Surprised by Love (2015)

The more I see of Hilarie Burton, the more I love her. Not only does the woman have loads of talent, she also has the good sense to advocate for more inclusion, something this plain yogurt channel doesn’t exactly excel at. In Surprised by Love, she and costar Paul Campbell elevate the film by creating sharp, compassionate characters, a pair you want to root for despite their flaws. It’s nothing extraordinary but still makes for a pleasurable diversion, combining solid acting, physical comedy, and a forgiving heart.

The story revolves around a cockamamie scheme drummed up by Josie (Burton) and her boyfriend, Richard (Aaron Craven), to impress her parents, Joseph (Malcolm Stewart) and Claire (Wanda Cannon). Joseph is pretty demanding when it comes to his daughter’s romantic partners, and corporate headhunter Richard doesn’t seem to have quite what it takes to win his approval despite ticking off all the right boxes. Left with few choices, the couple convince layabout Gridley (Cambell) to attend an upcoming anniversary party with Josie. They hope that her parents will find Gridley so offensive that they’ll relent and welcome Richard back with open arms.

Things quickly get out of hand, however, which is to say they kind of go according to plan. Gridley, who last made a bad impression as Josie’s prom date, once again provokes the ire of Joseph and Claire, who can’t believe their perfect daughter is still hanging out with this loser. And, if his presence isn’t enough to throw off the good vibes, he causes a series of accidents that threatens to ruin the party before it starts. Claire, for one, needs the evening to go smoothly, not so much for sentimental reasons but because she wants to show up her snooty neighbor. She’ll be damned if Gridley fucks things up and, I don’t know, force her to swap fancy desserts for Twinkies. In the madness though, some truths are made clear, and Josie and her family begin to see the better side of Gridley.

The super acting duo of Burton and Campbell really shine. Burton has a way of exuding warmth and kindness even when she plays someone like Josie, who’s a bit of a princess. Though she’s a laser-focused brand manager at her parents’ kitchenware company, she’s not too stuck-up to sneak into her old high school or counsel her college dropout sister, Mindy (Leanne Lapp). Similarly, Campbell balances the different facets of his character. He nails the physicality of Gridley, an artist who works with reclaimed wood, drives a truck that runs on vegetable oil, and teaches water aerobics on occasion, but the actor also gives him a nerdy humility. Gridley immediately embraces Mindy, seeing and appreciating her for the artist she is. He’s also the only one who treats the family’s elderly, mute grandfather (Tim Conway) with real dignity. The couple may seem like a mismatch at first and even in the end they don’t overwhelm with romance, but they share a comforting kind of love that depends on laughter and small acts of generosity.

Released: 2015
Dir: Robert Iscove
Writer: Neal H. Dobrofsky, Tippi Dobrofsky
Cast: Hilarie Burton, Paul Campbell, Malcolm Stewart, Wanda Cannon, Leanne Lapp, Tim Conway, Aaron Craven, Sebastian Gacki, Patti Allan, Vincent Gale
Time: 84 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2020