Month: April 2020

The Seven Year Hitch (2012)

The Seven Year Hitch revolves around a surprise marriage between two best friends, so maybe it’s fitting that I was also a little surprised by this movie. Though it boasts a daffy premise and some dated make-up and fashion choices, it’s not half bad and is helped by strong performances. The actors overcome the inherent silliness of the story, and Darin Brooks in particular convinces as the lazier, more carefree half of the pair.

Jennifer (Natalie Hall) and Kevin (Brooks) have been inseparable since he rescued her slinky from the neighborhood bully years ago. In the subsequent decades, however, their paths have diverged even as they remain together. She graduated from college, found a respectable job, and even bought a house, which is how you know this is fiction, while he’s been riding her coattails and having a grand old time of it. Kevin supports his best friend forever by always being around but never finishing or accomplishing anything. He thinks nothing of the fact that he lives rent-free under Jennifer’s roof and spends his substantial down time creating history-themed board games. Jennifer’s engagement to Bryce (Ryan Doom) threatens their happy union though, and unless Kevin can find a way to stop this wedding, he’s going to lose his home, his livelihood, and his best friend.

The easiest solution would be to expose Bryce as the womanizing bastard is, but the messier, more creative solution would be to claim common law marriage due to their seven years of living together. Kevin’s brother (John Sloan) offhandedly mentions that Jennifer and Kevin are practically husband and wife anyway, so the latter runs with the idea, hoping that there’s something to this quirk of the law. When Jennifer realizes that they indeed fulfill the narrow criteria for common law marriage – damn her attempt to get the cheaper couples cruise package and the ugly handmade ring she’s been wearing for years – she hits back with a plan of her own. Knowing that Kevin’s sure to give up on anything that requires more than a day’s effort, she sets out to house-husband him into exhaustion. She sticks him with everything from renewing the dishwasher warranty to babysitting duties in order to force his hand.

The face-off changes their relationship for better and for worse, but most of all, it lays bare the commitment each has to the other. Sure, there are other ways of coming to these truths, which is why there are also other Hallmark movies, but I like the unconventional plot. I concede that much of it is ridiculous, and it underplays the fact that Kevin’s a selfish leech and Jennifer a foolish enabler. It also wastes an appearance by George Wendt as their neighbor. Brooks’s performance wins me over though and not just because he’s a loveable loaf to Doom’s smug, insufferable Bryce. Kevin earns my affection through his self-awareness, rising to the occasion in practical and emotional terms. Like Bryce, I initially thought he needed a kick in the pants, but I can see why Jennifer likes him so much. Hall has less occasion to impress. She stays within the parameters of her character, and as a somewhat exasperated romantic lead, Jennifer is more effective at highlighting Kevin’s qualities.

Released: 2012
Dir: Bradford May
Writer: Brian Sawyer
Cast: Natalie Hall, Darin Brooks, Frances Fisher, George Wendt, Ryan Doom, John Sloan, Katy Stoll
Time: 88 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movie Channel
Reviewed: 2020

Rescuing Madison (2014)

When reviewing movies, sometimes a thumbs up or down will suffice. Rescuing Madison is one such film, a thumbs down if we’re judging on merits alone. But man, the Gregory Peck rabbit hole I went down was totally worth it, so a definite thumbs up too. It can’t be helped that star Ethan Peck bears such a resemblance to his grandfather and is himself so Ferragamo-ad-worthy. Unfortunately, the comparisons are skin deep, and Peck the Younger still has a ways to go when it comes to the acting bit. He has a strong screen presence nevertheless and makes for a charming firefighter who finds his personal life turned upside down when he rescues a pop star.

John (Peck) lives in a pop culture-less bubble and has never heard of singer Madison Park (Alona Tal) until his kid sister, Krissy (Juliette Angelo), hits him up for money to buy concert tickets. He gives her a hard no but finds himself drawn into Madison’s world after he pulls the star from a smoking concert hall. A quick check-up at the hospital turns into something more when she does what any woman in her situation would do asks the handsome firefighter to dinner. John agrees because of course, and the next thing you know, the two are tucked away in some dimly lit restaurant for a fancy bite.

Their relationship moves quickly even as they maintain the “just friends” charade. The sudden attraction hardly makes sense though. Madison, a former teen star, craves normalcy and control over her personal life and understandably finds John appealing, but I wouldn’t guess that a dinner date would be the logical next step. Maybe a visit the firehouse with some sandwiches or some free tickets for Krissy would do, but a full-blown relationship seems far-fetched. Yet it’s the necessary first step if we’re going to have a movie at all, and so baseless romance it is. Anyway, Madison’s very fruitful vocal rest gives her time to deal with her ex-boyfriend and former groupmate, Jordan (Zack Lively). He’s trying to stage a comeback as well and, aided by scheming managers and the paparazzi, thinks that rekindling their romance will benefit both their careers.

Neither the story nor the characters engage in nuance or depth, and Madison’s manager is particularly obnoxious. A comic antagonist, Rad (C. Thomas Howell) has no interest in Madison as a person and cares about her inasmuch as he can use her to boost his own profile. The other characters are similarly one note with a small surprise here and there. John doesn’t offer much either besides being the agreeable puppy dog of a boyfriend, also his good looks. (Someone at Hallmark cast him as Michael Rady’s brother, by the way.) A better actor may have brought more to the role since Peck seems to struggle with his character, always coming in half a second late with his reactions if he’s emoting at all. Tal, by contrast, makes the most of her limited part. Madison is a generic character, a likable young woman working to overcome her past, but the actor brings her down to earth. Madison may be dealing with pressures of stardom, but we also see that those are everyday difficulties – family, romance, and career – amplified by her status.

Released: 2014
Dir: Bradford May
Writer: Bob Saenz
Cast: Alona Tal, Ethan Peck, C. Thomas Howell, Ted McGinley, Sherilyn Fenn, Kadeem Hardison, Juliette Angelo, Evan Parke, Skyler Vallo, Andres Perez-Molina, Zack Lively, Jenn Korbee
Time: 90 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: PixL
Reviewed: 2020

Tulips in Spring (2016)

In a battle between movies about flower farms, I’m going with Poinsettias for Christmas over Tulips in Spring because never bet against Bethany Joy Lenz. But if you’re eager to see the exact same plot with different flowers, then also check out the tulips. You won’t be disappointed by stars Fiona Gubelmann and Lucas Bryant, whom I enjoyed watching despite my constantly comparing their film to the poinsettias.

Gubelmann plays L.A.-based interior designer Rose, a damn waste of a name since she should have been called Tulip. After toiling away at her firm for a few years, she finally gets to lead a major project, her Venus de Milo or Abbey Road if you will. She’s given the Tannenhill House account, a very big deal, but the timing of her big break is all off. Just as she’s about to prove her skills to her boss (Kelly Rowan), her father, Frank (Kevin McNulty), takes a tumble, necessitating her return to the family farm to help out during tulip harvesting season.

When she arrives at home, however, she discovers that her parents are already getting extra help from their handsome broker, Tom (Bryant). Rose, somewhat surprised by this development since she’d grown up hating brokers, quickly realizes that Tom’s not another stuffy old dude afraid of getting dirt under his nails. In fact, he’s the opposite, a local boy who grew up in the flower business. He’s rooting for this small farm to succeed too, which is why he’s entered Frank’s hybrid into a national competition.

It’s never just one problem though, and keeping her father off his feet is just one of the many challenges Rose faces. For starters, she and her father don’t even get on; he resents her for bailing the second she graduated, and she resents his resentment. The state of affairs is such that he hasn’t told her that about the farm’s financial woes. They need a good showing at the competition if they’re going to survive the season, but when Frank’s special tulips fail to bloom, the family’s livelihood is in jeopardy. Rose’s high school rival Violet (Aliyah O’Brien) (srsly with these names), offers to buy them out, but Rose isn’t about to cede their property and business to the woman throwing herself at cute Tom.

Gubelmann’s a good choice for all of this because I can’t imagine the Hallmark version of her that isn’t at least a bit sunny amidst a barrage of bad news. I haven’t seen her other work, but I like her pluckiness and she excels at characters like Rose, who’s slightly out of her depth but who somehow finds the courage to plow through her problems. You know that things aren’t going to work out the way she expects when she assures her boss that she can Skype her way through the Tannenhill redesign. She nevertheless inspires a certain confidence, like Tom, who keeps a chill cowboy aura even when things go south. I prefer Rose’s earnest boyfriend (Giles Panton) back in L.A., but Bryant can steady the ship with one stern look, and sometimes, you just need that kind of calm, whether or not you own a tulip farm.

Released: 2016
Dir: David Winning
Writer: Tracy Andreen, David Boyles
Cast: Fiona Gubelmann, Lucas Bryant, Kelly Rowan, Iris Quinn, Kevin McNulty, Aliyah O’Brien, David Santana, Giles Panton
Time: 84 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2020