On Peterson's Pond
Widowed father of three, Jack Peterson (Jason Lee) has his hands full not only being a single parent to his two sons and daughter Frankie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) but also keeping his tree farming business running. But they find themselves with a couple of visitors to their farm when a couple of swans land on the pond who end up mating and laying eggs much to the fascination of Frankie. The arrival of the swans also leads vegetarian, ornithologist Jennie Newsom (Minka Kelly) to the farm as she wants to study them and make sure the birds and their off spring are protected. It initially leads to tensions between Jack and Jennie as she doesn't think he cares about the birds but over time tensions mellow and the two of them become close. The question is what will happen when the birds migrate and Jennie has no reason to stay?
The difference between a Hallmark romantic comedy and a Hallmark Hall of Fame romantic comedy is like comparing Kevin James' "Zookeeper" to Matt Damon's "We Bought a Zoo". The humour is subtler, the romance is more tender, the characters are more rounded and the look feels like it has been thought about rather than just done. And that is what you get from "Away and Back" because as it comes under the Hallmark Hall of Fame banner more time and money has been spent on this to create something which is up there with big screen movies.
The thing is that "Away and Back" at its heart is pretty stereotypical with the widowed father, the cute stranger to the area and the initial antagonistic relationship which of course develops in to something more pleasant. And of course each person has their flaws with Jack having to be focused on the farm and keeping things going whilst Jennie has no idea how to interact with people especially children. But I could dress it up in any way I like and mention that there is an educational side as we learn about swans and their breeding habits but in the end beneath the dressing is that standard Hallmark storyline of tension, romance and a question mark over future happiness before the end is reached.
Now I've already said that Hallmark Hall of Fame movies generally have a higher production level and they also have a better calibre of actors with Jason Lee leading the way in "Away and Back" with a solid but uncomplicated performance as dad trying to keep things running at home and at work. But for me the star of "Away and Back" is young Maggie Elizabeth Jones who in the same way she stole audiences hearts in "We Bought a Zoo", playing it cute and adorable, does the same as young Frankie who falls in love with looking after the swans whilst bonding with Jennie.
What this all boils down to is that "Away and Back" is a pretty typical sort of Hallmark storyline but one which thanks to it being a Hallmark Hall of Fame benefits from better production values, better cast and just a general sense of more thought having gone in to the entire production.