Just Desserts (2004)

If you’re up for early aughts fashion, ethnic stereoypes, and about forty minutes of romantic cheese, then Just Desserts is for you. Lauren Holly and Costas Mandylor star as a pastry chef and baker from opposite sides of the New York tracks looking to shake up their careers. To do that, they must overcome their differences and team up to win a baking competition. The kitchen’s got them more hot and bothered for each other than for their fancy cakes though.

Grace (Holly) has reached the end of her rope as a pastry chef at a high-end restaurant. She wants to start her own place but who in 2004 is going to lend a woman money? Marco (Mandylor), meanwhile, is slinging dough at his family’s bakery in the Bronx, trying to fend off a donut shop takeover and a date with Angie (Maria Bertrand), the wallflower his mom wishes he would marry. Grace and Marco have no reason to meet until a chance Olivier cake tasting leads him to her kitchen.

The two immediately butt heads because that’s what happens when a snobby pastry chef and a moody Bronx baker get together. The antipathy doesn’t last long though. Both find they have more important things in common, like a singular focus on sweets and a desire to boost their careers. Their best chance to achieve their goals is to enter the Golden Whisk baking competition, which comes with prestige and enough prize money to reboot their lives.

The film has a dated charm, and the set-up is the best thing about this movie. It borrows every play in the romcom book and ends up with something that isn’t great but that is at least done with gusto. Mandylor commits to his part as conflicted immigrant son, and by that I mean he hilariously overacts. When he’s not wrangling with his aging Uncle Fabrizio (David Proval), he’s sparring with his Very Italian Mom (Brenda Vaccaro), who spouts gems like “You can’t marry a bread mixer, and you can’t have a baby with a cannoli,” which is true. Not to be outdone, Grace and Marco have their own moment. A broken air conditioner leads to a gloriously over-the-top scene that has the sweaty, breathless, half-naked couple whipping up a chocolate cake or some other confection.

That playfulness falters once the story moves out of the pair’s familiar New York confines. Things slow down just as the competition heats up despite appearances by Marco’s former friend and classmate Jacques (Andrew Lauer) and Grace’s eager boyfriend, Jim (Bruce Thomas). This part of the film is a slog, undone by uneven pacing and a lack of focus. While the Golden Whisk starts off with a bang, an extended talky stretch puts the brakes on the excitement. Grace and Marco dither over their relationship, trying to figure out their feelings for each other while also perfecting their torta barozzi. About the only high point comes courtesy of the French competitors, whose dedication to their berets somehow typifies the movie’s whole exaggerated mood.

Released: 2004
Dir: Kevin Connor
Writer: Joseph Tropiano
Cast: Lauren Holly, Costas Mandylor, Dorie Barton, Andrew Lauer, Brenda Vaccaro, David Proval, Maria Bertrand, Bruce Thomas, Rodger Bumpass, Alan Shearman
Time: 92 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2020