A Summer to Remember Review: A romantic love story

Filmed on location in Fiji, A Summer to Remember is the perfect movie to kick off The Hallmark’s Channel Summer Nights series of original movies.

Catherine Bell (who we love in Good Witch) stars as Jessica. An ER doctor who is also the widowed single mother of teenaged Ava, played by Samantha MacGillvray. Jessica is good at her job. We see her confidently taking charge at her hospital where she’s up for a big promotion. She loves the work, but the long hours keep her from spending as much time with Ava as they’d both like. Jessica dreams of opening her own practice where she can set her own hours. But the lure of the promotion has her questioning her dream.

A mother-daughter vacation in Fiji arrives just in time. In fact, it might be just what the doctor ordered. (You guys, I had to.) Fiji holds a special place in Jessica’s heart – it’s where she met Ava’s father. We’re never told exactly what happened. But it’s obvious that he died because Ava and Jessica think of him fondly and this is a Hallmark movie where the spouse of any lead character must be either a) dead or b) a deadbeat ex.

Jessica promised her husband that she would bring Ava to Fiji someday. And it just so happens that someday is now. Ava is the audience surrogate, gazing with awe on the stunning vistas and beautiful flora and fauna of the island. Shot by the movie’s director of photography, Tyler Walzak. A budding photographer, Ava is also painfully shy, something the movie actually does a decent job of portraying. Jessica is patient and understanding but clearly hopes that the “magic of the island” will help Ava come out of her shell a bit. A Summer to Remember is the perfect movie to kick off The Hallmark’s Channel Summer Nights series of original movies.

Upon arriving we meet Meli (Sarah Thamin) and her father Danny (Kirk Torrance), owner of the resort. Both of whom are played by actors of Asian descent. It feels a little silly to applaud Hallmark for casting them. But given how whitewashed their programming has been. This is worth some positive reinforcement. Let’s just go ahead and call out the other actors of Asian descent in the cast as well: Karen Pang plays Lani. Danny’s wife and Meli’s mother, and Jon Presida plays Peter, smoothie barista extraordinaire and love interest for Meli.

After being shown to their room – which has a stunning view thanks to Jessica’s thorough review of the resort map. The women discover a dude hammering a post outside their veranda. A little bit of caustic banter ensues before they discover that the dude is Will, co-owner of the resort, and his important construction project is installing a hammock. Ava is instantly delighted at the prospect of lounging in the hammock and reading all day, thereby earning my affection forever.

Will (Cameron Mathison) has the sort of easy humor and casual grace that immediately tells us he and Jessica have different perspectives on life. She’s structured and addicted to her cell phone. He’s spontaneous and probably only keeps a cell phone for emergencies.

To be fair, she is an ER doctor, so structure and cell phones are a good thing in her world. He builds hammocks and teaches horseback riding, so one assumes the demands on his time are slightly less intense. I do appreciate that aside from a few comments about Jessica’s schedule for their vacation. And Ava insisting on her mother putting away her phone – which she does as long as Ava comes out from behind her camera. We don’t get much shaming of Jessica’s way of life.

After introducing the “opposites attract” bachelor, we then meet Trevor (Paul O’Brien), the “they’re so similar” bachelor. A dashing thoracic surgeon with a British accent and a rockstar reputation among medical folks, Trevor immediately connects with Jessica and starts spending time with her and Ava. The first couple of days are fun and you can see that Jessica is responding to Trevor on an intellectual level.

Alas, Trevor cannot put away his phone, even surrounded by the beauty of Fiji…and Jessica. He starts canceling outings – which Jessica and Ava enjoy anyway – and eventually has to leave early when a security breach threatens a research study he’s worked on for years. Props for making the stakes high and believable. I feel like someone with actual knowledge of doctors and research gave input on Trevor and Jessica’s characters.

So that leaves us with Will who, as the movie progresses, we start to realize is a lot like Jessica’s late husband. Their relationship has fits and starts. He confesses to marrying a guest “a long time ago”. Then after the marriage failed he vowed never to date a guest again. She is almost ready to believe in her dream of moving to Fiji and opening a clinic when she’s called back to the States to be with her friend Karen who is about to give birth to her first baby a couple of weeks early while her military husband, deployed somewhere overseas, waits for a flight home.

But in the end, Jessica realizes that her dream can come true. She and Ava return to Fiji where Jessica takes a job as the resort doctor. After surprising a rather morose Will on the dock and telling him the good news. The pair finally shares a pretty hot kiss overlooking another spectacular view of the ocean.

There’s a lot to like about A Summer to Remember (Ky Nghi Lang Mang). Bell’s particular brand of romantic pragmatism – the steadfast belief that romance is a natural part of life, not something to hem and haw around or be embarrassed about – keeps the story from veering into tweeness. I also appreciated that we saw Jessica acting like the competent doctor we were told she is. Both at her job and while on vacation. The mother-daughter relationship between Jessica and Ava also had some depth, as did the relationship between Danny and Lani. And, of course, the location is stunning.

As beautiful as the location is. And definite props to Hallmark for casting so many people of color in featured roles. I do have a caveat: staying on a resort is not the same as experiencing “the culture” and “the people” of a country. There are several references to Jessica having lived on Fiji before going to medical school. And we see that she is familiar with some of the language and customs. Yet resort life is presented as being fairly typical of how the locals live and work. It’s not. Resorts are a sanitized, romanticized version of where they’re located, and it’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

I recognize that Hallmark movies are, by definition, sanitized and romanticized versions of real life. I’d just prefer a bit more self-awareness about that fact. All they had to do was have Jessica say, “This resort is gorgeous. But it’s an idealized version of what living in Fiji is really like.”

For pure summer escapism. A Summer Romance (phim tinh cam hay) is one of the better entries in Hallmark’s oeuvre and, given the network’s recent foray into sequels. I wouldn’t be surprised if we revisit Jessica, Ava, Will. And everyone else in Fiji soon.

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