The Sweeter Side of Life is an unexpected treat from Hallmark, which in recent years has fine tuned its trademark look and tone. I call it matte perfection, where everything is just so and no one element calls too much attention to itself. The characters, the story, the set all blend into one beige blob with occasional flecks of pastel to give proceedings additional life and color. It’s a kind of blandness that comes from not taking any risks, and Hallmark is great at safe and predictable. So I was a little surprised by this movie, which leans more towards a big screen comedy than say The Sweetest Heart, as lifeless a romance as any. While it won’t go on anyone’s top ten list, it’s fun and funny and moves to a different rhythm.
Love figures into the story, but it’s not the main focus. Instead, Desiree’s (Kathryn Morris) journey from socialite to local star baker is at the center. It starts though with her husband Wade’s (Stephen Hogan) affair with his acupuncturist, which leads to a divorce which leads to her being shut out from everything that matters to her. Suddenly she’s locked out of her New York penthouse, stripped of her designer wardrobe, and shunned by her shallow friends. She has no choice but to haul herself across the river back home to New Jersey.
Her father, Paddy (James Best), is more than happy to welcome her, not least because he could use an extra hand at his bakery. Desiree reluctantly puts on her old apron, wallowing in self-pity all the while because her life of gym classes and brunching has been reduced to fending off gossipy old ladies and delivering baguettes in an ancient Mini. Nevertheless, it motivates her to get back at Wade and reclaim the life she should be leading, that is until her new “paddycake” dessert starts to take off.
Anyway, who needs unfaithful friends and lovers when you have a ride or die bakery gang? The people cheering on Desiree turn out to be a lively bunch, a group full of personality and the ones who really make this film stand out. Morris has a riotous time launching into some of her character’s tantrums while still allowing Desiree to be likable in her lack of self-awareness. The supporting cast and characters, however, are just as memorable with my favorites being Eddie (Steve Varnom) and Calvin (Jerome Holder). Eddie is Desiree’s gregarious childhood friend and lawyer. I don’t know that I would trust him with any legal matters, but he manages to get things done and, more importantly, he won’t abandon the girl he kissed in the grade school boy’s bathroom. Calvin, the delivery boy with the pink scooter, I like for an entirely different reason, and that is Holder. The young actor bursts with charisma, and I can’t turn away when he’s flashing that megawatt smile. I found him just as appealing in Dough, which is also about a bakery, and I can’t wait to see him in more rolls roles.
That leaves Benny (Alastair Mackenzie), the romantic interest I almost forgot about. That’s not because he’s unexciting – quite the opposite, he’s a lovable Scottish Bill Pullman – but this romance is almost secondary. Desiree doesn’t need a new partner to affirm anything about her new life. She’s responsible for much of her own happiness. Benny just makes things that much better, which is maybe how things should be.
Dir: Michael Damian
Writer: Janeen Damian, Michael Damian
Cast: Kathryn Morris, James Best, Alastair Mackenzie, Steve Varnom, Sam Douglas, Stephen Hogan, Christine Oram, Jerome Holder
Time: 81 min
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel