Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Never Too Late to Celebrate: A Hallmark Television Movie Review



Is it? Is it really Never Too Late to Celebrate? I have heard of how some Jewish men at 83 have a second bar mitzvah, but a Mexican woman celebrating a second (or even first quinceañera) at 30? This is what Hallmark will answer in Never Too Late to Celebrate, which is surprisingly entertaining, even amusing, if not particularly great. 

Camilla Lopez (Alexa PenaVega) is a busy dentist with no time for anything other than teeth. Still mourning the death of her Mexican father three years ago, she has time only for her Anglo mother Sherri (Sherry Miller) and her BFF Maren (Marissa McIntyre). She manages to squeeze in a Career Day presentation for Sherri's elementary school class before having to rush to her job. At Sherri's school though, she hears the singalong of Javi (Carlos PenaVega), the pretty long-term substitute teacher whose refrain of "colorin colorado, este cuenta se ha acabado" (loose translation, "this story has ended") to the kids brings back a Proust-like memory for her.

Wanting to reconnect with her Mexican heritage as well as finding Javi quite pretty, she agrees to go to his adult Spanish class. She also agrees to attend his niece's quinceanera, which she finds delightful and fun. With a little persuasion, Cami decides to go all-in on a double quince, using her 30th birthday to grow more Latina. That means a dress and a hall and salsa lessons with Sherri, who finds the instructor Rafael (Xavier Sotelo) a nice pair of hips.

Cami loves Javi's family. She is also clearly in love with Javi. Javi seems to be in love with her too, but he is still a prisoner of his past. Will he be able to overcome that heartache to be with our new Hispanic heroine? Will Camilla accept the offer to take over the dental practice or go work in Mexico? Will her dress work?

As a Mexican-American, I appreciated many things in Never Too Late to Celebrate. It was very respectful of elements of Hispanic culture, such as the importance of family and a struggle with how much assimilation is good. John Bellina and Talia Gonzalez's screenplay mostly resisted the temptation to have Cami doth protest too much when it came to having little to no background about her heritage. 

I enjoyed the relationship between Javi & Camilla with Javi's extended family, like his brother Manolo (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio) and their grandmother, who speaks almost only Spanish. Brings to mind, again, my own family that had a similar dynamic. 

Never Too Late to Celebrate is different from the few Hallmark Movie films that I have seen in that it is the male lead who is if not weak at least less defined. Javi, to my knowledge, never got a last name. He is the one with the tragic romance story. He is also the one who at the end is willing to give up his career for hers. It is so rare for the guy to give up a sure job to follow the girl, especially in these stories. Camilla, for her part, is in a surprisingly good place in life. She has a robust job, a good relationship with her mother, a wacky but not obnoxious friend and no relationship baggage. Instead, it is the male love interest who needs rescuing.

Moreover, Never Too Late to Celebrate introduces a potential love match between Sherri and Rafael. Their dance lesson veered very close to being Dirty Dancing: The Senior Years. They were all but having sex on the dancefloor. It is almost enough for me to want either a sequel focusing on Sherri and Rafael or even dumping the Javi/Camilla story in exchange for one about a widow, reluctant to retire, who falls for the swiveling hips of an older Latin salsa king.

I say this because frankly, Javi and Camilla are not that interesting either separately or together. Camilla's main issue is that she feels a desire to connect to her Mexican heritage because while her father was an immigrant, he assimilated so strongly that he rarely spoke Spanish to her and never thought of giving her a quinceanera. Javi, mostly likeable, was clearly so besotted with Camilla from the word go that it is a wonder why even the ghost of his failed engagement would stop him from pursing her. For most of Never Too Late to Celebrate, he was pretty persistent. Now, however, why does he pull back from her? It was probably for the drama, but it did not hold well. 

Carlos and Alexa PenaVega are, I believe, one of the few if only married couples in these Hallmark Movies that work together. To my knowledge, their commitment to both each other and their faith keeps them from venturing into other projects with other actors even among the Hallmark stable of stars. They did combine their surnames into one upon marriage after all (he was Pena, she was Vega). As such, there is something nice about seeing a married couple play a courting one. However, at times they do look bored and boring together. Knowing that they are in love in real life takes away from the idea that they are starting a romance in their films.

As a side note, it is amazing how tiny physically both of them look. Carlos is listed as 5'6" and Alexa as 5'1". When you see them together or with others, you cannot help noticing how small they look compared to almost everyone else. 

Carlos and Alexa PenaVega were fine in Never Too Late to Celebrate. They did not excel but did not embarrass themselves either. I thought Carlos's singing voice was a bit high and did not have a great character to play, but it worked as mild entertainment. Same goes for Alexa, though she had something of a conflict late in the film about staying in her town or going to Mexico. The other actors, however, outshined them. Miller and Sotelo worked well together to where I did want to see more of them. McIntyre managed to stay barely outside the "annoying best friend" mold to be tolerable. Her subplot about her boyfriend Evan (whom we never see) was unnecessary. Her character is Jewish (she mentions memories of her bat mitzvah), but fortunately we'll never see Never Too Late to Celebrate II: Hebrew Hijinks as that would require Maren to be 83 for her to have a second bat mitzvah. 

I think once Camilla decides to have her quince, Never Too Late to Celebrate starts lagging. We get the usual "dress is a disaster" tropes. We get typical Hallmark Movie confusion: why did Cami opt to have the quince at Manolo's Mexican restaurant instead of the ballroom she looked at? Who exactly is footing the bills for all this? To be fair, the "dress is a disaster" trope did have one line that made me laugh out loud. "I look like Little Red Riding Hood skipped Grandma's house and went to Prom". I did wonder how Camilla never saw the double quince dress or just explain to the dressmaker that she was 30, not 15, so maybe cut down on the ruffles.

As a side note, having been to a few quinceaneras, I can say that the ones we saw in Never Too Late to Celebrate were surprisingly mild and restrained. I have been to totally over-the-top events that make the Met Gala look like a backyard bar-b-que. I also note that, in a curious criticism, there was too much Latin music. While we do have salsa, cumbia and traditional Mexican/Latin music, we would also have what teenagers of today listen to. You will have Selena, but you will also have Bad Bunny. 

Never Too Late to Celebrate was surprisingly touching and entertaining. Credit to the writing and director Felipe Rodriguez for keeping things on track and moving. While not perfect, Never Too Late to Celebrate was a good Hallmark film. 

Take that for what you will. 

One last note. Personally, I hate horchata (reminds me of spoiled milk). While I'm not a big fan of tres leches cake (I find it sometimes too watery), it is sometimes good. I do, however, love mole.  


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