Avery Ford, (Luke Perry) a famous actor in popular Western films, is sent by his manager to a Montana dude ranch where he’s supposed to rustle up business for the ranch while also re- energizing his flagging career. Heather Twain (Emmanuelle Vaugier), whose family owns the ranch is a natural beauty who can ride, rope, fix the truck, whip up a meal that’ll knock your socks off – there’s nothing she can’t do. Though miffed when she realizes he’s a phony, a city slicker who knows nothing about being a cowboy, she can’t help but feel something for the well-meaning, awkward Avery.
By way of complete disclosure, I will begin by acknowledging that I was not anticipating the screening of this film. I watched the preview and figured it would be dull, uninteresting, tedious, and incredibly sappy. Thankfully, I entered the screening with the mind of a reviewer, and I was pleasantly surprised. While the film follows the typical Hallmark mindset, I was thoroughly entertained and even laughed out loud several times. The acting and writing are both brilliant, and while there are always things that could have been improved, any criticisms I could mention would be minimal and would not impact the overall viewing experience.
Incidentally, I meant to mention the darling pig that you see in the above photo. Curly is the pig’s name, and she definitely steals the scenes in which she appears. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I simply adore the fact that Hallmark chose to include such a sweet pig with a cute personality. So watch out for her scenes–she’s a heartbreaker!
First of all, I have to admit that “once a “COVEr” always a “COVEr” (fans of the recently canceled show, Cedar Cove). I mention that to illustrate that it is an absolute treat to see Tom (“Daddy Saget”) playing the part of Heather’s dad, Casey. He plays a genuine cowboy, and he only wants the best for his daughter and for his ranch (in that order). He is not opposed to technology (if someone like Avery can demonstrate it for him), and he treasures watching all of Avery’s Western films. He also gives tremendous advice when requested. It is trustworthy to declare that Casey is the cornerstone of this ranch, and he is unquestionably one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet.
I relate all this because his role is so different from Warren Saget’s dad in Cedar Cove, and for me, that is my frame of reference with Tom right now. He still instills the same kind of easy charm that I always admired in Buck Saget, but gratefully I feel a bit more free to esteem his character. Here is hoping Hallmark will continue to utilize the talents of the beloved actors from Cedar Cove for many years to come.
In addition to Tom, there is another noticeable appearance by a celebrated actress, Frances, as Lola. Her character’s screen time is brief, but I have no doubt you will remember her character because of one recurring prop that seems to continuously accompany her character. Although I cannot specifically recall seeing Frances in her other works, no doubt I have since I have seen at least a couple things in her list of credits.
After all, Frances has a blast playing Lola, can’t you tell? And you just have to love those glasses with the pearl chain!
Poor Avery (I will review Luke’s performance presently) has his own set of issues which causes him to appear in Dr. Frank’s capable hands. But as you can imagine, Dr. Frank is no ordinary doctor. And as played by Matt, this is truly a diverting scene to watch. Not only is he an atypical doctor, but he also is charged with keeping Luke’s secret lest the woman engendering Avery’s affection suspects his strategy. As I scanned Matt’s lengthy resume, I determined I had seen him in a couple things without realizing it, but this is the part for which I shall remember him.
There is no doubt that Matt is able to insert himself into this character without outshining any of the principals while still leaving an enduring impression on the film. Not every actor has that knack.
I seriously doubt this will be an actress you forget anytime soon. Her heritage (and unusual name) speak for itself. I am entirely unfamiliar with Elle-Maija, but I plan to watch for her henceforth. Her role may be somewhat small, but it is noteworthy. And as I read about her experience and training, I know that this is one lady who has only begun to be regarded by the entertainment industry. It is an honor to have an artist like her lend her prowess to this film.
Thanks to a bit of sleuthing on my part, I was able to uncover the identity of both of these characters. I didn’t know I had seen Michael in Becoming Santa, but I remember him now, and though a meager role, he is featured here as a journalist and certainly deserves an honorable mention. However, it is the character of Derek that I found most engaging. Joshua has a handful of credits in his resume, and you might know him from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Ties that Bind, and even the original When Calls the Heart movie before the series officially began.
When it comes to minor characters, I think the look and demeanor he infuses into his character truly captures the eye. I teach high school students, and I have even had “school journalists” interrupt my class from time to time. And Joshua nailed this character of Derek, but he was much more respectful than the majority of high school students with whom I am acquainted. That merely speaks to his character’s upbringing in the good, old country as opposed to the fast-paced city.
Of course, this cannot be a Hallmark story without a couple of dodgy characters, and Chad is lucky (or cursed) enough to be one of those token characters. He portrays Guthrie, and he’s the customary, prosperous fellow who seems to fancy money above all else but still has his eye on Heather. And judging from Heather’s sharp reaction to his character, they must have some grievous history that is not remembered fondly. Hearties are going to remember Chad, and he was also featured in So She Said Yes. He plays a tiny part, but mercifully, his character is not nearly as ominous as Candace.
I knew I recognized the actress that plays Candace, and when I saw Murder, She Baked in her resume, I remembered her as Dr. Love. As much as I adored her in that film, as Candace, she truly gets the opportunity to let her character cast a considerable shadow. After all, she is Casey’s agent, and there is no doubt she favors him and assumes they are more than just working partners. She is decidedly interested in something more, and it is even possible that she has been instrumental in assuring that Avery relies on her. After all, Casey implies that her acquisition of Avery’s business was when Avery’s career began to suffer. It is evident that Candace loathes the country, the ranch, and most of all, Heather. She knows that Heather is her rival, but Candace is a ruthless businesswoman, and she is determined to gain control of Avery’s heart at all costs. Ona’s characterization of Candace is extraordinarily polished and solely focused on the object of her passion–Avery. I am not overly familiar with Ona, but she does play the “other woman” suitably well. I find her depiction flawless, and I do believe Hallmark is recognizing her abilities as well. I think we will see more of her in the future.
Of course, at the heart of this story is this unlikely couple, Heather and Avery. And they are marvelously depicted by Emmanuelle and Luke. Both have an incredible list of credits to their name, and I have seen a few things here and there, but as usual, I haven’t seen their most renowned works. I remember Emmanuelle mostly in A Nanny for Christmas, and I remember Luke in Ties the Bind and the most recent Jesse Stone offering. So for me, I have a fresh perspective when viewing this duo as the main couple since I have very little with which to compare them.
On-screen couples have various kinds of chemistry that either make us like them or not, and with this couple, the best word I can use to describe them is fun. Avery is the city slicker who hasn’t spent a day of his life on a ranch or out in the backwoods of the country, and Heather is the industrious country girl with high morals and a sense of community. In other words, they are complete opposites. From their first meeting, there is instant friction, and the journey the couple takes us on is fraught with humor and self-discovery. Avery learns that he is more capable than he believes (thanks to Heather’s patient father), and Heather revels in observing how strenuously Avery is willing to labor to pull his weight on the ranch (and of course, impress her). Although Avery views her as way behind the times, he makes a fool of himself because there is something authentic about Heather that he has never seen from women (including Candace) in the bustling city.
Of course, the way Avery stands up to the bully Guthrie is possibly one of the smartest things he has ever done. While Heather doesn’t exactly sense the need to be rescued–she can take care of herself after all–there is something to be said for a man chasing away undesirables.
But this is hands-down my favorite scene. And it is the scene that causes poor Avery to have to remain in the country longer than he was anticipating. I won’t say much, but just remember that Avery is not a real cowboy. He only plays a cowboy.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words.
While I cannot say things are ever genuinely smoking hot between them, the comedic timing these two have together is impeccable. And although the ending is never in question, these two make the road to romance beguiling and endearing. Even the physicality between them is sweet without being sensual–something Hallmark does quite well, which causes it to stand out amongst the networks. This is a film you can share with the entire family and not be afraid of anything inappropriate (one use of the word “damn,” that’s it).
Emmanuelle herself seems to fit right into this role of the bright, competent, vigorous country woman both in looks and in mannerisms. I don’t exactly know her background, but it is obvious that she was meant for this role as she is so thoroughly immersed in it and seems to wholly connect with her character. She is not about being all silly, mealy-mouthed, and disdainful like Candace (Heather’s consummate foil), and it is when her character feels threatened by Candace that we begin to see how much Heather cares for Luke. Heather is a spitfire and a no-nonsense gal, and Emmanuelle plays her unimpeachably.
There is no doubt that Heather is used to doing everything for herself, and Avery’s arrival certainly awakens her. Emmanuelle does not play Heather subtly–instead, it is all or nothing. And in this case, Emmanuelle has lent her all to Heather. Thankfully, Emmanuelle has the fortitude to play such a substantial woman. But she is able to reveal a bit of Heather’s softness as Avery begins to invade her world.
There is no doubt that Avery is responsible for her immense smile as she only exhibits it when he is around. Otherwise, Heather is the rather sober sort who only contemplates how to preserve her father’s ranch. She has taken on an unimaginable responsibility, and Emmanuelle is able to show the transformation Avery makes in her life in her customary expert fashion.
As Avery, Luke is brilliantly cast. Avery is supposed to be an almost-washed-up actor who grasps nothing of country life, though it is the Western films that have rocketed him to fame in the past. In the beginning, Avery is thoroughly city without a country bone in his body. And we can detect his ennui with his life through Luke’s skillful depiction.
Avery’s conversion to country boy is rather arduous at first as he is unwilling. And Luke has implanted that discomfort and unwillingness into his character in exactly the precise amount so that it is not exaggerated but is believable. What speeds up the process is that Avery begins to fall for Heather. Probably because she is authentic–something he has never detected in a woman before. And his method goes from trying to impress Heather to actually enjoying the country life. While the change is swift, it is credible. A week in the country can unquestionably alter a person either for the better or for the worse. And in this case, Avery is changed for the better.
When Avery decides of his own accord to judge the chili cook-off, we know that he is a goner. Luke is such a delight to watch in this role, and any humor he adds is ideal. I liked him much better as a real cowboy, and it is even more excellent when Candace surfaces and the viewers can see just how far he has come. Not every actor could be as convincing as Luke, but because of the calm innocence he injects into his character, he is a true pleasure to behold.
Fortunately, the story never becomes sappy nor hackneyed. Luke has connected with his character so well, and he gently guides the viewers to join him in his character’s journey. And I was glad to see the story takes a few twists and turns in spite of its obvious predictability.
I have read countless reviews of films in this genre where the reviewer criticizes the anticipated storyline, the wooden characters, the low-budget costumes and set design, and the faulty camera angles and lighting. I realize how significant these things are in films, but it would serve us all better to realize and appreciate the fact that smaller networks like Hallmark are not attempting to produce a film that rivals their big-screen or big-network counterparts. Their sole focus is to tell a family-friendly story on a humble budget with the best actors they can obtain.
While an exemplary story is essential to a film like this, some predictability is not a frightful thing. Hallmark’s brand is known for certain qualities, and so there are elements that the viewers have come to expect. But in films like this, the actors are usually what “sell” the story. And oftentimes, the story rests on the main couple. Moreover, in this case, we have a winner. Who wouldn’t fall in love with a bumbling city boy attempting to fit in on the ranch? And when that guy is played by Luke, magic happens!
For more information:
Interested in subscribing to all my site's updates? Subscribe below!