My Secret Valentine is dopey, loose with plot details, and features almost no people of color, all par for the course when it comes to Hallmark. But the movie also has two actors who leverage what they have and make the most out of a predictable story. Not content with the average “family business owner couples with the guy trying to buy her out” storyline, the filmmakers throw in an additional plot device – secret pen pals à la Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail. Well, it works because this one hits the sweet spot. It comes down to everyone in the production knowing exactly what they need to deliver and how to do it.
We can start with the setting, which is Oregon but actually some gorgeous countryside near Toronto. Though the story takes place in February, at least some of this movie was filmed in a few months earlier. No matter because the result is beautiful fall colors. They complement the sunsets and lush vineyards that are worthy supporting characters.
One could easily imagine a respected family winery hidden here, such as Grange Family Wines. The winery has been around for decades, but the current owner, Truman (Peter MacNeill), is on the verge of retirement and his daughter hopes to establish herself in Portland’s restaurant scene instead of taking over for him. Nevertheless, Chloe (Lacey Chabert) returns home, only to find that her father is thinking about selling the business to a boxed wine company.
Seth (Andrew Walker) is this self-styled trendy wine company’s rep, confident he can secure a deal and thus his promotion to vice president all in two days. He doesn’t count on butting heads with Chloe, who selfishly wants her dad to keep the winery without thinking about who would run the place. It takes Seth a little longer than expected to win over Truman, however, and in that time, Chloe and the winery start to win over him.
The movie could have easily stuck to the bare minimum and worked off Chloe and Seth’s initial dislike and opposing goals for Grange Wines. It would have been enjoyable as is, but the secret pen pal twist is also a welcome addition. Seth unknowingly rents a cottage belonging to Chloe’s family, and the tenant and landlord start leaving cute notes to one another, not realizing they also kind of hate each other. It doesn’t change the story’s trajectory, but it allows for a little more drama when they decide to meet.
This isn’t the real secret to My Secret Valentine though. What is really surprising is that this is Chabert and Walker’s first project as a couple. The two are so natural together, and their chemistry allows for a lot of the funny, playful moments that make this film stand out. Walker delivers some quality dork moments, especially when Seth and Chloe are trying to sell Grange Wines to local businesses. One of the movie’s best scenes is when Seth adopts what I hope is a purposely awful Texas accent and a shocked but amused Chloe has to roll with it. The two actors have an instinctive knack for one another, and each is willing to give as much as they get. They’re a believable couple but, more importantly, a couple I’d like to see more of.
Dir: Bruno Rocca, Bradley Walsh
Writer: Carrie Freedle
Cast: Lacey Chabert, Andrew Walker, Peter MacNeill, Tara Yelland, Catherine Burdon
Time: 83 min
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel