Western TV reviews

The Wish List (2010)

All the actors in The Wish List have done better work, and I would recommend any of their cop shows before this movie. But if you’re like me and have exhausted your DVR collection, then this will suffice. The story unfolds in predictable fashion and tells of Sarah (Jennifer Esposito), a high strung HR manager who decides she’s had it with dating alcoholic, red meat-eating smokers and draws up a wish list of qualities she wants in a guy. Far from being a good guide to dating though, the list ensures she’ll stay single forever because, girl, get real.

All that wishin’ and hopin’ pays off when Erik (Mark Deklin) enters her life via run-in at the neighborhood coffee shop, however. A unicorn of a man and guy who might as well have walked out of the Ken doll factory, he is everything Sarah wants – a pediatrician who volunteers at the homeless shelter, cooks walnut crusted salmon, and has a dog named after his favorite author, Shakespeare; he also cries during Steel Magnolias. Basically, Sarah’s won the man lottery, and the fact that he’s enamored with her makes it all perfect.

Getting what you wish for isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be though, at least not when barista Fred (David Sutcliffe) is hanging around. The self-described coffee psychic, his greatest sins are changing his customers’ drink orders and wearing slogan t-shirts. That’s according to Sarah, who treats him as a necessary annoyance if she’s to get her caffeine fix every morning. Yet the more Fred intrudes on her life, the more she embraces his spontaneity. Romance, she finds, could do with some friction every now and again.

Esposito delights as Sarah, who is easy to cheer for despite her obsessive tendencies and occasional bad judgment. Hallmark could do with more actors of such versatility, and it’s too bad she only has one such credit to her name. Her costars are more regular faces on the channel and fill in their roles nicely here, offering a study in contrasts. Sutcliffe has the showier part and milks it for all it’s worth. He tackles his character with the same fervor with which Fred lives his life and captures Fred’s spirit best whilst dancing the night away, all the while rocking the finest polyester and a pair of white platforms. Deklin is more staid as Erik, but his slightly cheeky portrayal generates also adds to the humor.

Nevertheless, the script nevertheless feels tired a decade on. It sets up a false dichotomy for Sarah, herself a stereotype of a fussy singleton in need of a reality check. She gets knocked down a few pegs for making a checklist even though I think she should be applauded for having standards. She doesn’t have to sell herself short and choose between the paper perfect guy and the lovable loser. In fact, both come with huge red flags, a reminder that the real lesson is having a relationship built on trust and respect and not on whether romance can be reduced to a wish list. Neither Erik nor Fred show they have Sarah’s needs in mind when it matters, and each proves to be selfish and domineering in his own way. They both assume they know what’s best for Sarah, which is reason enough to strike any guy off your list.

Released: 2010
Dir: Kevin Connor
Writer: Gary Goldstein
Cast: Jennifer Esposito, David Sutcliffe, Mark Deklin, Sydney Penny, Diane Venora
Time: 88 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2020

Rome in Love (2019)

If you’re going to make a movie based on another movie, especially if the latter is a classic, you have to assume the audience will draw comparisons. Such is the case with Rome in Love, a movie inspired by the 1953 film Roman Holiday. There’s no way I’m watching this without thinking of Audrey Hepburn inching her hand towards the Mouth of Truth or Gregory Peck, well, looking beautiful. That doesn’t mean I’m against remakes and adaptations; I’m totally on board with this movie’s concept, which is a behind-the-scenes romance that takes place during a fictional Roman Holiday remake. But even as it takes some liberties, Rome in Love comes up short and will have you longing for the original.

The problem lies less with the story than with the casting, although the narrative gets tangled in a few superfluous plot lines. This story at least draws on something besides a reunion with the high school boyfriend or a trip home to save the family ranch. The romance instead mirrors that of Hepburn and Peck’s characters as actor Amelia Tate (Italia Ricci) falls for writer Philip Hamilton (Peter Porte). Having all but giving up her acting career, Amelia gets a break when she’s chosen as the new Princess Ann. The production team, however, wants to keep her identity under wraps until a grand press reveal that includes a magazine profile. Philip, who juggles multiple identities as a hotel porter, waiter, and writer, nabs the plum assignment, presumably because he’s American and Hallmark’s closest facsimile to Peck. As she prepares for her role and he tries to dig into her life story, the two begin to lean on each other, and thus a beautiful romance is born.

At least that’s what’s supposed to happen. It turns out you need more than a Roman background and strangers abroad story; you also need actors to sell the love affair, and Ricci and Porte just don’t rise to the occasion. Of the two, Porte fares better, mostly because Philip is a less demanding character, and Porte scrabbles enough charm and grit to give Philip his humble suitor credentials. Ricci is completely miscast, however, and never quite nails Amelia’s complexity. Some of that is down to the writing. Amelia is supposed to be a fresh face ready to take on the part of an inexperienced princess but also a woman who feels like the boat has sailed on her dreams. Even the best actor might struggle to pull off a thirtysomething ingénue. Ricci though doesn’t begin to bridge the two and weighs the whole story down with a depressing seriousness. Amelia’s disappointment is one of the more intriguing things about her. I love the idea of a character who thinks the best is past, who is naïve about Hollywood stardom but who also has the life experience to handle it with fortitude. Unfortunately, Amelia is far more reminiscent of Ricci’s role in Designated Survivor, where she plays a steely political operative, than of a wide-eyed princess romping about town with a stranger.

Imagining different leads wouldn’t solve all the movie’s problems though, and the narrative could do with some trimming. With a few lovely shots of Rome to accompany the story, this film is a case of less being more. The sneaky paparazzo (Gian Marco Tavani) out to scoop Philip, for example, distracts from Philip’s more touching relationship with his elderly neighbor.

Released: 2019
Dir: Eric Bross
Writer: Topher Payne
Cast: Italia Ricci, Peter Porte, Ross McCall, Barbara Bouchet, Vincent Riotta, Helen Pearson, Isabelle Connolly, Anna Manuelli, Jonathan Stoddard, Gian Marco Tavani
Time: 90 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2020

Recipe for Love (2014)

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.

Released: 2014
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
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2020