I saw Shenae Grimes-Beech years ago in a couple of Hallmark movies called Christmas Incorporated (2015) and Date With Love (2016). She was new to me at the time and I really liked her. I looked forward to seeing her in a lot more Hallmark movies but this is her first one in 6 years (I think she took a break to have a couple of kids). She's enjoyable to watch and a talented actress.
Shenae plays Sara, a successful lawyer in Manhattan still agonizing about having dropped plans 10 years earlier to make music in Nashville with Josh, her high school boyfriend of 3 years. He was devastated and never forgave her (how dare she accept a full ride scholarship to Yale!).
Niall Matter, who plays Josh, is one of the better leading men in Hallmark movies (he was great earlier this year in Rip in Time) and his pleasant charisma smoothes over the rough edges of his rather selfish, short sighted, and unrealistic character (his motto: be true to your love of music, and need to be a star, no matter what the cost).
Josh ignored countless efforts by Sara to communicate with him over the years, rather rudely turned down a request to join some musicians on stage at a local performance called Santa Jam, and seems to live in some sort of fantasy world about how to pay the bills. But his icy attitude towards Sara eventually thaws as they spend some time together and I actually liked them as a couple.
By the way, there's an erroneous "Goofs" posted here as well as an incorrect comment by a reviewer about the characters' ages. The "Goofs" reference to the characters being 10 years apart, and the suggestion that there was a creepy age gap in high school, is factually incorrect. The movie makes clear that they were both around the same age in high school (give or take a couple of years) before Sara left for college. Specifically, Josh notes that they haven't seen each other for 10 years (since she left). Assuming she graduated and left him to go to college at 18, that puts her at around 28 (the 10 years could have been a guesstimate). He also tells her he was 29 a year before the year they were reunited. He said he was in a band, on a national tour, and then quit to spend all his money trying to support a solo career for a year when he was 29. After that year, he turned 30 and moved back to Oakcrest to help his uncle, which is when he was reunited with Sara. Although the characters are around the same age, the actors who play them are 9 years apart in age (Niall was born in 1980 & Shenae was born in 1989). Perhaps that's where the goofs post went wrong.
This movie was directed by Hallmark acting veteran Peter Benson who has a cringey cameo as a rapper. In fact, there's a rather surprising lack of talent available for the big holiday show that Josh was lured back from Nashville to produce. I don't enjoy watching bad musical acts audition and perform so this part of the movie annoyed me. But seriously, no one in their old high school had any talent? And how hard is it to remember the word "branches"? Help the poor girl out and have her repeat the word a few times.
I was also annoyed by Sara's whining about being pressured into her life choices. Her mother was more than sensible when she encouraged Sara to accept a scholarship to a prestigious Ivy League school given her life experiences and poverty after her husband died (kind of weird how Sara didn't know how her parents met). And Sara obviously had some kind of affinity for the law if she was somehow being considered for partner in her 20s (not likely). But I doubt she banked as much money as Josh seemed to think she did. Assuming no gap years, she spent 4 years at Yale and 3 years at law school, which left her 3 years to make money, while living in high priced Manhattan and paying off her law school debt, before coming back to Oakcrest). I doubt she had much of a safety net, if any.
I liked the moment when Sara finally validated her mother and took some accountability during an emotional scene. The guilt trip she previously laid on her was unfair. I liked the second cameo (outside mom's new condo). I liked the idea of giving mom a love interest. I liked the way in which Sara reluctantly helped out. But one of things that bothers me about some Hallmark movies, like this one, are the moments when characters are put in an "either or" "black or white" life choice situation without brainstorming all the possible alternatives and options. Life is full of lots of gray. And relationships require compromise. For example, one of the partners in my law firm plays in a band and is able to enjoy being a musician AND a lawyer. He's not an aberration.
The "conflict" created by "inviting the Nashville agent" (so what?) seemed really forced and Josh's line that "you shouldn't have to work to find happiness" may be the most naïve and unrealistic quote in the movie. Just ask Sara's mother, sympathetically played by Beth Broderick who has a nice moment describing the "mixed signals" between her head and her heart and gives a lovely solo performance (not sure where those strings came from though).
This movie probably doesn't deserve the 7 stars that I gave it. But I grade Hallmark on a curve and I really like Shenae Grimes-Beech. Plus Niall Matter was good as always.