I can be the type to seek out cinema classics, like those by Ingrid Bergman (Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal) or Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris, Andrei Rublev). While these kinds of films are certainly worthwhile, they are a bit like reading Dostoyevsky or James Joyce; it's heavy stuff.
So recently I have been seeking out the lighter fare. Or, fare that thinks it's heavy, but is actually as light as lemon Merengue pie. Call 'em summer movies, escape movies, whatever you want. I am talking about goopy Lifetime movies starring my favorite actress of the genre, Haylie Duff.
Haylie has a certain charm for me. Since I'm from L.A. by way of Long Island, I see in her a combination of style, gestures, and expressions that might have been witnessed around my High School cafeteria on the North Shore of Long Island. I like to call Ms. Duff's movies "mall chick saves the day" films. The divine Ms. D is eminently watchable and competent, but there is a certain tousled impulsivity to her films which make me wonder if the filmmakers switched the script on her at the last minute. Regardless, she rises to the occasion, whether it’s drama, romantic comedies, or suspense thrillers. These three movies illustrate what I mean.
Christmas Belle (2013)
In this Hallmark classic, our heroine Isabella (nicknamed Belle) shows some sass to the nasty, yet handsome, young owner of a villa set on an estate with a huge vineyard and a library full of ancient and rare books!
The estate owner is a moody chap named Hunter (Nicholas Gonzalez) who likes to run shirtless. I guess we're supposed to think he's having turbulent emotions about his recently deceased fiance during these lengthy bouts of semi-nude exercise. The film score behind this scene is strictly for elevators, which in my book is a huge plus. Later on, after a big blowout between Belle and shirtless guy, we see that Belle has just the blend of charm and meat-loaf-making skills to tame both the dog, "Beast" and the beastly owner of the estate, who eventually proposes marriage despite a stalker wanna-be boyfriend. You glow Haylie . . . all the way to a cheesy wedding scene where the dog is the ring-bearer . . . it's pure chick flick magic.
His Secret Family (2015)
In this darker thriller, our leading lady Sarah is married and maternal. Her child has a serious illness but Dad (David O'Donnell) is never around their multimillion-dollar lakeside estate to help. Apparently, he’s always out selling "pharmaceuticals," which seems sketch because bills are mounting and then he leaves and can't be found.
Mystery illnesses worsen in their son and she learns he must have a bone marrow transplant, and she's not a match. So she goes all mama bear and takes matters into her own hands to find her husband. Local police follow procedure and advise her to stay put, thinking she killed her husband. This won't stop Haylie who must throw herself in harm's way for . . . reasons only known to the screenwriter. Haylie finds out her husband has another family with three children—by paying a visit to the house as a realtor . . . without any police back up. Hmmm. Despite bogus moves like that, I can’t help but walk away thinking every woman can put herself into your strappy, ankle-high cowboy boots, Haylie.
Did I mention that the lovely Haylie's hair, makeup, and outfits don't change from film to film? This is particularly enjoyable. It's like a paper doll cut out of Haylie Duff, applied to every film she ever made. That includes Hacker, even though there is one scene where she is wearing a black hoodie; the rest of the time, it's the same balayage, wardrobe style, and glowy pearlized makeup as all the other movies that make me nostalgic for my seventh-grade algebra class. You know, the one with the classmate who was already getting her hair frosted and her nails done at 12 years old. She looked so prim and perfect as she discreetly chewed her Bubblicious, and watching Haylie is kind of like watching this old classmate in the movie . . . and I can't stop rooting for her!
In Hacker, Haylie plays Laura, who is abandoned as a child by her NSA dad who gets abducted by a scar-faced bad guy who hates freedom. When Laura grows up she becomes a hacker for the NSA, too, and uncovers a dastardly plot to assassinate a pro-internet privacy senator. Some hitmen come after her, and of course, one is a spy for the other side and whisks her to safety where she learns her dad, who she thought was dead for 20 years, is alive and contacting her from a secure location. The handsome hitman who turns out to work for her Dad starts falling for her and her be-ringed hacker fingers which are prominently featured, as you can imagine in a movie about cybersecurity. Our heroine finds herself in peril and when the handsome hitman takes the bad guy out, she doesn't take their advice either, she "has an idea" instead—an idea that works in 20 seconds flat to route a multinational government agency and silence its CEO. Yeah; it’s totally believable.
But we don't care. Or we won't, because the fun is that these movies are like movies that we would write ourselves—stories we tell between our friends, dreams, ideas, of a world where we as regular gals can have the last word and can change the course of our lives and the lives of others for the better.
I have found that especially during tough times, these types of stories can give us a laugh and a boost. And Haylie Duff, one of the greats of this genre is an avatar for us as we forge ahead amid our own struggles of all kinds. For that, and for all the giggles and eye-rolls along the way, I am grateful.