Month: October 2018

Love at Sea (2018)

I don’t know if Royal Caribbean is hurting for customers or just trying out a new marketing strategy, but they have been making a push for their Harmony of the Seas jumbo liner. Love at Sea is the second movie I’ve watched in as many months that features this glimmering monstrosity, and both proved a chore to sit through. I was looking forward to seeing Alexa and Carlos PenaVega since a) I enjoyed their Christmas outing last year, and b-z) I demand more Hallmark movies featuring people of color, but this script isn’t helping anyone.

The husband and wife team play a novice cruise director and event planner, respectively, and find themselves tested when they’re forced to work together. Olivia, daughter of a well known hotelier, is still smarting from a breakup when she agrees to help her friend, Ally (Melissa Carcache), with a job that takes both of them aboard the Harmony of the Seas. Ally, a popular YouTube personality who hosts her own lifestyle channel, will be filming from the ship alongside a Gordon Ramsey-like celebrity chef, and Olivia has to make sure the cruise tour is a success, not only so that her friend can land a network show but also so that she can establish her own event planning business.

First time cruise director Tony might scuttle those plans though. While she’s the type who schedules things to the minute, he’s more of an adventurous, let’s go with the flow and see what the day brings kind of guy. It doesn’t seem like the right personality for a person who’s in charge of a 6000+ passenger cruise liner, but that’s just me. Although he wants to help Olivia he’s also overseeing a thousand other activities and has one shot to get things right if he’s going to secure a promotion.

The ship looks grand and we get some nice sea views, but the first half of the movie is a mess. The script seems determined to set up an Elizabeth Bennett/Mr. Darcy kind of relationship between Olivia and Tony with the two going out of their way to create problems. Olivia doesn’t have sympathy for Tony’s job situation and the fact that he’s a last-minute fill-in for another director, and he feels no obligation to honor the company’s previous arrangements with her. On top of that, Olivia’s former romantic interest (Edward Finlay) is onboard to write an article for a travel magazine, and her mom (Audrey Landers), who looks like she hasn’t recovered from her pills, suddenly has a new boyfriend. There’s a lot of noise and tension, but it’s the kind that makes you want to change the channel and not figure out what’s happening next.

And I did change the channel, until I decided to give the movie another chance. The second half improves, and I credit that to the turn towards a Fanny Price/Edmund Bertram relationship between the couple. The PenaVegas’ chemistry shines when Olivia and Tony start supporting each other. They show off more of their characters, including their vulnerabilities; her edges get smoothed down while he gets a better handle on his responsibilities. There are some clichéd scenes between the two – when they’re forced to cook together, when he serenades her during an evening show – but those give the movie a hint of the real-life romance that is the actors’ strength.

Released: 2018
Dir: Mel Damski
Writer: Nina Weinman
Cast: Alexa PenaVega, Carlos PenaVega, Melissa Carcache, Audrey Landers, William R. Moses, Edward Finlay
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark
Reviewed: 2018

Once Upon a Prince (2018)

Half of the things that happen in Hallmark movies happen to me. I get stranded at airports and in small towns. I am from a small town. I confide in my mom. I confide in my mom because I don’t have a boyfriend – according to her and only her. I once had a job that left me with some money but no social life. I love Christmas. I eat sushi alone, at a restaurant, on a Friday night. Okay, that last one is because I live in Hong Kong where such scenes are totally normal. But on zero occasions did any of these scenarios lead to romance or even an encounter with someone I fancied.

Once Upon a Prince is another reminder of how my life always starts out like a Hallmark movie but never makes it past the first scenes. Like Susanna Truitt (Megan Park), I also worked at a garden supply store and had my car break down on the highway, but unlike her, a handsome prince didn’t come help a sister out. No, it was just me, the semi-retired lady, and the sexually aggressive frat boy loading topsoil and price checking suet cakes and, when the car died, just me and the brother waiting for AAA.

But it’s difficult to begrudge Susanna for her good luck and Prince Nate (Jonathan Keltz) for his because the two of them are so damn sweet. I feel bad for poking too hard at this fantasy even though I could easily harp on the movie’s formulaic plot, its bland storytelling, and its lack of compelling characters. In fact, Once Upon a Prince may be one of the least outstanding entries in the American girl marries British-adjacent royal genre. Others are memorable for their leading (and actually British) stars or for their wacky narratives, but this movie bets on two likable leads and their sappy, subdued romance.

Susanna is a landscape artist from Georgia who undersells herself and Nate is the soon-to-be-crowned-king of Cambria who wants to be treated like a normal dude, and both are really nice people who deserve good things and each other. Both are portrayed by actors with a calming onscreen presence, and I am here for a mild love stories every now and again. I’ll gladly take another Hallmark movie in which Park and Keltz play polite lovers if that means there’s one less Lacey Chabert movie out in the world (sorry, LC fans).

That’s because Susanna and Nate aren’t the usual glamorous, slightly out of place duo one finds in these films. Instead, they have a fresh appeal that is genuine and without ego. They don’t make many enemies, which leaves the movie without much of an antagonist. Nate’s mom, The Queen (Sara Botsford), opposes the match, but her son’s going to be king so it doesn’t really matter what she thinks. On-again, off-again Cambrian girlfriend, Lady Ginny (Marlie Collins), surprisingly keeps her distance too, even though she’s primed to stir things up.

That leaves the other supporting characters, dulled by their steadfast love and support for the couple. Susanna’s family have all but adopted Nathan as their new in-law, and though the prince’s body man (Charles Jarman) is a bit more wary, he remains firmly in his charge’s corner. Duty is all that’s left to get in the way, and even that offers little in terms of narrative tension. Who needs story though when you have two nice people in love? And a prince.

Released: 2018
Dir: Alex Wright
Writer: Tracey Andreen
Cast: Megan Park, Jonathan Keltz, Kayla Wallace, Charles Jarman, Colleen Winton, Sara Botsford, Marlie Collins, Frances Flanagan, Jake T. Roberts
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark
Reviewed: 2018

Falling for Vermont (2017)

The soundtrack of my mom and I watching this movie is ninety minutes of us cackling about how ridiculous everything is, and we always watch Hallmark movies. So you can imagine how much hokier Falling for Vermont is than the usual fare. Julie Gonzalo and Benjamin Ayres are champs for getting through it all with a straight face, and their dedicated performances make this cheesy movie at least tolerable. Still, it’s a film about a woman who experiences a temporary bout of amnesia and falls in love with the town doctor, so expect lots of bewildered expressions.

Gonzalo plays Boston-based writer Angela Young, who is about to go J.K. Rowling on the world with her Time Visitor young adult book series. Her boyfriend and manager, Brad (Peter Benson), overcommits her during her latest publicity tour, leading to some serious anxiety attacks. Just before a television interview, she bolts, taking her sister’s car for a drive to who knows where, which turns out to be the small town of Hopedale, Vermont. One bad rainstorm and car crash later, she’s found wandering along the highway with no memory of who she is or how she got there.

The only way the rest of the movie works is if you believe that the sheriff who found Angela took two damn weeks to find her car. But then, she would have been promptly shipped back to Boston, and we wouldn’t have a movie with this dumb title. We are going to suspend our disbelief, however, because there is a love story to tell, and it is one between Angela and the one doctor in town. Widowed Dr. Jeff (Ayres) agrees to take in Elizabeth, as she is now called, and she stays at his guest house to the delight of his two children.

It’s a funny town, this little Hopedale, but Angela doesn’t seem to mind the oddities. She doesn’t care that she has to walk around in scrubs for a few days because no one has the decency to lend her real clothes. Nor does she notice the fake autumn trees that pop out like desperate extras hoping for a cameo. Most importantly, she doesn’t notice that Jeff barely works considering he’s the only doctor in town.

Actually, Angela does remark on this on one occasion, but thank goodness everyone in Hopedale is healthy because that gives the two young, attractive people a chance to get to know each other. Jeff’s precocious daughter, Emily (Lauren McNamara), encourages the relationship and forms a bond with Angela when she asks for help writing a short play for the upcoming fall festival.

I have to hand it to the two leads who make the most out of this inane script. Gonzalo especially finds moments of humor, some intended and others not. She wears the earnest look of an improv artist, capturing Angela’s sense of constant surprise and willingness to just go with the flow. Ayres, who reminds me of a tamer Jason Sudeikis, also gives his character enough seriousness to keep up appearances but retains a lurking cheekiness. That’s not to say the movie is good or even worth watching, but it’s not entirely without merit.

Released: 2017
Dir: David Winning
Writer: Jay Baxter, Shaun Zaken
Cast: Julie Gonzalo, Benjamin Ayres, Peter Benson, Larissa Albuquerque, Lauren McNamara, Barbara Kottmeier, Christian Michael Cooper, Jenn Griffin, Anthony Bolognese, Doron Bell
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark
Reviewed: 2018