Two NYC bound travelers find themselves inextricably linked when a snowstorm waylays their flight to an airport hotel in Buffalo. Eternal optimist and hopeless romantic, Paige Summers, desperately needs to find a way to the city to meet her fiance’s parents before her wedding – and it’s up to a guy she can’t stand, fellow passenger and total stranger Dylan MacKenzie, who is permanently soured on romance after his girlfriend broke his heart. Still Dylan rises to the occasion to become Paige’s off-white Knight in shining armor.
First of all, please understand that I am a devoted fan of most of the actors in this film, thus my preconceived notion was that I would thoroughly savor this movie and probably declare it one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies. And this film did not disappoint as I was enthralled from start to finish. In fact, I don’t believe there is much that could be improved upon–unless it was to extend it and feature Barbara Niven a little more. Other than that, this film was practically the epitome of perfection.
The cast is brimming with talent, and it was a great pleasure to see all these fine actors, but I almost didn’t recognize Michael in the role of Jack’s father. While he and Barbara Niven (whom I will review a bit later) have small parts, there is no doubt they are impeccably cast. In Michael’s case, he is the decent but mostly quiet father who typically permits his wife to be the pacesetter. No spoilers, but it would seem that he is much more down-to-earth than his dominating wife. As I have seen him in a variety of other things, it was a treat to see that even when faced with a minute role, he could make it memorable.
Also enshrouded in the cast is Kaj-Erik Eriksen as Dylan’s brother, Bryce. Again, this is another actor whom I have seen in an assortment of roles, and this is another fabulous one to add to his credits. No doubt he is deserving of an honorable mention in my review because he knows how to make the most of every line and scene he is given. And in his case, we know very little about him except what Dylan has told us (which has been rather negative). It’s quite fitting at this festive time of year to witness what happens between him and his brother.
As the secondary couple in the mix, David and Sarah are a beguiling diversion in their respective roles. Neither is a stranger to the screen, and Sarah is a regular on the Garage Sale Mystery franchise. Together, these two interact incomparably well. They play the couple who have known each other for a considerable amount of time and in so many ways, the romance has departed from their marriage. They are the “married-in-name-only” couple, and they provide much of the humor throughout the film. Their characters don’t play games with anyone, and they both tell it like it is. They also are the ones who notice the budding infatuation growing between Paige and Dylan. David’s character is a bit intrusive, and Sarah’s character is a bit jaded. Collectively, these actors take us on a ride to rediscover what drew them to each other in the first place and why they are still together after all these years. Although secondary to the story, it’s a gratifying detour from the main story, and it’s also interesting to receive another perspective on the story at hand. All too often, the viewers only see things through a sole focus, but with the addition of this couple, we can glimpse the whole picture at least in part. They also give oldsters like me the confidence that maybe true love is possible even after age forty. Reliable, effortless performances from both David and Sarah cause me to salute them for being able to take a backseat while still being impressive in the framework of the story.
Can I even do justice to the phenomenal actress pictured here? For several years now, I have been a fan of the brilliant Barbara Niven, and the more I watch her, the more I fall in love with her as an actress and as a human being. In most of the films and shows in which I have seen Barbara, she has portrayed a sweet woman, sometimes a bit sassy and/or even meddling, but I have never witnessed her in anything but an essentially amiable person. That is until this film.
As Susan, the haughty, wealthy, and ruthless “mother-in-law to-be” of Candace’s character, Barbara is absolutely impeccable. First of all, her appearance has been somewhat altered, which makes all the difference in the world. After all, yanking her hair back and bestowing her with fastidious jewelry and splendorous gowns already make her look different from the gentle woman we usually see featured on Hallmark.
But as we thoroughly know, appearances can only go so far. Add the fierce expression, the narrowed eyes, and the pursed lips, and Barbara even looks more the part. Moreover, although Barbara has an unimpeachable script from which to draw, she is the one responsible for breathing life into these words. And admittedly she does just that. Every word she speaks is uttered in a tone of extreme condescension and sometimes veritable disgust. It is clear that Susan is in charge, and no one had better defy her or go opposite her wishes unless they wish to face the chilling consequences. In light of Neil’s last line, it boggles the imagination to think what Susan will do to him once they are home as she looks as though she is ready to pounce on him. And a woman like her won’t let old wounds die. In a fight, she would emerge victorious every time. It is staggering that Neil is as brave and as sure of himself as he is. I would say he has learned when to be mute and when to speak up.
As far as I am concerned, Barbara Niven is one of the unsurpassed actresses on this planet today. Versatile, talented, infallible in any role, comfortable with everything from comedy to drama to romance and more–these are just some of her professional qualities. But in Barbara’s case, that only scratches the surface. She is passionate, radiant, supportive, and has a way of making every person with whom she interacts feel like they are the most important person on earth to her. With this combination, how on earth could she not be the ideal actress and human being? Furthermore, she never upstages any of her co-stars (which she could easily do). Not only that, but no role is beneath her. An actress of her caliber could insist upon roles that are of a certain length and not see value in a role where her lines are minimal. Barbara is not like that, however. In the role of the “ice queen” Susan, she immerses her entire being into this role, and though a meager role, she is memorable. While I prefer her in kinder roles, I can honestly say this is now a new favorite role of hers for me because I have been treated to yet another side of her overwhelming prowess.
Not to be overlooked is Paige’s lackluster fiance, Jack, as played by Marcus Rosner. Now before I review his performance, let me mention something as a side note. I couldn’t help but smile at the ironies in this film. Marcus plays a character named Jack, and on When Calls the Heart, he is attempting to steal Elizabeth from a character named Jack. In addition to this, Paul Greene plays a character named Dylan, and on Cedar Cove, Dylan Neal played a character named Jack. I am not certain whether these are merely coincidences or if the powers that be used these names on purpose as a nod to both Hallmark shows.
As Jack, Marcus gives the kind of established performance we have come to expect from him. I most closely associate him with When Calls the Heart, and as Paige’s snobby finance, we witness some of the same qualities that disgusted about his character of Charles in that show. Being the only son of a prosperous couple, he has been brought up to believe that appearances are all that matters, and his parents (mother) rule the roost. He always has an answer to whatever Paige says or asks, and he always appears to be talking down to her. Oh, there is no denying that Jack is handsome, and he is about doing what is “right” in the eyes of society.
Unfortunately, intellectualism and appearances can keep one from following one’s heart. I sincerely doubt that Jack’s heart is even accessible as he has erected so many strong barriers over the course of his life to ensure that he does what should be done rather than what needs to be done. As the meticulous Jack, Marcus is matchless. He has mastered the art of appearing to be fully in control and acting like a gentleman while privately being one of the most insecure and boring people on planet earth. It is quite a balancing act lest he comes off as too much one way or the other, but no doubt Marcus is equal to the challenge.
The key thing in his portrayal of Jack is that he insincerely sincere and genuinely fake. At best, he is a two-dimensional character that engenders the appropriate response from the viewers, “Dump the stuck-up jerk and go chase Mr. fun-loving hottie.”
At the heart of this sensationally-written, fun story is this couple played by Paul Greene and Candace Cameron Bure. They play the “accidentally” matched Dylan and Paige, and together on-screen, they are incomparably matched. All too often on Hallmark (or any network), it’s all about physical chemistry. In today’s society, we have been conditioned to believe that true love is about jumping into bed with someone who has a perfect physique. Personality, compatibility, and bringing the best out of the other person are qualities that are often overlooked. Even a genuine sense of humor is often downplayed as sexual innuendoes have taken the place of wholesome and family-friendly humor.
Thankfully, Hallmark sets the bar much higher, and whenever Candace is in a film, viewers are guaranteed that it will be unspoiled and undefiled. However, that doesn’t mean that it will be insipid. Candace is so immensely talented, and no matter the role she plays nor the co-star she plays opposite, she effortlessly depicts her given character with authenticity. With Paul as her leading man, Hallmark has absolutely struck gold–or possibly platinum. The chemistry between these two is engaging, winsome, and overflowing with well-timed humor. They play off each other with immaculate timing and the viewers are certain from the beginning that these two belong together. Although the romance grows swiftly between Dylan and Paige, it is not their looks nor their exterior that attracts the other. Instead, it is what lies beneath the surface that counts. In fact, it is possibly the first time for either one that someone has looked beyond the surface to see what truly makes them tick.
I am incredibly pleased with the fact that the chemistry between these two is always sweet and never overly physical. In fact, I honestly did say, “I’m so glad they are not sucking face.” (I realize that may sound uncouth–I spend way too much time around teenagers.)
And I’m also elated to observe a real sense of humor being hailed as one of the most significant things in a relationship. Not the unhealthy, bawdy humor that is celebrated in our society today, but the old-fashioned, clever humor that two people who genuinely care about each other share.
Speaking of Paul, I have seen him previously in Perfect Match, but that film did not teach me his name. I can sincerely say that with his work in this film, I shall not forget him. He has made an undeniable impression on my brain, and I can hardly wait to see him in a plethora of more works.
As the somewhat cynical Dylan, Paul is perfectly cast. He portrays his character in a laid-back, congenial, and fun-loving manner while still coming off as being completely genuine. With his character Dylan, what you see is what you get. Well, I guess he doesn’t want to talk about why his heart is broken, nor why he won’t go home for Christmas, but isn’t it fascinating who is able to gently squeeze that information out of him?
As their characters grow closer together, Paul is able to demonstrate the progression of his character because his exceptional prowess. In fact, the change is almost imperceptible at first (which mirrors real life all too often), but once his character falls for Paige, there is no restraining him. While his character never seems demanding or weak, Paul is able to find the happy medium between the two extremes while still behaving the absolute gentleman at all times with Candace’s character.
Up to this point, I have barely noticed Paul in anything, but because of his unbelievably astonishing ability that I witnessed in this film, I am now a definitive fan of this gifted actor, and I will be breathlessly awaiting his next project. Additionally, it would appear that he is a genuinely agreeable guy off the screen as well–one of the reasons I am so vigorous in my support of him and his career. I look forward to more marvelous things from this gentleman in the future.
Lest one wonder if I have lost sight of who the actual star of the film is, nothing could be further from the truth. I won’t wax eloquent about my long-time admiration for Cameron. Suffice it to say, I have followed her career since Full House, and I make a special effort to watch everything in which she appears. And when it happens to be a Hallmark film, it is the easiest thing in the world to schedule it into my day as I am assured of witnessing a little piece of magic and a dynamic performance from one of the best actresses around.
I took great delectation in Candace’s interactions with Barbara as it was contrary to what I am accustomed to seeing between them. Since Susan has to handle Paige with contempt, it is sheer ecstasy to see their authentic interplay in spite of the grimness in tone. It is a testament to their intrepidity to see them rise to the challenge–Barbara is aloof and calculating, and Candace is attempting to not lose her character’s newfound assertiveness and begins to question if she is doing the right thing. Indeed, they are outstanding in each and every exchange.
Thanks to my mother’s observation skills, I picked up on something I possibly would not have. There is a scene where Paige begins to cry when she is afraid she may not make to her fiance’s house for Christmas. My mom’s comment was, “That was really fake crying.” As I considered her comment, I countered immediately with, “I truly believe that fits her character since her character is fake.” And nothing could be truer than that in the case of Paige.
In the beginning of the film, Paige is of the mindset that her life needs to be set a certain way. Everything needs to be planned out to the minute detail. So what if she doesn’t truly love her fiance–they are “meant to be.” She has closed her heart off to any real emotions, and the tears she cries sound more like a child throwing a temper tantrum who wants attention, not one who genuinely is sad. She believes she has unraveled the secret of life , and all of her “ducks are in a row.”
Enter Dylan who suddenly challenges everything she has ever held dear. For the first time, she begins to take risks and to wonder if maybe there is more to this world than her narrow-minded, idealistic way of thinking. And it is Candace who transports us on this journey of self-discovery. Granted, she has to take us on this trip quickly, but because of her incredible talent, she is up for the task. It is actresses just like Candace who are able to cause everything they do in a film ring true. She is never over-the-top, but she is never underdone either. She infuses just the correct amount of every emotion and detail into her character, and the viewers connect with her character on a profound level. While she has been granted a script that is so impeccably written, she is the one who makes those lines live and breathe rather than just stalemating like some actresses might. This has become my new favorite holiday film, and I am certain it will remain in my top ten for this season’s offering of films.
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