Where Your Heart Belongs is the first Hallmark movie of 2022. Hallmark certainly knows how to launch a new season with the first flick featuring two of the most popular actors in the Hallmark stable: Jen Lilley and Christopher Wallace.
Release Date: January 1, 2022. First film of the 2022 season.
Director: Christie Will Wolf
Writers: Kathryn Hudson, Catherine Reay, and Christie Will Wolf
Actors: Jen Lilley, Christopher Russell, Jill Morrison, Robert Wisden, Nelson Wong, Devon Alexander
Jen Lilley is an absolutely adorable actress. Where Your Heart Belongs will be her 11th Hallmark movie. Her best work was in A Dash of Love and Paris, Wine, and Romance. In addition to being an actress, Lilley is also a talented singer and a very active advocate of several charities which support homelessness, adoption, human trafficking, and water crisis.
In Where Your Heart Belongs, she plays MacKenzie Sullivan, a New York-based marketing executive struggling to keep her high-profile clients that are migrating to an up-and-coming influencer.
Like so many Hallmark stars, Christopher Russell is a Canadian born in Toronto to a pair of Canadian parents.
He got his start in a supporting role in Catch a Christmas Star in 2013. His first lead was opposite Autumn Reeser in Midnight Masquerade. He starred opposite Lilley in Love Unleased.
While he floats between lead and supporting roles, he has become synonymous with playing the ruggedly handsome outdoorsy when the lead.
In Where Your Heart Belongs, he surprisingly plays the ruggedly handsome outdoorsy Dylan, her best friend’s cousin.
MacKenzie Sullivan is a hotshot New York marketing executive that has hit a rough patch. An up-and-coming social media influencer, Jasmine, is stealing all of her clients.
To make matters worse, her best friend, Olivia, just asked her to plan her wedding that has been moved up to happen in just two weeks back in their hometown. Mackenzie hasn’t been back to Sweet Grove since her mother’s funeral several years ago and isn’t too excited to return.
When MacKenzie gets to Sweet Grove, Olivia springs the news that her cousin Dylan will also be helping MacKenzie plan the wedding activities. Here is the thing you never saw coming: Dylan is also MacKenzie’s old high school boyfriend. Wow! What a surprise twist.
MacKenzie’s family owns a maple syrup farm, and her father, Elliot, hired Dylan to help manage the farm. In addition to health problems, Elliot is also in severe financial trouble, and the farm is on the verge of being foreclosed, which he keeps secret from MacKenzie.
As Mackenzie begins planning the wedding, she gets some bad advice from her co-worker, Tristen, to use the wedding as an opportunity to promote her marketing skills by making it a trendy event. Of course, everything that can go wrong does.
Meanwhile, as MacKenzie and Dylan spend time together planning the wedding, the embers of their old flame are reignited. Despite her growing feelings for Dylan, MacKenzie remains focused on how she will revive her career when she gets back to New York.
One day MacKenzie discovers her father’s financial woes and goes to the bank to get details on how bad it is. While there she learns that Dylan has power of attorney for her father and is planning on taking over control of the farm.
Furious with Dylan, MacKenzie puts thoughts of romance away and focuses all of her attention on wedding planning and her career. But after the famous DJ she hired throws an impromptu rave that ends up making a mess of the church a couple of days before the wedding, Mackenzie comes to the realization she shouldn’t be using Olivia’s wedding as her personal marketing campaign.
She also discovers that Dylan wasn’t trying to surreptitiously steal the farm from her father but rather invested his own money to help ease his financial burden.
The movie neatly wraps up with MacKenzie realizing she doesn’t want her hectic, stressful life back in New York. And as luck would have it, Dylan confesses his love at Olivia’s wedding.
The chemistry between Jen Lilley and Christopher Russell in Where Your Heart Belongs is what you want in a Hallmark movie despite reason.
This was the second time they had been paired up. In Love Unleashed, they showed some pretty strong chemistry, so it was a pretty safe bet they would connect in this flick as well.
This is all done despite a script that is pretty flat and predictable. But more on that later.
Jen Lilley is as cute as they come (MacKenzie on the other hand is not so cute), and Christopher Russell is a bonafide hunk, so they shine regardless of the weak writing.
While I think the stars do a great job conveying some pretty strong chemistry, it does challenge one’s senses. MacKenzie’s character is borderline unlikeable. She is selfish and focused on saving her own career more than planning the wedding Olivia wants.
If it wasn’t for Jen Lilley’s charm, the writers gave us a character we would be cheering against finding happiness and love.
Common sense also has the viewer questioning why Dylan would be so interested in someone so selfish.
But despite the crappy writing, Jen Lilley and Christopher Russell somehow pull us in and create some believable chemistry in an unbelievable scenario.
I had pretty high expectations for this flick. It was the premier of 2022 and had two of my favorite actors. So it had to be great.
Well, not so much.
Jen Lilley and Christopher Russell both bring their natural charm, but the writing leaves them nowhere else to go. While Hallmark movies are admittedly often pretty formulaic, the great ones find unique ways to surprise and delight rather than simply relying on the stars’ raw appeal.
MacKenzie is a pretty unlikable character. Even after she had her supposed revelation on her selfishness, she doesn’t really seem to change. At Olivia’s wedding, she still seems to want the spotlight on her.
Where Your Heart Belongs just doesn’t elevate beyond that. The story progresses like clockwork, checking off the mandatory cliche requirements for a Hallmark movie rather than giving us little treats along the way to the eventual ending we all know is coming.
The one bright spot is Jill Morrison’s character, Olivia Davis. She is truly delightful. But once again, this is more a result of what she brings to the role versus the role provided to her.
On the flip side, Nelson Wong, usually fantastic in his supporting roles, is surprisingly bad in this one. As MacKenzie’s flamboyant gay co-worker, Tristen Chou, Wong goes over the top. To pull off a character like this requires the actor to have the discipline to push it right to the edge then hold it there. Wong goes to the edge and unfortunately plummets right over it, turning the role into a caricature.
While not terrible, Where Your Heart Belongs is simply adequate. To start 2022, Hallmark should have treated us to something special, and unfortunately, they didn’t.