how to stave off cabin fever and not become a cannibal

This post first appeared, in slightly different form, on blogcritics.org

From episodes of Gimmie a Break and Perfect Strangers, to the real-life tweeting of reporter Ann Curry, the dramedy of being trapped in an elevator is a staple of entertainment in this age of Otis. Striking the hearts of both the claustrophobic and the Luddite who should have just taken the stairs, these tales of strange bedfellows are especially chilling to those caught in the middle of the snowpocalypse that has left the Mid-Atlantic states without cupcakes for days on end. So what better way to battle cabin fever than with Hallmark Channel’s Valentine’s Day offering, Elevator Girl? Would you want to be trapped with these people? Come closer – let’s take a look.

Under the opening credits we are introduced with keen efficiency to a typical morning for each of our predestined characters: Liberty (Lacey Chalbert, the one on Party of Five who looked like Jennifer Love-Hewitt but wasn’t; this is to her great credit, as the career track of her former co-star has led to one of the most misguided and disturbing examples of celebrity too-much-informationitis: Love-Hewitt’s public announcement that she had a bejewelled vajayjay ) hits the snooze button and pulls the sheets back over her head, stumbles into a kitchen past a refrigerator encrusted with post-it notes and brews herself a pot of Mr. Coffee. Jonathan (Ryan Merriman, Final Destination 3) – and note that this is by contrast, walks into an immaculate kitchen with granite counters and chrome fittings to make a perfect single-serve espresso.

Jonathan was just made partner at a prestigious law firm, and is on the way to a dinner thrown in his honor. She’s on the way to cater said dinner, and runs to catch the fated elevator. I’ve seen a lot of forced dialogue in rom-coms in my time and I know we’ll never see the verbal or charismatic ilk of Bringing up Baby again, but while their banter was not especially interesting (contrary to Libby’s small-talk remarks to Jonathan how “interesting” that is), they have a kind of awkward chemistry that was surprisingly believable. It is certainly more believable than the chemistry that’s supposed to make us coo at such Hollywood rom-coms as PS I Love You and Crazy Heart. Trapped for just a few minutes, Jonathan and Libby share a little bit of their lives and go their own ways … to meet again?

“Maybe you were put on that elevator with that guy on that night to learn a little something about yourself.” That’s Tessa, Liberty’s stock funny-looking friend, and alas it is around here that the rom-com formula starts to go bad – not as bad as a box of brownie mix that expired in 2005, but no chocolate chip cookies made from scratch, either.

Still, there are slight charms and textures to come. Patty McCormack’s long career began with The Bad Seed, and television credentials that go back to Route 66 with stops at Fantasy Island and The Sopranos. Here she plays the small but crucial role of Rosemary, Jonathan’s secretary. Rosemary plays matchmaker and hires Libby to cook for a dinner at Jonathan’s decadent condo.This leads us to the first of a recurring variation on get-downism, but instead of the magical ethnic character teaching the stuffy Protestant to get down, Libby teaches Jonathan how to cook hummus. Earthy! The kitchen plays a role in a subsequent scene of get-downism, punctiuated by a funk soundtrack that asks us to “swing it on down and shake it up sister.” Is there a clause in the contract for Hallmark Channel scripts that requires this scene? It reminds me very much of a scene in Ladies of the house, previously reviewed in this space. Hmm. Elevator Girl may be formulaic rom-com with standard-issue notions of dropping the soul-sucking nine-to-five job to answer your artistic calling, but the principals do their best to make this a pleasant diversion, and it is a good message for the kids. This Hallmark Channel Original Movie premieres Saturday, February 13th (9p.m. ET/PT, 8C).

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