A Strange Brand of Happy (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

David Weathersby has no clear direction in life, especially after being fired from his job by his hotshot boss, who is impressed with himself.  He feels like he doesn’t have any purpose and decides to languish away, so his roommate decides to introduce him to a random life coach he ran into so David can find a fresh purpose for himself.  But this introduction only creates a problematic love triable between David, his old boss, and the life coach.  Will this silliness ever be resolved?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In a change from previous Rebel Pilgrim productions, such as Hope Bridge and the awful Fenced Off, A Strange Brand of Happy at least has an above-average production.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine.  The soundtrack is a bit silly, however, and there is some odd soft lighting throughout.  There are also a lot of cheesy animated interludes that give the movie a juvenile feel.  Also, a lot of the sets are relatively limited, as well as the props, and there are no real locations.  Finally, editing is just average and contributes to a slightly above-average, but not quite all-the-way-there production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Full of cheesy and quirky characters, this story is just a childish romantic ‘comedy’ based on a silly and manufactured love triangle.  Nearly all the humor is very forced and dry and is thus not funny.  There is too much pointless goofiness throughout, including silliness for the sake of being silly.  At times, this story feels like a joke, and it contains some very vague Christian themes.  With no real direction or purpose, this plot is just a bunch of random content assembled in a formulaic and predictable fashion, with a side of weird edgy elements and a very strange tone throughout.  Any meaning that is tried to be inserted at the end is too little too late, thus making for mostly a waste of time.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This cast is very stiff and wooden in their delivery, as well as awkward.  There is definitely not enough coaching here, although there are some good moments to note.  However, there is a lot of odd makeup work throughout, as well as some unnecessary yelling throughout.  In the end, this rounds out an overall low-average and basically low-effort film.

Conclusion

Rebel Pilgrim certainly knows how to make a strange brand of movies.  What exactly are they going for?  They’ve attempted the dramatic emotional exploration in Hope Bridge and the stupid comedies in Fenced Off and A Strange Brand of Happy, but what do they really have to show for it?  They also present a strange brand of Christianity in their films, so perhaps the title of this movie is not by accident.  Are they actually just trolling like The Asylum to see what some money they can make off of their efforts?  Your guess is as good as ours.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Hidden Places [2006] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Eliza Wyatt, a young frontier widow, is still trying to pick up the pieces after her husband died and left her and her two children with an apple farm to run.  She has no one to turn to except her wise friend Aunt Batty, that is, until a mysterious hobo named Gabe Harper suddenly appears on her land.  Thanks to Aunt Batty, Gabe begins working on the tree farm despite Eliza’s suspicions of him.  But little by little, she begins to open up her heart to both Gabe and God as time starts to run out for her farm.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Hallmark has rarely shirked their responsibility to craft quality productions, but Hidden Places is a step above the norm for them.  Video quality and camera work are flawless.  Audio quality is great, although the soundtrack is stock.  Most importantly, outdoor scenes are filmed well in authentically historical sets and locations.  Props are also authentic.  Really the only complaint to raise here pertains to editing, as there are too many useless scenes while some seems are cut too short.  Otherwise, this is a respectable production that should be the norm in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Lynn Austin is clearly one of the best Christian authors in the field, yet Hidden Places is not her best book.  While this film correctly captures her undeniable character development and great dialogue it’s still a stereotypical save-the-farm plot combined with a frontier romance story involving a young widow.  However, the viewer can appreciate the struggles of the characters and their deep back stories, as well as this film’s strong Christian message.  Yet the plot is still based on too many coincidences.  There is some missing off-screen content as the story rushes through some parts while lagging at others.  Finally, the end is too predictable and simplistic compared to the rest of the plot.  In short, while this is a mostly enjoyable movie, it seems like it could have been more.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a professional cast compared to other Hallmark frontier casts, mostly because costuming is kept realistic and low-key.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is on point.  The child actors and actresses are better than usual.  However, this cast is held back from being all that it could be by too much mediocrity.  In the end, it is a great effort, but once again, it seems like there could have been more.

Conclusion

Cramming the depth of Lynn Austin characters and storylines into ninety minutes for the sake of a TV movie simply does not work.  Though she is clearly a talented writer, she needs to be unleashed from the confines of Hallmark and her plots need to be allowed to unfold progressively rather than forcefully to stay within the allotted runtime.  However, there’s no denying that Hidden Places is an enjoyable film and many will find it so.  But next time, please please please choose a different Lynn Austin novel (see our Box Office Wish List column 😉 to bring to the big screen and let it be all that it’s meant to be without confining it.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points