There’s much to enjoy about Recipe for Love, its two leads in particular. Danielle Panabaker and Shawn Roberts have all sorts of chemistry when it comes to their characters’ working and romantic relationship, and Roberts gives his difficult character more emotional depth than we’re used to seeing from a Hallmark guy. As praiseworthy as the cast is though, this movie is one flaming mess, and never was a film more in need of a rewrite and a good edit. Truly, I can’t think of another movie on this channel, which is not short on mediocre films, that is as incoherent as this one. The plot holes you need to jump over to get from A to B are a mental workout, and it wasn’t until I sat through an encore viewing on a slow Friday that I was able to piece together the whole narrative.
The storytelling malpractice almost ruins what would have been a decent film. Panabaker plays Lauren Hennessy, a recipe tester at the Food and Entertainment Network. She has whatever the equivalent of perfect pitch is to food and can break down any dish’s ingredients. Still, she’d rather be doing her own cooking and longs for the day when she can enroll in a Paris cooking school. That shit’s expensive though, so she has to play a thankless recipe monkey in the meantime.
Lauren gets a break when she’s assigned ghostwriting duties for Dexter Durant (Roberts), a network colleague and star of his own cooking show. The guy is a jerk, to put it plainly. He’s an amazing chef by all accounts, but he’s also a perfectionist who yells at the staff and has already blown through several publication dates and writers. This latest arrangement with Lauren is simply an opportunity for him to shower more contempt on a well-meaning stranger. Our girl’s not so meek, however, and resists his bullying, forcing him to acknowledge her own formidable skills in the kitchen.
That prompts a change in their relationship, like a complete and dizzying 180, and it’s just one of the many confusing things about this movie. While the general story is that of plucky woman helping aggro dude tap into his softer side, it’s up to the audience to piece much of this narrative together. It takes a while to work out the network connection between Lauren and Dexter, and even then I’m not sure why she has to follow him around like a PA. His moodiness is especially hard to pin down since we don’t see any motivation for his behavior until he’s decided to own up to his true identity as a sensitive chef with a touching backstory.
This isn’t just an issue with Dexter’s characterization though. The whole script leaves out details that give meaning to characters and scenes. Gio (Amos Mitchell), for example, shows up early on, but it’s hard to determine whether he’s to be the third side of a love triangle, Dexter’s network competitor, or, as it seems for most of the film, just some random Italian guy. Scene transitions are equally befuddling in that they didn’t really transition at all. More than a few times, I thought I was missing parts of the movie only to find that my satellite didn’t in fact cut out and that the action simply jumped forward, unmotivated by anything that came before. It’s jarring to see Lauren popping by Dexter’s house for a soul-baring cooking session when minutes earlier they were snapping at each other or to see Dexter’s show come close to the chopping block when the network’s been earnestly pushing for a cookbook. The story’s unpredictability does a disservice to Panabaker and Robert’s acting and chemistry. I enjoy the crackle of the two, who manage the push and pull of their characters’ relationship well, and wish everything else wasn’t such a distraction.
Dir: Ron Oliver
Writer: Michael Murray
Cast: Danielle Panabaker, Shawn Roberts, Pascale Hutton, Lori Triolo, Nelson Wong, Amos Mitchell, Ahmed Muslimani, Laura Soltis, Karen Holness
Time: 86 min
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel