Sunday, August 1, 2021

Don't You Just Love a COVID Wedding: A Hallmark Movie Trilogy

Don't You Just Love a COVID Wedding: A Hallmark Movie Trilogy

Warning: The following list may/will contain spoilers for three Hallmark wedding movies released this past year. If you wish to stay clear of what happens in these movies, please exit the tab and join me once you've watched them. Or you can take that warning with a grain of salt and read on. Whatever floats your boat.

With that said:

I don't have a lot of experience with weddings. I've only been to three in my life, two for cousins and one for one of my elementary school teacher's daughters who looked after Luke and me from time to time. Most of my memories as a guest have been eating delicious food, talking with guests during walks or at the reception (I had a great conversation with another old elementary school teachers at one), and dancing the night away to "All Night" by Icona Pop. I can see through TV movies and stories that those involved with the wedding process have their own memories, too: picking a date, choosing what they're going to wear, and getting to be surrounded by the ones they love.

When COVID made its trek around the world, forcing everyone into their homes, happy couples had to rethink their special days. Maybe they'd delay it, maybe they'd throw a celebration online, or maybe they could have a wedding with a few close friends and family once the dust settled. However they did it, they made it work. So did production companies who filmed these three Hallmark films last summer.

I watched all three of these movies when they premiered, but I thought it would be fun in May to turn on Hallmark Channel, re-watch them before I started my summer internship, and review them all in one place. They're now available on DVD (two on the same collection state-side), they were filmed for different programming blocks, and amidst the fake snow and shiny Christmas decorations, crews (and even actors) were able to quickly transition from season to season without a hair out of place. It's pretty incredible.

I'll be going in order of when these filmed, starting with:

Wedding Every Weekend

Filmed from June 22nd-July 13th, 2020

Here's the first movie I saw with Kimberly Sustad and Paul Campbell I referenced in my Hallmark Christmas 2020 movies post. Here, they play Brooke and Nate, a physical therapist and a car repairman invited to the same four weddings. Brooke also happens to be Nate's PT after he pulls something in his knee at work. What starts as the two wanting to stay single and attending each wedding as "wedding buddies" turns into something more as the two realize they care for one another in a non-platonic way. But will a misunderstanding threaten to dismantle this new connection?

Sustad and Campbell work really well together. At a viewer, I can tell they're comfortable around each other, which helps make their chemistry as co-stars sparkle. We get to see Brooke and Nate grow throughout the movie with their views on their jobs, yet also with each other. I enjoyed that Julie Sherman Wolfe avoided having one of the main characters stay in a relationship we knew wasn't going to last; it ends during the first segment. She even has Brooke and Nate wait four months before their misunderstanding gets cleared up. Usually it's immediate (give or take a couple days), but having this time skip helps Brooke get back on her feet to accomplish her dream of opening her own physical therapy business. Maybe trying it here was what inspired a similar ending from Wolfe for a future Hallmark movie that aired this year? Who can say...

What also makes this movie work are the weddings the leads go to. The couples aren't all white, and for the first time in a Hallmark movie, there's a gay wedding (with a kiss!). Based on what I read when Crown Media was getting backlash from the Karens, the production team didn't want cookie-cutter nuptials. They wanted to show love was love. There's an interracial wedding, a Jewish wedding, and a Black wedding on top of the gay one. After the Black Power movement resurged last summer, the timing was perfect. It's led to more queer characters and BIPOC actors popping up here and there. While me (and many fans) would like more of a push, it's a step in the right direction Wedding Every Weekend helped get started.

Wedding Every Weekend's ensemble cast also clicks. Canada's Next Top Model alum Brandi Alexander and Hallmark favorite Jaime M. Callica play off each other very well as the leads' respective best friends and couple Ginny and Greg. There's a great conflict between them as their wedding approaches (Greg isn't taking it seriously), and both actors handled that very well. Peter Benson gets to play a Not End Game Love Interest that's a little more of a dork and not as dismissive, Karen Kruper and Malcolm Stewart shine as Brooke's parents, and Kazumi Evans, Rarity's MLP Generation 5 singing voice, pops up a few times as a wedding planner. Some of the cast don't get many lines, but everyone does a great job when it's their time to shine.

A fun tidbit of behind-the-scenes trivia: Half of the wedding guests weren't played by people, but by mannequins. I didn't notice that both times I watched this movie, so they must blend seamlessly with the human extras. Thank you inspirethoughts who brought up that note from Paul Campbell! 

As a whole, this movie was the perfect end to Hallmark Channel's Summer Nights programming block last year and hints at what's to come for the network's future. It's got great main characters, well-handled conflict, and a cute romance you'll want to see play out. Lovely direction and cinematography doesn't hurt, either. Wedding Every Weekend is a must for Crown Media newcomers and longtime fans alike.

Five Stars

Favorite Moment: When Brooke's parents walk her to her future business location and you can clearly see the left side of a Walmart through some trees. I love it when TV movie cameras blatantly show businesses that exist while trying to cover them up at the same time. It's hilarious.

Beverly Hills Wedding

Filmed from June 29th-July 18th, 2020

My excitement for Beverly Hills Wedding started when actor Matthew MacCaull's Instagram stories on set were shared by Hallmark fan account Hotline Hallmark. The account still exists, but the user who ran it, Sherry, died last fall. Nonetheless, she helped me get into checking the UBCP/ACTRA What's Shooting listings and holiday movie fan account SleepyKittyPaw for behind the scenes "tea." I'll always thank her for that. I didn't have any idea when this was airing, but I saw Brooke D'Orsay and was immediately ready.

The first Love Ever After movie for 2021, the plot revolves around Molly Machardy, a wedding photographer, figuring out a way to plan her younger sister's wedding without breaking the bank. Her co-worker, Chloe, suggests entering a wedding contest, and Molly ends up finding one hosted by renowned wedding planner "to the stars," Terrence Roquefort. When her essay gets them selected, she's excited to travel to Beverly Hills (but really, it's Vancouver), but Cory Cronin, the groom's older brother and her ex-boyfriend, is also coming along. Although worried it'll be awkward, the two put aside their differences and enjoy each other's company. However, could a fresh start to their relationship be thwarted by overextravagant wedding details and Molly pushing her dream wedding onto her sister?

Hot take incoming: I really enjoyed this movie the two times I've watched it. Despite having three writers and one Terrence line being questionable, Beverly Hills Wedding has a fun story, fleshed-out conflicts, and a sweet romance centered on two people who simply fell apart. I get why Cory and Jordan were less enthusiastic about the opportunity to go to Cali, but given that they're used to small-town life in Hughes, Oregon and small family celebrations (outside of Cory's work), their cynicism made sense. I understand why Sophia finds it easier to go along with Molly's plan at first because the latter had to raise her when their parents died. We see it slowly unravel as the movie progresses, along with plenty of callbacks I'm happy the writers included. Everything was handled in a mature way that other writers would have milked for drama.

I also think this is Brooke D'Orsay and Brendan Penny's work to date. They're able to make their characters' less appealing traits charming and not annoying. Given that the last Penny movie I saw had him play someone who came on too strong, getting to see him play Cory with more nuance was a nice touch. I liked getting to see more of Ben Sullivan outside of Crown Media mystery movies, Emma Johnson gave subtle touches to Sophia that made her immediately likeable, Matthew MacCaull plays a gay character in a non-flamboyant way, and Dolores Drake continues to deliver comedic side character gold. Everyone delivers memorable performances, and I get new life whenever I think about the phrase "too pedestrian" now.

It's also understandable why longtime Hallmark fans didn't vibe with this. Molly wanting the Beverly Hills wedding to work to the point she takes over duties meant for her sister and micromanages every detail is annoying, but it's due to a maternal instinct and wanting what's best for Sophia. This made it more tolerable for me. While I didn't see Jordan talking to Sophia about this proposed wedding as stepping on her toes or being borderline abusive (I saw it as looking out for her best interests, too), I get why some viewers did. They talk about it several times before Sophia puts her foot down. There are some digs thrown and "sophistication" questioned, but the main four have known each other for a long time. Being that close leaves weak points vulnerable, which made these moments work for me more than they did in Kiznaiver. The writers wrapped them up in a mature way with some clever callbacks and a nuanced look at Terrence's career to round it off. Molly and Cory both recognize where they fucked up and apologize for it, and the wedding still goes through...just not in Beverly Hills.

Although Wedding Every Weekend is just as strong from a story standpoint, Beverly Hills Wedding is the best out of these three movies. I think it's got a great plot, developed characters, compelling conflicts, well-framed shots and pretty lighting, and strong acting that made this fun to watch both times. It may have its hiccups, but I kept grinning seeing everything play out. There were also a lot of repeated locations from Cranberry Christmas (but this was shot first), which made this film even more fun. It's not going to work for every Hallmark fan, and I wouldn't point new Hallmark viewers to this movie as one to start with, but Beverly Hills Wedding is one of my favorite premieres of this year. I'm adding it to my personal collection ASAP.

Five Stars

Favorite Moment: When Molly said both "This is a wedding, not a frat party," and  "Yeah, because you instigated it. Always with your little comments." I quoted those lines ad nauseum for three months.

My Best Friend's Bouquet

Working Title: Neverbrides

Filmed from July 13th-August 1st, 2020

What's fun about My Best Friend's Bouquet are its writers. Not the two who came up with the story, but the two who wrote the teleplay. Did you know Hilary Galanoy and Elizabeth Hackett not only wrote Netflix rom coms Falling Inn Love and Love, Guaranteed, but also Disney's Geek Charming and Nickelodeon's Rags? Looking back, it explains this film's balance between juvenile whimsy and martial woes.

Josie Hughes believes a wedding bouquet has the power to choose who will be the next person getting married. She's convinced Athena will be the next lucky bride-to-be since her relationship with Brian is leading to a ring. But at her friend Emma's wedding, she's not only surprised to meet someone she has an instant attraction to but winds up catching the former's bouquet. She's worried she may have ruined Athena's happily ever after. Once she starts going out with Will, though, she realizes it could be a sign that she's found her own beau, too. This poses problems for Alex. He and Josie have been tight since college, and with a job offer dangling in front of his face, he isn't sure how long he can keep his feelings for her on mute. With multiple roadblocks popping up in their way, can these two figure out a way to tell each other they're the one before Alex winds up leaving?

My Best Friend's Bouquet does a great job at utilizing the bouquet as a motif. I doubt the "woman catching the wedding bouquet will be the next to marry" theory is new, but Galanoy and Hackett put a fresh spin on it. We get to see Josie questioning her beliefs once Brian's mother, Donna, tries to push for the wedding she couldn't have for her son and Athena, making the latter uncomfortable. She remains purposefully oblivious of her romantic feelings for Alex, but the idea of him dating someone else doesn't sit right with her. It's well-developed, and although you'll shoot Josie confused looks when she gets swept up in believing Will is the one, it does pay off in an unexpected way that made me smile at the TV.

Compared to the last two movies, this one has more problems. The beginning feels too expository when Josie explains why she trusts the flower bouquet, making it clunky when you realize it's only for the audience's benefit. It would have been better if the writers slowly built up to it. Galanoy and Hackett deviate from Hallmark trappings by having mature resolutions for Josie and Will and Athena and Donna's subplots, but people who aren't as experienced with TV movies will get annoyed at that one scene.

The cinematography for this movie also doesn't translate as well to air. The shot framing is good, and the props team had a keen eye with the autumn decals, but the lighting likely imposed during post-production washes out most of the actors on screen if you're watching this on TV. It doesn't look as bad when you're streaming it, but the softer palette doesn't do well on a bigger screen. Jingle Bell Bride also had softer lighting (which I find funny, considering the two who directed these movies are father and daughter), but it compliments the locations more than it did here. Hopefully this doesn't pop up in Amy Belling's other films if she does more for Crown Media; there were some good moments she captured that would have been better without the amplified brightness.

Last but not least, I want to highlight this cast because a Crown Media movie having a predominately BIPOC cast is rare. They're usually cast as the best friend or in bit roles, popping in and out whenever the script calls for it. Chaley Rose mentioned in an interview that she wasn't planning on doing this movie if she and her co-star were the only two main BIPOC cast members, which happened in the 2019 Christmas movie she filmed, A Christmas Duet. Here, that's not the case. The cast is balanced out perfectly. We have plenty of great performers, Chaley Rose and Nathan Witte make their characters' friendship believable, Thomas Cadrot gets more than two lines (although I watched an earlier movie with him in it after this), and my favorite side actor from the Netflix Baby-Sitters Club adaptation, Kevan Ohtsji, has a brief but memorable character. I also love the fact that Jaime M. Callica went straight from Wedding Every Weekend to film this movie. He makes Will charming if distant, but not in a way where we're supposed to hate him.

Although My Best Friend's Bouquet went over some speed bumps, making this my least favorite movie of the three, I fell for more of its charm on a re-watch. It's able to be both silly and eye-opening, has a great main couple, entertaining subplots, and a wonderful cast to round everything up. Put this movie on if you want to escape from brisk fall nights, preferably with a warm drink and popcorn with M&M's. It's what Josie would want.

Four Stars

Favorite Moment: The awkward double date where Alex and Will try to one-up each other while Marissa stares on in silence and Josie tries to lighten the mood. It ends with the two men tearing the check in half, and Chaley Rose delivers the line where Josie tells them it's fate beautifully.

With that, it's a wrap, folks! Stay tuned for more TV movie business coming your way soon. Cherish these last moments of summer with the people you love and respect. Just be responsible about it.