Plot: Cate (Jodi Sweetin) runs her family’s treasured business, the Merry and Bright Candy Cane Company, which has become such a local institution, the town is now known as Candy Cane Capitol of the World. She loves her work and around the holidays, the profits are remarkable, but sadly, the rest of the year is less than a success and as such, the business is in real trouble. In an effort to assess the situation and formulate a plan of action, a corporate consultant is brought in, which brings Gabe (Andrew W. Walker) into town to do just that. After Cate mistakes him for a potential suitor and rebuffs him, she soon realizes that he’s the consultant and of course, she is cold to his presence, let alone the idea he might change the business. He is confused by her archaic business methods and she is horrified by some of his suggestions, but the two press on and Cate’s passion for the business keeps her mind open. But can the two find some kind of solution or will Merry and Bright be celebrating their final Christmas season?

Entertainment Value: The holiday romance tropes are ever present here, hitting a lot of the Hallmark movie traditions and following the usual formula to the letter. The narrative has genre staples like a workaholic lead, small town, family run business, big city outsider who suggests layoffs, and of course, an opposites attract romance just in time for a Christmas miracle. So if you’ve seen a few Hallmark holiday romances, then you know what to expect from Merry & Bright, which sticks to the established formula and never veers from the expected routine. Hallmark knows its audience, so the lack of fresh elements here isn’t a real concern and the likable leads, brisk pace, and light tone help balance that out. This is cinematic comfort food for the wine & blanket crowd and it knows that, so playing to that built in audience is no surprise and while predictable, this is still an enjoyable movie. At the same time, if you haven’t connected with Hallmark’s seasonal romances before, Merry & Bright isn’t likely to make you a believer, since it does stay within those usual tropes at all time. I had some fun here though, mostly thanks to the energetic cast and some light, effective humor, even if the romance didn’t have a lot of spark involved. So if you’re a Hallmark fan or can’t get enough Christmas, give this one a spin.

The cast of Merry & Bright isn’t going to be showered in critical acclaim, but like most Hallmark movies, we have a competent, likable assortment of talent here. I have to think Jodi Sweetin’s presence will lure in nostalgic viewers and she performs well, adding some much needed energy to the well worn narrative. She tackles the role with enthusiasm and never phones in her work, which enhances the movie a good deal and keeps your interest dialed in. I also appreciate that while Sweetin is likable, she also has a little attitude and doesn’t come off like some of the more routine Hallmark leads, which again helps keep the formula a little less stale. Sweetin also seems like a good fit for the light, sweet romances Hallmark likes to showcase. Andrew W. Walker is a passable romantic interest here, but doesn’t do much to stand out from the usual Hallmark hunks, though I suppose that won’t matter to most. I would have liked more personality or humor from Walker, but his effort here is fine. The cast also includes Sharon Lawrence, Stephanie Moroz, and Nancy Sorel.

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