Hallmark’s Notes of Autumn tells two love stories: one straight, one gay. Rubber faced Ashley Williams and buttoned up Luke Macfarlane find boyfriends (Marcus Rosner and Peter Porte) who push them to pursue their artistic passions. The screenplay works hard to give both couples equal weight. But it forgets to introduce conflict. The leads wrestle with some insecurity before the inevitable Hallmark ending. Williams’ clowning keeps things afloat. She easily upstages the bland men.
Let’s have a look in this spoiler filled recap.
Scene One: The Set Up
ELLIE (retired musician): I got fired from my corporate job because I missed a client meeting. I was busy obsessing over my failed music career.
LEO (an author): I’ve got writers block because I’m tired of my Heterosexual Regency Romances.
ELLIE: We both need a vacation.
ELLIE & LEO: Let’s house swap!
Scene Two: Pinewood, Canada
ELLIE: I lost the keys to Leo’s mansion. I’d better break in.
SAM (a rugged tour guide): Do I need to call the police?
ELLIE: No, I’m Leo’s friend! I phone him all the time. I even wear his clothes! Don’t read too much into that.
SAM: Ellie? Leo said you’d help me with the music festival.
ELLIE: I DON’T PLAY MUSIC ANYMORE!
Scene Three: The Big City
LEO: What are you doing in Ellie’s condo?
MATT (a chef): She said I could prepare the meals for my investor dinner here. I’m trying to open my own restaurant.
LEO: But I need quiet. I’m writing the sixteenth sequel to my Heterosexual Regency Romance.
MATT: Why don’t you try something new?
LEO: I DON’T WRITE NEW MATERIAL ANYMORE!
Scene Four: Music Rehearsals
STRING QUARTET: Ugh. We hate Vivladi.
ELLIE: Vivaldi’s great! This piece is called Autumn. It makes me think of falling leaves in Autumn. You should practice outside so you can listen to the sounds of Autumn!
SAM: Why don’t you accompany the quartet on piano?
ELLIE: No. (This goes on for about 45 minutes.)
SAM: I’m a man who doesn’t hear the word no. Why did you stop playing music?
ELLIE: I auditioned for the Philadelphia orchestra. The conductor told me I had no passion.
Her name was Lydia Tár. She punches guys like you in the face.
SAM: One failed audition and you give up? Play at the festival with us.
ELLIE: I SAID NO, YOU JERK! I’M GOING BACK HOME!
Scene Five: The Written Word
REGENCY ROMANCE HEROINE: I can’t do this anymore! I need to tell my own story!
LEO: My hallucination is right! I’m going to write something gay!
PUBLISHER: I’m not publishing a gay novel. We want a heterosexual sequel.
LEO: But Hallmark’s The Holiday Sitter proved that a conservative audience will tolerate gays!
MATT: Don’t be discouraged Leo. You wrote something from your heart.
LEO: MAYBE MY HEART IS WRONG! I’M GOING BACK HOME!
Scene Six: Reconciliations
MATT: I thought Leo liked me. We had non-threatening chemistry.
ELLIE: He does. He took a risk because you made him feel safe. You gave him a push he didn’t know he needed. Gasp! Just like meeee!!! I have a festival to play at!
(Ellie pantomimes playing piano at the music festival.)
SAM: You took a risk!
LEO: Publisher? I’ll finish my straight book and my gay book. If you don’t print them both I’ll take my business elsewhere.
PUBLISHER: Fine. I’ll publish them.
MATT: You took a risk!
(Ellie kisses Sam. Leo kisses Matt. The two kisses are shown in split screen.)
We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!
Ashley Williams has an infectious smile that can expand to alarming degrees. At one-point Rosner teases her and she unhinges her jaw like a snake. Her bug-eyed reactions remind me of Jonathan Bennett’s in The Holiday Sitter. They’re both in zanier films than their co-stars.
Luke Macfarlane and Peter Porte are given the same high-strung personality. They’re a pair of Will Trumans. Macfarlane’s safe routine is exemplified by his bland taste in food. Porte introduces him to a cornucopia of international cuisine. A scene with Macfarlane gushing over condiments in a farmer’s market is the sort of cozy camp Hallmark excels at.
Screenwriter Rick Garman struggles to generate stakes. Rosner nags Williams endlessly about the music festival. But there’s no job offer or scheming ex calling her away. Just a perfectly reasonable desire to not participate. Macfarlane has some cute arguments with his Regency Romance characters. I wanted these to dig deeper. To give me a better sense of who this character is.
But Hallmark’s not about specificity. Hallmark prefers archetypes. The gay men are bland because their very existence is still a risk for the network. Leo’s decision to juggle heterosexual and homosexual romance novels is a meta-commentary on this. Notes of Autumn lets Hallmark audiences know that there are new guests at the party. But everyone will still play by the house rules.
For more Hallmark recaps check out Afropig’s fantastic Hallmark Countdown to Christmas series. You can find more of my reviews on The Avocado, Letterboxd and Serializd. My podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, can be found here.