Month: March 2020

Love and Sunshine (2019)

Love and Sunshine is about as bland as its title, and it’s hard to find too much to recommend here except for Sunshine, the titular Golden Retriever. I’m far from a dog person but even I couldn’t stop cooing about this beautiful pup, especially since the humans turned out to be a bit of a bore. Danica McKellar and Mark Deklin are dutifully chipper in this romance about a returning serviceman who reunites with his dog and falls for the woman fostering it. The two make a pleasant pair but are hampered by a low stakes story. Things do eventually take a dramatic turn but too late to salvage the movie.

It may also be that I’ve reached the end of my McKellar rope. In the past, I’ve enjoyed the actor’s cheery presence, but I find myself increasingly lumping her with the other graduates of the furrowed brow school of acting, of which Candace Cameron Bure is a star alumna. If McKellar’s not flashing a megawatt smile, she’s scrunching her eyebrows to convey Very Deep Concern. She doesn’t bring much nuance to her character Ally, owner of a nursery who could just as well be any other Hallmark character played by McKellar. Like those women, Ally comes with an abundance of high spirits. Her bright demeanor helps her power through any and all difficulties, including a telephone breakup with her fiancé, Ben (Peter Benson). His appreciation for Ally’s horticultural eye hasn’t changed, however, and he needs her talents to keep his landscaping business afloat.

Things take a turn for the better when Jake (Deklin), owner of the military dog she’s been fostering, enters the picture. The two barely say their hellos before going out on a doggy date and regaling each other with their life stories. Soon they’re finding every excuse they can to see each other, even though it seems like they only things they share are a mutual love for Sunshine and a lack of a social life. That’s enough for me these days, so I’m not judging, but the problem here is that their meetings present only the veneer of friendship and romance.

Simply put, Ally and Jake aren’t that interesting. They bond over things like bath time with Sunshine and one very color coordinated July 4th party, but we don’t know much about them beyond that. Ally’s main conflict is a subplot involving one of Ben’s clients (Brenda Crichlow), who favors her garden design and landscaping know-how. Jake’s characterization is far thinner, and as he avoids conversations of substance, it’s difficult to know him as anything more than the handsome dog owner. If all you want is a smiley couple making eyes at one another, then this is fine, but if you’re looking for an actual romance, you won’t get it here. By the time the movie finally does take a chance and try to pack an emotional punch, I’ve already disconnected from Ally and Jake, though Sunshine still gets my love.

Released: 2019
Dir: Ellie Kanner
Writer: Bart Baker, Glenn Rabney
Cast: Danica McKellar, Mark Deklin, Christine Chatelain, Peter Benson, Toby Levins, Jessie Fraser, Brenda Crichlow, Daniel Bacon
Time: 84 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2020

A Feeling of Home (2019)

A New England lifestyle vlog is the last thing this Midwest girl wants to watch, but that’s not the reason I’m not feeling A Feeling of Home. Instead, it’s the wobbly storytelling and questionable casting that has me wishing I’d skipped over this one. Jonna Walsh plays Abby Porter, a pert New England girl who’s on her way to her own line of home goods after her seashell and clambake themed videos catch the eye of Michael Carrington (David Lewis), the owner of a chain store in the Northeast. He wants her to be the face of New England living and is eager to showcase a range of her cookware and linens. The problem is Abby isn’t from Connecticut and Carrington must have New England’s finest or nothing at all.

Never mind the woman went to Yale and spent her summers in Maine with her mother’s family. That doesn’t cut it because really, Abby’s just a Texas girl and as much as she tries to suppress it, her roots come creeping out when she has to make a brief trip back home. After her estranged father, Wes (Robby Benson), takes a tumble, she agrees to give him a hand at his ranch, even though she’s scrambling to deliver a set of new cooking and decorating videos to Carrington. To her surprise, she’s not the only one helping out and finds that her dad has also hired her ex-boyfriend, Ryan (Nathan Parsons), as the new ranch hand.

These kinds of stories predictably go one of two ways with Abby and Ryan either engaging in a peppery back-and-forth or resuming their little love affair. There’s a bit of both when it comes to the couple, who must work through old resentments before acknowledging that they are indeed meant to be. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that invested in this romance with Walsh and Parsons keeping their distance. Both play it a little too cool, she channeling a garden party girl and he settling into a laid back Texas vibe. After some sparring, they come to a middle ground, and Ryan is by her side as she mends her troubled relationship with her father and her home state.

It’s hard to buy into the film’s central conflicts though when it’s never really clear how they got started. I’m all for stories about staying true to yourself and not above poking fun at New England snobbery, but Abby’s problems seem tacked on rather than a fundamental part of her character. The tension she has with her dad supposedly stems from a feeling of inadequacy – she thinks he’s always wanted a son – but Benson gives the impression that he’s a pushover when it comes to his daughter. Sure, he has some dated ideas about gender and would rather Ryan handle most of the ranch work, but it’s hard to blame the guy when Abby’s cleaning the chicken coop in her embroidered blouse and string of pearls. A different approach from Benson would have helped; he’s too much kindly neighbor from The Andy Griffith Show than he is gruff dad who knows how to talk to cattle more than he does his daughter.

Abby’s other issue, maintaining her New England façade, also doesn’t hold up. It’s one of those Hallmark problems, something that could be solved with a little research and straight talk but that instead becomes an overblown crisis. She’s worried that Carrington will discover she’s a fraud and that she’s really spending her week driving tractors and hawking barbecue sauce rather. The thing is though, she does have New England bona fides thanks to her mom and she makes killer seashell wind chimes. Maybe it’s because I’m not into purity tests, but I don’t think the fact that she also has Texas roots ruins her credibility.

Released: 2019
Dir: Richard Gabai
Writer: Gregg Rossen, Brian Sawyer, Duane Poole
Cast: Jonna Walsh, Nathan Parsons, Robby Benson, Shannon Chan-Kent, Matt Mazur, Maddie Phillips, David Lewis, Richard Ian Cox, Caitlin Stryker, Mary-Margaret Humes
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2020

Love Finds You in Sugarcreek (2014)

Love Finds You in Sugarcreek is a step above the usual UPtv offerings. Starring Sarah Lancaster and Tom Everett Scott, it’s a well acted film that tells a touching story about a father and son who find themselves stranded outside Amish country in Sugarcreek, Ohio. They are taken in by three elderly sisters, much to the disapproval of their niece who is sure the stranger is hiding a criminal past. The story weaves elements of faith, romance, and mystery without leaning too heavily on any one theme.

Lancaster plays Rachel, a police officer who was raised by her aunts Bertha (Kelly McGillis), Lydia (Annie Kitral), and Anna (Marianna Alacchi). Worried about their health and workload, she convinces them to finally give up the running of their inn. As a compromise, they insist they will still welcome anyone in need. Rachel acquiesces and doesn’t imagine this offer will be immediately taken up by scraggly Joe Matthews (Scott) and his young son, Bobby (Thomas Kapanowski). They sputter into town with no money and no ID, putting Rachel on edge and pushing her to do everything she can to protect her family.

Trust, and the lack thereof, drives this story, and we get a full spectrum of that here. Rachel all but accuses Joe of some unknown crime, so convinced of his guilt and general bad character that even her boss tells her to lay off. She thinks the worst of him and shuts down every opportunity for him to prove otherwise, not that he’s exactly eager to share his background. In fact, Joe has his own trust issues, preferring to run away from a tragic past rather than allow the good people of Sugarcreek help him find his way again. The caginess of both characters means neither is very likable, but credit to Lancaster and Scott for sticking to the less appealing aspects of Rachel and Joe. It’s easy to see ourselves in them, two people who are understandably wary of the world and protective of the people they love.

If the pair taps into the fear and vulnerability that guide our less charitable decisions, Rachel’s aunts offer an entirely different perspective. Their radical hospitality may look foolish and naïve to some, Rachel and Joe included, but it’s the farthest thing from that. Bertha’s face says it all; she’s not a woman who’s been sheltered from danger but one who knows the world well and acts with generosity anyway. I found myself deeply attracted to these three sisters, so moved by this faith that allows them to always err on the side of kindness. They model a life of faith and show how transformative it can be to act on love rather than on doubt and mistrust.

It’s no wonder Joe finds himself growing attached to the sisters and to their way of life. In Sugarcreek, he finds peace knowing that a day’s labor is enough. Scott could probably dig a little deeper into his character’s conflicted psyche, but he effectively shows Joe’s wariness and solitude. Lancaster and McGillis do better in their roles and have me that they’ve been living in the tiny town their whole lives. The only part of the movie that might be a distraction is the mystery thrown into the third act when Joe’s past collides with his present and we find out why he’s been on the run. This part of the plot adds an edge, and as an avid mystery watcher, I didn’t mind. However, it’s also somewhat forced and adds urgency to a story that doesn’t exactly need it.

Alt Title: Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, Ohio; Stranger in an Amish Town
Released: 2014
Dir: Terry Cunningham
Writer: Bryar Freed
Cast: Tom Everett Scott, Sarah Lancaster, Kelly McGillis, Thomas Kapanowski, Marianna Alacchi, Annie Kitral, Katherine DeBoer, Ken Strunk
Time: 93 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: UPtv
Reviewed: 2020