WHILE going through a health crisis WHILE dealing with a daughter she gave up for adoption wanting to see her WHILE driving across the country to New York)... but they had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer in going about it. First they tell her that she's being replaced by a younger actor... and almost immediately she sees them covering up her movie poster with a poster starring that same younger actor... then she gets home and that same younger actress is boning her boyfriend! It's like, come on! This is idiotic on every level, and whomever is responsible really needs to learn that there are better, less in-your-face options that will play better. But anyway... that afore-mentioned cross-country trip to New York is courtesy of a young woman who is definitely not putting up with Holly Robinson Peete's spoiled bullcrud. In the end, this is a pretty good movie that would have been far better had they given us a lighter touch with the material (starting with Holly Robinson Peete's character not being THIS awful at the start). Oh well. At least the soundtrack was good. Better luck next time.
✓ Good Groundswell (Lacey Chabert and Ektor Rivera • August 21, 2022)
As a huge sucker for Lacey Chabert movies, I was predisposed to liking this movie before it ever started. But the best scene in the movie came from Ektor Rivera, whom I had never heard of, as he delivers a punch in the gut which comes out of nowhere. But anyway... Chef Lacey Chabert flees to an aunt in Hawaii after her boss (and boyfriend) keeps pushing her talents aside. While there, she ends up taking surfing lessons from an ex-surfer and reluctantly joining a cooking competition with the ex-surfer's brother... when her ex shows up to throw a monkey wrench into her romantic interests. The result is not quite the cliché you'd think (the HORRIBLE MISUNDERSTANDING trope doesn't have the weight that they usually put on it) and I enjoyed this one.
✓ Okay Unthinkably Good Things (Karen Pittman, Erica Ash, and Joyful Drake • August 28, 2022)
Hallmark has taken their "Mahogany" collection of African-American-themed cards and spun it into movies. Which is refreshing, because the lack of diversity in their movies has been glaring. Fortunately, Hallmark sunk some serious money into gorgeous Italian locations for their first Mahogany film. Unfortunately, the story is essentially three run-of-the-mill romances crammed into one. No attempt was made to be clever or terribly original (except for the location). Which is a shame. Fortunately the performances are all top-notch, the friendship of the three leads works, and that's a compelling enough reason to watch.
✓ Favorite Love's Portrait (Aubrey Reynolds and Richard McWilliams • September 9, 2022)
Usually when Hallmark Channel does a location shoot, it's kinda wasted. Sure they show some scenery and stuff... but it always feels so flat. Love's Portrait, on the other hand, is a romp through Ireland where they really used the scenery and the people to flavor the story to good effect. I mean, first The Presence of Love and now this? Anyway... a woman working at a museum receives a painting from Ireland that looks very much like her. Not knowing how or why, her boss sends her to Ireland to find out. With the help of sibling postmasters in a small town, mysteries will come to light. There are a dozen Hallmark actors who could have played the female lead... no... this movie was going to live or die based on who they found to play the male lead. And Richard McWilliams does not falter. Another beautiful film in Hallmark Movies & Mysteries 2022 slate.
✓ Okay To Her With Love (Skye P. Marshall and Tobias Truvillion • September 11, 2022)
Sooo... you get a talent like Skye P. Marshall... pair her with a guy that she has true chemistry with... then toss that haphazardly into a mundane and predictable story that we've seen literally dozens of times before. BUT WHY?!? This gets more and more frustrating as time goes on. Talented people stuck in films that don't even try.
✓ Good The Secrets of Bella Vista (Rachelle Lefevre and Niall Matter • September 18, 2022)
Okay... I went into this one really trying to hate it. Rachelle Lefevre's character was unlikable and the plot has been done to death (she inherits half an apple orchard estate... but it's going bankrupt!). But then they actually did something interesting. Instead of some contrived plot with an evil step-sister who's evil for no reason except SHE'S STEALING MY INHERITANCE!... they're actually civil to each other. And as she spends time with a life that appeals to her, Rachelle Lefevre is totally likable. PLUS... the mystery that they've got running to find coins that could pay their way out of bankruptcy was pretty good. This movie could have been a disaster of clichés, but they refused to take the easy way out and actually tried to make a good film. Refreshing. And worth your valuable time.
✓ We Need a Little Christmas (Erica Durance and Patrick Sabongui • October 22, 2022)
Blergh. I'm sure that some people enjoy these little "slice of life" weep-fests, but I am definitely not one of them. There was just so little substance here, and it made the movie feel ten times longer than its running time. Basically it's a woman's first Christmas without her husband, and she and her son have to adjust to a new life in a new neighborhood. Fortunately their neighbor is helpful and kind and helps them settle in... even though she's got some trauma of her own.
✓ A Maple Valley Christmas (Ella Cannon and Andrew W. Walker • November 5, 2022)
Surely by now Andrew Walker can take his pick of Hallmark movies to star in, right? Except I can't believe that anybody would choose to act in this boring, redundant, charm-free pile of idiocy. It's like... how many "Evil Developer Wants Our Land!" movies could the world possibly need? Especially one which brings absolutely NOTHING to the table? Except Andrew Walker... except even he can't make up for the blinding unoriginality of this awful mess.
✓ Okay A Our Italian Christmas Memories (Beau Bridges. Period. • November 12, 2022)
It's like... I've always appreciated Beau Bridges as an actor, but oh man did he bring it home as a guy with dementia. And all he wants is to remember what his wife's pasta sauce tasted like. His grandchildren go on a quest to try and recreate it so they can engage his memories while he still remembers what it means to him. As somebody who's lived through seeing somebody go through this, his journey hit very close to home. That they managed to build a hopeful story around it was pretty special.
✓ Long Lost Christmas (Taylor Cole & Benjamin Ayres • November 19, 2022)
Woman wants to help her mom after the death of her dad. So she decides to track down her long lost brother that she never knew existed and her mom hasn't seen since she was very young. In order to find the long lost brother SHE DECIDES TO TELL LIES TO KIND PEOPLE. I swear, one of these years Hallmark is going to have to have a lying character deal with the actual consequences of being a liar. Until then, we're going to continue to get trash like this. What's so stupid is that the lie wasn't necessary to the plot, and the movie could have existed without it. In the end it was just a stupid, senseless excuse to add drama.
✓ Okay Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas (Holland Roden and Tyler Hynes • November 26, 2022)
A woman gets a mysterious voicemail on her phone from a guy she doesn't know asking for a woman she doesn't know. He sounds heartbroken and is setting up a meeting for Christmas Eve that will never happen because he had a wrong number. She makes it her mission to make sure the meeting happens, which seems incredibly dangerous... maybe the woman is trying to avoid him for some reason? But anyway... after one of her two best friends dies, the third estranged best friend arrives in town for the memorial. Despite a questionable setup, Tyler Hynes does what Tyler Hynes does best in these things, which is just about everything, and he pitches in to help create a Christmas miracle. At least you hope so.
✓ Five More Minutes: Moments Like These (Ashley Williams and Lucas Bryant • December 17, 2022)
For the life of me I don't understand why dialogue in these movies isn't given a pass before they commit it to film. Because what we get in this one is atrocious and gag-inducing unbelievable. There's a little boy who is, remarkably, left to wander around alone, and spouts lines that are clunky and unnatural in the worst way. The story is a step down from the original (last year) which at least had an interesting element to it. This time it's pretty boring. A woman and her young son come back to her hometown to fix up her old home for sale before she jets off to a job in London. They haven't been back since her husband died. While there, the little boy starts seeing people who inexplicably disappear. Assuming you can last to the end, you're in for a big non-surprise.
✓ A Perfect Pairing (Victoria Justice and Adam Demos • May 19, 2022)
This movie started out so bad... a woman gets tired of her arrogant ass of a boss and thieving co-worker and quits her wine importing job to start her own wine importing business. But then she goes to Australia to snag a specialty wine from a sheep station owner and runs across a departing worker. Her interaction with him was so funny that I ended up having to rewind and rewatch it again (the actor, Liam Olsen, needs a lot more acting jobs). All of a sudden I was in a better mood and willing to give the movie a second chance. Except that was the end of it. The rest of the movie is so phenomenally stupid that my eyes were rolling most of the time. The woman takes a job as a jackeroo (a young sheep station worker just starting out to get experience) to impress the winery owner, AND LOADS OF STUPID CRAP ENSUES. LOADS. Why oh why do writers think that making somebody incredibly clueless, ignorant, and stupid is a good idea? I mean, the dumbass asks the station cook if there are "other coffee options like an espresso or latte"... and of course she's an incompetent joke who can't do a damn thing right. Logic and common sense goes right out the window so even simple tasks are screwed up. I can only guess this is supposed to be "funny." I can't fathom how Adam Demos agreed to be in this awful movie given that his last film for Netflix, Falling Inn Love, was actually good. By the time the woman manages to stop being stupid and do the job (HALF-WAY THROUGH), I didn't care any more. And by they time they got to the idiotic YOU LIED TO ME! nonsense, I was through. A California Christmas did this entire story about a million times better. I'd have been better off rewatching that for the tenth time.
✓ Okay Purple Hearts (Sofia Carson and Nicholas Galitzine • July 29, 2022)
Conservative soldier agrees to a marriage of convenience with a Liberal waiter/aspiring musician so that he can get money and she can get insurance. Can they pull off this hoax well enough that they won't be found out and go to jail for marriage fraud? Despite the ludicrous premise (it's not like they married for immigration or something, so who cares?)... this one isn't as terrible as I had expected. Once the soldier gets injured, their relationship takes a turn that neither of them expected. It's not a unique premise, but it's one which is done fairly well.
✓ Favorite! Wedding Season (Pallavi Sharda and Suraj Sharma • August 4, 2022)
A flawless rom-com from start to finish that has one of the best casts of any movie anywhere. On top of that, it is beautifully shot, with care taken with every frame. As if that wasn't enough, there's a Bollywood dance at the end that you kinda wish went on forever. A woman leaves her promising banking career to work with a charity. This doesn't sit well with her Indian parents, because she's devoted to her work instead of finding a husband. With this in mind, her mother sets up a dating profile for her in order to find her "Indian Prince Charming." In order to appease her mother, she agrees to go on a date with one of her matches... a guy whose father put up his dating profile. They strike a bargain to fake-date through "Wedding Season" and end up going to 14 weddings together. But something happens along the way... and what was fake turns into something very real. But secrets and success threaten to ruin everything. Thanks to raging chemistry between the leads (and a scene-stealing turn by a future-brother-in-law) I loved this movie. Easily one of my favorites of 2022.
✓ Look Both Ways (Lili Reinhart and Danny Ramirez • August 17, 2022)
I wouldn't mind these Sliding Doors movies if they at least tried to do something interesting with the split-timeline concept... but this Sliding-Doors-with-a-Pregnancy-Test was mind-numbingly dull. I didn't care about either version of the character who dreams about becoming an animator... one who ends up pregnant and one who doesn't. I kept hoping that there would be some clever twist to make it all worthwhile, but it never actually gets there. A complete waste of time.
✓ That's Amor (Riley Dandy and Isaac Gonzalez Rossi • August 25, 2022)
Woman with zero design skills takes a job as an assistant to a graphic designer and is shocked... shocked... when her boss doesn't give her a job as a graphic designer at the firm after she's been there a year. Instead her boss tells her it would probably be best for her to quit so she doesn't waste any more time doing what she's not passionate about. Then she gets home early and finds her boyfriend hooking up with another woman. Frustrated that her life has fallen apart, she moves back home with her mother to figure out what to do. While there, her mom signs her up for cooking classes... where she falls for the chef/instructor's nephew (on leave from his home in Barcelona). The most boring, predictable, uninspired story imaginable follows. One of the co-producers is Lauren Swickard, who wrote and starred in one of my favorite "Hallmark" movies ever (2020's A California Christmas). How she could do that... and then have a part in this... is kinda hard to figure.
✓ Love in the Villa (Kat Graham and Tom Hopper • September 1, 2022)
The movie starts with a woman being broke up with by Raymond Ablack, and you have to wonder how she will ever carry on with her life. Turns out she goes on their planned Verona vacation alone... ONLY TO FIND OUT THAT A SHIRTLESS TOM HOPPER IS IN HER RENTAL HOME! So that's how she will carry on. This movie is a grossly inferior version of one of my Hallmark favorites... Like Cats and Dogs (a vacation rental is double-booked, oopsies!)... but dwells on making the woman as horrible and unlikable as possible. After the guy (who arrived there first and rented the property six years running) so generously allows her to stay in the villa because (shock) there's no other place available... she repays him by trying to literally kill him with cats (he's severely allergic). Then has him arrested when he has her missing luggage donated to charity. Her "retribution" is always wildly disproportionate and makes her seem terrible. When they inevitably hook up, it's kinda mundane... until Raymond Ablack and Tom Hopper's real-life wife show up to surprise their respective exes. Then they pull out of the "drunk woman and her wine" trope and I was done. Not even the gorgeous cinematography, Kat Graham's adorableness, and Tom Hopper's surprising comedic chops could save it for me.
✓ Falling for Christmas (Lindsay Lohan and Chord Overstreet • November 10, 2022)
This was one of the most wacky premises of a Hallmark film that I've seen. Except it's on Netflix. Picture this... Paris Hilton has an accident and gets amnesia. She ends up at a small lodge down the road from a Hilton Hotel WHERE NOBODY KNOWS WHO SHE IS! Except Paris Hilton is played by Lindsay Lohan. What makes this worth a watch is Lindsay Lohan. She is 1000% in her element as the spoiled, wealthy hotel chain heiress, and hysterically self-referential in her choices. So great. But either version of Overboard did the amnesia thing better.
✓ The Noel Diary (Barrett Doss and Justin Hartley • November 24, 2022)
A world-famous author returns home after the unexpected death of his mother. While there he runs across a woman looking for her mother, who used to be his nanny when he was a little boy. From there they hit the road... both of them trying to get answers to questions, and find closure in their lives. And maybe even some romance. Too bad that she is engaged to be married. But that's bound to be shoved aside for a guy she's known for three days, isn't it?
✓ BAD! I Believe in Santa (Christina Moore and John Ducey • December 14, 2022)
Categorically awful in every way. And I don't know what else there is to say about this mess. Woman starts dating a guy who literally believes in Santa Claus. Her young daughter is thrilled. She's mortified. And despite the guy's best friend having a sweet speech he delivers in defense of a grown man who believes Santa is real... I felt stupider for having watched this mess. Of all the things that Netflix could have done with the money that went into this...
✓ Love & Where to Find It (Elise Gatien and Clayton James • January 30, 2022)
She's a hometown coffee shop owner and budding dessert baker. He's building an evil big-chain shop across the street. And you know exactly how things are going to end up at Minute Seven where it's telecast for all to hear. It's not even remotely organic, but a full-on in-your-face broadcast of the movie's ending. Yet I suffered through it like a champ anyway. To the shock of nobody they end up interacting without realizing it when they help their respective friends interact on a dating app, then she ends up finding out who he is and is mad about it... yet hangs out with him regardless, growing fonder by the moment. It's essentially a sad You've Got Mail remake on a budget... WHICH LITERALLY USES SOME OF THE EXACT SAME DIALOGUE IN SPOTS! LITERALLY!! It's like they didn't even try to hide it. Toss in a few Facebook memes because they weren't clever enough to come up with their own story, and that sums up this entirely lackluster and redundant effort.
✓ Listen Out for Love (Stephanie Bennett and Mark Ghanimé • February 6, 2022)
This was so utterly boring that I checked out almost immediately, so I am not entirely certain what was going on. Blah blah podcast producer in ratings trouble. Blah blah bad numbers. Blah blah irritating guy shoved on producer so he can make her numbers go up. Blah blah wealthy and popular lifestyle guru finding love. Whatever. The most memorable thing about this snooze-fest was the music. They overused what they had, but it all sounded pretty good. Alas, if that's all your movie has going for it, you really needed to work on a few things before letting the cameras roll.
✓ BAD The Story of Love (Brittany Bristow and Franco Lo Presti • February 13, 2022)
Oh gawd. This is atrocious in just about every way possible. Budding romance novelist gets a crack at becoming a pro thanks to a contest her mother secretly entered her in. To compete for her favorite romance writer of all time, she had to go to an outdoor retreat where she meets an adventure guide, THEN GETS INTO EVERY SINGLE STUPID CLICHÉ YOU'VE EVER SEEN... before finding out that her favorite writer doesn't even write his own books. But first she has to dismiss the adventure guide she's falling for because he tried to tell her the truth. This movie is ten buckets of stupid with a horrific plot that's made even worse as you watch the actors try to deliver the inane dialogue with any amount of seriousness. AVOID.
✓ The Wedding Arrangement (Kristina Cole and Cody Griffis • March 22, 2022)
"I just did that guy thing where I rush in and try to fix everything." Guy thing? You did something nice and got shitted on for it. You know, there are times I watch one of these things and find myself begging... begging for the guy to dump the girl and run away as fast as they possibly can (though, to be fair, there's an equal number of times I'm begging the girl to dump the guy). RUN CODY GRIFFIS! It's just astounding that people overreact negatively to kindness in these movies and everybody involved just thinks that's normal. This girl acts like trash, and didn't deserve the guy. Likewise, the way they wrote him as a villain when he in no way deserves it is just beyond outrageous. Otherwise, this is actually not a bad concept. Just a pity they felt like sabotaging it.
✓ Just One Kiss (Krysta Rodriguez and Santino Fontana • April 2, 2022)
"Hey, we've got two leads who can sing! Let's make that into a movie!" This movie was so ridiculously boring that it was all I could do to stay awake through it all. The ghosts of two dead moms work together to set up their divorced children. Lackluster romance ensues. And what's sad is that it didn't have to be this way. Krysta Rodriguez was perfect in, well, everything... and Santino Fontana showed he had the chops for a Hallmark-style romance film in Off The Menu... so I have no idea what went wrong. Except to guess that so much was put into working in the singing that they forgot to actually work on a story.
✓ Cloudy with a Chance of Christmas (Valery M. Ortiz and Brandon Quinn • December 2, 2022)
This movie was shot in nearby Tourist Town (my name for Leavenworth, WA). The story isn't great. And the dialogue is atrocious... sounding entirely unnatural. Plus the acting is truly Z-list. But they did their research and know their history, so that's something. What's funny is that this could have been paid for by the Chamber of Commerce, because it feels more like ham-fisted promotion than actual story. And yet... it's not terrible if you want to learn something about "Christmas Town, USA." Just ignore the wacky comic-book "villain" they dragged into it and you'll be fine.