Starring: Autumn Reeser, Eric Johnson
Director: Could not find
Screenplay: Teena Booth and Alana Smithee
It’s Valentine’s Day! What better way to celebrate on my blog than with a Hallmark Channel Original Movie review from their “Countdown to Valentine’s Day” series?
Let me just say that I love Autumn Reeser. I think she’s Hallmark gold. She’s one of the best actresses the channel has hired, and even films with terrible scripts are elevated with her energy and heart and commitment. And she’s just a cute little peanut.
I’m not going to say that this is the most unique Hallmark movie ever created. Big city girl falls in love with small town and ranch/farm/barren patch of land owned by a bonafide hottie. But I’m never going to be agricultural human, so these movies help me live vicariously without making the huge mistake of actually living them. This post is going to have all of the SPOILERS because we all know how Hallmark Original Movies end upon seeing the previews. Unlike some people, I actually think it’s kind of awesome that Hallmark does so many movies with the same skeletal structure and is able to maintain popularity. We all know there’s nothing new under the sun. Hallmark embraces it. And yet each story that is almost the same will never be completely identical because different actors and different settings bring so many things to the table.
Julia (Autumn Reeser) gets publicly engaged to her smoking hot but kind of stuffy rich boyfriend of a long time, which puts her into freak-out mode. As a result, she convinces her bestie Sydney to go on an impromptu girls trip to Wyoming, which immediately sets off red flags for fiance. On their way to their destination, the girls get stranded. Luckily sexy rancher Ben is just having a casual ride on a main road on his course without proper winter gear in below freezing weather and volunteers the girls stay the night.
Upon the insistence of Ben’s mother, Ben takes the girls out to the local bar.
Possible implied drunkenness happens, and when Julia tries to stop Sydney from knocking some girl’s lights out, Sydney actually knocks over an ugly overgrown garden gnome that Julia fails to catch. Apparently said gnome is worth more than the town and has something to do with the judge’s grand-pappy (not even being silly here), and the angry judge tries to come up with absurd punishments for them. Ben steps in and recommends community service. To his dismay, the community service is to last 30 days with the girls under his roof. The local police officer tries to find community service that won’t be disastrous for them in a montage not dissimilar to Danny Zuko and the gym teacher trying to find him an appropriate extra curricular in Grease.
During this time the girls also find out that the ranch is, of course, failing and may need to be closed down even though it has been in the family for generations. Since they are staying for free, the girls figure a nice way to help out would be to pay for their room and board. However, their generosity is no match for Hallmark Channel Country Boy Pride. So now he hates them for being invasive. The girls are finally compatible with community service at a hospital that is hardly standing, and the leaky pipes and almost on the fritz heart resuscitator (THAT CONCERNS ME GREATLY) give the girls a brilliant idea: throw a Valentine’s Day getaway sponsored by rich daddies, hosted at the ranch, and ending in a party with an auction for which proceeds go to the hospital. The hospital will get money, and the ranch will get its first customers as a tourist destination. Ben grumbles at first but succumbs to the cuteness that is Julia’s caring heart with flirtatious banter. Sydney goes back to their hometown Chicago to work out the financials, which is kind of sad because I really enjoyed seeing her with the senior citizen she befriended in the hospital. Julia stays at Ben’s ranch. Insert HGTV-styled ranch renovation montage set to Colbie Caillat’s “Falling for You.”
Just when Ben says something romantic to Julia on accident, Fiance shows up as a surprise. This is the first in a Hallmark Original where I thought things were going to get sexy for a minute. Her fiance gets kind of all over her in her cozy cabin, and when she tries to subtly avoid him and show off her new website for the ranch, he smoothly slips in behind her in the chair, wraps his arms around her, and says,”I would rather you kiss me and tell me how much you missed me.” I know he’s the not-the-one guy, but like stereotypically those guys just like the heroine for what he thinks she should be (and often times what she pretends to be); he legitimately has the hots for his fiance. Props, bro.
In spite of picking up weird vibes from Julia, Fiance leaves for a little bit, and Julia tells Ben that Fiance is a nice guy to whom she is promised, so they have to “stop whatever is going on between us.” No one wants to see that, so Hallmark flashes forward to a week later to the day before the big event. Ben and Julia still exchange looks of longing from afar, though they get close long enough for Ben to tell Julia she is incredible and none of this would have happened without here, but of course Fiance shows back up.
Hallmark saves us from a pain like in The Notebook (two guys, both great, choose), and lets us see that Fiance is not just a stiff shirt but also a meany-pants because he sees Julia’s do-good-ing as a hindrance. HOWEVER the break-up isn’t the usual I-now-know-your-true-colors-and-I-hate-you. She acknowledges she overheard him saying the not-nice things he said, but tells him basically it’s okay because they’re both different people than when their relationship started; she reflects on how he was there for her at a vulnerable time in her life and that she’ll always be grateful to him for that, but it is time for them to move on and inevitably lead their separate lives (“You have to let me go”). His only response is an unhappy but resolved, “Go.” That entire conversation is so adult on both of their parts it almost makes me happy to see it.
I guess Ben finally decided flirting with and falling for an engaged girl is probably not going to end well, so he gives Julia the cold shoulder most of the remainder of the movie. However a dance with Ben is an auctionable item. Some thirsty girl and Julia fight bid for bid, but everyone and their mother gives Julia their money, so she wins. She tells him she broke it off with Now-Ex-Fiance, how she feels more at home in this town than she has in forever, and how she has found her purpose in helping people. They kiss. The end.
So this movie was super cute. I kind of wish it were like a romance novel so that I knew Sydney was going to get her own book, but alas, that’s not how Hallmark movies go. But Sydney starts off the film with a broken engagement and finds her own purpose too, so seeing New Sydney in Chicago finding someone would be cute.
What I really hope is that this movie sets a precedent for future Hallmark Originals with love triangles that don’t involve infidelity. My only issue with this movie was the scene discussing the girls’ disorderly conduct. I get that it’s a small town, but you don’t just make up your own stuff as a judge because of grand-pappy’s weird gnome.
And of course there always has to be a random Tiara question … why the heck is there more snow in this “Countdown to Valentine’s Day” movie than any of the “Winterfest” movies?!
Happy Valentine’s Day!