The kindest way I can put this is that Jodie Sweetin and Andrew Walker are incompatible. This couple simply does not work, and their chemistry fails harder than I did in college. Watching them try to generate romance is to be drawn into an increasingly embarrassing situation, one you hope everyone can get out of. If I’m really honest though, Sweetin is the weakest link, again. She’s had at least three goes at this Hallmark romance thing and manages to ruin even the blandest stock character. Sweetin always acts the way I would if I had to bullshit through a work do and come across more confident and competent than I am. Her characters have a bizarre happy-go-lucky attitude even as her romantic or professional life crumbles around her. So much of acting is showing vulnerability, yet the actor never brings herself to open up onscreen.
Merry and Bright, as a result, ends up being an almost unwatchable movie. You can’t blame the story, which has the same plot as at least half the Hallmark movies out there. Sweetin plays Cate Merriwether, the CEO of a family-run candy cane company in Britewell, Ohio – not the actual candy cane capital of the world, as it turns out. She’s inherited the business from her grandmother and, fearing she may be on the hook for running the company into the ground, agrees to meet with a consulting firm to figure out how to get things back on track. In flies Gabe (Walker), who’s an old hand at corporate recovery. He’s used to working with bigger companies and is none too pleased when he’s saddled with this inconsequential account. But Mom’s the boss, and he doesn’t have a choice in the matter.
By now, Walker can play the corporate takeover/recovery guy in his sleep. Credit to him for not phoning it in though. He dutifully takes on the part of someone who parachutes in with a plan of action and then finds it upended by a woman’s commitment to Christmas and tradition. Walker is limited by his costar, however, making his half of the romance feel fake and forced. Nothing the actor can do is going to convince me that Gabe is falling for Cate, and saying the words does not make it so. The couple do have a handful of funny exchanges, like when they first meet and Cate mistakes him for a blind date from Akron, but those moments seem to come down to the writing.
Several subplots distract from the main romance. Unfortunately, they’re not that much more engaging. Cate’s assistant, Sophie (Stephanie Moroz), awaits a Christmas proposal from her boyfriend, Pete (Darren Martens), who cannot take a hint and is opting for that fourth anniversary bike gift instead. Meanwhile, Cate’s mom (Sharon Lawrence), is trying not to drop any hint that she’s adopted the shelter dog her daughter’s been wanting. When it comes down to it, Lawrence and the dog are probably my favorite couple in this movie. They have everything I’d hoped Cate and Gabe would share, that is an abundance of warmth and tenderness.
Dir: Gary Yates
Writer: Karen Wyscarver, Sanford Golden, Erinne Dobson
Cast: Jodie Sweetin, Andrew Walker, Sharon Lawrence, Stephanie Moroz, Darren Martens, Nancy Sorel, Paul Essiembre
Time: 84 min
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel