July 17, 2017

movie mondays: up faith & family

A few days ago, I read a review of Love Finds You in Valentine. Not only did the movie sound like one I'd enjoy, but I was curious about the setting—Valentine, Nebraska. I decided to see what it would cost to rent on Amazon, and I discovered it was free to watch with a subscription to UP Faith & Family. Because Amazon is kind and allows a free trial to its add-on channels, I decided to sign up for the free trial ... and then watch all the UP movies I could during the trial period. (Sound familiar? This is basically exactly what I did with PixL last winter, only PixL is available through YouTube, not Amazon.)

While I really only scratched the surface of what UP has to offer, here are a few of the best movies I watched ... and a one to avoid as a bonus!

I would definitely compare UP's original movies to Hallmark's. The difference here is that UP films, while I wouldn't classify them as "Christian," aren't afraid to touch on faith. Characters are often shown attending church or praying before meals, and several major and minor characters in the movies I watched were either pastors or were heavily involved in their churches. The production values on UP movies are very similar to Hallmark's. And the two share a lot of actors, too. (I noticed that many of the films available to watch on the UP channel are not UP originals, but I think most of the movies I'm talking about are ... since my free trial has ended, I can't go back and check.)

Five UP Films to Watch

Love Finds You in Valentine

Following her father's death, Kennedy Blaine learns she has inherited the family ranch in Valentine, Nebraska. Though she'd prefer just to sell it, her father requested that Kennedy visit the ranch first. Once she arrives in Valentine, Kennedy meets many distant relatives—her parents were both from Valentine but moved away due to a longstanding feud between their families. She also meets her grandfather, a man she didn't even know was still living, and she discovers her father's accountant may not have been telling the truth about the ranch's financial state. And, of course, she meets a man—Derek, the ranch foreman, with whom she gets off to a very rocky start.

Love Finds You in Valentine is sweet and romantic with just a touch of suspense. It is the second movie I watched with my free trial (I'll tell you about the first in the "what not to watch" section), and I was pleasantly surprised. The acting was good, the leads had actual chemistry, and the plot was entertaining. In fact, my only complaint is that the film was so obviously not filmed in Nebraska. (I looked it up on imdb, and it was filmed in Ohio, which is beautiful but clearly not the Nebraska Sandhills. I even spotted an Ohio license plate at one point.) One Tree Hill fans will recognize Michaela McManus (Kennedy), and I must say that she's much more likeable here than she was as Lucas's girlfriend Lindsey! Other cast members include the always great Ed Asner and the Bionic Woman herself, Lindsay Wagner. 4-1/2 stars.

Love Finds You in Charm

Emma is a young Amish woman who longs to experience the world. When she goes to visit a widowed cousin over the summer, she meets two intriguing men—Amish man Noah and Englischer Andy. She also becomes friends with Kelly, a young woman who fled to her aunt's inn following a difficult breakup. As Emma explores the world of cars, clothes, makeup, and men, she must decide where she fits—with the Amish or with the Englisch.

Amish fiction is so not my thing (unless it's written by Suzanne Woods Fisher). I wouldn't normally have watched Love Finds You in Charm, but I enjoyed Love Finds You in Valentine so much that I thought I'd give it a try! (Both films, as well as Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, are based on novels from Guidepost's "Love Finds You" line—I've reviewed Love Finds you in Sugarcreek, Ohio; Love Finds You in Sunset Beach, HawaiiLove Finds You in Mackinac Island, Michigan; and Love Finds You in Glacier Bay, Alaska, on my book blog.)

Love Finds You in Charm is a very enjoyable film. Sure, I never fully bought Trevor Donovan (Noah) as an Amish man, and Drew Fuller played Andy as too forward and smarmy to be a believable option for Emma, but I still enjoyed watching it. It's not great cinema, but it's an enjoyable way to pass a few hours. 3 stars.

Love Finds You in Sugarcreek

While traveling with his young son Bobby, Joe Matthews (Tom Everett Scott) finds himself stranded in the Amish community of Sugarcreek, Ohio. He meets a kind Amish man who takes them to an inn run by three Amish sisters. The women take to Bobby immediately and agree to let Joe stay in exchange for doing some work around the property. However, their niece Rachel (Sarah Lancaster), a Sugarcreek policewoman, is highly suspicious of Joe and sets out to uncover his secrets. She learns that there's more to Joe's story than he's letting on ... but when she's losing her heart to him, will his real identity matter?

Really, I think the UP free trial was worth it for these three Love Finds You films alone. Love Finds You in Sugarcreek is sweetly romantic with a touch of mystery and suspense. Scott (who will always be "Shades" to me) and Lancaster have great chemistry, and the movie is just incredibly enjoyable. Also, the screenwriter wisely fixed the one problem I had with the novel the film is based on—a pregnant teen who seemed to be present solely to advance the plot is nowhere to be found in the film! 4 stars.

Guess Who's Coming to Christmas

Dax (Drew Lachey) is a washed-up rock star desperate for another hit. Following an embarrassing incident involving alcohol and a frozen turkey, he agrees to image rehab—by spending a week with a fan. That chosen fan is Kelly Harding, a woman who recently moved back in with her parents and younger brother after the New York publisher she worked for went under. Though Kelly has loved Dax since adolescence, she soon realizes the real Dax is nothing like the idol she once dreamed about. 

Here's the thing about Guess Who's Coming to Christmas: It's really predictable, Drew Lachey isn't a particularly great actor, and the song that Dax and Kelly write together is truly terrible ... but I really enjoyed the movie! I caught myself laughing out loud multiple times—I definitely did not expect it to be so funny. Much of the humor comes from the basically amoral Dax trying to live with Kelly's Christian family for a week. I really dislike when Christian films come across as preachy, but that's not the case with Guess Who's Coming to Christmas. Instead, the faith feels organic, like it's an integral part of the lives of the Hardings. I wouldn't even call it a Christian movie—it's a movie where some of the characters happen to be Christians. 3-1/2 stars.

Side note only important to a Nebraskan: Dax is originally from Beatrice, Nebraska ... only it's always pronounced BEE-uh-triss (like the woman's name) instead of bee-AT-russ. It's one of those things you'd never know if you weren't from the area ... but it also takes away from the authenticity of the film. (Not that Guess Who's Coming to Christmas is incredibly realistic, but still ...)

Dear Viola

Accountant Katie has always dreamed of being a writer, so when the advice columnist at the small-town newspaper she keeps books for retires, Katie takes a stab at writing the column ... anonymously, of course. Through the column, she begins sparring with widowed father Russ, a man she already knows (and secretly admires) from church, and a You've Got Mail type of situation soon unfolds, as she knows his identity, but he doesn't know she is Viola.

I always enjoy Kellie Martin in Hallmark-type movies, and Dear Viola is no exception. She is so likeable as the shy, slightly awkward Katie, and Jefferson Brown is quite charming as Russ. (Brown certainly has the charming thing down—he was the best part of the dreadful Please Kill Mr. Know It All, which I wrote about here.) Sure, there's the clichéd gorgeous, self-centered woman who so dazzles Russ that he can't see Katie right in front of him, and the ending is rather unbelievable (nothing new for this type of movie), but it's still a really enjoyable story. 4-1/2 stars.

One UP Film to Avoid

Accidentally Engaged

Clarissa (Lexi Giovagnoli) is a struggling actress who, through a string of fairly implausible events, becomes linked in the tabloids to superstar Chas Hunter (Brant Daugherty). Hoping to cover up his relationship with his married publicist, Chas asks Clarissa to pretend to be his girlfriend. But when Chas accompanies Clarissa to her best friend's wedding back home, the fake relationship takes a turn into real territory.

I am such a sucker for fake relationships turned real stories! So when I first heard about this film, I knew I wanted to watch it. It goes exactly as you'd expect, with Clarissa and Chas eventually falling in love. Here's the thing, though: Giovagnoli and Daugherty have zero chemistry. But Giovagnoli and Randy Wayne, who plays Clarissa's best guy friend Graham? They have chemistry in spades. So I found myself hoping that the film would do the unexpected and have Clarissa and Graham fall in love. But no. The movie goes just as you'd think, and Clarissa and Chas end up together, despite the predictability and lack of chemistry. Blurg. 2 stars.

Note: An UP Faith & Family subscription is $4.99 per month following your free 7-day trial. (You must have an Amazon Prime membership to purchase any of Amazon's add-on channels.) The movies can also be rented individually—but if you want to watch more than one, it's definitely worth it to subscribe for a month. Also note that several UP Faith & Family titles (but not nearly all, and none that I talked about here) are available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu.

Have you seen any of these films? What did you think? 

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


  1. Vaguely, I remember really liking 'Viola' (but then I like most everything Kellie Martin is in), and 'Sugarcreek' too. 'Valentine' is another one I've had on my must-see list for a while (and I *think* I even have a DVD copy), so I'll have to give that one a watch soon!! :)

    1. Sorry for my late reply, Rissi! Blogger has stopped sending out automatic emails w/ new comments, so I missed this one :-( YES on Kellie Martin. Just love her! You should watch Valentine, and the lack of "Nebraska-ness" shouldn't bother you since you aren't from here :-)


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