Mr. Write (2016)

Romance as a genre is basically the same as sci-fi or aliens and zombies, so author Michael Rothchild (Corey Sevier) reasons. It’s partly why he’s calling it quits as a romance novelist despite having penned a string of best sellers. Editor and fan Dori (Charlotte Sullivan) thinks he still has a few epic love stories in him though, and she gets them both in a bind when she promises to deliver a new Rothchild romance in a month’s time.

Unfortunately, Michael’s enjoying his bachelor lifestyle a bit too much to focus on a whole ass book. Between staying out all night and sleeping in all day, he doesn’t have the energy to write, until Dori reminds him that he’s already spent his advance and the publishing house will come collecting if he doesn’t produce. He feels less sympathy for the fact that his new editor stuck her neck out and vouched for his talent.

Dori finds out too late that her loyalty may have been misplaced and learns that Michael isn’t at all like the charming gentlemen he writes about. Instead, he’s a judgmental, arrogant slob who doesn’t believe in love. He also pecks out his stories on a typewriter, which means she has to stay close by to look at his drafts since he also can’t be bothered to use a scanner. That makes planning her wedding, also a month away, a bit difficult. Luckily her real life dream guy, Philip (Preston Vanderslice doing his best faux Brit accent), hires a wedding planner (Leanne Lapp) to ease the process.

Sevier has a roguish appeal that he deploys with ease, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him in more romances. His character, Michael, however, is as unattractive a partner as Philip, who assumes that Dori’s going to quit work and pop out babies after they get married. I’m not hot on the idea that it’s okay to insult and belittle a woman so long as there are profuse apologies and a character 180 in the end. Michael turns on those puppy dog eyes and leans into his sob story, but there’s not much by way of atonement. It’s hard to see why Dori falls for this guy, and the writers just go with the notion that she’s a forgiving romantic at heart. It’s far more believable that he would grow to like her, his only real champion. Sullivan manages a beguiling mix of sweetness and strength, and though Dori takes way too much crap in my opinion, she’s the type that could inspire Michael to change for the better.

There’s another love story in here though and one that feels far more natural. Dori’s best friend, Pam (Christie Laing), seems content to stay in the casual dating phase her whole life. She treats her relationships like a magazine subscription, giving guys a three month trial and then inevitably forgoing renewal. Her latest boyfriend, Tim (Colin Lawrence), sees this for what it is, a way to avoid commitment thus avoid getting hurt. He wants to prove that he’s a class above and gets her to agree on three final dates, after which he’ll bow out if she really wants to end things.

I enjoyed this subplot, in part because I love Laing and think she’s often underused as a supporting player. Here, she finally gets her own storyline and shows that she’s more than a witty sidekick. Pam is as emotionally closed off as Dori is open to love, which is where the story runs into problems. The contrast between the two friends allows us to explore our fanciful ideas of love versus the more practical aspects of it, and while the movie finally settles on a balanced approach, the narrative yo-yos too much to connect the characters in a personal way. Even as Dori and Pam are best friends and work in the same publishing house, they and their relationships feel oddly disjointed from one another. It’s like watching two separate movies that just occasionally intersect.

Released: 2016
Dir: Rick Bota
Writer: Matt Marx
Cast: Charlotte Sullivan, Corey Sevier, Christie Laing, Colin Lawrence, Preston Vanderslice, Leanne Lapp, Brittney Wilson, Jill Teed, Debs Howard
Time: 84 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: PixL
Reviewed: 2020

Fairfield Road (2010)

Fairfield Road brings together two genres that I love – Hallmark movies and films about politics. While it’s not even middling West Wing, it does deliver romance and campaigning in one thrilling go. Actually, that’s The American President – but this cheap facsimile will suffice if you need your fix and don’t have anything Sorkin-esque at the ready. Jesse Metcalfe stars as Noah McManus, chief of staff to Boston’s mayor and guy headed for big political things. At thirty-two years old, he’s about to become a lead Senate staffer and married man. Things change fast in the world of politics though, and instead he goes from DC hotshot to single, unemployed dude with a big diamond ring bill in a matter of hours.

Noah decides to hole up in tiny Harpswell, Mass, staying at the inn where he and his girlfriend were supposed to be celebrating their engagement. He takes up an offer to join the local preservation council for their dinner meeting, and in between eating half a baked potato and a whole ass lobster, he learns that there will be an upcoming election for town manager. Genial inn owner Sam (Derek McGrath) faces off against strip mall millionaire Randall (Brandon Firla), with the former hoping to keep things the way they are while the latter eager to turn this pretty piece of New England into a shopping mecca.

Having just stepped away from a fierce reelection campaign in Boston, Noah could care less about this minor municipal squabble. Book shop owner Hailey (Natalie Lisinska) opens his eyes to the beauty of Harpswell, however, recounting stories of the Native Americans and then English settlers who worked the land. She waxes lyrical about the generations who built this tightknit community, about those who erected the lighthouse and fished the open seas. It’s some strong American mythmaking, and Noah eats it up like a good public servant.

Still, it’s not a great reason for him to insert himself into Harpswell politics, and he could have easily good night and good lucked his way out of there. In this story, however, the pretty woman and nice innkeeper stir something inside the lad. Noah’s political instincts kick in, and he tries to invigorate Sam’s flailing campaign with some talking points and debate prep. It’s all a bit speedy, and the character goes from reluctant outsider to the town’s biggest champion. The script pushes the character from one impassioned set to another, which gives the story the energy of a political film. One can see through the hasty plotting though, and the rousing moments are only buoyed by fake sentimentality. What is satisfying is Metcalfe as a Boston pol, and I wouldn’t mind seeing that series, maybe when he’s not also playing a Boston cop.

Released: 2010
Dir: David Weaver
Writer: Tracy Rosen
Cast: Jesse Metcalfe, Natalie Lisinska, Derek McGrath, Chick Reid, Brandon Firla, Natalie Brown, Matthew Edison, Maria Ricossa
Time: 89 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2020

Love in the Sun (2019)

I’m not usually short on opinions when it comes to Hallmark movies, but Love in the Sun is one of those that I have no feelings on whatsoever. I’m indifferent to the plot and the characters and don’t care one way or the other about this whole thing. That makes this either the worst kind of movie or merely a mediocre one. I’ve enjoyed similar stories in the past, but this takes a cookie cutter plot and then does very little with it.

It’s about a woman who returns home and though newly engaged, reconnects with her high school boyfriend. Emeraude Toubia plays Alana, Chicago-based developer of a dating app that matches people based on compatibility and proximity. Having been burned by a long distance relationship in the past, she prioritizes physical closeness and considers it major factor in successful relationships. When she gets good news about her company and a proposal from her “banking golfer” boyfriend, Evan (John William Wright), she decides to head back to her hometown of St. Petersburg after a long absence.

The first person she sees besides the roadside juice man is her ex, Kai (Tom Maden). He’s living out his dream of staying in Florida forever and doesn’t get why Alana’s subjecting herself to Chicago winters when she could be out on the beach every day. She has a nicer reunion with her friends, who are hosting an orchid festival, and her widower dad, Micah (Shawn Christian), who has some updates to share himself. He surprises Alana with the news that he’s shuttered the family inn, putting a crinkle in her plans to get married there.

You could mine a lot of drama out of this story and a different cast might, but the lack of chemistry between the actors prevents anything from getting off the ground. They all seem to be stuck in the acquaintance stage of a relationship, aside from Micah and his friend Leigha (Betsy Graver). Those two are laughing it up and sharing amorous looks as if they’d rather brunch on the beach and forget about these kids. Alana has nothing like that with either Kai or Evan. Maden’s surfer dude monotone doesn’t exactly signal passion and Wright fails to give his character the personality to match his sincerity. Also, as much as I love seeing an actor like Toubia, who is of Mexican and Lebanese descent, take a leading role on Hallmark, I’m not persuaded by her acting. She injects a lot of enthusiasm into Alana but her character’s longing for Kai and her hometown seem pretty incidental. Though she and Maden go through the all the right motions, their relationship still feels hollow.

The performances underline the weaknesses of the plot. There are plenty of problems to attend to, such as Micah’s financial worries and a last minute obstacle regarding the orchid festival, but these take a backseat to nothing in particular. Without strong characters to push the action along, the story doesn’t build up to any climax, at least not a meaningful one. The story has all the momentum of a lazy day at the beach, which is how I’d rather spend my time.

Released: 2019
Dir: R.C. Newey
Writer: Joie Botkin
Cast: Emeraude Toubia, Tom Maden, Shawn Christian, Betsy Graver, John William Wright, Ashley Jones, Diana Garle, Frank Oakley III
Time: 82 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2020