First of all, while this film is predictable and even somewhat conventional, this does not mean that it is tedious nor unpleasant. On the contrary, it is superb in both acting and storytelling alike. I don’t often find myself crying during films, but this is one that caused me to well with emotion. The ending was so stirring that I couldn’t help but become enmeshed in the sentiment. The story is refreshing, and the actors all work together to create a rousing story filled with warmth and light, especially appropriate in a time of such darkness in this world of ours.
At the center of the story are these two ladies, Melissa and Gretchen, as played by Leah and Jamie-Lynn. While I am familiar with Leah’s work, Jamie-Lynn is a newer face for me (though I have probably seen her here or there based on her resume). While both characters are somewhat reticent at first to meet and interact, before long, they are working to disentangle a mystery that takes them on a journey overflowing with pitfalls, impasses, and disappointments. But fortunately, neither one gives up. There is a common bond concerning the attempt to reach the conclusion of the expedition with some sort of incident that will give Melissa the closure she needs.
Concerning the actresses who portray these amateur sleuths, I cannot praise them highly enough. Both Leah and Jamie-Lynn depict their characters with authenticity and ardent conviction. The progression of their friendship develops speedily out of necessity, but then ultimately because they have a common goal which has inexorably intertwined their lives. And there is no doubt that these two are flawlessly cast.
With the addition of Gretchen’s son Ethan, as played by Dylan, we have an unusual reunion in the film. I had the distinct privilege of viewing most of the first (and only) season of The Returned when it aired on cable in the U.S. When I saw both Dylan and Leah, I knew I recognized them, and when I discovered both had been in The Returned, it was a moment of true ecstasy for me. I recalled the eerily captivating way Dylan played the unusual boy in that show–indeed it was a highlight. Albeit, this role is decidedly dissimilar. Add Leah, who was wholly notable in every episode of that show in which she appeared–it was like a mini-Returned reunion.
To see the genuine interactions between all members in the cast is a delectation, but in so many ways, Dylan steals the show as Ethan, the boy who ceaselessly believes against all odds that his Christmas wish to Santa will become actualized. And, of course, with the pathos of the military father who gave all for his country (with the exception of his life), Greg does an exceptional job of depicting the recuperating hero who may not be able to come home until after Christmas, thus shattering his family’s anticipatory plans. I am always grateful to Hallmark for infusing the love of country through the military personnel they often feature on their shows and films as they always give those courageous men and women the true honor they deserve when it is sometimes is overlooked in this day and age. And at Christmastime, can there truly be a dry eye when that which was impossible becomes the most auspicious moment for the family and the town (no spoilers–this is Hallmark. Was there ever a doubt regarding the ending?).
A joyous surprise for me is the appearance of this well-known actor–Lochlyn Munro. The moment I saw his character Robert appear, I knew he was familiar, and I began to scan the vast and uncharted “files” in my brain. I am exceedingly proud to report that I recognized this man and remembered his name! I had most recently seen him in Driven Underground, and as much as I fancied him in that role, I was unequivocally enchanted with his role in this film.
I have seen Lochlyn in an extensive variety of roles over the past few years, and all too often, the characters which the powers that be bestow upon him (through no fault of his own), have been two-dimensional at best. While Lochlyn is an amiable guy, I don’t tend to delight in his roles. However, as Robert, the lawyer who is instrumental in providing the jubilant conclusion for all parties, I fell in love with his character at first sight. It was sheer rapture to watch as this master actor infused his most excellent qualities into this imposing attorney who is benevolence personified. I cannot say enough about this tremendous actor, and I truly hope to witness more roles where his prowess and distinguished presence can be manifested in all its glory. Lochlyn deserves roles where he can demonstrate his notable talent and stunning capabilities.
So what is my consensus? While this film is conservative and predictable (this is Hallmark, after all), the story is sincerely gratifying and at times poignant. While I wasn’t obscured by droves of tears, at the denouement, a tear or two escaped my eye. Military and adoption themes are often emotional instigators for me, and the fact that the story was written with such tenderness and compassion unquestionably consumed my very heart and soul. Additionally, each actor portrayed his/her character with credibility and reverence, and I can guarantee this is a must-see film this holiday season. Furthermore, I was relieved to not see a hackneyed love story. In fact, the focus of the film reminds us of the significant values (especially at Christmastime): family, love, forgiveness, and charity. While this is not the absolute foremost film of the holiday season, it is worth the time to watch and connect with the story and talented actors.
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