As soon as “Unthinkably Good Things” begins, you might wonder: “Hey, Is this REALLY a Hallmark Channel movie?”
After all, many viewers have memorized the Hallmark formula:
A woman (young, pert, capable and, of course, white) is changing her life – maybe moving home, visiting home or such. She meets a guy (young-ish, generically handsome, white). They squabble, then decide they like each other. It’s all filmed in a pristine Canadian town, disguised as mid-America.
But most of that has been jettisoned for “Unthinkably” (shown here). The movie — 9-11 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28, on the Hallmark and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channels – reflects a new interest in diversity; it’s also the the first project under Hallmark’s “Mahogany” label, changing all the traditions.
The setting is Italy; the three stars are middle-aged (44, 45 and 46) and Black.
Yes, they’re attractive – this is television, after all. And yes, there are some good-looking guys around … but they aren’t the focus. That goes to the three friends’ busy worlds.
“There’s such vibrancy in the African-American community,” Karen Pittman said. “But especially around women who have full lives.”
She plays Allison, a literature teacher who must choose between a dream job (a tenured professorship) and a dream location (Tuscany). “We are a generation of women who have been told we can have it all,” Pittman said. Then “all the things that you always dreamed of” start to collide.
Arriving are two friends – Reesa (Erica Ash), retired from the military, and Melina (Joyful Drake, shown here), whose restaurant is struggling.
“It’s important to show that girlfriends are necessary throughout every stage of life,” Ash said.
Drake agreed: “And one more thing about real girlfriends: They tell the hard truths.”
Which led to a key scene in which their differences are unleashed.
“I just knew it was going to be a yummy scene (when) the girls were going to have a lot of conflict,” said director Terri Vaughn. “They were going to be shouting and then trying to hush.”
Other films might have set it in a bar or nightclub. Vaughn shot it in a museum, with gorgeous artwork in the background. “It was really intentional to catch the portraits …. There’s all this religious art, in the midst of our characters having this argument. I just thought it was a beautiful mix of both worlds.”
In the same way, the Italian settings keep affecting the story. Pittman talks about “the beauty of Roman countryside and the pastoral sense of wine and culture. I thought it really added a lot to the story.”
That’s especially important to Melina, the restaurateur trying to add Italian skills. In real life, Drake said, “I don’t cook. My husband is the cook, so (he) thought it was hilarious.”
She does have an alternate duty in life. Ash found that out on the plane, when she was dismayed that there was no herbal tea. Drake, she recalled, “said, ‘I got you.’ She gets up and she pulls this bag out of her carry-on luggage and it’s chock-full of tea. She said, ‘You’ll find out, I’m the tea lady.’”
That was a good start toward being real-life girlfriends. Much later, Pittman said, the actors were at a homey Italian restaurant and broke into a 1953 Dean Martin song.
“We were singing, ‘When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.’ And then the guy behind the counter starts singing. (It) encompassed just how… warm and welcome Italy was.”
It was a Hallmark-type moment, from people in a new-Hallmark-type movie.