Hallmark operates in a world where annual pumpkin pie contests and harvest festivals take on outsized importance, which is why this film channels a Hatfields and McCoys level rivalry for a story about warring bakers. After best friends and pie goddesses Faye (Michele Scarabelli) and Lydia (Jennifer-Juniper Angeli) fall out over the opening of a new bakery and the use of premade cookie dough, they spend the next decade trying to one up each other in the annual pumpkin pie contest. A win isn’t just a matter of pride though. It also means a financial boost for the respective bakery, and this year, Faye needs one more than ever. But an injury takes her out of the competition and she calls on her daughter to fill her shoes.
There’s a small problem, however; Casey (Julie Gonzalo) can’t tell the difference between baking powder and baking soda. If she wants to make it past the first round, she’ll need a lot of help. Luckily this story also throws in a little bit of Romeo and Juliet, and Lydia’s son, Sam (Eric Aragon), does know his way around a kitchen. In fact, he went to culinary school and aspires to own his own restaurant. With Faye out of the competition, Lydia gives her spot to him, unaware of where his feelings might lead. It doesn’t take long before Sam and Casey are sneaking around like teenagers and mixing batter late into the night. In return, she puts her Wharton degree, a qualification she manages to work into every conversation, to good use and draws up a business plan for his proposed restaurant.
Unlike the creative recipes in the movie, Pumpkin Pie Wars doesn’t endeavor to try anything new. It’s your average frozen pie, slightly sweet and serviceable but lacking in imagination and flavor. Let’s face it; a baking competition is not high stakes when it comes to stories about warring families and forbidden love. Gonzalo and Aragon are nice to look at and have good chemistry, but Casey and Sam don’t have a fiery romance that will set your heart alight. There’s something routine in Faye and Lydia’s sniping as well as their disagreements over their children’s careers. You could just as well watch some church ladies going at it, and that would probably be more exciting.
No one turns to the Hallmark Channel for award-winning storytelling though, and if you just want to see lovely people wearing warm-colored cardigans and crisp fall leaves fluttering strategically into place, then you’ve found the right movie. I will also give a rare golf clap to Hallmark for featuring Argentine-born Gonzalo in a lead role, though they may not have known it at the time. For once, we have a Latina and a bank of non-white extras showing us the holiday spirit. I will raise my pumpkin spiced drink to that.
Dir: Steven R. Monroe
Writer: Nina Weinman
Cast: Julie Gonzalo, Eric Aragon, Michele Scarabelli, Jennifer-Juniper Angeli, Peter Graham-Gaudreau, Dolores Drake
Time: 83 min
Country: United States