Love Hard – review

Brief synopsis: an LA writer of a popular dating column about her failed internet dating life, falls for a man from Lake Placid, NY, in the run-up to Christmas. She decides to surprise him with a surprise visit for the holidays only to find that she has been catfished. 

Is it any good?: if you enjoy a Christmas rom-com, you will love Love Hard. With a sparkling script and a modern story that both pokes fun whilst simultaneously showing deference to other rom-coms and Christmas films, Love Hard is a rom-com with heart and wit. Lovely. 

Spoiler territory: Natalie Bauer (Nina Dobrev) is an LA columnist who writes about her eventful dating adventures. Dating via an online dating app, Natalie is jaded about the dating scene and feels deflated by the chicanery of online dating profiles.

Kerry (Heather McMahan ), a work colleague and friend, explains to her that not only is she the commonality in all of her dates but her refusal to date outside of LA is restricting her options. Natalie’s pushy boss, Lee (Matty Finochio), wants to know when her next article will be ready. 

Natalie wants to get away from her miserable dating life and write something more wholesome. Lee is not entertaining that notion, telling her to keep writing what the readers want. He states everybody’s miserable. 

At home, Natalie puts up her Christmas tree and settles down in her apartment for another night of single-dom. 

She swipes through her dating app, dismissing a slew of unsuitable candidates. She comes across the profile of Josh. Handsome guy with an appealing bio. They begin exchanging messages. 

She tells Kerry about him and shows her his profile. Kerry is a little sceptical. The profile could be fake or the photos old. She should call him and get an up-to-date photo of him. Natalie is reluctant to call him, so Kerry grabs her phone and does it for her. Josh sends a current photo of himself that matches his profile. 

The message exchange romance continues with the two getting closer. Natalie laments the distance between them, with her living on the West coast and him on the East. 

He tells her he wishes they could spend Christmas together. Their messaging is interrupted by her boss. He wants her next story, when can he expect it? 

She tells him she thinks she might have met someone. Lee is not interested. He wants her to keep dating internet losers. 

Natalie tells him that she plans to fly across the country and meet up with the man for the first time. On hearing this, Lee, convinced that the meeting is a disaster in the making, gives it his blessing. 

Natalie flies to Lake Placid. The trip does not begin well, with her losing her luggage as soon as she gets there. She takes a taxi to Josh’s home. 

The taxi ride is eventful, with Natalie refusing the multitude of snacks offered to her by E-Rock (Fletcher Donovan), the driver. He offers her kiwi slices. She is highly allergic to kiwi, so politely declines. 

They arrive at Josh’s home. The house is covered in Christmas decorations. She nervously approaches the house. She is greeted by Josh’s stepmother, Barb (Rebecca Staab). 

Barb welcomes her into the home. Josh is not home but she can meet the rest of the family. Josh’s father, Bob (James Saito) and his grandmother, June (Takayo Fischer). 

Josh arrives home and Natalie meets him for the first time. Josh (Jimmy O Yang) looks very different from his photos. A shocked Natalie leaves the house, Josh following after her. 

They argue outside, him apologising for fooling her but questioning the fact she would decide to visit a person she has never met as a surprise. A furious Natalie leaves, going to the local bar. 

In the bar, Natalie sees the person who she thought was Josh. He is Tag (Darren Barnet) and is a popular guy in the town. 

Natalie calls Kerry and tells her that she has been catfished but the guy who she thought was Josh does live in Lake Placid. Kerry tells her to approach him. Natalie decides she is going to perform a karaoke song to impress Tag. 

She steals a couple of shots that a girl had ordered to give herself courage. Unfortunately, the shots have kiwi in them. Her face, unbeknownst to her, bloats, reacting to the kiwi. 

Josh, who had followed her to the bar, watches as she scares the bar’s patrons with her exuberant performance and bloated, Halloween face. Natalie catches a reflection of her face in a mirror and rushes out of the bar. 

Josh follows her out as her allergy causes her to pass out. He takes her to the local veterinary hospital, the doctor, Foye (Debbie Podowski), helps her. Allergy under control and conscious, Josh asks Natalie to pretend to be his girlfriend in the run-up to Christmas.

In exchange, he will help her get together with Tag. Natalie reluctantly agrees, the pressure of needing to submit an article reinforced by a message from Lee. 

After an awkward breakfast with the family, Natalie and Josh’s plan begins. He takes her to the local clothing store that his family runs. Tag is picking up an order there that morning. Josh tells her that Tag is a real outdoorsy person and loves climbing. 

He introduces Tag to Natalie, telling him that Natalie is his cousin on his stepmother’s side. Tag invites Natalie climbing. She agrees but later tells Josh that she cannot climb. 

Josh is confident that he can give her enough pointers to survive the date, even though Natalie is fearful of heights. 

Later that evening, Natalie sees a box of candles. She asks Josh about it. He, a little embarrassingly, tells her he makes candles with a masculine scent. It is his passion. Why doesn’t he start a business? 

Josh says his father would scoff at the notion and his brother would ridicule him. She did not know he had a brother. Josh’s brother arrives at the house to much fanfare. 

In the main house, Josh’s brother, Owen (Harry Shut Jr.) and his partner, Chelsea (Mikaela Hoover) have come for Christmas. Josh is brash and confident. He and Chelsea are surprised to see that not only does Josh have a girlfriend, but she is also attractive. 

The family and Natalie gather together to decorate the tree. The next day, Natalie and Josh meet Tag at the climbing centre. She goes into a panic when she sees the size of the climbing walls. Josh helps her through the ordeal. 

Tag, oblivious to Natalie’s panic, invites her out again. Natalie goes out with the family carol signing. Owen and Chelsea take centre stage, really showing off. Natalie and Josh momentarily take the spotlight with a reworked rendition of Baby It’s Cold Outside. Owen and Chelsea, decide to announce they are having a baby. 

Josh, taking advice that Natalie had given him about not letting Owen steal the spotlight, proposes to Natalie. Not wanting to embarrass him, she accepts. 

She calls Kerry to lament her situation but gets no valuable advice. The next day, Tag takes her bobsleighing. Natalie has to get high to get through the date, because of her fear of bobsleighing. 

In the evening, the family sit down to watch Love Actually, a film Natalie dislikes preferring another Christmas classic, Die Hard. 

Barb excitedly tells everybody that Natalie and Josh’s engagement announcement is going into the local newspaper the next day. The next morning, Josh and Natalie race around the town, stealing all the copies of the newspaper. 

Natalie checks out Josh’s original dating profile. It is a little off-putting, to say the least. She tells him that he needs to promote his strong points as opposed to creating a profile he thinks people want. 

Vegetarian Natalie has another date with Tag. It is at his family’s steakhouse restaurant. Josh challenges her, asking if she is prepared to lie even against her principals. 

Natalie takes umbrage, especially as the only reason she is there is because of his fake profile. Owen sees Natalie out with Tag. 

Natalie is surprised to find out that Tag does not celebrate Christmas. He thinks it is too commercial and a scam. He gives her a goodbye kiss. Natalie is not overly enamoured by the kiss. 

Natalie tries to talk to Josh about their disagreement the next morning. They are interrupted by June who wants them to come and tell an elderly group about online dating. 

After the meeting, June disappears down the road, Josh and Natalie hurrying after her, worried that she is getting lost. She disappears into the steakhouse. 

Josh and Natalie go into the steakhouse and are surprised to see the entire town are there to celebrate their engagement. The family have even invited her boss. 

Tag still does not know that Josh and Natalie are the engaged couple. He introduces his parents to Natalie, who remark on how he never introduces his girlfriends. 

Bob gets everybody’s attention, about to give a congratulatory speech. Natalie interrupts him and confesses to the relationship being a sham and pretending to like the same things as Tag to get with him. 

Back at the Lin house, Natalie has left. The family console Josh. Bob sees Josh’s candles and is happy to support his dream to be a candlemaker. Natalie is unable to get a flight home and stays in the town’s lodge house. After a heart to heart with her boss, Natalie writes her article. 

In the morning, she gets an alert from the dating app. It is Josh’s new profile. Natalie goes and sees Josh and re-enacts the title card sequence from Love Actually to show her love for Josh. They kiss. The end. 

Final thoughts: Directed by Hernan Jimenez and written by Daniel Mackay and Rebecca Ewing, Love Hard is a sweet, heartwarming rom-com. With Dobrev ably taking on the mantle of lovelorn wordsmith Natalie and a sparkling script that all the actors commit to, the story bumps along nicely. 

With Jimmy O Yang playing Josh and Darren Barnet as the movie-star-looks Tag, it is Yang’s Josh everyman that tickles the heartstrings and has you rooting for the romance. 

Shying away from the easy path of making Barnet’s Tag a bit of a cad or narcissist, Mackay and Ewing fashioned a story that feels more realistic, having the personalities be what attracts instead of just marrying up two beautiful people. 

Shum Jr’s Owen is put forward as a perfunctory villain but ultimately, he only cares about the wellbeing of his less confident brother. Like all good and classic romcoms, Love Hard is about the central protagonist finding out about themselves. In this regard, Love Hard hits all the right notes as well as being a feel-good Christmas film. Nice.

A California Christmas

Brief synopsis: a charmer is tasked by his CEO mother with getting a stubborn farm family to sell their farmland so as their company can build a new warehouse. The task is made more difficult when he gets to the farm and is mistaken for a farmhand, a mistake he does not correct. He pretends to be the farmhand in the hope of getting closer to the stubborn daughter. 

Is it any good?: A California Christmas is better than expected. Truthfully, it is not much of a Christmas film. Christmas is more a deadline than a feature, with the story being set in the run-up to Christmas. With good performances from the majority of there cast and a story that, though predictable, is well told, A California Christmas is an enjoyable Christmas-esque romcom. 

Spoiler territory: charming playboy, Joseph Van Aston (Josh Swickard) leaves his latest conquest in the bed of one of his family’s hotels as he dashes to a board meeting being held by his mother, Amy (Julie Lancaster). 

He arrives late and the meeting is in full swing. As he enters the room, Amy says he will be the perfect person to close the deal on a farm they are trying to acquire. After the meeting, Amy tells her son that he has to close the deal to show her that he is more than just a playboy. If he does not, she will take away all of his privileges, including his driver and righthand man, Leo (Ali Afshar). 

There are two weeks until Christmas and Leo drives Joseph from the city to the farm. As they drive through the rural landscape, Leo tells Joseph that it is wine country and that eighty percent of the wines produced in the country is made in California. Joseph puts his headphones on. 

A bump in the road causes Joseph to spill coffee on himself. Luckily, because Leo has clothing in the car for a charity run he is doing, he can change. He puts on more casual attire and, leaving Leo behind, takes the short walk to the farmhouse. 

He arrives at the farmhouse to find a calf being born and him being enlisted to help youngster, Hannah (Natalie Mann) and her older sister and farm boss, Callie (Lauren Swickard). After helping the women birth the calf, Callie, mistakenly thinking Joseph is the new ranch hand, tells him that she has been expecting someone from the city. She is ready for him. She indicates a shotgun. 

Callie does not take to him. She thinks he believes working on a farm will be easy. She takes him to his accommodation. It is a rickety old, caravan. She thinks his name is Manny, her mother, Wendy (Amanda Detmer), having hired him. Joseph decides to go along with it. He contacts Leo and tells him the job is going to take longer than he thought. 

He needs Leo to find the real Manny and prevent him from turning up at the ranch. Leo, who is getting the car washed, is told to find a place to stay as well as finding the elusive Manny. As luck would have it, Manny (David Del Rio), is at the same carwash as Leo. One of the washers bellows his name, alerting Leo. Leo approaches Manny. 

Back in the farmhouse, the girls are with their mother having lunch. Callie remarks on how unlike a farmhand Joseph seems. Wendy is very poorly as she is dying from cancer and weakened by her chemotherapy treatments. Wendy goes to lie down after lunch. Leo makes arrangements with Manny, the two staying in a local farmhouse. Joseph goes looking for them. 

Wendy and Callie chat in the kitchen. She wants her daughter to relax a bit, let the new ranch hand do the work. Callie is not sure about him, she feels like something is not right. She asks what happened to Van Aston, who was expecting to visit. Wendy tells her that he emailed to reschedule. 

Conner (Gunnar Anderson), a family friend and sweet on Callie, comes to see them. He asks Callie out. She tells him she is not interested in anything romantic with him. Joseph finds the farmhouse that Leo and Manny are staying in. He tells Leo he plans to get Callie to trust him, as Manny, and get her to sell. He pays Manny to help him fake being a farmhand. 

Callie drives to the site of her father and fiancé’s death to place flowers. She is still wearing her engagement ring but takes it off and puts it in her pocket. The next morning, Joseph is up early for his chores. He has to call Manny to be told what the jobs are and how to do them. As Joseph gets to work, Leo and Manny get used to being roommates. 

Callie is on the phone dealing with creditors. The farm is under huge debts and they have received an eviction notice. Joseph calls Manny to ask how to milk a cow but is interrupted by Hannah. She tells him how to milk the cow. Callie comes into the barn moments after the conversation. 

Leo and Manny drink red wine. Manny surprises Leo with his natural ability to identify the elements that make up the wine. Joseph continues to work but later Callie finds that he has not left any feed out for the cows. She goes to get him, needing help to get the feed from a, particularly high spot. She finds the feed is out of date. 

Callie says she has to go to work. Joseph asks her if she ever sleeps or has fun. She shuts down the conversation. She leaves for work. Hannah looks up the real Manny online. At the bar, Callie meets up with another worker and friend, Liz (Katelyn Epperly), and tells her about her mother not going to her final chemotherapy session.

Joseph visits the bar to try and get to know Callie better. Leo comes into the bar, causing Joseph to panic, especially when Manny comes into the bar shortly afterwards. A drunken Conner greets Manny. He asks who Joseph is. Manny tells him he is another ‘Manny’. 

Conner goes and accosts Callie. Joseph intervenes and gets punched for his troubles as the two start to fight. Callie kicks them both out of the bar. Outside the bar, Conner sees Joseph and Leo chatting. The next day, as Joseph continues to work, Callie takes the day off and spends time with her family. 

Callie softens towards Joseph. She chats to him as he works and cleans one of the garages. She shows him a bike that her late father was working on. Joseph tells her that his father died when he was young. Joseph is invited to have dinner with the family. 

Joseph continues to work and eat with the family, getting closer to all of them. He helps to decorate the house as they get closer to Christmas. Callie, abrasive and single-minded normally, softens around him. Wendy thanks him for his impact on the family. 

Joseph goes to see Leo. Leo tells him that his mother wants to know what is going on, Joseph has been ignoring her calls. He tells him that he can see Joseph is in love. Manny tells Joseph that he has to tell her. Leo and Manny have bonded over his ability to identify the ingredients in wines. Conner spies Joseph with Leo and Manny. 

Joseph wrestles with telling Callie the truth. Callie takes Joseph to see a small patch of land where her father planted wine vines he brought from France some years before. He had wanted to turn the ranch into a vineyard. They share a bottle of wine produced from the vines and Callie tells him that the family is in heavy debt.

He asks her if she cannot sell up and buy another ranch. She tells him that all her memories are on that ranch. She also tells him about the crash that killed her father and fiancé. They kiss. Conner interrupts. He comes to see Callie and baits Joseph, saying how it is strange that there are two Mannys in one town. Callie gets him to leave. 

Joseph talks to Leo. He wants to tell Callie the truth but has not spoken to his mother. He goes to see Callie and they start kissing again, him forgetting why he is there. Hannah interrupts them, telling them that Wendy is not up yet. Callie goes to wake her mother up. She is very poorly and she ends up taking her to the hospital. 

As Callie takes her mother back home, she tries to persuade her to have the chemotherapy again. Wendy tells her that she would rather spend the time she has left with her family at home. Joseph agonises over what to do as he reminisces about his father. He shows Callie her father’s bike. He has restored it. He takes her to work. 

Joseph tears up the contract his mother wants Callie to sign. He ignores another call from his mother. She calls Leo and tells him that she is coming to the farm the next day. Leo and Manny go looking for Joseph but do not see him dancing in the bar with Callie and leave. 

A drunk Conner leaves just after them, unable to bear watching Callie with Joseph. He hears Leo and Manny talking about Joseph outside the bar and looks him up on the internet. Callie and Joseph go and look at the stars and make love. The next day, Callie receives a text from Conner.

He exposes Joseph. She calls Conner. Leo comes to get Joseph. His mother has arrived at the farmhouse. Joseph tries to tell his mother that she cannot buy the farmhouse. She tells him that he cannot stop her. Amy goes into the house with her lawyer. She tells Wendy that her medical bills are big. Wendy thinks her life insurance will pay them off. Amy tells her that her late husband took out a loan against the policy. They have no option; they have to sell

Callie kicks Joseph out. Joseph goes to meet up with Leo and Manny. He gives Leo the wine from Callie. Leo tastes it and thinks it is good. He lets Manny taste it. He agrees. It is a very good wine. They take the wine to a wine merchant (Aaron Royce Jones). He likes the wine. Callie looks over the old wine cellar and finds the vineyard sign. 

Joseph races back to tell Callie that he might have a solution. He goes and starts tidying the vineyard plot. Callie finds him on the land. He explains to her that the wine is good. They tidy the vineyard and put up the sign. The next day, the merchant visits. He is happy with what he sees and makes her an offer. The amount is enough to clear the debts and save their home. 

Joseph tells his mother what he did. She is proud of him. Christmas Day, the family, Wendy and Hannah, invite the town to their barn. Callie knows nothing about the party. Conner helped. Joseph is at the party. He makes peace with Callie. He wants to keep working with her and being with her. They get together. 

A year later, Wendy has died and Joseph and Callie are still together. The vineyard is flourishing. The end. 

Final thoughts: A California Christmas is an enjoyable, festive rom-com. Written by Lauren Swickard, who also plays Callie and has a production credit, and directed by Shaun Paul Piccinino, the film zips through its one hundred and six-minute runtime. 

The story is quite predictable and is passably festive but due to the strong performances and gentle humour, it works despite these shortcomings. The central pairing of the married Lauren and Josh Swickard works really well and her doe-eyed love for him comes across as truthful probably because it is.

The bromance between Afshar’s Leo and Del Rio’s Manny is delightful, with Del Rio sparkling as the rough-around-the-edges but blessed with a talent for discerning wines, Manny. The film tugs on the heartstrings with an ill parent in Detmer’s Wendy and Swickard’s Callie determined to save the family home and the memories of her father and fiancé. 

The scenery is lovely, with the rural landscape providing a perfect backdrop for the romance, even if it is not particularly Christmassy. Swickard has fashioned a nice rom-com that is worth a watch in the festive break.

The Princess Switch: Switched Again – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: A princess, days away from her Christmas Day coronation is given a chance to rekindle her romance with a love she thought lost when a fellow princess, who is her doppelgänger, switches places with her to give her a chance to get the romance back on track. A greedy cousin to the soon-to-be-queen princess, who also bears the same uncanny resembles to the princesses, throws a spanner in the works when she kidnaps one of the princesses. 

Is it any good?: The Princess Switch: Switched Again, follow up to the 2018 film, The Princess Switch, is harmless nonsense with Vanessa Hudgens going full Eddie Murphy this time, taking on three roles instead of just the two. 

There are no surprises in the film and the story is not going to win any awards. It is just festive fluff with Hudgens utilising her Disney kudos to the full. 

Spoiler territory: it is two years since Stacy (Hudgens), a baker from Chicago, switched places with Lady Margaret (also Hudgens), a duchess from Belgravia and married a prince, Prince Edward (Sam Palladio), when she visited Belgravia for a baking contest and the two swapped places after the duchess noted their remarkable resemblance. 

The duchess fell in love with Stacy’s best friend, Kevin (Nick Sagar). Unfortunately, their relationship did not last and Kevin went back to Chicago. In Belgravia, Stacy is keeping busy with her royal duties and presenting an award at a cake competition. Edward comes to meet her at the event. 

Later, as Edward tries to broach the subject of them spending more time together, a distracted Stacy tells him that she is worried about Margaret. 

She is in line for the throne after the king died and Prince Howard, who was next in line, abdicated. She is next in line and the coronation is due to take place on Christmas Day. 

As Edward makes suggestions to try and get more amorous, Stacy speculates that she does not believe that Margaret is happy. She has not been happy ever since she split from Kevin. 

Edward tells her that people split all the time. She keeps on speaking along the same lines; Olivia (Mia Lloyd), Kevin’s daughter, has been on the phone to her telling her how miserable he is since he split with Margaret. 

Stacy goes to Chicago to see Kevin and Olivia and to persuade Kevin to come to the coronation in Montenaro. Kevin is looking dishevelled and slovenly. 

He tells Stacy that he has moved on. He believes Margaret has moved on also. Stacy tells him they need to support Margaret at the upcoming coronation. He agrees to attend. 

Stacy meets up with Edward and they go to Montenaro. Margaret is very happy to see them. She is also happy about the surprise visit of Olivia and Kevin. Inside the royal palace, everything is covered over. 

Margaret is not comfortable getting ready for Christmas festivities when the country is in mourning for the king. Edward points out that the country wants to celebrate a new era, with a new ruler; her. They decorate the house. 

Margaret and Kevin have obviously missed one another. Olivia suggests they have some hot chocolate, which they all think is a good idea. She then suggests Kevin and Margaret make it. 

The two go to the kitchen and as they look for ingredients to make the hot chocolate, become playful. Antonio (Lachlan Nieboer), the chief of staff, interrupts their frivolity. 

Taking her away, he remarks on how there is much to review before the coronation. There is a concert on Christmas Eve and a reception. Antonio makes a great effort to ingratiate himself with Margaret. Stacy interrupts his brown-nosing. 

Stacy comes to see Margaret the next morning. She wants to know what her relationship is with Antonio. She tells her that he has been very helpful with the royal protocols, as he had been the king’s consort. Margaret asks how Kevin feels about her. Stacy tells her to ask him. 

At the evening ball, Stacy encourages Kevin to ask Margaret to dance. As Antonio tries to win her over with florid words, Kevin comes and takes her onto the dance floor. 

Whilst on the floor, Kevin invites her out for a drive the next day. Margaret accepts. As the ball continues, Margaret’s cousin, Fiona (Hudgens again), makes an entrance. She is not dressed for a ball. 

She is flanked by two minions; Mindy (Florence Hall) and Reggie (Ricky Norwood), who quickly disappear into the throng of ball’s attendees. 

Stacy comes over with Edward. Fiona immediately comments on their likeness, remembering that they swapped roles a while back. 

Fiona leaves them. Margaret tells them that Fiona likes to party and has already burnt through her late uncle’s fortune. 

Antonio comes to get Margaret. The Prime Minister is there to see her. She tells Kevin she will see him tomorrow at two o’clock. She leaves. At the ball, Mindy and Reggie are pickpocketing guest and stealing items.

The next day at the Pembroke Estate, Fiona’s home, Mindy and Reggie reveal their stolen stash. Fiona is not impressed. Mindy makes an off-hand comment, saying their lives would be better if she was to become queen. Fiona dismisses both of them. She then looks at the invite for the coronation. 

At the royal palace, Margaret meets Kevin to go out for their intended drive. Before they can leave, Antonio comes and tells her that he needs to speak with her urgently. Getting her alone, Antonio gives Margaret a piece of jewellery and makes a play for her. He tells her they would make a fantastic couple. 

Margaret talks to Stacy about it. Stacy, who is team Kevin, tells her she is sure she and Kevin should be together. Meanwhile, Antonio tells Kevin that he is not being fair to Margaret and is possibly holding her back from becoming the monarch she could be. Olivia overhears the conversation. She tells Stacy. 

They go to Margaret and tell her she needs to find out where she and Kevin are, relationship-wise. Stacy suggests they swap again, to give her time to be with Kevin. Mrs Donatelli (Suanne Braun), Margaret’s lady-in-waiting, will help. Margaret has reservations but agrees. 

At Pembroke Estate, Fiona has come up with a plan. She plans to become queen long enough to transfer money to an off-shore account. She plans to kidnap Margaret before the coronation and take her place. Fiona goes to the palace to find out Margaret’s movements. She finds out that Margaret is going to a charity concert. 

The next day, as Olivia distracts Edward, Margaret and Stacy swap roles. Fiona also gets a makeover, her blonde hair made black like the princesses.

Margaret goes to see Kevin. Edward, unaware of the role swap, speaks to Stacy mistakenly thinking she is Margaret. He tells her that he thinks that Stacy might be becoming tired of him as she always seems to be too busy to make time for them. He tells her that Stacy is everything to him. She tells him everything will be fine. 

Olivia gets Edward to take her Christmas shopping. Stacy fulfils Margaret’s royal duties as Margaret goes to meet up with Kevin. Olivia continues to run interference with Edward. 

Stacy goes to the carol concert as Margaret. Fiona, Mindy and Reggie turn up at the concert. 

Kevin and Margret have a proper conversation about their relationship and their feelings for one another. Kevin tells her he does not want to hold her back. 

She tells him that he is the one she loves. Back at the concert, Reggie spills a drink on Stacy as Mindy distracts Mrs Donatelli. Mindy immediately tells Stacy, who she thinks is Margaret, that she can help her in the bathroom. They go to the bathroom.

In the bathroom, Fiona chloroforms Stacy and they swap clothing. Mindy and Reggie take Stacy to Pembroke Estate. Fiona returns to the concert and immediately calls for the car. 

She wants to return to the palace. She leaves Mrs Donatelli behind. Back at Pembroke Estate, Mindy and Reggie do not believe Stacy when she tells them they took the wrong person.

At the palace, Margaret comes to swap back with Stacy. Fiona as if Margaret is Stacy and kicks her out of the room. She calls her minions. They grabbed the wrong person. They have got Stacy. Mindy tells Fiona she can move up the coronation. 

Margaret goes to speak to Edward. She tells him that his wife has been kidnapped. Mrs Donatelli returns and tells them that she has been fired and that the coronation has been moved to that night. Margaret tells her she is not fired.

Kevin goes to see Margaret, not realising it is Fiona. She tells him that they cannot be together. She says they must end their relationship. Kevin tells her if he leaves he is not coming back. Kevin leaves. 

Back at Pembroke Estate, Stacy is looking for a way out. Kevin and Olivia leave the palace and head to the airport. Mrs Donatelli tells them what happened at the concert. 

Margaret works out that they must have switched there and that she is probably being held at the Pembroke estate. Antonio works out that Fiona is impersonating Margaret and makes a deal with her in the hope they can both become very rich. 

Reggie takes a sandwich for Stacy. She distracts him and escapes the basement room. Edward, Margaret, Mrs Donatelli and Frank (Mark Fleischmann), the driver, arrive at Pembroke Estate and rescue her.

Mrs Donatelli reminds them that they need to stop the coronation. At the church, Fiona and Antonio argue the veracity of having a coronation a day before its date with the priest. 

Kevin and Olivia are being driven in circles by the taxi driver. The coronation begins. Margaret enters the church and demands that proceedings be halted. 

She looks to Antonio to verify that she is the real Margaret. Antonio tells the guards to arrest her. Stacy steps forward and backs Margaret. Margaret tells Fiona that Reggie and Mindy have been arrested and have confessed. 

She says it was Antonio’s idea. Margaret has Antonio arrested. Fiona tries to wriggle out of it but she is taken into custody. The coronation moves back to Christmas Day. 

Fiona tells her that she sent Kevin away. Margaret heads to the airport to catch Kevin. She catches up with him and, along with Edward, Stacy and Mrs Donatelli stops him. Stacy tells Kevin that it was Fiona told him to leave. 

Margaret asks him to marry her. He says he wanted to marry her six months before. They both say yes. Margaret sees a priest and says they should get married right there and then. He marries them hurriedly. 

The next day, the Christmas coronation goes ahead and Margaret becomes queen of Montenaro. The end. 

Final thoughts: The Princess Switch: Switched Again is a pleasant film that is exactly as one would expect it to be. Hudgens is entertaining as all three characters and the rest of the supporting cast reprise their roles with ease. 

Hudgens, Hall and Norwood in the roles of Fiona, Mindy and Reggie respectively, bring a nice levity to proceedings, breaking away from the rom-com formula of the previous film slightly. Though the film still uses the swap as a crutch, it is utilised in a, as much as it ever could be, organic way and does not jar in the context of the film. 

As a festive film, The Princess Switch: Switched Again suffers the same weakness of many festive offerings in that it is not so much a Christmas film as a film set at Christmas. The story could’ve been set at any time of year. It is a minor gripe and does not impact the film. 

The Princess Switch: Switched Again, directed by Mike Rohl, who directed the first film, and is written by the same writers as the first film as well, Robin Bernheim and Megan Metzger.

At ninety-six minute long, it is just over the standard ninety-minute mark of a standard rom-com but is not noticeable for it. The Princess Switch: Switched Again is a nice enough film in the run-up to the festive season and worth a watch.

Christmas Made To Order – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: A workaholic architect hires a specialist Christmas decorator to prepare his home for the holidays as his family are due to visit. As the decorator spends time with him and his family, she helps him to see that his life is more than just work.

Is it any good?: No. Christmas Made To Order is not the worse film you are likely to see over the festive period but it is the most generic. It as if they put one hundred festive films into a computer and got the machine to spit out a script. Christmas Made To Order is that film.

The acting is listless and wooden, nobody looking like an actual person one might meet in the real world. The only thing the computer got both right and wrong is the length of the film, making it shorter than the usual ninety-minutes at only eighty-minutes long. 

Spoiler territory: Gretchen (Alexa PenaVega) has just finished decorating the lobby of the office building she works at part-time. It looks like Santa’s Grotto but Tim – an actor so wooden he does not even get a credit. I mean, there’s a credit for Sarah Beth Ballard, and she has no lines and is credited with ‘photo double/background’! – the security guard, comes out of the lift and give her a thumbs up. Gretchen appreciates his thumb. 

In the same building, in some other generic offices that are also overly decorated in festive cheer, Tom (Andrew Roach), generic not-quite-handsome-enough-to-be-main-guy, comes into the office he shares with Steven (Johnathan Bennett), handsome but work-is-the-only-thing-that-matters-since-my-heart-was-broken guy, is working.

There is a museum project beginning that day, so Steven is busy. Okay. Tim, who is wearing a Christmas tie in the run-up to Christmas, crazy guy, tells him that Rachel (JoMarie Payton), their boss, wants to see him. Tinseltown Tim asks Steven if he doesn’t like Christmas. Sure he does but it is only one day, points out the not at all a grinch Steven. 

Rachel, all hair and teeth, comes and tells Steven that she wants him to take lead on a project to sell to potential investors. Do a good job and he could be made partner. Woop Woop. She throws Tom a bone, telling him he is in line for the next promotion. Gee, thanks. 

Steven is so pumped by the thought of the new project and promotion possibility that he has to go and get himself a celebratory coffee. That’s it! Really let your hair down! He is coming out of the lift, eyes down on his phone and he bumps into Gretchen – excuse me. Who thought to name the main character Gretchen?! My apologies to any Gretchens reading… – who spills fake snow all over him. 

She apologises profusely. He apologises profusely. He asks what all the white stuff he is covered in is. She tells him it is fake snow. Maybe he hoped it was cocaine? 

Steven looks around, noticing the over-decorated lobby. He remarks on how it is a bit much. He is right but this is a Christmas film so Gretchen takes umbrage. 

He points out that Christmas is one day a year. Not quite bah humbug but close. Gretchen informs him that Christmas is a period, a season. She tells him that she is a Holiday decorator. He asks if it is a thing. In the twenty-first century? Of course, it’s a thing! People are lazy! 

After her fateful meeting with the future love of her life, – hardly a spoiler, it’s a Christmas film – Gretchen meets her friend, Marie (Chelsea Gilson), who must be an elf in disguise so overjoyed is she to see her friend and tells her she has another decorating job. 

Luckily, Nolan (Nathan Nonhof), allows her to work part-time allowing her to build towards her dream of decorating in the holidays. 

Nolan comes up to the two friends and gives Gretchen another decorating assignment. I’m not even sure what her job is, just another generic office creative type thing that is invented for Christmas films. 

The ever-smiling Gretchen, heads to the Silverpine Inn, a place her aunt, Lindsay (Tamari Dunbar) owns and runs. Her aunt, who lives in an Inn, tells her she should quit her part-time job and focus on her decorating business. Easy for her to say. 

Steven, who is still in the office, gets a video call from his niece, Paige (Bailee Johnson). She is calling because her mother, Steven’s sister, Kirsten (April Matson) needs to talk to him. 

Kirsten comes to tell him that he will have to host Christmas for the family. Steven is very reluctant to host Christmas but Paige wants to see Salt Lake at Christmas. He relents. 

Elf Marie is having coffee with Gretchen. Gretchen is on the phone. She has lost another client, her fledgeling holiday decorating business is not going well. 

Elf Marie tries to cheer her up by inviting her on a double date. She has been single for months! Gretchen declines the invitation. She just needs to get more clients. 

At the office, not-so-handsome Tom asks Steven if he is nervous about the pitch. Steven tells him he is more worried about his family coming for Christmas. 

He is worried that he won’t be able to match up to his sister’s elaborate Christmas hostings. Tom tells him his family knows he is busy and will not have high expectations. 

Steven tells him that he comes from a family of overachievers and they will expect a perfect Christmas. A perfect Christmas! Steven is panicking. Not-quite-the-guy Tom suggests he hire someone. Genius! Wonder who he will hire…?

Steven remembers running into Gretchen. He gets her business card from Tim the wooden security guard. He calls her and offers the job of decorating his home for his family’s Christmas visit. 

Gretchen goes to see Steven at his homes and gets straight to work. Whilst measuring up, randomly, Gretchen tells Steven about her dream of decorating holidays for a living. 

The next day, Gretchen is full steam ahead with the decorating. Steven, who is working from home, asks her if she needs any help. She tells him about her aunt’s inn and how amazing it is at Christmas. 

It was one of the reasons she started a holiday company, inspired by the inn. She finishes the decoration. Steven’s family arrive. They love the decorations but there is no tree. He tells them he has not got one yet. He has not got any food in either. 

He introduces the family to Gretchen; his parents, mother Ellen (Anne Sward), father, Ben (Rick Macy), Paige, Kirsten and brother-in-law, Jeff (Jacob Young). 

Gretchen says she is going to go home. Steven pulls her to one side and makes a proposition. How would she like to work as his Christmas consultant for the week, to help with entertaining his family? Gretchen agrees to the job. 

He tells his family that he has hired Gretchen as a Christmas coordinator. They all seem underwhelmed by the idea. Gretchen, not one to be discouraged when it comes to anything to do with Christmas, says they will go and get a tree the next day. 

Steven says he has not got time to pick a tree but after his father makes him feel guilty, Steven tells them he will work late to make time. Thanks dad! 

The next day, Gretchen and Steven’s entire family go looking for a tree. Gretchen tells them what to look for. Kirsten asks Gretchen how long has she been seeing her brother? Gretchen tells her that they are not together. 

Smug Jeff says he knew they were not together, a crestfallen Kirsten blabs to Gretchen about Steven having his heart broken some years before and plunging himself into work. Sap. 

Steven hears his niece singing. She has an extraordinary voice and he tells her so. Paige is not happy. She wants to be a singer but her dad wants her to be a doctor. 

Steven gives her a pep talk and offers to buy her some hot chocolate. Hot chocolate solves everything apparently. 

They get the tree back to Steven’s home. The women and Jeff decorate the tree. Steven has to work, much to Paige’s disappointment. Gretchen gets to know the family better. They all like her. Of course they do, this is not a soap opera. 

Gretchen is leaving and Steven walks her out. Her car will not start. Luckily, Kirsten is a brilliant mechanic. She can fix the car by tomorrow. Steven drops Gretchen home. 

He helps her take her tools and decorations into her home. Steven is surprised to see she does not have any decorations up. She tells him that she does not have the time between jobs. I have no idea how long it takes to put decorations up. Seems to me she should be able to chuck a few things up. A bit of tinsel? No? I digress. 

The next day, Gretchen takes them all over to her aunt’s inn. The women – no Jeff this time – make cider. Steven has gone into the office. His pitch is imminent. Quasimodo Tom comes and advises Steven to take a step back and go to dinner. 

Random advice that Steven, for some reason, thinks is good. Back with the ladies, Steven surprises Paige by turning up to the cider making class. She is ecstatic. Hmm. Gretchen is happy to.

Whilst at the inn, Steven takes the time to snoop around, checking out photos of Gretchen and her aunt and a photo of Gretchen as a child, noisy git. Gretchen catches him. 

He picks up a photo of her with her parents. She tells him they passed away when she was a child. She also tells him that her ex-boyfriend did not support her dream. 

Steven tells her about having his marriage proposal rejected a few years before and burying himself in work. 

Kirsten invites Gretchen to dinner at Steven’s home. At the dinner, the family regale her with stories of Steven’s childhood, gently embarrassing him. 

Gretchen, ever the entertainer, has brought cookies to decorate. She never bloody stops! Steven gets a call from work. He rejects the call much to the surprise of his family. 

Elf Marie is back and is giddy with excitement at the thought of Gretchen and Steven. Gretchen insists he is just a client. Of course, he is. Yep, right. Steven’s pitch does not go well. 

Davis (Scott Christopher), head of the project Steven is selling to, does not like the plans but he likes Steven’s work. Thanks? He tells the firm that he wants something different. Rachel says she will arrange another meeting. 

The family are out in Silverpine, the carol singers are out. Paige joins in with them and the rest of the family hear her singing for the first time. Her parents are blown away by her talent. Jeff thinks it will help her college application. How they did not know their daughter could sing is anybody’s guess.

Later, Gretchen advises Paige with the normal nonsense – follow your dream, passion, blah, blah, blah….Steven overhears the conversation. Gretchen said she to was afraid to pursue her dream properly. 

Steven tells her he is afraid of not being successful. There is a lot of confessional going on. Bonding over the outpouring, they almost kiss but Jeff, the pointless husband, interrupts them. 

Gretchen returns home and is going to start decorating her home but gets a call from Nolan. She needs to redo the proposal. At casa Steven, he is working and hears movement in the kitchen. 

Luckily, it’s his mother so he does not bash her head in. She is making…hot chocolate. She tells him that he is a workaholic and asks him about Gretchen. 

He tells his mother that he hopes to get Gretchen a job working for his firm so as he gets to see her more. She, being older and knowing he is a bit dense, tells him that he should, perhaps, ask her out on a date. 

The next day, Gretchen takes the family to a charity toy set-up. Steven talks some bollocks about kids being excited to open presents. They get offered some hot chocolate. I’m sure hot chocolate is free in Silverpine. 

Steven suggests going for a walk. Pointless Jeff thinks it is a great idea, Kirsten, wanting to give Gretchen and Steven a chance to get together, says she thinks they will go and get some cookies. Gretchen and Steven go for a walk. They bond more whilst out walking. 

The family make stockings. Jeff comes into the room excited, telling everyone that he got Paige onto a volleyball summer program. Paige finds the courage to tell her parents she wants to pursue music. 

Grandma Ellen tells her she is proud of her. Her parents decide they are okay with it as well. Don’t know what she was panicking about. They hang the stockings. Gretchen is touched when she finds that they made her a stocking as well. 

Paige wants to thank Gretchen for giving her the confidence to face her family about her choices. She goes to see her uncle to see how they can thank her. Steven says he has an idea. They decide to decorate her home while she is at work. They get keys from her aunt. 

Elf Marie tells Gretchen that Nolan is going to offer her a full-time job. Gretchen is not sure she wants to work full-time. She returns home to find it decorated and Steven and Paige waiting for her. She is overcome with the gesture. Later on, they all go to see a Christmas movie and out to eat pie. People need pie. 

Steven has a new pitch for Davis. He loves it and the pitch goes well. Rachel tells Stevens that she is going to call the board. Steven asks her if she would consider employing Gretchen. She says she will see her. He goes and gives Gretchen the news. 

The next day, Gretchen goes to see Rachel. Rachel likes her work and wants to employ her but she does not want to employ her as a freelancer. She wants her to work for the company. Gretchen turns down the job. 

Rachel tells Steven that Gretchen did not take the job. He goes to speak with Gretchen. She explains that she wants to be her own boss. He tells her that starting her own business is very difficult. Gretchen is offended by his lack of faith in her. 

Steven back peddles, hastily offering to double her pay. A perplexed Gretchen asks him if he just sees her as an employee. Steven, the dolt that he is, says that is what they agreed. Gretchen leaves. 

She goes to see her aunt. Her aunt gives her a pep talk, again telling her to risk it all and focus on her business. I’m not too sure how good her aunt’s advise is but it’s a Christmas film so…

Steven tells the ladies in his family what he did with Gretchen, how he offered her more money. They explain to him that he is a bit of a moron and he agrees. Gretchen gives notice at her job. Her elf, Marie, grins inanely behind her. Steven also decides to quit. This is all getting very reckless. 

Aunt Lindsay sets multiple places for Christmas dinner. Gretchen, who I frankly thought was sharper, asks why there are so many places. Her aunt tells her that she is expecting guests. Steven’s family arrive. They all tell Gretchen how much they love having her around and how she improved their lives and Christmas. 

Steven turns up belatedly. He gives her his new business card. He is starting his own firm, designing family homes. She was his inspiration. They both tell one another that they quit.

Considering neither have a wage now, they are remarkably happy. They reveal their feelings to one another and kiss. They join the rest of the family for dinner, which invites applause for some reason. The end. 

Final thoughts: Christmas Made To Order is so generic that one could fall asleep through the first hour and still know what is going to happen in the end. Usually, the casting is quite important in a rom-com, festive film but they could have put any two attractive actors in the central roles and it would have been just as watchable. Or not. 

The film is not terrible it is just boring. Nobody is particularly funny or engaging, the central pairing are vanilla and the kind of couple whose biggest excitement would be acrylic/wool blend jumpers. 

The best thing in the film is Bailee Johnson’s singing. Watching a film for a minute of singing, no matter how good, does seem a bit like a waste of life. 

Christmas Made To Order is eighty-minutes of your life that you will not get back. Like I say, it is not an awful film but if you have anything else better to do, do it.

Holidate – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: a woman approaching her thirties, is under constant pressure around the holidays to find a partner and settle down. An aunt tells her that the random men she brings to every holiday event are her ‘holidates’; partners just for the holiday period. 

When she meets a man who has been similarly traumatised over holiday single-dom, she tells him about holidates. The two end up agreeing to be one another’s holidates. 

Is it any good?: Holidate is an amusing rom-com with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Emma Roberts, as Sloane, is luckier this time in being cast opposite someone who complements her better in Luke Bracey as Jackson.

In her previous rom-com, she found herself playing opposite a miscast Hayden Christensen, a casting error as the acting was fine from both, just not the chemistry. 

The chemistry between Roberts and Bracey works much better and pulls a relatively predictable film through its slightly long runtime of one hundred and three minutes. Holidate is an enjoyable film even if it does not bring anything new to the genre. 

Spoiler territory: Sloane (Roberts) is on the porch of her mother’s house, finishing a cigarette surrounded by lively Christmas decorations. On entering the house, she is immediately greeted by her mother, Elaine (Frances Fisher), who remarks on her dowdy appearance. She also informs her that her aunt Susan (Kristin Chenoweth), has brought the mall Santa (Carl McDowell) as her holiday date. 

Sloane’s sister, Abby (Jessica Capshaw) comes and greets her. Both mother and sister pester Sloane about her lack of a love life. As they leave her alone, she is accosted by her brother, York (Jake Manley) and his girlfriend, Liz (Cynthy Wu). They tell her she looks sad. Abby’s husband, Peter (Alex Moffatt) comes into the room. 

Sloane talks to her aunt. Susan tells her she met her date at the mall, as they watch him scoffing hors d’oeuvres still wearing his Santa suit. Susan tells her that he is just a holidate, a day for the holidays. No commitment. 

Elsewhere, Australian, Jackson (Bracey), is being introduced to Carly’s (Aimee Carrero) parents on their third date. They greet the couple dressed in matching Christmas jumpers. 

Carly’s mother (Meeghan Holaway) goes through a photo album, giving Jackson a little too much information about Carly. She even tells him that her and Carly’s father (Carlos Lacamara), do not mind if he sleeps over. 

Back with Sloane’s family and she is sitting at the children’s table as she is the only adult who does not have a partner and the table cannot accommodate her. 

One of her nieces, Daisy (Savannah Reina), questions her about her single status. She even boasts about having a boyfriend. Sloane tells it will be different when she is older. 

Jackson’s evening takes another turn, as an excited Carly jumps on him after telling him how much her parents love him. She proceeds to have sex with even as he tries to slow the relationship down. 

Sloane is gifted loungewear pyjamas for Christmas from her sister, a pointed reference to her spinsterhood. A still overwhelmed Jackson meanwhile, finds himself unwrapping a present of khaki pants from Carly. She is mortified when he tells her he did not get her a gift, as they had agreed not to exchange gifts. 

Carly rages at him, especially as they had had sex. He offers her cash, a gesture that enrages her more. Jackson leaves the house. Back with Sloane’s family and York proposes to Liz, even though they have only been together for three months. She accepts. The whole family cheer and whoop excitedly. Sloane remarks on how she likes her gift of pyjamas.

In the mall, after Christmas, Jackson is trying to return the khaki pants. The sales assistant (Nastassia Johnson) tells him he cannot get a refund without the receipt but he can get store credit. He does not want store credit. 

A grumpy Sloane interrupts, telling him that some of the people waiting have jobs. Jackson takes offence at the insinuation that he is unemployed. Sloane does not care and steps up to the counter, wanting to return the pyjamas she received for Christmas. 

The two end up comparing their awful holiday experiences. A customer behind them, with hair like Princess Leia, (Marisa Davila) offers to buy Jackson’s khaki pants. He declines the offer. The sales assistant returns.

Sloane’s pyjamas are from two seasons ago and only worth five dollars. As Sloane bemoans her sister’s cheapskate-ness, the Princess Leia customer tells her that she could make nice cut-off short with them. 

Jackson takes the pyjamas and his khakis and offers the lot to Princess Leia for fifty dollars. With some input from Sloane, they settle on forty-five dollars and a coupon for pretzels. 

Jackson and Sloane chat as they walk through the mall. Susan’s holidate, dressed in his Santa suit, hollers at Sloane. An embarrassed Sloane tells Jackson that the Santa was her aunt’s holidate. She explains what a holidate to him is and Jackson thinks it is a brilliant idea. 

He tells her they can be holidates for New Year’s. Sloane is reluctant to be a fake date with someone she barely knows but Jackson gives her his card. 

Whilst working from home, Sloane’s mother FaceTime’s her to introduce her to Faarooq (Manish Dayal) a doctor who has moved in next door. An exasperated Sloane ends the call. She contacts Jackson. 

They go to a New Year’s party where they proceed to make fun of other party-goers and what their lives might be like. Jackson sees a young man and older woman and begins to describe what he thinks their lives might be back. Sloane looks up to see her aunt Susan with another holidate, Ronald (Johnathan Baron). 

Jackson and Sloane sit chatting in a booth. Sloane tells him about Luc (Julien Marlon), who destroyed her faith in rom-com films. Sloane goes to the bathroom. In the bathroom, a woman, Annie (Mikaela Hoover) is being consoled by her friends because of the dark red stain on her white dress. She is expecting to get a marriage proposal. Sloane exchanges dresses with her. 

The night continues and Jackson disappears to the bathroom just as the clock strikes midnight. Sloane stands around awkwardly as couples smooch around her. She sees Annie get proposed to. Jackson returns and apologises sheepishly. 

The two ride in a cab silently. As Sloane is getting out, Jackson suggests they should meet up for Valentine’s. Sloane dismisses the notion. Fast forward and Abby and Liz are grilling Sloane about her plan for Valentine’s. 

Sloane tells them she plans to buy and eat copious amounts of chocolate. As she walks around a shop buying chocolate, Sloane bumps into an immaculate looking Luc. He is dismayed to see how dishevelled she looks but before he can say anything, his new girlfriend, Felicity (Nicola Peltz) comes over and mistakes Sloane for a shop worker. Felicity is stunning. 

Jackson sees Sloane squirming and comes to her rescue, pretending to be her boyfriend. They leave the store. Having inadvertently stolen a load of chocolate whilst escaping the store, the two eat chocolate in Jackson’s car and discuss their holidate arrangement, agreeing to reignite it and keep it platonic. 

St Patrick’s day sees them together in a pub. They bump into York, Liz and Abby. York already knows Jackson because he is his golf coach. Liz did not know that York played golf. Abby asks Sloane about Jackson and Sloane tells her it is strictly platonic. 

Elaine hosts an Easter brunch for the family. She invites Faarooq hoping to match him with Sloane. Sloane has brought Jackson. Susan, who has brought another holidate, is instantly attracted to Faarooq. 

Sloane and Jackson meet up for Cinco de Mayo, spending all day drinking tequilas. They fall asleep drunkenly but neither can remember if anything sexual happened between them. They meet up again for Mother’s Day. Elaine wants to know why the two of them have not even tried to get together. 

Jackson hangs out again with the whole family for Independence Day. By a lake, the men and the women split up, the men playing with fireworks, the women talking about men. Everybody’s fun is interrupted by Jackson having an accident. He blows a finger off. Sloane takes him to the hospital. Faarooq is the doctor who reattaches his finger. 

Finger reattached, Sloane takes Jackson to his home. Jackson tells his friend, Neil (Andrew Bachelor), that Sloane and his hands touched and there are feelings between them. Sloane tells Abby that she thinks there is a vibe between herself and Jackson. Neil tells him to break it off. Jackson tells Neil that he is meant to be accompanying her to her brother’s wedding on Labour Day. Neil tells him that he has to break it off. 

Abby says to Sloane that if he comes with her to the wedding it means he likes her. Jackson calls Sloane and says that they should take separate dates to the wedding before Sloane can suggest they go together. 

At the wedding, Sloane is with Faarooq and Jackson comes with Susan. Jackson and Sloane meet at the bar and bicker. They see Liz and her father dancing to an inappropriate song for the wedding and intervene. Everybody starts dancing and they see Faarooq and Susan grinding on the dance floor. Susan has an accident and Faarooq takes her away. 

York and Liz throw a Halloween Party. Jackson and Sloane attend but Sloane wants to leave when she sees that Luc has been invited and brings, a heavily pregnant, Felicity with him. Sloane’s misery is compounded when she finds it difficult to get out of the costume Jackson picked for her, especially as her sister accidentally gives her a laxative. 

Jackson takes her home and gets her into her apartment just as the laxatives begin to work. They lie down on her bed and end up fall asleep opposite one another. 

They end up making love to one another the next morning but when Abby comes over and confesses to kissing Neil, their conversation about what happened gets lost in miscommunication and mixed signals. 

Jackson tells Neil that Sloane kicked him out. Thanksgiving rolls around and it is being hosted again by Elaine. Sloane asks aunt Susan why she is not with Faarooq, her turning up with Wally (Dan Lauria). Susan tells her that she does not keep holidates.

Elaine burns the dinner, so Sloane and Jackson go to the store to and end up arguing about him leaving after their sexual episode. Jackson opens up to Sloane but she rejects him. 

Sloane returns to the house without Jackson and Abby tells her off for never taking responsibility in her relationships. Sloane blurts out that she kissed Neil and Peter hears it. Abby and Peter argue. Wally has a heart attack and Susan and Sloane go to the hospital with him. 

At the hospital, Susan confesses that she always ran from commitment. Faarooq comes out looking for Wally’s relatives. Susan ends up confessing that she got scared of getting close to him. They get back together. 

Sloane misses Jackson and starts stalking him. Out Christmas shopping at the mall, with Abby, Liz and Daisy, she sees Jackson on the down escalator as they are going up. Daisy tells her to go after him. She chases after him, screaming his name but the mall is too loud. A Christmas choir end up singing his name to get his attention. 

She confesses her love for him over a public PA system and they kiss. The end. 

Final thoughts: Holidate is an enjoyable rom-com written by Tiffany Paulsen and directed by John Whitesell. The central pairing of Roberts and Bracey works really well and, despite the inherent predictability of rom-coms, one still wants them to get together. 

The humour, for the most part, hits its mark with all the actors on show performing well and believably. Though the title and media lean towards this being a festive film, it is more of an anytime rom-com that just happens to be set between two Christmases. Every holiday is given a showing in the film. 

The film looks nice enough and is competently directed, maintaining a good pace throughout. Personally, I did feel it was a little on the long side with some scenes extraneous, mostly the scenes with Bachelor’s Neil, whose brevity in the film made the scenes irrelevant. 

The New Year’s sequence was a little overlong, lessening the emotional impact of Sloane giving her dress to Annie to get proposed to in. The entire Cinco de Mayo sequence could have been left out without it affecting the narrative at all.

There are so many characters in the film that it is difficult to justify all of them but the film just about manages it. These are minor gripes and, as I said earlier, the strength of the central pairing pulls one through the film. Holidate is worth a watch on a lazy, lockdown, afternoon.

Midnight at the Magnolia – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: a couple of local radio host, who also happen to be long time best friends, get notoriety for their relationship advice on their morning show. A flippant conversation, on-air, about their trepidation when introducing prospective partners to their families has their boss suggesting they should introduce their partners to their families live on air.

A larger corporation is prepared to syndicate them countrywide if they do so. They agree to the task but a spanner is thrown in the works when both are dumped before New Year’s Eve. They decide to fake a relationship between the two of them to fulfil their dream of getting syndicated across the country. 

Is it any good?: Midnight at the Magnolia is a sweet rom-com that works even though it is quite predictable. The two leads, Natalie Hall and Evan Williams are great. Their chemistry is excellent and the script is above average for a Netflix festive film. An enjoyable eighty-seven minutes.

Spoiler territory: Maggie Quinn (Natalie Hall) is smartly dressed, ready for work early in the morning. Jack Russo (Evan Williams) is shocked out of his slumber by his alarm clock. Maggie eats her breakfast and leaves for work, arriving comfortably early for the morning show she hosts with Jack, Windy City Wake-Up. 

Their boss, Deb (Alison Brooks) asks her where Jack is. Maggie tells her he will be there. She is not worried. The show is about to go live. Deb counts Maggie in for the morning introduction, as Maggie speaks to Chicago, Jack rushes in and joins the show. 

It is Boxing Day and Maggie and Jack’s radio banter denotes that the two are longtime friends. They get on to the subject of their prospective partners. Maggie asks Jack if he is bringing his latest girlfriend to meet his parents. Jack says he is not. He asks her if she is bringing Seb (Sean Williams). Maggie replies in the negative. 

After the show, Deb tells them that not only was their talk of introducing their partners to their families a hit, it got them noticed by a bigger network who are thinking of taking them countrywide. Seb comes to meet Maggie for lunch. He tells her that he felt like they were making fun of him and Jack’s girlfriend, their closeness making him feel excluded. 

Jack and Maggie’s fathers’ jointly own the Magnolia restaurant and jazz club. The two go to a family dinner and are warmly greeted by Jack’s father, Martin (Martin Gordin Shore) and Maggie’s dad, Steve (Steve Cumyn). Jack’s mum, Bev (Susan Hamann) comes and joins the party. Maggie’s sister Amanda (Victoria Maria) her husband, Matt (Matthew Stefiuk) and their son Cody (Dane O’Connor). 

Jack and Maggie tell the family the news about their impending syndication, everybody is happy. At the dinner, Martin is reluctant to speak about the bar’s business much to Jack’s surprise. He asks him about it after dinner. He tells him that the bar is not as popular as it once was. 

The next morning, after their show, Deb comes and tells them that the broadcaster wants to take them nationally with a show on New Year’s Eve. They also want them to introduce their prospective partners live on air. Both are initially reluctant but the thought of going national persuades them. Jack thinks that they should do it at the Magnolia to help boost sales for the venue. 

They go and tell their fathers. Having told their fathers, they decide that they need to tell their partners. Maggie tries to get through to Seb, leaving him messages. He calls her back and breaks up with her. There is a knock at her door. It is Jack. His girlfriend broke up with him as well. Worried about the upcoming syndication opportunity, Jack suggests that they pretend to be together. 

After some convincing, Maggie reluctantly agrees. To try and convince Deb, the two decide that they should be caught kissing. As they are kissing, Jack’s parents walk in and see them. After a bit of confusion, Jack’s parents surprise them both, ecstatic that they have got together. They find that all of the family is happy that the two of them are together, having believed that they should have always gotten together. 

Alone in Jack’s apartment, the two recall when he sang a song and how captivated she had been by his performance. The next day, Deb tells them that they have been invited to a cocktail party by the Judd Crawford (Peter Michael Dillon), the boss of the syndication. She also tells them that their new union is going to be live-streamed. 

Jack and Maggie go to the local coffee shop. Maggie sees Seb with another woman and is hurt at the thought that he has replaced her so quickly. Jack takes Maggie sleigh riding to cheer her up. Maggie sees her sister in the bar. Amanda tells her that she can see that Maggie is smitten, having always loved Jack. The New Year’s Eve party sells out in an hour. 

Jack and Maggie go to the cocktail party. Whilst talking to Judd, they are surprised to find out that he is expecting a midnight kiss live on air. After the cocktail party, they go to the bar and reminisce. They arrange a dinner at Maggie’s apartment to commemorate the anniversary of her mother’s death. They talk about broken hearts, with Jack admitting that Bianca Bell (Hannah Gordon) broke his heart in high school. 

Maggie says she had her heart broken once but does not tell him who it was. As they walk home, Maggie tells Jack that she has never had a midnight kiss. Jack says they should practice but the blaring of a car horn dissuades them. 

The next day at the bar, an anxious Steve is waiting for Jack. When he arrives he takes him outside and gives him Maggie’s mother’s ring. Jack is thrown by the gesture and leaves, telling Maggie he is not feeling well. On his way home, Jack runs into Bianca. They go for a drink and a catch-up. 

Bianca tells Jack that Maggie was heartbroken when he did not take her to the prom. She also tells him that she broke up with him because he loved Maggie. Jack denies loving Maggie. He realises that he has forgotten his dinner with Maggie and rushes over to try and make it up to her. Maggie is not happy and admits that she feels he always puts her second. 

Maggie goes to see her dad. She asks him how he knew that her mother was the one. He tells her that she had a fear of spiders but when she heard him falling in the attic, she ran through cobwebs to get to him. Maggie is not sure that Jack would run through cobwebs for her. 

It is New year’s Eve and they are doing their morning show. Maggie is still angry at Jack. Maggie goes out for coffee and bumps into Seb. Jack sees them together in the coffee shop and realises he does not want to lose her. He goes to see his dad for advice. 

At the party, Jack sees Judd and is told that he is thinking of giving them separate shows. Jack, taken aback, asks if Maggie knows about the idea. Judd tells him that she does and seemed open to it. As midnight approaches, Jack tells the live stream and the listeners that they are not getting together with their prospective partners or, as their families and bosses believe, one another. 

Maggie admits that their relationship is a sham and they only got together for the sake of their career. She leaves the stage. Jack tells the live stream that he loves Maggie and does not want his own show. He sings a song that he wrote for her and they get together for real and kiss at midnight. 

A year later, Jack proposes to her with the ring Steve gave him. Maggie accepts. The end. 

Final thoughts: Midnight at the Magnolia is a delightful rom-com written by Carley Smale and directed by Max McGuire. Hall and Williams are perfectly cast as life long best friends who dance around their love for one another. Williams is particularly good as the clueless Jack, oblivious to that fact that his best friend is in love with him. 

All the cast play their parts perfectly well, something that really helps the central pairing seem more believable. The pacing of the film is good and it whizzes through its eighty-seven-minute runtime. 

Being a post-Christmas film, with the plot running up to a New Year’s Eve party, the film is slightly festive, being set in winter, without any mention of Christmas. The script is more amusing through its character interaction rather than any pithy witticisms in the writing but it all flows very naturally. 

Midnight at the Magnolia is a nice film to while away eighty-seven minutes. Sweet. 

Operation Christmas Drop – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: A week before Christmas, a congressional aide is sent to a tropical military base to check on its operational cost and viability. Her boss wants a report that will give her a reason to close the base and she knows that a report in her boss’ favour could help her career. A captain at the base is charged with trying to persuade her that what they do on the island is worth fighting for. 

Is it any good?: Operation Christmas Drop is a clunky Christmas film but its heart is in the right place. With Kat Graham taking on her second Christmas role in as many years – The Holiday Calendar in 2018 – the film bumps along with no surprises whatsoever.

The film is part Christmas cheer, part American propaganda, though there is an acknowledgement of the real-life humanitarian efforts carried out, being a joint military effort between America, Japan and Australia. With the all-American looking Alexander Ludwig as the handsome captain Andrew Jantz, it is ultimately a feel-good Christmas film.

Spoiler territory: congressional aide, Erica Miller (Graham), is doing Christmas shopping for her boss, congresswoman, Angie Bradford (Virginia Marsden). She is on FaceTime with her friend and assistant, Sally (Aliza Vellani). Sally has found some information about a military base in Guam that Erica asked for. 

In Guam, Andrew (Ludwig) is on a video call with his family; his parents, sister and his niece. The connection is dodgy and makes the audio intermittently inaudible. As his father goes to reboot the modem, his niece asks him if it would be possible for him to come home for Christmas. Andrew tells it that, unfortunately, it is not possible. 

Later, on the base, Andrew is talking about the Christmas drop and organising all the Christmas activities. Back in the US, Sally is telling Erica, who has returned to the office, that she is in line for a promotion as the chief-of-staff position has recently become available. Erica is not so sure she is the primary candidate for the position. She gets a message from her boss.

After extricating the congresswoman from an uncomfortable meeting, Angie asks Erica to go and check out the base in Guam. Erica says it would a good break in January. Angie tells her she wants her out there before Christmas. Erica contacts her father to tell him she won’t be seeing him at Christmas. He thinks that she is just trying to avoid his new wife, Erica not having visited them at Christmas since her mother died some years before. 

In Guam, Andrew’s commanding officer, General Hatcher (Jeff Joseph) calls him into the office to tell him that their base may be closed down unless they can show that it is cost-effective and well run. He charges Andrew with looking after the incoming Erica. 

The ambitious Erica gets to Guam two hours before she is expected and goes and finds Andrew on the beach. She is not taken by his easy charm and is determined to be all business, insisting on seeing for herself just how well and cost-effectively the base is run. 

Andrew takes Erica on a tour of the base and, in an effort to charm her, takes her to a beach. She notices a lot of military personnel heading towards another beach. Andrew tells her that they are going on survival training. At the local market, Erica sees posters for a Christmas party happening the upcoming Saturday. Andrew says it is probably some local thing. He takes her to a beach. Erica, still underwhelmed by his charm offensive, steals the jeep. 

Back at the base, Erica wants answers. She drove by the beach where Andrew told her military training was happening and found personnel getting ready for the party on Saturday. Andrew explains that the drop is something they do every year and it does not impact on US finances. Erica tells him that while what they are doing is laudable, she has to report what she sees. 

Erica gets invited to dinner by the general. She meets his wife, Sandra (Janet Kidder), who is also in the army. The three have dinner. After dinner, as Erica leaves, Sandra points out to her that, regardless of what she thinks, she can affect the decision of whether the base closes or not. 

Back in her room, Erica is contacted by Angie. Angie needs a report that will allow her to close the base down. Erica tries to explain to her that what the base is doing is beneficial to the local populace but Angie is not interested. 

The next day, Andrew takes Erica on a helicopter trip so as she can meet some of the people that the base helps. In one of the villages, she hears about the difficulties of getting an internet connection, something that aids with the children’s education. Andrew sings a song to entertain the villagers. 

They head over to the beach where the base personnel are preparing for the coming festivities. The party is a fundraiser for the island. Andrew explains that everybody who is working, volunteers their time and resources. 

Erica asks why he is not going home for Christmas. Andrew explains that he wants to be there for the drop. He asks why she is not home for the holiday. She tells him she prefers to walk ever since her mother died. 

Erica’s final day, she tells Andrew she has to get her report done. Andrew insists on taking her snorkelling, her having told him she had never done it. Later, Andrew takes her to a local hotel so as she can see how he makes a deal with Christmas trees as a bargaining chip. 

At the Christmas party, Erica has a wonderful time with all of the base personnel and various islanders. Erica is won over by the island. The next day, she goes and persuades a wealthy businessman to work with a Bruce Best (Brother Bruce) to create and donate solar generators. She goes to tell Andrew the good news. 

Their joy is short-lived as they find out that the island is about to be hit by a massive storm and the general will not allow them to fly in a storm. An inspired Erica still wants to get a drop done before the storm hits. 

Angie comes to see Erica. She wants to know what is happening with the base. She is not impressed to see the obvious efforts towards a Christmas drop. 

She orders Erica to return to Washington the next day. Erica goes to pack and has a call with Sally. During the call, she realises she wants to get at least one drop done before she returns home. 

She goes and finds a morose Andrew and persuades him to help her. He tells her that the general has grounded all flights. She tells him that she checked the weather and the storm is clearing. The general has told her that it is up to Andrew whether they fly or not. They go to organise the drop as the weather clears. 

Congresswoman Angie catches Erica helping the drop and reminds her that she is supposed to be on a plane to Washington. She also tells the general that the drop is not supposed to happen. Sandra invites Angie to ride along on the drop after Erica reminds her why she got into politics. 

They go on the drop. Back at the base, a contrite Angie is touched after witnessing the effects of the drop. Erica makes a compelling case for not shutting down the base. Angie tells her she is promoted. The last night on the island and Erica and Andrew are going to the general’s house for Christmas dinner. 

Erica surprises Andrew by having his family flown in for Christmas. She tells him she is going to visit her father for the new year. They kiss. The end. 

Final thoughts: Operation Christmas Drop is an okay Christmas film that only works due to the presence of Graham. A modern-day Doris Day or Meg Ryan, Graham is one of those attractive people who also has enough girl-next-door about her to work opposite a variety of leading men believably. 

Ludwig works well as her romantic interest, even if, truthfully, there is not much effort made in creating their romantic attachment. The script by Gregg Rossen and Brian Sawyer is perfunctory rather than good, with far too many of the actors required to do little more than say their lines clearly, just there to support the central characters. 

Directed in painting-by-numbers fashion by Martin Wood, the film looks nice enough, the usual over-lighting mostly hiding the prevalence of green screening. The writers do not commit to the slightly darker elements of the story, so there is no sense of the base ever being closed down. 

Not that one would expect that from a film called Operation Christmas Drop. It is, after all, a Christmas film but the lack of any real tension or conflict in the film, especially as it does not commit to the comedic rom-com aspects either, lets the film down. 

At ninety-five minutes long, Operation Christmas Drop is not a long film and moves swiftly through its runtime. By no means the worse Christmas film on Netflix and scoring a middling six point six on IMDB, Operation Christmas Drop is a passable time-waster in these lockdown days. 

I Love You, Stupid – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: After getting dumped by his girlfriend of eight years and then losing his job in the same week, a man finds himself back in the dating pool. After blackmailing a friend to get him a new job, he searches online to find out how to date in the twenty-first century. He runs into an old female acquaintance from his school days who always liked him.

Is it any good?: I Love You, Stupid (Te Quiero Imbécil – original Spanish title) is an amusing comedy that is not perhaps for everyone. With good performances from all on show and an amusing script, I Love You, Stupid is a pleasant enough film without any great surprises that is entertaining throughout its runtime.

Spoiler territory: Marcos (Quim Gutiérrez) is in a restaurant with his girlfriend of eight years, Ana (Alba Ribas). He proposes to her, sliding a ring across the table. She ends the relationship. As he had moved into her home, Marcos has to move out after the split and goes to live with his parents.

He tells them he will only be with them for a few days or weeks, believing he is about to be promoted in his present job as he has a meeting with his boss the next day. When he goes to see his boss, Marcos is told that he is being laid off because business is tight. He goes to see his friend, Diego (Alfonso Bassave), for a drink and to talk about his woes.

Diego, a real ladies man, tells him he needs to get back into the dating market and forget his ex-girlfriend. He puts a load of dating apps onto Marcos’ phone. Marcos is not sure what he wants or even how to date. He turns to the internet, searching for answers. He finds Sebastian Venet (Ernesto Alterio), an Argentinian self-help guru, who promises to guide him through twenty-first-century dating and modern masculinity.

Venet tells him he needs to make some money and stop living with his parents. Marcos goes to see Diego and tells him to get him a job, blackmailing him by saying he will tell all of his friends that Diego has slept with their girlfriends. Diego gets him a job.

As Marcos is returning home, he is called to by a woman, Raquel (Natalia Tena), a punk-ish looking woman, with an easy smile. He does not recognise her but she reminds him that they knew one another at school. They had not seen one another for fifteen years. The next day, Marcos is being shown around the new office layout of his job by his boss, Lorena (Patricia Vico).

Marcos goes on a double date with Diego. Diego quickly charms one of the ladies and leaves. The other woman has no interest in Marcos and leaves him alone in the bar. He goes back to the internet, consulting Venet again. He needs to get in shape and update his wardrobe. Marcos starts exercising and grooming himself.

He runs into Raquel again, who calls to him as he is walking past the store she works in. She accompanies him as he goes to update his wardrobe, him having told her he needs to hook up with women to get over his ex. He goes on multiple dates, most of which turn out to be fruitless. When he thinks he is about to succeed with a possible conquest, his chance is kiboshed by him returning with his date to find his parents getting amorous in the living room.

Marcos gets himself an apartment and Raquel helps him move in. Marcos finds that Ana has blocked him from all her social media. He sees Diego. Deigo tells him he needs to stop thinking about his ex. The dating continues. One date, Veronica (Vanessa Castro), goes well and she invites him back to her place. Marcos is confident of getting laid until he sees her standing up whilst urinating.

Raquel and Marcos go to a concert of one of Raquel’s friends. Marcos, thinking Raquel wants to hook up with the musician, makes an excuse and leaves. At work, Marcos’ new wardrobe and workouts get him noticed. Lorena invites him to a party she is having. He goes to see Raquel. She gives him a tattoo whilst admonishing him for leaving her alone with the boring musician.

Marcos decides to take the office boy, Tomy (José Garcia Ruiz), with him to the party, so as he will not be outshone. At the party, Marcos is confident that he will be able to meet someone new at the party. Lorena comes to talk to him. As they bond over the party’s music selection, they are interrupted by Ana. She is impressed by Marcos’ new look and vibe. While Raquel is doing a music gig, Marcos hooks up with Ana.

He goes and tells Raquel that he had sex but does not tell her that it was with Ana. She goads him, asking if he will wait eight years before proposing again. He tells her it was just a hookup and will not happen again. Marcos calls Ana later that day. He asks her out but she turns him down. At work, Marcos gets promoted when one of his tweets becomes a trending topic.

He goes to hangout with Raquel. He lets slip that it is the woman he hooked up with has a birthday coming up. Raquel wants to know how he knows she has a birthday coming up. He makes up some excuse.

Back at work, Diego comes to see Marcos and notes that he is not talking about his ex anymore. He goes to help Raquel in her shop. Whilst moving a heavy sculpture, he damages his back. In the hospital, he gets a call from Ana. Raquel is convinced he is going to see her. He says he is not. He goes and sees her but does not tell her he has damaged his back.

Raquel comes to see him in the hospital the next day and brings him wine. Back at the office, Diego is a little worried about Marcos’ increasingly effeminate mores. He tells him they need a guys night out. He invites them to his home for soccer and beer. At Diego’s place, Marcos stands talking about relationships with a couple of the guys.

Diego kicks the guys out and tells Marcos that he is turning into a woman. Marcos talks to Raquel about his disagreement with Diego. They spend the whole day together and end up in a club. The Proclaimers record comes on and Raquel wants Marcos to get on the stage and sing with her. The conservative Marcos is too scared. She does not force the issue. Ana comes and kisses Marcos. Raquel leaves him alone with her.

Marcos wants to know what is going on with Ana and their hookups. She tells him that she is getting married the next week but her fiancé is in Germany. She invites Marcos to the wedding. He reluctantly accepts the invite. He tells Diego that he has been seeing Ana and that she is getting married. He tells him about Raquel as well, feeling that he has been leading her on.

Diego tells him he is in love with Raquel. Marcos sends Raquel an invitation to his office Christmas party. At the party, Lorena comes as tells Marcos she wants to have sex with him. She takes him to a private room. Raquel turns up at the party and Tomy, even as Diego is trying to stop him, tells her where Marcos is. She walks in on him being pawed by an amorous Lorena.

Marcos goes after Raquel and tells her nothing happened. She asks him why he invited her to the party but he does not have the courage to tell her he loves her. She walks away. A morose Marcos contacts Diego. They go to a bar and speak about his trip to London. He takes some things around to his parents’ home. His mother tells him that she found the box he was looking for.

He finds an old cassette tape in it. Marcos takes a car to the airport. He stops off at Ana’s wedding and tells her future husband that they slept together and she is a bit of a bitch. He heads to Raquel’s shop and lip-sync’s to The Proclaimers’ hit outside of her store. He strips off in front of her and tells her that he loves her. They kiss. The end.

Final thoughts: I Love You, Stupid (Te Quiero Imbécil) is a pleasant Spanish rom-com starring Quim Gutiérrez and Natalia Tena as the central couple you want to get together. Tena is especially engaging as the free-spirited Raquel and is likable from the moment she appears on the screen. Gutiérrez is great as the initially confidence-damaged Marcos. Though the film follows the normal path of a classic rom-com, it still has a few nice quirks to make it different from the run-of-the-


Written by Abraham Sastre and Iván Bouso, the script has some nice lines and utilises a few fourth-wall breaks, something that can sometimes take one out of the story but works perfectly well in the film. It is ably directed by Laura Mañá and flows smoothly through its eighty-seven-minute runtime, switching between scenes seamlessly.

The music works well in the film and adds to the youthful vibe. I Love You, Stupid scores a lowly five-point-eight on IMDB which would give one the impression that it is a poor film. It is not. Though not the best film or rom-com on Netflix, the film is worth taking an hour and a half out of your day to enjoy.

Love. Wedding. Repeat – review

Brief synopsis: After a near-miss, romantic weekend, Jack (Sam Claflin), is given another chance to reconnect with the woman of his dreams, Dina (Olivia Munn) at his sister’s romantic Italian wedding. Unfortunately, various circumstances conspire to make his efforts to reconnect with Dina challenging.

Is it any good?: Ever since Richard Curtis’ Four Wedding and a Funeral (1994), many a filmmaker has tried to repeat the same formula of love and wedding farce. Love. Wedding. Repeat starts promisingly and quickly deteriorates into puerile farce and jokes that go on too long. Disappointing.

Spoiler territory: Jack and Dina spend a brief weekend getting to know one another after his sister, Hayley (Eleanor Tomlinson), introduces them knowing he is going to be in Afghanistan the same time as she is. As Jack tries to get up the courage to asks her out before he has to fly back home. Unfortunately, as he is about to talk to her, an old friend interrupts him and he misses his opportunity.

Three years later, Hayley is getting married in Italy and, in the absence of their parents, Jack is walking his sister down the aisle. The maid-of-honour – or man-of-honour – is Bryan (Joel Fry), a wannabe actor who, as well as being Hayley’s maid/man, hopes to meet a famous Italian director who is attending the wedding.

Other notables attending the wedding are family friends, boring Sidney (Tim Key), mildly hyper Rebecca (Aisling Bea), Jack’s ex-girlfriend, Amanda (Freda Pinto), with her new boyfriend, Chaz (Allan Mustafa) and, much to Jack’s surprise as he had been told that she could not make it, Dina.

Sidney, for some reason known only to him, decides to wear a kilt to the wedding, even though he is not Scottish and has no connection to Scotland, and spends the day adjusting himself awkwardly. Seeing Rebecca, Bryan is sent into a panic as she always tends to cling to him.

Jack is worried about seeing his ex as they parted on bad terms. Chaz is insecure about his manhood and spends the day challenging a less than amused Amanda, comparing himself to her past boyfriends. He also wears a suit that makes him look like he is in a cabaret. The wedding goes off without a hitch and the guests mingle in the ground of the villa the couple has gotten married in.

Sidney spots Dina and makes a beeline for her. He dominates the conversation, roping her into being his wedding buddy for the day. He leaves her to go and get some drinks. As Jack and Bryan chat, Rebecca comes over. Jack sees Dina and leaves a desperate Bryan to go and see her. Hayley and her new husband, Roberto (Tiziano Caputo), are moving amongst the guest when Hayley spots a drugged up Marc (Jack Farthing) staggering through the wedding guest.

She goes and finds her brother, interrupting his long overdue catch up with Dina, and tells him he needs to handle Marc, a man they both know from school. Jack has no idea how he is meant to subdue him. Hayley, who had been taking sleep medication in the run-up to the wedding, tells him to put some of it in Marc’s glass.

Reluctantly, Jack puts the medication into the glass before the guests go to the tables. Before the guests are seated, children at the wedding run around and change a lot of the seat placements. At the table, Jack ends up sitting next to his ex with Dina next to Sidney. Sidney believes that the seating is destiny and proceeds to bore her.

Bryan, who is meant to give a speech, has drunk the medication due to the swapping of the seating plans. Getting increasingly sleepy, he decides he needs to speak with the Italian director. He falls asleep in front of him. Jack tries to rescue Dina from Sidney by taking her to the bar but Sidney follows them.

Jack is forced to tell Sidney to make himself scarce. Hayley is still in a panic when she sees that not only is Marc still around but he is fully awake. Chaz confronts Jack. Jack tells him that he is totally over Amanda. Chaz goes into a rant about penis size. Perturbed, Jack returns to Dina but then spots the coked-up Marc and goes to speak to him. Marc tells them that he and Hayley slept together three weeks before. Jack puts Marc in a wardrobe.

Hayley confesses to sleeping with Marc on a drunken night as she felt vulnerable but she does not want to be with him. An extremely sleepy Bryan makes an embarrassing speech and destroys the wedding cake. Dina gets a call from work and has to leave. Jack goes after her, wanting to talk before she leaves. Amanda interrupts their chat.

Jack says that their relationship was miserable. Amanda head-butts him. Marc gets let out of the wardrobe and goes on stage and tells all in attendance that he and Hayley slept together. Roberto asks if it is true. He tells her that he cannot be with her. As they talk, Roberto falls over a balcony.

The story rewinds. The children exchange place settings in multiple scenarios with various outcomes. The final outcome sees Jack accidentally taking the sedative. The upshot of that is he ends up falling asleep as Dina tells him a story about her mother dying of cancer. Amanda tells him that Chaz wants to marry her but slaps him when he congratulates her. Bryan and Rebecca get together after he asks her why she likes him.

Jack intercepts Marc and talks sense into him regarding his obsession with Hayley. Sidney asks Jack for advice with women. Bryan gives a moving speech. Marc gets on the mic and congratulates Hayley and Roberto. Chaz splits up with Amanda. Sidney meets a lovely Italian woman, Cristina (Francesca Rocco).

Jack asks Dina if she felt the same way he did when they met in Afghanistan for a brief time. She says that she did but they missed their moment. A despondent Jack returns to the wedding and speaks to Bryan, Dina having left because of a work call. Their brief conversation persuades Jack to go after Dina. They kiss. The end.

Love. Wedding. Repeat is a collection of sketches taken too far. The overall story of the wedding is just a backdrop for some cliched and farcical humour that, admittedly, is initially funny but quickly becomes tiresome to the point of embarrassing. The humour is not even knowingly embarrassing in the way of the humour of Sacha Baron Cohen.

The acting is perfectly serviceable and everybody tries gamely to make the film work. It is shot in a beautiful location and is well-edited, bumping along at a good pace through its one hundred minute runtime. Written and directed by Dean Craig, based on the French film Plan de Table (2012), the film mostly suffers from not knowing when to let a joke end.

Mustafa’s Chaz spends the majority of the film speaking to absolute strangers about the size of his penis. Haha. That is not the only penis-related ‘humour’, with Key’s Sidney, telling anyone who will listen, how uncomfortable his kilt is.

Claflin’s Jack is required to channel his best Hugh Grant impression, bumbling when straight talk would have made more sense and Fry’s Bryan is more of a caricature than a person. The Italians have little to do in the film – it is a Richard Curtis rip- off, after all, English only, thank you – and just make up the scenery.

Munn, who I have not seen in anything worthy of her talents since Newsroom, is just in the film for her undoubted beauty. Any number of attractive actresses could have filled her role and had the same impact.

With a VoiceOver from Penny Ryder, who sets the scene for the fateful day and speaks of destiny, chance and options, the film has all the elements of a promising comedy badly executed. There is, ever since Four Weddings, an expectation from a wedding comedy, especially a British wedding comedy, that Love. Wedding. Repeat – a stupid title – just does not meet.

It is only mildly amusing, the characters are not engaging enough and a lot of the humour is not only overdone but, at times, misplaced. Love. Wedding. Repeat is not an unwatchable mess but it is not as good as it should or could have been. Not one to repeat.