May 3, 2019
I can picture it, Hallmark's upper management at their summit meeting in their HQ nestled either on the bottom of the ocean or in the Himalayas.
- Suit #1: "Hey, how about we release a DVD collection of recent movies with the word "Summer" as part of the title?"
- Suit #2: "Okay, I am down with that. Do we care if some of these "Summer" movies aren't good?"
- Suit #1: "Nah. Hey, throw in the one that had Debbie Gibson in it."
Ergo, Summer Nights Triple Feature (Summer of Dreams / Summer Love / Summer in the Vineyard).
Summer of Dreams
Debbie Gibson dropped off my radar years and years ago, only to resurface in that trashy Syfy guilty pleasure from 2011, Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, which I saw only because Tiffany was in it, too.
Some plot spoilers.
In Summer of Dreams, Gibson plays an alternate dimension version of herself. She's Debbie Taylor, who was originally Debbie Del Vecio from Brooklyn, before she caught lightning in a bottle as a teen pop star and prettied up her name. Today, though, fame and fortune and top 40 hits are these blips in the rear view. Her last album was three years ago, and sales to that have plummeted. Debbie's career is so down in the dumps she's resorted to performing gigs at mattress stores. One day she's summoned in by her record label, and how humiliating is it to have some young punk executive inform her that "Taylor Swift is relevant. You're not." That stings. The record label she'd been with since she was fifteen? Just dropped her.
Wait, it gets better, someone said sarcastically. Her manager and "work husband," Ray Royce (Ken Tremblett), offers her a spot in a reality show: "I know you said no more reality shows. But this one has no wild animals." That's how dim her prospects are.
To prolong the suck, she lunches with her actor boyfriend of two years. She gives him an expensive custom-made watch; he gives her a selfie stick to commemorate their casual relationship. She promptly dumps him.
A beaten-down Debbie - dare I say, a Debbie Downer? - desperately needs time away to reassess her life. Also, I think she just became homeless. She makes her way to Youngstown, Ohio, home to her estranged sister Denise (Pascale Hutton). Oh, it's awkward, the reunion. Denise and Debbie were never close growing up; they don't see each other much. Growing up, Debbie had always been the center of attention, Denise always in her shadow. Denise had always considered her pop star sister as this flighty person. There's a smidge of resentment.
But who's winning in life now, eh? Debbie is homeless and has never been in the work force. Denise, she'd just been promoted to assistant principal. Nursing a bounty of misgivings, she gets her sister a gig as an afterschool music teacher at Youngstown High. Go, nepotism!
Debbie Gibson won't ever snag awards for her acting chops. She won't ever be in a Jane Austen adaptation. But I've seen worse, like Ronda Rousey worse. The story tracks her character's journey as she morphs from a self-absorbed diva who's inept at living a normal life into a dedicated music teacher who genuinely cares about her students. Never mind that her transformation seems to improbably span only a few days. Along the way, she masters laundry and driving carpool. One dramatic conflict surfaces: turns out there aren't enough kids in her class to justify the expense of keeping the afterschool music program. Then there's some low-key flirting going on with Debbie and the guidance counselor (Robert Gant). There's even an inside joke that I appreciated involving Tiffany's bogarting a heap of Debbie Taylor's potential gigs. And, in a shameless plug for Gibson's hugest hit, "Only in My Dreams" revisits our senses. The song actually becomes relevant to the plot, and I enjoyed Gibson's "unplugged," slowed-down interpretation of it.
Summer of Dreams ushers in nothing new. Its hook is that Debbie Gibson is in it. The most interesting relationship is the adversarial one between the sisters. Actually, adversarial only on Denise's part. To her credit, Debbie never had ill feelings towards Denise. The most gratifying thing in the movie may be when she finally wins over her skeptical sibling. Or is it when she becomes an effective educator? I dunno, I feel Jack Black had a more developed character arc in School of Rock. So 2.5 out of 5 stars for Summer of Dreams, an okay - bordering on iffy - watch. Wouldn't it be something if, it turns out, Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid were the magnum opus of Gibson's film career?
Maybe some plot spoilers.
All hail Maya Sulliway, 35-year-old single mom in Seattle, for chasing goals. She's gonna miss her daughter, Addison, whom she just dropped off at summer camp. But this movie's about the mom, not the kid. Maya Sulliway attends community college. In her kid's absence, she embarks on a six-week accounting internship program for class credit. She's a bit unnerved that her teacher is dispatching her to the start-up app-designing company K!zzm!t. See, Maya is far from tech-savvy, and, sure enough, at the K!zzm!t campus, she mistakes a card scanner for an eye scanner. In campus, Maya sizes up her fellow interns and notes how much younger they are. She should've expected the snide remarks about her being, um, too mature.
It's grand to see Rachael Leigh Cook on the screen again. I have crushed on her hard since She's All That. She's stayed gorgeous and makes for a winsome lead. In Summer Love, she's graced with a script that's smartly written and doesn't present her as a witless, simpering glam girl. Maya comes off as a real person. I appreciate that the movie focuses on her progress as an industrious career woman, despite the side plot concerning the easy-going CEO (Travis Milne) and her immediate boss, the stern, no-smile-cracking CFO (Lucas Bryant), both vying for her affection, one more obvious about it than the other. With such attention lavished on Maya, maybe you can't blame the alienated intern pool for suspecting her of brown-nosing.
Summer Love makes me cringe with its generic movie title. Otherwise, I liked it, really liked it. It's got two actors I really root for, Cook and Lucas Bryant (whose stint in Haven won me over). I caught a whiff of Sabrina, that classic movie, in how the boyish CEO is the one who chases Maya, and yet it's the more restrained CFO with whom she truly connects. Not that I'm spoilering anything. We see this coming miles away.
What I didn't see coming was Maya's methodology, how she goes about making her mark. There's the annual summer pitchfest in which all employees are urged to think up and present new apps, with the winning app earning its creator bragging rights and, of course, financial kickbacks. I appreciate that in no instance does Maya succumb to any of the potential workplace pitfalls. I like how she stays true to herself and stays decent and understanding and helpful. "Are you the Mary Poppins of accounting?" someone asks of her, with snarky intent, except maybe there's a grain of truth behind the snark. Maya sincerely strives to elevate her colleagues. Maybe, one day, there'll be a movie in which Rachael Leigh Cook plays a rotten meanie - but I don't want to see that movie.
I'll watch anything with Lucas Bryant in it. He's one of my dudes. It gets me every time that he takes on these parts that call for him to be reserved and laconic, and yet his real-life personality is anything but. Anyway, Summer Love - which I rate 4 out of 5 stars - is another watchable Hallmark rom-com that's elevated by smart writing and solid acting. Also, there's mention of elephant dung coffee. Mmmmm, elephant dung coffee.
Summer in the Vineyard
If you'd been clamoring for a follow-up to 2016's Autumn in the Vineyard, them suits at Hallmark heard you. Based on Marina Adair's novel Summer in Napa, 2017's Summer in the Vineyard continues the story of Frankie and Nate at Sorrento. It's been months - a year? - since the events in the first movie. Frankie Baldwin (Rachael Leigh Cook) and Nate DeLuca (Brendan Penny) are stoked for the impending Summerfest, perceiving the annual celebration as an opportunity to make a big splash and put Sorrento Farm on the map.
Breakdown: The Summerfest is composed of two main events. "The Art Walk" is a week-long art festival that takes place on Main Street. "The Taste of St. Madeline" is a food-and-wine pairing in which the local wineries match their new vintage with a prominent chef's eateries. Each year, every discerning wine critic in the country flocks to the Taste of St. Madeline.
Sorrento Farm aims to wow the wine world with the launching of its first ever vintage (no, Frankie's award-winning cabernet sauvignon from last year's Autumn Harvest Best Wine competition doesn't count as it had actually utilized grapes from her father's vineyard - see the first movie). Anyway, our duo need a big break in order to keep Sorrento solvent. Keeping up with the hefty loan payments ain't some trifling activity.
Some plot spoilers.
So here's Frankie and Nate scrambling like mad, trying to get things ready for their pairing. But they don't have a chef, and - calamity! - the wine isn't ready. Here's the stupid part: Frankie doesn't want to tell Nate about the wine because she doesn't want to disappoint him. No, that won't bite her in the butt at all later on. To quote no one, "Tweak the cab, tweak the relationship."
As we saw in Autumn in the Vineyard, Nate can for sure cook, so the plan is for him to serve as the chef in the pairing. So that's one problem solved.
You might say Nate is ambitious, maybe too ambitious. He projects a daunting wall of optimism, as if there's nothing he can't handle. So, when an unexpected sinkhole cuts off the only access to the Lehmans' property - and the Lehmans are hosting the Taste of St. Madeline this year - well, guess who volunteers to play surrogate host? As if Frankie weren't stressed enough.
With only nine days to prepare as hosts, the level of hectic escalates exponentially, and maybe Nate has bit off more than he can chew. There's a lesson here to be gained about the value of communication and of teamwork. Even though Frankie and Nate are a loving couple, they prefer to play it solo in their areas of expertise. Frankie has a way with fermented grapes, and, so, she's the perfectionist who crafts Sorrento's vintage. Nate, armored with his fancy science degree from Cornell, is in charge of cultivating the vines and the crops. He's got some special fertilizer, or, as it turns out, a especially bad fertilizer. So, now, the vineyard is imperiled. Will they figure out in time that, to get out of their pickle, it'll take the both of them tackling a problem together?
Frankie's wine still isn't ready. So much for her vaunted know-how about controlling oxygen levels, and manually altering the acidity, and heating the cellar to accelerate the aging. No, I dunno what any of that means.
A side story: Into this breathtaking wine country strolls Frankie's cousin Lexi (Tegan Moss). I'm certain Lexi's being a pastry chef won't at all play into the plot. She immediately catches the eye of Nate's flighty younger brother Marco (Marcus Rosner). Marco is in Frankie's dog house, seeing as how he'd just broken her best friend's heart.
How can Sorrento stay afloat? Nate is frenziedly rewriting equations for his faulty fertilizer formula. Frankie keeps tinkering with the cab. Meanwhile, it's nice to catch up with Frankie's dad, Charles (Michael Kopsa), and Nate's mom, Carla (Laura Soltis), their long-running feud at last put to rest, although they're not above playfully poking jabs at each other.
4 out of 5 stars for Summer in the Vineyard. It's a solid sequel, never mind that the book it adapted actually focuses on Lexi and Marco. The cast continues to work its magic. I like Rachael Leigh Cook and Brendan Penny together. They make good chemistry. And it's nice to just soak in the movie's chill atmosphere. Napa Valley is so laid back and offers vistas that are simply panoramic. It's the ideal stage for beautiful people and their beautiful people problems. And, whimsically, Mittens the llama is still around. You don't have to be a foodie to be swept away by the rampant display of heavenly wines and delectable meals. Observe Nate, amateur chef, as he serves his duck confit tacos spiced with poblano salsa and jicama slaw. Eyeball Frankie's cousin, the pastry chef, as she whips up a plate of blueberry peach tart tartan with a Madagascar vanilla glaze. Okay, I have to wipe away my drool. Review's over. As for Frankie and Nate, their adventures continue in Valentine in the Vineyard.