I happened to catch the movie on the last long weekend. The time was late in the night on a week night, and I put it on record – on just a whim. As is a known tendency for TV on weekends, I was not expecting anything much interesting for the three day — and it was three days! So this was a just-in-case entertainment investment for a long and most-probably boring weekend.
The cast said Hillary Duff and my first impression was that this was going to be something similar to the regular Disney romances and comedies. The story was … let’s see … slightly unconventional and … may be a tiny bit jarring in a rather OTT manner. There were times when I looked forward to what would happen next and then there were those when whatever was going to happen was so obvious that it made me think – Okay, please don’t do that! – But, do they ever listen…
Yet, I would say, most of the movie was easy on the eyes, minus a few moments that made me cringe.
Very briefly, this is the plot:
Holly is tired of her mother, Jean’s, coping mechanism for broken heart. She moves. Her one mantra for getting over her perpetually failed relationships is to move – new location, new house, new job. Holly is desperate enough to invent a perfect man – a Secret Admirer – for her mother. She models after him Ben, an uncle of her new friend, Amy, and the help of another friend Adam. At the same time, Jean’s co-worker, Lenny, has a crush on her. Jean is happy finally with the thought of a Secret Admirer.
Things get tricky and slippery with lies upon lies and a big mashup of misunderstanding. Holly tries her best to get her mother happy, but instead ends up hurting her and even herself. Eventually, lessons on lies, relationships, and confronting life’s issues. Jean learns the adventure is not to run away, but to stay and face it.
So… what did I love about this?
Let us start with Holly. She is a daughter who has followed with her mother’s ‘new adventure’ even though she knew it for what it exactly was. She knows her mother is hurting and gives in each time for her sake. Holly states about herself that she is not the type to ‘plan that far ahead’ – and this when one of her new classmates, Adam, asks her out to an event. This is something her younger sister, Zoe, attests to. The kid wants to participate in a Spelling Bee contest in her new school, but is unable to register for it because of the uncertainty. They just do not know how long the current adventure will last and they would be on the move again.
The only reason Holly decides to invent a man and pretend to be him (with tips from the real Ben) for Jean is that she is tired of seeing her mother upset and sad. She wants to see her mother happy.
Holly’s complaint with her mother is that she is so busy thinking about herself that she does not think about her daughters. There are vocal upshots from Holly about this and although Jean is hurt, she does not really make a scene about it. During a web chat between Holly and Jean, where Holly is pretending to be Ben, she begins to hear things from Jean’s perspective. Jean had some dreams and aims for her life, which she kept aside when she had Holly. She begins to see what Jean has given up for her daughters, because Holly’s father did not see himself raising a child. In all this, Holly sees that Jean did not mind giving up what she did because she loves her children.
There is another scene where Jean is out on a lunch with her friends and they land up in the real life Ben’s restaurant. Holly tries to keep Ben and Jean from bumping in to each other because she has shown Ben’s photograph to Jean (while posing as Ben). While she is successful in keeping them apart, it is this time when it hits that the real Ben may well be the perfect man for her mother, Jean.
She asks her friend Adam to pretend to be Ben and break up with Jean – which does not work out very well.
It may seem overly immature and ridiculous that a daughter may talk to her mother pretending to be a man of her dreams. One may say, it is rather out of place, in bad taste, and lacks vision. And to top it, the woman does not realize it at all. But then, it is a teen that is doing this, and this is a … movie.
Of course, there is no telling that even if Holly did pretend to be a man for her mother for a few days and Jean bought it, what would become of the drama after that. This is where it probably lacks. Holly is attempting for her mother to hope that there is a perfect man for her, and trying to make her happy. She does not stop to think that if Jean actually fell for the invented Ben, it would probably result in a much bigger heartbreak for her. I guess she is shown hoping that at least Jean would be happy in it that she did find a perfect man once.
The excuse is that it is a teen that is doing this – not a big planner or conspirator.
Gradually, Holly does grow a bit as a character though, and thankfully it is not a huge transformation. She learns that she must try to let Ben and Jean know the truth. Additionally, her reasons for thinking that Ben is Jean’s true soulmate are (thankfully) immature: they both do crossword in pen and Ben was able to pick out Jean’s favorite song without even knowing her properly. It was good to see that Holly did not grow an extra brain overnight in the name of character growth.
Another good thing is we get to see the impact of Jean’s ‘Adventure’ mode on Holly’s ability to confront issues. When Adam confesses to Holly about his feelings, she decides to do what Jean has been doing – she asks that they move to a new place. Her reason to Jean is that they have been moving because Jean wanted to and this time they need to move because Holly wants to.
Jean on the other hand, though she has been running, eventually comes across as a mature person. Though, initially, her escapist coping mechanism and her desperation of meeting a new man draw a pretty worn down image of her. Yes, she has her flaws and she is eager to meet a new man, so much that she agrees to go out with Lenny when she mistakes him to be the Secret Admirer. Soon after, she does decide that Lenny could not possibly be the person.
When Lenny does not give up and sings a loud and not-so-melodious proposal to Jean outside her house drawing up a huge crowd, Jean tells him that she would think it over. Holly cannot understand why Jean would even think about it when Ben was so perfect for her. At this point, Jean shares with Holly that she does not really know Ben (they have only communication through emails, chats, and letters). She makes it clear that until she really knows him, it is hard to say that he is who he says he is, and she really cannot trust. She accepts that Ben sounds great, but at this point, Ben is only an idea.
Even though Ben sounds very charming, she does not immediately fall for Ben. It is very clear that she would hope that Ben could be really as he says he is, and she even dresses up to meet him when Holly (pretending to be Ben’s secretary) tells her that Ben would be meeting her that evening. When Ben does not turn up and Holly confesses her lie, she is upset, but she understands what Holly has been trying to do. She does not question Holly’s decision to move again. When she finds that Adam likes Holly and Holly is just reacting the way she has seen her mother do for all these years, she sees her mistake of setting an example for her daughters where they do not face anything but run from it.
Jean decides to change her ways. She decides to stay and wins the cake contest. The younger daughter Zoe gets to participate in the Spelling Bee contest. Holly and Adam get to further their relationship.
Eventually, Ben does read the fake Ben and Jean letters, and is intrigued enough to meet up with her. Jean initially politely refuses his offer to dinner, and Ben agrees, and then just moment later as he leaves, Ben confirms the date and time for dinner and Jean replies that it would be ‘perfect’.
Eventually, Holly does go to the school dance, albeit in a different school, and she gets to go with Adam.
Everyone eventually learns their lessons – Holly misses out on her life no more. Jean begins to actually live it and enjoy it. The real Ben did not need any lessons, apparently, but then this was not his story. Even Lenny saw, hopefully, that a crush is not a sign of something everlasting.
Some other little bits:
- The fake Ben calls Jean ‘Dear Passionate Baker’ in his letters.
- The fake Ben is supposed to be visiting China for opening up a restaurant – so that Jean would not be able to meet him or call him
- When Adam calls Jean (as Ben) she asks him how was China. Adam, who was reluctant to pretend to be Ben, responds – It’s very … Chinese! Chinese people, Chinese food…
One honestly feels bad for Adam … and Jean … and oneself.
- Adam happens to sketch really well. He sketches his feelings for Holly.
- Everyone in this movie is artistic in a way – Jean is a baker, Ben is a chef, the fake Ben is an American chef in China, Adam is a sketcher, and Holly… she is a very creative liar!
- Jean pretends to be Holly and speaks to Adam. Surprisingly, it led to Jean understanding the impact of her ‘new adventure’ of running away on her daughters.
Yes, some funny, some OTT, and few cringe-worthy scenes – but all in all, it is a weekend movie that kept me smiling for most of the time. I still have it recorded, so … who knows, I might try it again some time.