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.
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
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel