If You Believe (1999)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

If You Believe (1999) from Hearst Entertainment Productions
Rated TV-PG. Drama, Romance, Family Film, Christmas

Description: Jaded book editor Susan Stone (Ally Walker) has pretty much given up on finding happiness in life. But after receiving a hard bump on the head, Susan gets a strange visit from a cheerful and plucky girl named Suzie (Hayden Panettiere)…who looks an awful lot like Susan’s niece, Alice…and kind of like Susan herself. While she’s determined to be rid of her unwanted little guest, adult Susan may have to take a detour to rediscover her inner child first.

My thoughts: “Once upon a time we believed in love and magic. Then one day you stopped. That’s why you never found it…
“We need to fix that.”

There aren’t many made-for-TV flicks that end up on my all-time favorite films list. But this is one of them. Yes, the critical writing/editing/publishing industry aspect of the story is a huge hook for my literary self. And, yeah, this movie has much that wholesome holiday movies are made of, with the Christmas cheer and warmth and romance of it all.

But this isn’t just another hour and a half of predictable holiday fluff. I mean, yes, you can predict what will ultimately happen in a holiday film about a modern-day Scrooge lady. Still, this story hits some very real points along the way, uncomplicated but wise nuggets. The humor and heart doesn’t resort to outpourings of slapstick silliness or easy schmaltz. And when there are tears (not the comedic ones but the real ones), they’re unforced, unpretentious. You see the tears, and you get it.

Not to mention how the joint heroines leading this story play their acting duet well together, with a big sister/little sister “on the way to being BFFs” kind of chemistry. And as for the romance thread, where Susan and a possible Prince Charming are concerned—yup, there’s some fun, down-to-earth chemistry there, too.

When I first watched this movie years ago, I expected to be pleasantly entertained, and I was. I didn’t expect to find a truly great story, though. But I did. And I’ve been watching it every year since then.

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Confession: I’ve wanted to post this movie on my blog for years, but I couldn’t find a trailer for it. Now, well—this clip is the closest I could get. 😀

 

 

The Out-of-Towners (1970)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The Out-of-Towners (1970) from Paramount Pictures
Rated G. (I personally would have rated it PG for brief, mild language, but that’s me.) Comedy, Family Appropriate

Description (from the film case): Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis are perfectly matched as the hapless Kellermans of Twin Oaks, Ohio, in Neil Simon’s tumultuous comedy hit. The top candidate for a prestigious promotion at his company’s corporate headquarters in New York City, George (Lemmon), accompanied by his wife Gwen (Dennis), is all set to take a bite out of The Big Apple—only to quickly discover that The Big Apple can bite back! Their dream trip to the big city turns into a nightmare of diverted flights, forfeited reservations, missed trains, sinister strangers, paralyzing strikes, lost luggage…and uproarious laughs for all who experience this hilarious screen classic…

My thoughts: When I’m really in the mood for humor, I tend to reach for some of the clean, old-fashioned stuff.

This film is a ridiculously good time. It’s not even like I’m laughing hysterically through it whenever I watch it, as the movie doesn’t hit me on a hysterical level. Don’t get me wrong—it’s super funny. But it’s an easier kind of funny, where I don’t have to be rolling on the floor to still be thoroughly amused and entertained.

But don’t get me wrong x2—by “easier,” I don’t mean the film is flat, simplistic, or predictable stuff you can turn on while you’re busy scrolling through your phone. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss the little stuff that’s a part of this movie’s genius.

And that genius really shines in the last few minutes, when such a real moment hits spot-on and brings it all together, in case you didn’t know you weren’t watching just a bunch of fluff the whole time. It’s a fun film that means something.

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Love Comes Softly (2003)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Love Comes Softly (2003) from Hallmark Entertainment
Rated TV-PG. Drama, Historical, Romance, Family Film

1/2

Description (from the film case): Based on Janette Oke’s best-selling book series, and directed by Michael Landon Jr., Love Comes Softly is inspired storytelling for the whole family. Marty and Aaron Claridge (Katherine Heigl and Oliver Macready) travel west in search of new opportunity. But when tragedy strikes and Marty is suddenly widowed, the young woman must face the rugged terrain, bleak weather, and life among strangers—alone. That is until a handsome widower named Clark Davis (Dale Midkiff) suggests a platonic “marriage of convenience” until Marty can return home. As the months pass, though, Marty and Clark discover an unexpected new love where there was once only loss.

My thoughts: The first and strongest movie of this series. The acting isn’t always the best, but the story holds its own. It’s wholesome and a good reflection of the much-loved novel it’s based on. There’s a relevant faith thread, of course, as Clark is a man of faith, but he doesn’t go spouting scriptures or shouting “hallelujah” all through the movie or anything. 😀 Faith is an unpretentious, natural part of his character, and it’s thus woven naturally into the story.

Now, the seven related movies that follow this one go gradually downhill in some ways, and not because the stories stray further and further away from the original novels (which is kind of a pity but doesn’t bother me so much because they’re movies, not books.) I think the overall quality goes down, in large part due to the virtually never-ending music that plays through the background of most (or all?) of them, sometimes at an excessive volume. An all too obvious attempt to push the emotion, and I have to tune the music out as much as possible to focus on the characters and enjoy the movies for what they are.

Fortunately, that’s not a problem with the first movie. And if you’re like me, you may want to go on and watch the following seven anyway, if you appreciate family-friendly, life-affirming flicks.

My corresponding reading: Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke.

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An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving (2008)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving (2008) from Automatic Pictures
Rated PG. Drama, Period Film, Family Film, Christmas

1/2

Description (from the film case): Based on a short story by the acclaimed author of Little Women comes a holiday story of family and forgiveness. Recently widowed Mary Bassett (Helene Joy) and her three children have hit difficult times on their farm. Things are so bad this year that they can’t even afford a turkey for their Thanksgiving dinner. Suddenly, Mary’s wealthy and estranged mother Isabella (Jacqueline Bisset) comes to visit. Although she finds a kindred spirit in Mary’s eldest daughter, Tilly (Tatiana Maslany), Mary resents her mother’s attempts to help them out of their financial difficulties…

My thoughts: Okay, so even though the description doesn’t make it clear, the story here is led by young Tilly, and I rather like this heroine. She’s got some fire but doesn’t wildly burn around, she longs for more but isn’t a total brat about it, and she has some growing up to do but isn’t immature. Plus, she’s a writer, which I always admire.

And, yes, I’m taking the liberty of tagging this as a Christmas film, since Thanksgiving is the lead-up to the holiday of all holidays. The movie originally aired on the Hallmark Channel, and it certainly has the quintessentially “Hallmark” kind of wholesomeness, warmth, and delightfulness wrapped up in an hour and a half.

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