Midnight at the Magnolia review

Midnight at the Magnolia doesn’t offer a ton of holiday surprises. It’d be more shocking if you can’t accurately predict how everything will play out about 15 minutes in. That’s the beauty of the rom com genre and holiday rom coms specifically. They’re meant to be light on drama and heavy on the charm and romance. With that criteria, everything’s coming up roses…er, magnolias for this charming and cute film.

Maggie (Natalie Hall, Charmed) and Jack (Evan Williams) are childhood friends whose lifetime chemistry has made them one of the popular radio shows in Chicago. They dish romantic advice for their listeners even though Jack can barely hold a relationship and Maggie never finds someone that meets the approval of her family.

Their banter has attracted national attention and they could get their show broadcast to a much wider audience. There’s only one catch — they have to play up a stunt they discussed and introduce their current significant others to their parents.

Screenwriter Carley Smale adds a few goofy obstacles that seem to cross the line for an audition. Would a programming manager really base not bringing on a dynamic show if they didn’t do something they casually mentioned on the show?

Since that’d be way too easy, Smale throws in another monkey wrench as Maggie and Jack both get dumped before this big reveal. Their only recourse? Fake like they’re in a relationship, which will be an even bigger hit with their listeners. Try not to be shocked how this one plays out.

Smale does add a nice wrinkle with the publicity stunt as Maggie and Jack decide to host their big reveal at their parents’ struggling jazz club, The Magnolia. The innerworkings with the family is a welcome touch and goes against the grain of bickering families that can barely stand being around each other.

What makes the film so enjoyable, despite its predictability, is Hall and Williams’ chemistry. They sell the premise of being best friends pretending to be more than friends. Chemistry between the two leads is about 90 percent of the work in a rom com. The other 10 percent is a mix of supporting cast, plot, soundtrack and a few intangibles.

Most of the supporting cast is Maggie and Jack’s families and they all give earnest, likable performances even if they’re not called on to do much outside of normal parental/sibling roles. The film probably could use another quirky personality in the mix just to not put so much on Williams and Hall. They’re up to the challenge of carrying the film though so it’s not a big problem.

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Reversing a positive trend from most of the holiday theme films this year, there’s a disappointing lack of people of color in any significant roles. Granted, there’s not a lot of speaking roles, but that’s still a weak excuse. It’s not like Magnolia is a period piece where it’s easier to be less inclusive.

Director Max McGuire is a regular on the rom com/Lifetime suspense style film so he’s in his comfort zone here. McGuire resists the urge for any slapstick moments  and overly corny scenes. The sentimental moments are treated with the appropriate care and aren’t so overdone that they feel staged for the sake of a movie.

Midnight at Magnolia plays the holiday rom com format’s greatest hits almost to a fault, but there’s still something about that tune that continues to still make it endearing and fun.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Photo Credit: Netflix

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