Matching Hearts isn’t a total wash. I love me some Donna Benedicto, who proves once again why she should be a Hallmark lead instead of sidekick. She brightens every scene she’s in and sweeps in with a fresh, fun feel that not even the movie’s beautiful stars can muster. Likewise, Antonio Cayonne and Latonya Williams lift the film by being their cool, casual selves. Osric Chau is apparently doing Hallmark movies now too, which is not a complaint. He even gets what we’re calling a breakthrough gay storyline, though it’s really just a weak half-second glance with another dude. That’s not to say I’m giving Hallmark credit because shit’s still white and straight as hell, but I guess they’re catching up with the late 90s.
Performative diversity, if we consider that a positive, is about the only thing this movie has going for it though. Well, that and puppies. The story’s a mess, and stars Ryan Paevey and Taylor Cole show that perfect bone structure does not correlate with acting ability and charisma. Paevey in particular can’t seem to find his natural rhythm in front of the camera. I love, love looking at the man, even if he seems to have gone through an aging app, but acting is perhaps not his greatest strength. He nevertheless comes across as a kind and decent guy, so that works in his favor. Cole fares better in terms of her acting; at least she isn’t working out the mechanics of it in real time. Her character lacks personality though, a fault of the writing to be sure but also a quality common to so many blandly pleasant Hallmark actors.
Still, this couple might have pulled it off with a better story. Matching Hearts can barely keep things together as it is, and the lack of more forceful personalities reveals the story’s many deficiencies. The central idea of a human-run matchmaking service, as opposed to an internet one, just never comes together. It’s hard to imagine a whole ass business doing the work of your meddling grandma and neighbor or even a cold algorithm. That’s because you have to pay Julia (Cole) and all her matchmaking colleagues to shepherd you through a process that includes multiple on-site interviews, date observations, and evaluations. It’s no wonder Daniel (Paevey) scoffs at the idea when he’s gifted an initial consultation by his friend and one of Julia’s satisfied customers.
Then again, Daniel, a semi-retired businessperson who now owns a dog adoption center and gives out startup advice, isn’t into the whole dating thing. To be fair, he’s not into much of anything besides dogs, which is another reason this movie never gets off the ground. The character is so vaguely defined that his personality can be whatever you want it to be. Paevey, for his part, struggles to add more than his smoldering good looks to the equation.
Cole has better luck with Julia, a bland character but at least a multidimensional one. She has clear professional motivations and wants to take over the company in the long term. For now though, she’s happy to shake up her boss’s (Lossen Chambers) fusty ways. She gets the chance when she’s left in charge of an annual Valentine’s Day party but also ends up pushing her luck in ways that would probably get most of us fired. Meanwhile, her efforts to match Daniel have her rethinking that company policy on dating clients.
In the end, the movie can’t overcome its static plot and characters. Hallmark seems to think that pretty people, chocolate tastings, and dogs are all the ingredients necessary for a romantic romp, but this film proves otherwise. You can’t generate those loved up feelings when all you have is a plot divorced from reality and characters who don’t stand out.
Dir: Siobhan Devine
Writer: Zac Hug, Sarah Wise, Laurence Walsh-Hodso
Cast: Taylor Cole, Ryan Paevey, Donna Benedicto, Osric Chau, Lossen Chambers, Debs Howard, Latonya Williams, Antonio Cayonne, Jessica Steen, Milo Shandel, Lara Gilchrist, Chris Shields, Derek Kwan
Time: 84 min
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel