Fire your agent, Doris Roberts.
In order to know that our leading lady, Kayla (Karissa Staples), deserves our leading man, we must first put her in a relationship with someone very shitty. And not just for a portion of the movie, but rather the whole damn thing.
Her rakish asshole fiancé is Carlton Wells (David O’Donnell, clearly relishing this role), a high-falutin’ ballet director and choreographer. He’s “English” but mostly just waves his arms around dramatically and calls everyone “dahling.” I’ll just refer to him as Evil Patrick Dempsey, because look at him:
Kayla is also his business manager, but this job has worn out its welcome. They’ve just landed in Palo Alto, California for his latest show, The Nutcracker. He’s not happy about his name being so small on the marquee.
Evil Patrick Dempsey is super into himself and does obnoxious things like say “kisses” to his fiancée rather than kiss her. He starts rehearsals with the dancers right away, leaving Kayla to wander the streets alone and harass a local Santa about her relationship troubles.
As we’re about to discover, Kayla is obsessed with nutcrackers. She stops short when she sees one in a little oddities shop.
Unfortunately for her, the shop owner is a total kook of a lady who:
a) recognizes Kayla for some reason and
b) keeps a large headshot of Evil Patrick Dempsey on hand at all times, just in case.
Our leading man is a sensitive soul named Dustin (hilariously, ION Television describes him as a “lonesome caterer”), played by Brant Dougherty. He owns a young catering business with his cousin Kim (Brittany Underwood), and is unlucky in love. They’ve been hired to cater Kayla and Evil Patrick Dempsey’s engagement party, and since Dustin’s heard through the grapevine about Kayla’s Nutcracker obsession, he wants to create the perfect themed cookies for the event. “Be my Nutcracker whisperer,” he pleads, which is a super weird thing to say to your cousin.
So, he goes off to meet his friend/neighbour Jana, who’s also the engagement party planner, but first he gets stuck in his building’s elevator. And then this happens and I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT. It is upsetting to me in every conceivable way.
Kayla goes to get Evil Patrick Dempsey after his first rehearsal, but he basically just ignores her while she talks about missing the spark they once had.
Dustin meets up with Jana (Ion Overton) after his assault, and we’re just connecting the major dots. Jana knows Kayla from working at a magazine (or something) called Trend together, but now she’s with that English dick. Dustin is a failure at love, since none of his past relationships have worked out (um yeah, that’s how being single works for most people, dude).
Dustin leaves right as Kayla and Evil Patrick Dempsey come in. The latter repeatedly calls Jana the wrong name dismissively, then goes to sign autographs with fans. Kayla is sending out major I HATE MY FIANCE vibes, which leads Jana to ask if she’s even still in love with the dude. She is (not really), but because of the show, their wedding’s been postponed to the new year. The engagement party’s still on though!
After pissing Jana off, Evil Patrick Dempsey makes them go back to the hotel because he’s sleepy and already overworked.
On his stroll back to his apartment, Dustin stops short when he spots the nutcracker in the front window of that shop, but the owner tells him to come back the next morning since she’s closed. Which he does…right before Kayla goes in to buy it! Will these two ever meet?!
YES, and let’s find out how, because it’s insane. Kayla is disappointed to find out the nutcracker’s been sold, so she leaves right away (virtually right behind Dustin), and the shop owner CHASES HER (!!!) for some reason. Kayla runs away, and tries in hide in a building that turns out to be Dustin’s apartment complex, assaulting Dustin in the process.
After this horrible meet-cute, they share a real smooch. She’s still engaged. Still has a fiancé. Kayla darts out, leaving Dustin vulnerable to yet another assault by Doris Roberts.
I am troubled by Dustin just being a receptacle for sexual advances.
Dustin, however, does not share my concern and proceeds to completely tune out Kim’s voice to hazily daydream about the kiss (with Kayla, not Doris Roberts) later in his apartment.
And on a park bench, supposedly listening to Jana talk about her family, Kayla does the same. These two are so rude.
Evil Patrick Dempsey interrupts her sexual fantasy by calling; he wants to see their party location, meet the caterer, and review the menu. Kayla murmurs, “He’s a control freak” (like that’s an acceptable explanation) and Jana once again presses: “But you love him…” The question mark is heavily implied.
Kayla and Evil Patrick Dempsey show up at the location the next day, where Dustin, Kim, and Jana are waiting. The engaged couple is fighting because Evil Patrick Dempsey has just told Kayla that he’s invited press to their party. He then takes a call from his prima donna, Pamela, so Kayla wanders in alone and is surprised to see her elevator kisser standing with the nutcracker. They realize who one another is, and proceed to talk about the background story of the nutcracker’s artist. She wants to write about it! Jana and Kim, from the balcony, note their “chemistry.” They’re just standing opposite one another as Kayla reads aloud.
You know who else notices it? Evil Patrick Dempsey, who struts into the scene and metaphorically pees all over Kayla to mark his territory from Dustin. Then he spots the nutcracker.
Incredible. They leave almost immediately, and he calls her out for flirting with Dustin. She replies, “Maybe if you paid attention to me, I wouldn’t be searching attention from other men.” Hoo boy. She breaks up with him! “Carlton, I will always love you, but we don’t fit and we stopped trying to fit. Our pieces belong in different puzzles.” Ooh, dirty.
He’s shocked and says, “Well, I’ll always love you too, Kayla.” And her response is, “Okay, now you’re confusing me!”
They leave together. Back at the party house, Jana and Kim have realized Kayla was the Elevator Girl and Jana bafflingly tries to reassure Dustin by saying that Kayla and Evil Patrick Dempsey are probably broken up, but saving face for the engagement party/his show. You’ve literally asked Kayla twice in two days whether she still loves Evil Patrick Dempsey, and she’s said yes both times. Why would you give your friend false hope about this? Kim encourages him to pursue an engaged woman. What is happening?!
Dustin takes their shitty advice and shows up at her hotel with a gift. It’s the nutcracker and the booklet on the nutcracker artis, with a note from him to “write the story :)!” Inspired, Kayla gets on her computer and starts drafting a letter to the artist.
The next morning, she wakes up to Evil Patrick Dempsey asking about the nutcracker. She admits it was a gift from Dustin, and that she wants to write a story about the artist. Evil Patrick Dempsey is worried that her focus needs to be on him and his press, and nothing else! He tells her he misses them, but that he’s off to rehearsal.
Kayla brings the nutcracker back to Dustin, but he runs after her to give it back; she needs to write the story! He is so insistent about her writing throughout the whole movie, and I get that it’s supposed to be him encouraging her, but it reads as just more pressure from another dude. If she wants to write, she’ll write! They end up sharing the elevator again, it breaks down, they get super fucking close while talking.
She tells him that things (with Evil Patrick Dempsey) are complicated, but that their elevator kiss was nice. Stop saying words right now. Just then, Kim gets on the elevator and uses her chance to fix things by asking Kayla to help them make cookies for some animal shelter fundraiser (she wants to bone down with a dude who runs it). Kayla accepts, and cue a baking montage.
Meanwhile, Evil Patrick Dempsey is living up to his moniker and getting extra close with Pamela during rehearsal. Should I note here that the movie did not do a very convincing job of hiring real ballerinas? Sorry, ballerinas in this movie.
The animal shelter guy then introduces Dustin to a cute little doggy dude named Barkley, and Kim almost eye-murders him when he says he’s not ready for a dog. At the end of the night, Dustin and Kayla split off to go grab a slice of pizza and talk shit about Evil Patrick Dempsey. It’s pretty unclear what their status is, because she says “the relationship I’m in…or getting out of.” Well, which is it already! Her relationship with Evil Patrick Dempsey went from romantic and magical to a business arrangement and she let it happen. Anyway, goodnight!
Evil Patrick Dempsey is fuming when she gets home, since she ignored his texts all day to flirt with a lonesome caterer. He manipulates the shit out of her and tries to win her back. He leaves to “get some air.”
Kayla meets Jana in the hotel bar for drinks. Jana pushes Dustin super hard at her, literally praising every decent quality the kid has. But Kayla’s having second thoughts about taking Evil Patrick Dempsey back.
Speak of the goateed little devil himself, he shows up (with Pamela!) and gloatingly leers at Jana from across the restaurant.
He tells Pamela he doesn’t want Kayla to see because he doesn’t want to “hurt her feelings” even though he’s standing right in plain view! He tells her the engagement’s off though.
Jana says nothing to Kayla, which makes her a not-good friend. She’s been the only one to call out Evil Patrick Dempsey’s shitty behaviour and/or Kayla’s neutral-to-negative outlook on her own fiancé, but she decides to keep her mouth shut when she sees the dude stepping out on her friend? Not cool, Jana!
Kayla surprises Dustin and Kim at his apartment with customized postcards (that she designed and printed) that he can pass out at the engagement party to advertise his catering business. She’s also reached out and told the press, who will be at the party, that Dustin’s the caterer. Kim’s psyched, but Dustin is miffed and tries to make a point of rejecting the cards, because she’s done all this free labour when her time could be spent on that stupid story. So, don’t do This Thing for me, but instead do That Thing for yourself (but really me, because I’m the one who keeps talking about it!).
(Side plug for this great piece I love about all the emotional labour that women do.)
Kim is furious with him for acting ungrateful, since Kayla is clearly hurt by his rejection. Kayla visits that street Santa again, who tells her to set her own boundaries. You don’t need men to tell you this, Kayla!
Anyway, they make up over text.
He invites her to go along with him to adopt Barkley, which she accepts. Cue montage of them being friends who hang out and kiss a lot over the course of a couple days.
Evil Patrick Dempsey is the classic ex that can sense when their former flame is happy, so he calls her back to the hotel, where he’s set up a nice dinner and gives her a beautiful bracelet. He wants her back and wants a second chance at love. She needs time!
Wearing the bracelet, she goes to see Dustin and breaks things off. She’s going back to Evil Patrick Dempsey’s goatee. She thanks him for everything. He replies, “I’m grateful too, for all the special times we had.” GROSSSSSS. “They were wonderful.”
Later, Kayla stops by to watch Evil Patrick Dempsey being dramatic and shouty at rehearsals. Jana pops in to guilt her for making bad life choices. Back at his apartment, Dustin is being berated by Kim for not fighting to get Kayla back. Kayla and Dustin are both extremely passive people surrounded by very proactive go-getters that the whole movie just seems to be one long series of pep talks. Has either of them made their minds up about a serious decision without being pressured into it by someone else?
Finally, the engagement party is upon us. Kayla and Evil Patrick Dempsey roll up, and Kayla gets sequestered by Kim, who tells her that Dustin left after setting up so things wouldn’t be uncomfortable. What a shitty caterer. Kim insists to Kayla that she belongs with Dustin. That’s not your call, KIM.
Evil Patrick Dempsey tries bossing Kayla around and then goes to be touchy-feely up on Pamela. Jana finally tells Kayla that she saw Evil Patrick Dempsey with Pamela the night they had drinks together, so Kayla stomps up to him and breaks things off, literally making the same speech she did with him when they were at this house before!
Ugh, I’m so exhausted by this wishy-washy bullshit.
At the same time that Dustin’s decided to stop wallowing in his sensitive sad boy routine, Kayla has decided to switch out one relationship for a new one.
Womp-womp, Dustin gets trapped in the elevator when it breaks down again. Kayla finally shows up at his building and there are so many people waiting (for over half an hour!), even though there’s a massive staircase right out of view. Wouldn’t you know it, Dustin accidentally hit the elevator intercom so his innermost personal thoughts, which he is saying aloud to the elevator itself, are being broadcast to the entire lobby.
Basically, the elevator brought them together and is now keeping him from being with her. And he just wants to be “loving her, being her best friend, being her partner-in-crime.” That’s so gross. You only just met her, guy! Don’t say those things.
The elevator is sick of it too, so it starts back up and he and Kayla make out in the elevator as everyone in the lobby pounds on the glass door to be let up. It’s super weird.
One year later, these fucks are still together. Shockingly, it’s taken Dustin this long to propose, whereas I believe he is 100% the guy to ask her to move in after a few weeks and be married within the year.
They’re still uncomfortably close talkers.
Great lighting though. And then we head right into a jewelry commercial! Oh wait…nope.
I do not enjoy watching indecisive people waffle around and be told how to live their lives properly. I did enjoy Evil Patrick Dempsey immensely, so he was this movie’s saving grace for me. Also: puppies.
Not a lot of sensitive knitwear in this one either, mostly since they kept Dustin in chef attire, but this one was a particularly puzzling choice.