Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Cleaning Lady, or: I Want to Kill You and Wear Your Skin Like a Dress

Another (Halloween) week, another horror film! This one brought to you by ridiculous standards for beauty and overly involved toxic friendships.

The Film:

The Cleaning Lady

The Premise:

A cleaning lady becomes obsessed with her employer, going way overboard with the additional free services no one asked for.

The Ramble:

Scrubbing floors, clearing bathtub drains, blending live rats into a puree…it’s all in a day’s work when you’re a cleaning lady. It’s clear from the get-go that Shelly is a deeply disturbed woman; as they say, watch out for the quiet ones.

Meanwhile, love addict Alice is troubled by her relationship with boyfriend Michael, who is married with a child of his own. Though Michael promises Alice a lovely vacation in Italy, he fails to come through on his promises, and sponsor Miranda encourages Alice to get serious about ending things (again).

After hiring maintenance worker Shelly under the table to do some cleaning around her apartment, Alice sees an opportunity for a beautiful new friendship to develop. During the day, Alice’s at-home spa and makeover business keeps her busy; in the evening, Alice begins to depend on Shelly to prevent her from contacting Michael.

Shelly is an extremely quiet woman who keeps to herself. Self-conscious about terrible burns on her face, she usually avoids all relationships. Perhaps it’s no surprise when the attention-starved Shelly immediately latches onto Alice with a certain degree of intensity.

As it turns out, Shelly has a rather disturbing backstory that explains her twisted behavior. Her mother’s money making techniques were incredibly warped during young Shelly’s childhood–though Shelly certainly finds a way to exact her revenge.

Very quickly, Shelly becomes the friend always pushing Alice to be a better version of herself; in fact, Shelly believes Alice is mere steps away from perfection. Shelly pressures Alice to give up smoking and stay firm in her commitment not to get back together with Michael.

Meanwhile, Alice gives Shelly a makeover, even donating a brightly colored dress to wear. This is a big mistake, as Shelly realizes her potential to become more like Alice–including making a mold of her face after she falls into chloroform-induced sleep, thus giving new meaning to a girls’ night in with face masks.

When Alice inevitably reunites with Michael, a distraught Shelly snaps. Witnessing the night out is Michael’s wife Helen, who follows her husband’s car to a creepily remote location. Will Helen arrive in time to help her husband’s mistress–and will she even want to help once she discovers Alice’s identity?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Shelly is truly a chilling character whose reactions, though extreme, feel plausible. She embodies the Hollywood (and societal) obsession with perfection, especially in her quest to change and control Alice. In contrast to the external beauty that fascinates Shelly, some of the things she does are absolutely vile and bloodily grotesque. I do applaud the film’s ability to be genuinely disturbing without relying solely on gore to shock viewers (though there’s also plenty of that to go around).

Meanwhile, Alice is perhaps undeserving of the ordeals she experiences at Shelly’s hands, but she is certainly not a flawless character. Let’s not forget that the relationship between the two main characters is possible only because of Alice’s willingness to take advantage of Shelly’s situation. Alice wants a cleaning lady without having to do the work of finding or paying one on the books. In fact, the situation is risky for Shelly as she openly admits her supervisor wants her to perform maintenance–not do cleaning work. However, Alice treats Shelly a bit like her charity project to make herself feel like a good person.

Overall, the film has some interesting messages about privilege, unreasonable beauty standards, and the monsters created in our quest for perfection. However, I’m still puzzling over what just happened in this film, and would’ve liked the creepiness to unfold more slowly, like a…death’s-head moth emerging from a cocoon?

Would my (almost) perfect blog wife make a face mask of this one or blend it into a fine purée? Read her review here to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

St. Agatha, or: Hold Your Tongue

Horror-lujah (sorry not sorry), it’s Horror Month at last! We’re kicking off the best month on the Blog Collab with a classic yet underrepresented genre: nun horror. And, seriously, the nuns here are much more likely to join forces with Pinhead than feed the hungry or tend to the sick.

The Film:

St. Agatha

The Premise:

A young pregnant woman turns to a convent for help…only to discover the Sisters choose to do the Lord’s work using rather sinister methods.

The Ramble:

In 1957 Georgia, the aptly named Mary runs away to a secluded convent in the woods, of course in the creepiest, most dilapidated building imaginable.

A woman carrying a suitcase faces the exterior of a 2-story building on a foggy evening.

Pregnant with her boyfriend’s child and on the run from her abusive father, Mary has nowhere else to turn. Noticeably absent is her little brother William, with whom Mary planned to escape, as well as any cash whatsoever.

Mary receives a rather chilly welcome from Sister Paula, who cautions that the shelter provided by the convent comes with a price: Mary must leave behind all connections to her former life and take a vow of silence. Her only concern now should be the approval of Mother Superior, who is something of a piece of work.

A woman in a nun's habit looks down at a younger woman in a green dress.

Believing the world to be a place full of sinners, bars on the windows protect the Sisters from evil outside forces…or do they prevent all who live in the convent from making an escape? According to Mother Superior, pain brings you closer to God, a message that does little to soothe Mary as she hears the sounds of crying and screaming from behind locked doors.

The only friend Mary can find is her roommate Catherine, who is also pregnant. Her other roomies live in perpetual terror of the Sisters and all have plenty of horror stories about their experiences at the convent.

Meanwhile, the Sisters seem more preoccupied with earthly concerns than sticking to that vow of silence as Mother Superior sits around counting her money and preparing for a dinner with their mysterious benefactors. When Mary learns that all of the Sisters are or have at some point been pregnant, she grows even more suspicious. Add to this Mother Superior’s constant gaslighting and warning that Mary is too irresponsible to raise her own child, and this is more or less the final straw.

Nuns in habits surround a young woman who is struggling to emerge from an open coffin.

Frightened for her own well-being and the future of her child, Mary decides to make a break for it. However, when things don’t go as planned, Mary winds up in the secret underground torture basement in the convent (what–you’ve never heard of a convent with a secret torture room?). Mother Superior will never release Mary until she accepts her old life is over…and in her new life, she is now Agatha.

Who will win the battle of wills between Mary and Mother Superior?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

For a film in which almost all of the major characters have taken a vow of silence, there is a LOT of dialogue here. And while some of it is effective, a lot adds very little value to the film.

Let’s start with the unnecessarily tragic backstory of Mary, (SPOILER) involving her father’s abuse, brother’s death, and descent into poverty with her boyfriend. I’m not sure all of these details tie in well to the story, and are merely tacked on to elicit sympathy for Mary–and to help us understand why she may be so desperate that she’d willingly stay at the convent from hell.

I do certainly feel for Mary, but the creepiness of the convent is immediately apparent, and it makes no sense the number of horrific things she puts up with before thinking that maybe–just maybe–she should get the eff out.

However, the ambience is quite well done: the suspense created because of the dilapidated building in the secluded, foggy woods comes through well. And there are truly horrendous things going on inside, most of which relate to an oral fixation. The psychological terror is effective as well, with the nuns, who are demonic yet do not have any demonic special powers, very easily manipulating their victims through emotional abuse.

I will give this film credit for its ambition as well; if I interpret it as intended, the story is a major critique of the church’s abuses historically and into the present. The hierarchical structure of the church has allowed for the systemic physical, sexual, and psychological abuse of pregnant women, young children, and indigenous people in particular. Though this is a horror film, some of the tactics employed by the Sisters have been used to abuse and manipulate victims, as well as to silence them. While they claim to do the Lord’s work, the Sisters’ motives are no different from a for-profit corporation: money and power.

But, in the end, the story isn’t as well thought-out as it could have been, and its message doesn’t come across in a way that’s as clever as it thinks it is.

Would my saintly blog wife devote herself to this one or slip a special ingredient into its frosty refreshments? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Coffy, or: Cream & Sugar

I can’t believe this free blogging month is nearly over–though, of course, October is truly the most wonderful time of the year on the Blog Collab. The challenge this year will be out-doing a film featuring Pam Grier with a shotgun; honestly, should we just call it a day and try again in 2020?

The Film:

Coffy

The Premise:

A woman seeks revenge against the drug ring responsible for her sister’s heroin addiction.

The Ramble:

If you can’t handle a ‘70s vibe, get out of this kitchen, as this is possibly the most ’70s film you will watch.

Outside of an extremely retro nightclub, a junkie waits for the big time drug dealer inside.  She will do anything to get a hit—a rather more appealing prospect to the dealer when it turns out the junkie is Coffy, played by Pam Grier.

Upon retiring to a private apartment, Coffy reveals she’s had an ulterior motive all along:  rather than a junkie, she is a woman seeking vengeance against those she holds responsible for her sister’s addiction to heroin.  Both the dealer and his driver fail to live past this night.

A nurse by day, Coffy visits her sister in rehab every week–not the typical stone-hearted killer. Though in a relationship with Howard, a hopeful for an upcoming congressional race, her boyfriend is keen to keep their relationship out of the public eye. Perhaps his reasons for the secrecy move beyond commitment issues? (Hint: they totally do.)

After her ex-boyfriend cop, Carter, is put in a coma, Coffy has added incentive to take down the drug dealers, police officers, and political insiders victimizing the black community. When she confronts a sex worker, Coffy gains intel about the local drug ring and the role of dealer and pimp King George–aka the most stereotypically ’70s pimp to ever grace the silver screen.

Posing as a sex worker, Coffy uses her connection with King George to root out the creeps at the top of the pyramid. Though she has things all sorted out to take care of dealer Vitroni (including gun smuggled in a child’s stuffed lion), Coffy’s plan is foiled when Carter’s partner, a corrupt cop, recognizes her and tips off his boss.

Out of her depth and with no friends to be found, how will Coffy manage to save the day and take down a massive drug ring all by herself?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’ll start with the jarring elements of the film: there is a LOT of nudity here that feels EXTREMELY male gaze-y. The standouts here are the cringey cat fight between Coffy and one of the sex workers, as well as the gross scene after Carter is beaten where one of the assailants rather casually attempts to rape Coffy.

As a blaxploitation film, there are some ways in which race is addressed well…and others that feel incredibly problematic. A leading contributor to this is the weirdness of a mostly black cast in a film written and directed by a white man. The way King George meets his end, being dragged behind a car with a noose, is the absolute worst. And while the film’s message isn’t to endorse racism, it does have a voyeuristic feel that makes me wonder if there are people today who genuinely enjoy this scene.

However, the film is very much ahead of its time in its anti-drug themes, and the way it connects these to structural racism in politics and law enforcement. It’s truly tragic the way these ideas will be completely ignored during and in the aftermath of the war on drugs.

The real highlight is, of course, Pam Grier. She succeeds in being a tough but tender lead who is as comfortable wielding a shotgun as caring for her sister. Additionally, she’s a genius at hiding sharp objects in her ‘fro.

I give maximum points for this film’s tagline:   “They call her Coffy, and she’ll cream you.”

Would my tough as nails blog wife give this one a cuddle or bring on the shotgun? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Ladies in Black, or: Not an MIB Spinoff Franchise

As it turns out, this month’s theme could have easily been “Accents I Enjoy Listening To.” We’ve leapt from New Zealand to Ireland to France, and back to New Zealand’s neighbor to the west, Australia. As a bonus, my period drama loving heart gets to enjoy plenty of flouncy dresses along with all of those exclamations of “Struth!”

The Film:

Ladies in Black

The Premise:

16-year-old Lisa begins work at Goode’s department store as she dreams of attending university, befriending the colorful characters who work alongside her.

The Ramble:

In 1959 Sydney, the ladies who work at Goode’s department store all wear black, thus explaining our film’s title.

Lisa is the newest member of the team, working temporarily as she waits for her exam results and hopes to attend university, becoming a poet or actress. Her dad Ed is less than thrilled at this prospect, believing a university education is a waste of time.

A teenage girl dressed in black holds a pile of dresses as shop patrons stand before her.

As Lisa is helping out during he Christmas rush, the store is busy from open to close, and she starts out more or less as everyone’s errand bitch. Refugee Magda, who runs the exclusive dress shop within the store, recognizes Lisa as a clever and dedicated employee. Lisa begins helping Magda, and Magda in turn has all of the style advice to offer. Magda brings Lisa into the fold, inviting her over to enjoy exotic foods like rye bread(!) and Hungarian husband Stefan’s intellectual conversation about classic novels. As it happens, Lisa also experiences her first love in the form of a divine one-of-a-kind dress she can never possibly afford.

A woman dressed in black stands in a dress boutique with a teen girl holding a large book.

Meanwhile, coworker Patty is struggling to keep her marriage alive as she and her husband try for a baby. After a memorable evening with a sexy nightie, he leaves without a word for the stupidest fucking reason you will ever hear in your life.

Another of Lisa’s coworkers, Fay, is a hopeless romantic who is incredibly disillusioned with the fellas of Sydney. A sensitive soul, she cries during French films and yearns for the old world charm of a man who will kiss her on the hand and prove chivalry isn’t dead. As Lisa conspires to set up Fay with Magda’s continental friend Rudi, a Hungarian refugee, a New Year’s party seems the perfect place for things to fall into place. Nothing is as romantic as lively Hungarian folk dancing, after all.

A man and woman stroll next to a sparkling body of water.

As Fay and Rudi get to know each other, Patty’s husband returns from the ether, and Lisa does outstandingly well on her exams. Everything seems to be coming together so perfectly…but how can Lisa overcome the obstacle of her stubborn father?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a cozy fleece blanket of a film; it’s impossible not to root for the characters, who have quirks that make them seem real. I especially love the vibrancy of the small but mighty continental immigrant community here, even as their presence is a stark reminder of the persistence of xenophobia. It blows my mind that Australia, which was incredibly sparsely populated, resented the influx of WWII refugees to such a degree that it was a taboo to befriend–let alone date or marry–anyone of the community. And it wasn’t too long ago that SALAMI was considered ethnic food?!??!!

Thematically, this film couldn’t be more perfectly timed as the United States and many other countries have an opportunity to help refugees and consistently fail to do so. It’s disturbing to see the logic of 60 years ago applied to a situation that has only gotten worse as more conflicts and climate crises have left people without a home. It does make me appreciate greatly when Stefan reminds Magda not to expect too much from the Australians, who are, after all, descended from convicts.

On a minor note, I’m absolutely obsessed with Magda and her dynamic with Stefan, the ’50s aesthetic, and Fay’s dresses.

However, things do wrap up too neatly for basically every character in the film, and there’s not much conflict to speak of. Things are resolved too perfectly to make this a truly memorable film.

Would my well-dressed blog wife fight shoppers off for this fashionable film or leave it to the bargain bin? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Girls with Balls, or: Bump, Set, (Steel) Spike

One day you’re spiking balls and serving up aces, and the next day you’re dodging bullets and weird dudes who hide speakers in the woods. This week’s film reminds us of that simple time in our lives when we were innocent young teenagers; JK, high school is awful.

The Film:

Girls with Balls

The Premise:

The girls of a high school volleyball team lost in the woods must defend themselves against a group of dirtbag men out to kill them.

The Ramble:

According to our narrator and folksy French singing cowboy, the girls of the Falcons volleyball team are a tough bunch; unfortunately, they are also slated to die by the end of the film. Spoiler alert?

Two teen girls in matching uniforms stand face-to-face on a volleyball court.

Although the team is great at volleyball, the girls aren’t always as wonderful about caring for and supporting each other, as their coach laments. Good thing the trip back home will give the girls plenty of opportunity to bond as they drive along the countryside in a janky RV.

An RV with the Falcons' name and team colors painted on it parks outside of an ominous building surrounded by fog.

The girls run the full gamut of high school stereotypes: Hazuki, team captain; Morgane, the bitchy yet insecure queen bee; M.A., the timid and, er, fat(?) one; lesbian supercouple Dany and Tatiana; Jeanne, the modest overachiever, and her bff, Lise.

When it becomes clear that the team is no longer on the right track for home, the group stops at the world’s creepiest house, complete with many taxidermy animals ornamenting the walls and sinisterly silent bartender.

After he actually licks one of the girl’s faces, a fight erupts and the team leaves rather quickly. Opting to drive on and then stop to camp out for the night proves to be a fatal mistake (though it looks downright cozy): our head creep returns with a tiny dog and a mob of murderous henchmen. Forced to run, the girls split up as coach leaves them high and dry.

A man holding a small dog stands outside, a group of men holding rifles around him.

As the girls dodge murder, they have another danger to face: that of their past misdeeds and personal drama bubbling up. While the bodies pile up, so do the resentments. After many of the girls are captured or killed, it comes down to three remaining heroines to rescue them all. But will they even care about helping their teammates after all of the teenage drama they’ve suffered at their hands?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

I give this film most credit for the final scene, honestly. Spoiler alert: I would so watch a sequel about the remaining volleyball team girls going around and beating up dirtbag dudes.

Most of the (admittedly short) runtime here just served to remind me how gross it is that so many films fetishize teenage girls. There’s a scene in which Morgane does a completely unnecessary table dance that made me so uncomfortable.

I did like some of the dynamics between the girls, but they spend so much of the film being incredibly awful to each other that it’s a bit difficult to stomach. A lot of the humor here just does not work; Lise does a striptease that isn’t intended to be sexy, though it is meant to be funny and is not at all. I wish the humor here had let us in on the joke instead of making me feel like this is the work of a misogynist making fun of (while also being turned on by) a bunch of high school girls.

Would my rugged blog wife save this one from a band of creeps or leave it to its horrible fate? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Handsome Devil, or: Rugby, Bloody Rugby

I’m not going to lie: I watched season 2 of Derry Girls way too quickly and have so many regrets. Where will I get my fix of lovely Irish accents and teenage hijinks now??? Luckily, it’s free for all month on the Blog Collab, and this week’s film checks all of those boxes and then some. Including rugby…?

The Film:

Handsome Devil

The Premise:

As seemingly the only boy at his school not obsessed with rugby, Ned is a loner who definitely doesn’t care to befriend his new roommate, transfer student and team captain Connor.

The Ramble:

The new school year is beginning at an elite Irish boarding school, and loner Ned is less than thrilled. Openly gay and openly not a fan of rugby, Ned has very few fans and quite a few bullies. Though clever, Ned chooses a quiet life of underachieving rather than expending much effort in class. Instead of writing personal poems for class, he opts for using lyrics from ’70s and ’80s alternative rock songs his stuffy English teacher will never recognize.

A teenage boy sitting in a classroom holds a rugby ball disdainfully.

Things are looking up when Ned surprisingly gets his own room for the year; however, it’s not long before transfer student Connor becomes his roomie. Expelled from his previous school for fighting and immediately crowned rugby captain of the new school, it seems Connor and Ned will never get along, let alone become friends. Ned decides to preempt any rejection from Connor by putting up a wall dividing their two sides of the room.

When a new English teacher Mr. Sherry (played by Andrew Scott, Moriarty from Sherlock, Sexy Priest from Fleabag, and Irish dreamboat) arrives at the school, he brings some big changes. Taking no shit, Mr. Sherry makes it clear bullying and homophobia will not be tolerated–nor will Ned’s habit of using others’ voices instead of his own.

A teacher stands in front of a classroom, hands held open.

After Ned and Connor bond over their shared interest in music, Ned takes the wall down. The two finally become friends when Mr Sherry encourages them to enter a talent show. However, guitar practice begins to interfere with rugby practice, which does not please the team.

The distraction isn’t enough to set the team back, and the lads all go out for celebratory drinks after a win. Hoping to surprise Connor with his interest in the rugby team’s victory, Ned glimpses his roomie entering a gay bar. There, Connor runs into none other than Mr. Sherry cozying up with his partner. Mr. Sherry becomes something of a sounding board for Connor, and the relationship between the two is quite sweet.

A man and teenage boy in school uniform sit, facing straight ahead, on an empty train.

The school’s homophobic rugby coach is none too happy about all of this distracting Connor from his commitment to the team. As Connor is very much in the closet, coach (I can’t be bothered to look up his name) depends on his anxiety about being associated with his gay roomie in order to drive them apart. Connor leaves Ned hanging before their talent show performance, and thus shots are fired.

All of this changes during a pep rally in which Ned is targeted by the rugby team to cheer. Angry with Connor and the entire team, Ned outs his roommate to the whole school at this point.

After this incident, Ned is expelled and Connor goes missing. Is there any way for the friendship between these two roomies to bounce back after this?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is quite a sweet addition to the LGBTQ high school genre. I really appreciate that the message is about friendship and acceptance rather than the only two gay kids in school magically being perfect soulmates. Ned and Connor are great friends, but there is never a sense that being gay and roommates means they’re meant to be romantically involved.

I also appreciate the way the film handles multiple identities and the ways we belong to different groups because of and in spite of them. Sometimes opting out because your group, team, community is imperfect robs you of the opportunity to enjoy and improve them. And the teachers in this film have things to learn from their students, without (all of them) coming across as completely incompetent.

The oddness of the film is that it’s told from Ned’s perspective even though the story is mostly about Connor. This has potential as Ned is a cute ginger and certainly grows as a character throughout the course of the film; however, Connor comes through all of this looking much better and acting like less of a jerk. I don’t feel that Ned’s outing of Connor is set up well enough in the film, so Ned ultimately looks very petty and vindictive. Not okay to out someone, and especially not out of malice.

I think it goes without saying that Andrew Scott is great in this, though our two young leads deserve a lot of credit. BTW, Roose Bolton is in this, being appropriately scummy as the rugby-obsessed headmaster determined to recapture his youth. Just in case that convinces you to watch (or not watch).

Would my dream roomie sing a duet with this one or tackle it immediately? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Falling Inn Love, or: A Home Where the Kiwis Roam

I love a good theme month, but after some challenging themes lately, nothing feels better than picking whatever films catch our fancy. That’s right–September is another month where we just do what we want on the Blog Collab. Face it: some of our picks are going to be cheesy as a French grocery store, like this week’s petit slice of fromage.

The Film:

Falling Inn Love

The Premise:

After winning a New Zealand inn through an online contest, career woman Gabriela has her work cut out for her as she renovates the building.

The Ramble:

Gabriela is a driven, career-oriented San Franciscan determined to save the planet. Despite being a member of the soulless corporate world, she is committed to projects that move forward green, sustainable housing. Though in a long-term relationship with her boyfriend, Dean, he is unwilling to settle down or even leave some of his clothes at Gabriela’s place.

Her life changes dramatically when her company fails and she finally pulls the plug on her stale relationship. After impulsively entering a contest to win a small-town New Zealand inn, Gabriela is set to make her dream of a fully sustainable residence a reality.

A woman wakes up from a night on the couch, reaching for her phone. Empty wine bottles and pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream sit on the table in front of her.

Like other recent events in Gabriela’s life, this is going to be more difficult than it first appears. After arriving in rural New Zealand by bus, Gabriela searches for cell phone reception to call for a ride. Unfortunately, she loses control of her suitcase, which is set for a collision with a stranger’s 4-wheel drive. Though the kiwi is friendly and offers Gabriela a ride into town, she is having none of it.

A woman looks at the facade of a large two-story building that needs some repair work.

The inn is, of course, nothing like Gabriela anticipated. Once a beautiful building, it has fallen into a state of disrepair (complete with unwelcome resident goat) and requires some major renovation work. Passive-aggressive Charlotte, owner of the town’s only operating B&B, is more than willing to swoop in and buy the property, but Gabriela is determined to see the project through.

Good thing she already knows a guy who is a contractor, Jake; bad thing he’s the guy whose car she hit with her suitcase. Embarrassed by their first meeting and ready to prove she doesn’t need help from anyone, Gabriela decides to fix up the inn all by herself.

A man and woman stand facing each other at an outdoor street fair.

In the mean time, Gabriela manages to befriend the married coffee shop owners, Peter and Anaaki, as well as Shelley, who runs the gardening center. After falling ill with a cold, Gabriela learns how quickly gossip spreads in the town, and that her business is everyone’s business. Her new friends, along with Jake, arrive to take care of her and complete some of the much-needed DIY work for the inn.

Recognizing the extent to which team work makes the dream work (ugh), Gabriela partners with Jake to rehab the inn and sell it, sharing the profits. As she gets to know Jake, Gabriela realizes he’s a gentle soul with a tragic past, and the two share a bond.

A man and woman walk through a stream, dramatic hills rising in the distance behind them.

However, as the renovation is close to complete, Charlotte seizes an opportunity to get Gabriela out of the picture and claim the inn for herself. When she secretly invites Dean to New Zealand, he brings along a surprise: an Australian real estate agent interested in the property. Is this still the way Gabriela wants the story to end?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

This film is predictable to a fault and painfully sweet at times; truly, the Netflix version of a Hallmark Channel original movie. But the likeability of our leads, particularly Christina Milian as Gabriela, elevates this from a dull slog to a charming (if forgettable) feature. Gabriela as a character manages to be the stereotypically uptight rom-com lead without being so completely rigid as to be a caricature. She also has the power to experience growth, though her journey doesn’t focus on how finding a man has changed her life utterly (thank GOD).

The quirks of small-town New Zealand also help, as well as its friendly, untroubled residents (and their accents!). In other contexts, the environment could feel like Pleasantville, with darkness hiding under all of the sunny smiles, but the celebration of small-town life seems genuine here. The film is so in love with New Zealand and its cute little towns that it felt at times like one long commercial to draw tourists to the area. And, you know, I’m not mad about it.

There are certainly subplots that are unnecessary, like the WWI-era letters Gabriela and Jake find hidden in the inn’s walls. And it’s ridiculous that Jake is not only a contractor, but also the chief of the volunteer firefighter crew (and former coach for the children’s rugby team). The only way he could have been more fully the poster boy for rugged masculinity is if he also carved chainsaw sculptures in his spare time or smoked his own penguin jerky over an open fire.

Does my darling blog wife believe all this one needs is a fresh coat of paint or is a complete demolition in order? Read her review here to find out!