Rom Com REVIEW - Not a keeper, hear me out...
A completely new type of Saturday Night Movie for Hallmark Channel, Love Strikes Twice, is at first clever, entertaining, enjoyable, and even funny at times. The acting was entirely well-done and it was a pleasure to see Katie Findlay and Wyatt Nash together on screen again. They starred in Karen Kingsbury's The Bridge in 2015, and here Katie brings her dry sense of humor and grown-up demeanor beautifully to her character's 22-year-old self. The first time I watched, I was excited for the new direction this movie takes - it's not really a love story. It is, but it's more a story about a 37-year-old woman who gets a second chance at what she wants out of life and gets to choose between her former boyfriend and her current husband. I wanted to write a review as equally fun and clever as this movie, but I instead find myself with two problems. One, I watched the movie a second time, and two, I don't agree with the message...at all. So let's dig a little deeper.
A big part of what I love about Rom Com movies, whether the classics, the big-budgets from the 80s, or the ones popularized by Hallmark, is their endurance. I can watch When Harry Met Sally tonight and enjoy it every bit as much as I did when it first hit the big screen. Even Back to the Future or the Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life can be viewed 100 times and each and every time all the feels and inspiration are there. When I watched Love Strikes Twice for the second time this morning, I had already heard the funny bits and moved past my initial joy at watching Katie and Wyatt on screen. It's not a love story like Pearl in Paradise or All of My Heart. The romantic moments just aren't there. While I work I often have the TV on behind me, and there's no moment in this movie I'm going to stop, turn my chair, and just have to watch - like when Tyler Hynes tells Erin Krakow he'll love her tomorrow, too. I watch that scene every time. There was the scene in the courtroom when they win their case, where a touch of "You can't handle the truth" snuck in. Even some of the dialogue is worth remembering - like when Maggie tells the judge "People always talk, our hope is to give them something worth talking about". But will I watch it each time it airs or save it on the DVR? I'm definitely not buying the DVD.
So what about this movie doesn't make me need to keep it or watch it again? The feels aren't there. Yes, Maggie ends up loving Josh and staying with him. Yes, they save the library and she puts her future boss in his chauvinistic place. But the movie breaks the cardinal rule of "time travel" by changing Maggie's future. Doc taught Martie (and us) in Back to the Future that you never change the course of history, it's catastrophic! Yes, it's done in a smart way. Maggie falls and hits her head in the present day and while unconscious sees what her life would have been like had she...failed? Wait, she sees what her life would have been like if she...wasn't happy and her brother was creepy? Her dad didn't get hurt? No - her life is perfect now and he never got hurt, so she is imagining... uh oh. So then the premise is not a dream or vision - the premise is she really did go back and fix her life. In Back to the Future Martie inspires his parents, encourages them, which leads them to make different choices and ultimately have different, more positive, outcomes. But the lesson there is to be more confident, be more assertive, go after what you want in life...knowledge we all benefit from. People are influenced to change who they are, but the events remain the same. In Love Strikes Twice Maggie encourages her brother to be more confident, same as Martie for his folks, but Maggie also changes the course of town history by saving the library. She needs the legal knowledge of her 37-year-old self to undo something in the past that then erases all her future experiences. How can you and I hope to learn from that? As best I know, I can't go back and undo something from my past. Can you?
In 1990's Mr. Destiny, Jim Belushi, Linda Hamilton, and Renee Russo play out this scenario. Jim's character feels his entire life was altered by a pitch he didn't hit at a baseball game. He gets the chance to redo that moment and experiences life having hit that pitch. It's the same story as It's a Wonderful Life where George doesn't let his brother lose his hearing in the icy pond, or he doesn't marry Mary or have his kids. In one movie it's a pitch, in the other it's never having been born - in this movie it's saving the library. But here the protagonist - our heroine - doesn't learn the merit in her current life. She's no longer having marital issues, her family isn't dealing with an injured father, her brother never has to learn how to overcome rejection - she alters her life by going back and "fixing" it permanently. In Mr. Destiny our hero doesn't hit the pitch and keep that life - he realizes the value in the life he already had. He learns how to make it better, how to show his wife more love and affection, how to be thankful for the mishaps that made him who he is. George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life doesn't alter anything, except his attitude. He realizes on the deepest level that despite the heartaches, the failures, the losses - life is still wonderful and beautiful. What does Maggie realize? The library and her father's ladder were the cause of all her troubles? She saved the library, had Josh run over the ladder - now everything is perfect! WHOA....
Life is never perfect. Stuff happens. Bad stuff. And we all lose our way and neglect people we shouldn't. We all need reminders to be more present, to cherish those we love, to fight for what is right and not popular. Despite the clever and enjoyable acting, this movie has a message that is not only unrealistic, but damaging. Instead of our heroine understanding that life is of your own making, that your happiness is an inside job, Maggie "blames" the library, the ladder, the brother's girlfriend for all the trouble. It takes "nothing is my fault" to a new level. Had Maggie lost the case in court, lost the library, come back to her life and realized she was neglecting her husband; Learned her brother needed encouragement and skills to overcome rejection; Found a way to be a top attorney and still a good human being; Had Maggie learned ANYTHING this could have been a keeper. Instead, it's a movie about "what if" and how events do change the course of our lives and our only hope is to go back and "win" where we "lost". I'm almost tempted to not even call this movie a Rom Com at all.
If you want to see this story done properly, warm a cup of cocoa and watch A Dream of Christmas from 2016 starring Nikki DeLoach, Andrew Walker, and the amazing Cindy Williams.
Now that's a keeper!