Distributed by Salt Entertainment/Erwin Brothers Entertainment/Foxfield Entertainment
Original Air Date: September 14th 2014 (8/7c)
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
Coffee Shop– Starring Laura Vandervoort, Cory M. Grant, Rachel Hendrix, Jason Burkey, Josh Ventura, Jon Lovitz, Kevin Sorbo
Remember the feeling you receive when you walk into your local/favourite coffee shop and you don’t want to leave? You do? Good! Now cast your mind back to those close knit fictitious towns like Tree Hill (One Tree Hill) or Bluebell (Hart Of Dixie), where everyone knows everyone, and is friends with everyone, would you like to live in towns like these? Well for an hour and a half on UPTV at 8pm, you’ll all have a chance to be immersed in the life of Donovan Turner, as the family friendly faith based Coffee Shop debuts on TV, starring Laura Vandervoort, Cory M. Grant, Rachel Hendrix, and Jason Burkey. With the film set in the very real town of Fairhope, Alabama, Coffee Shop may be a little bit cliché and cheesy at times, but for me, I felt inspired and uplifted by the end of the film, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Let’s take an in depth look at the synopsis of the story- not too in depth though, as the film is yet to air, and the purpose of this review is to encourage you all to watch it, right? Donovan Turner (Laura Vandervoort from Smallville, Bitten and V) is stuck in her love life, having broken up with her boyfriend a year earlier because of his work commitments. However it seems that she is thriving in her independent small business, running the coffee shop “Donovan’s” with her reliable and dedicated work colleagues/understudies and friends Sarah (Gabriela Lopez) and Eli (Montrel Miller), as she matches people’s personalities with the perfect cup of coffee for them. Her helpful, caring sister Becky (Rachel Hendrix, from October Baby and The Perfect Wave) pops in the shop to help from time to time as well; and so does Becky’s dependable accountant boyfriend Kevin (Jason Burkey, also from October Baby). It’s clear from the first few moments of the film that “Donovan’s” is succeeding as a small local business.
Though we don’t really see the customers in the coffee shop (and to be fair, the film focuses mostly on Dovovan’s life outside of the coffee shop), we see a lot of loyal customers and friends at various business related fundraisers and benefits in the film. So we know that Donovan is happy in her work, but dissatisfied with her love life. So what does she do? Well since it’s a romantic comedy and shown on a family friendly TV network, you can probably guess that she meets Mr Right in the film, and that there’s a happy ending!
Yep, you are right on both accounts! Across town, a down on his luck writer for theatre productions named Ben (Cory M. Grant) is struggling for his next big hit, and his producer (Kevin Sorbo) is just as frustrated. Naturally, Ben is connected to one of the characters living in Fairhope (in this case, he is Kevin’s friend from college), and he receives a phone-call from his friend inviting him to come to town for some inspiration. If you can guess, then you’re right. Ben and Donovan do meet when he arrives in town, and though it’s not love at first sight (as it is with most romantic comedies), its disdain and contempt. Because of a case of mistaken identity, Donovan says some harsh words to Ben when he is in line buying tea (as he’s not a big coffee drinker, thus Donovan being slightly offended), however as the film progresses, they both warm up to each other, sparks start to fly. Though Donovan soon has to make a choice, with the catalyst being her ex-boyfriend Patrick (Josh Ventura) wanting to reunite, prompting her to figure out if it is Ben she wants or Patrick. It’s the dreaded cliché love triangle, however what works in this film is the interweaving of the secondary stories into the primary story creating a film with many layers.
On the surface, it seems that Coffee Shop is your average run of the mill romantic comedy that is nothing special. However a look deeper paints a different picture. To me, what makes Coffee Shop so endearing, full of heart and promise, as the movie outlines some important messages and life lessons to us, is the cast chemistry, the subtle references to Jesus, as well as the relatability of the characters. The B plot is interesting as well- for me much more so that Donovan’s love life, which was not as engaging as to whether or not her coffee shop will survive. What, you say? ‘I thought business was doing well?’
Well we know that she thoroughly enjoys her work, but does “Donovan’s” bring in the profit? Obviously not enough as Frank Miller (Jon Lovitz) from the bank one day comes in to inform Donovan of the shop closing down. Devastated, Donovan does everything in her power to try to keep the shop alive, and even accepts assumed help from Patrick. However when we learn that Patrick is just as ruthless as Frank, wanting to sell the shop to his client, allowing them to turn it into a car-park; his true colours emerge. As with any movie, there is a twist though, and Donovan and Ben’s relationship doesn’t necessarily take off at all (I’m not going to divulge any more spoilers on that front!). You’ll just have to wait and watch the movie in a few days.
Personally I think the film doesn’t realistically portray the speed at which a coffee shop normally runs. The employees, inclusive of Donovan, and their friends are deep in conversation to each other quite frequently, and besides the faithful and loyal elderly Max (Robert W. Hill) bound to a wheelchair, there doesn’t seem to be any more customers that we know by name. Though this nitpick isn’t that major, the story is not hampered by this oversight, but maybe it was supposed to be like that to show us how much Donovan’s coffee shop is struggling, even if she doesn’t know it. Though there are loads of supporters when Donovan organises a charity night in honour of her organisation that she founded after seeing children in need in Africa (of which Christianity is subtly referenced, and we are asked questions of what is important in this life), perhaps these customers come into the shop but the story doesn’t focus on that part. Regardless, if you think that you will know how to make coffee commercially after watching this film, then think again. With coffee being an integral part of the film, the more important aspect is Donovan’s changing outlook on life.
At times in the film the character of Donovan was reminded of God through one of her most loyal customers Max, especially in the times when she felt that the coffee shop was struggling and there was no sign of help anywhere. Jesus is quoted by Max when trying to reassure Donovan of her ever apparent financial woes as the film progresses, and it is these moments that make us think about the bigger plan for our lives.
We’re not sure if Donovan or any of the other characters have a deep faith in Jesus, however the impact of subtly reminding us of the author of our lives and the universe, cannot be dismissed. For it is through these moments, that Donovan, near the end of the film, after rejecting Patrick’s deal, gains a greater understanding of her own desires. Though the shop is her entire life, she’d rather keep her integrity than sell out and be a person she has been teaching her friends and co-workers not to be. As Donovan is now aware by the end of the film that identity and self-worth are not defined by individual accomplishments, however through the outlook on life that is influenced by the word of God, choices that are made near the end come easier to her, resulting in beautiful and fulfilling decisions made and a wonderful and beautiful life in contrast with the chaotic mess presented to us in the beginning.
As far my opinion on the actors and their portrayals of their characters are concerned, this was my first time watching a film with Laura acting in it. Yep, it’s true that I have not seen Smallville, Bitten and V, but Laura’s strong acting here and authoritative presence may persuade me to check one or two or all three of those shows out. Portraying Donovan with aplomb, grace, and professionalism, personally there could not be anyone else more suited for the role- it’s clear that Laura thoroughly enjoyed herself acting in this role! With Rachel Hendrix and Jason Burkey (who again play a couple after also playing a couple on October Baby) backing her up, as well as newcomer Cory M. Grant as her love interest (who nails his role out of the park!), it’s evident that the cast had great chemistry together on the set, with their joy hopefully rubbing off into the viewer, like it has for me. In fact, as I was watching the film, I wondered if such a tight knit community existed in real life, or if it was embellished for Hollywood- that’s how immersed and drawn in I was to Fairhope. Kevin Sorbo’s cameo appearance was also a highlight, given how well he acted in God’s Not Dead! The picturesque town is also a plus point that hopefully will garner this film’s success! Watching this film makes me want to go to a close town like that, and it is that goal and the heartstrings that the storyline pulls with its viewers that makes me happy and thoroughly moved, inspired and fulfilled after the duration.
What also makes the 90 minutes worthwhile are the references to Christianity, but also the universal message that when life doesn’t go to plan, it doesn’t mean that your life has fallen to pieces. Alluding to the fact that Jesus is the restorer of broken things, the message that God is written our story and all we need to do is trust him, is something that we all need to hear. Though the movie is slightly cliché and cheesy at times, director Dave Alan Johnson should be proud of his efforts, as we are given hope that everything will be alright in our lives regardless of how hard our hardships are. No matter whether Coffee Shop garners positive reviews or not, I will still look forward to Dave’s upcoming projects. In fact the whole cast won me over, and I will be looking out for their new movies or TV series as well!
When I first learned that Coffee Shop was premiering on TV instead of the cinemas, I was sceptical. However the quality of the film, and the acting prowess of each of the people involved, is top notch. The message of believing that our lives will be better regardless of the situation is important in such a time of economic and political uncertainty in the world, and I believe that many lives will be changed by the film. Presenting us with heart, soul and reassurance, Coffee Shop is a film to be savoured and also a must watch in 2014 if you want to be encouraged and motivated to live for Christ, and be secure in his identity and not in the things of life that don’t matter. As Christian film, everyone involved has created a masterpiece, and if not anything else this film is a fantastic tool to evangelise to your non-Christian friends (given the subtle references to God). Well done Dave and the actors, especially Laura, Rachel, Cory and Jason! Hopefully UPTV continues the trend and creates well produced and family friendly movies with a faith based message!
Coffee Shop airs on UPTV on Sunday September 14th at 8/7c