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Sweeter Than Chocolate 2023 Movie Review
Eloise Mumford plays Lucy Sweet, a small town chocolatier who runs the kitchen at How Sweet It Is, a family candy shop co-run by Lucy’s mother Helen (Brenda Strong). Through her behind-the-scenes work, Lucy keeps the recipes — and therefore the memory — of her chocolatier grandfather alive. One of those recipes just so happens to be for the Sweet family’s chocolate cupid, a little ball of chocolate that has a knack for making people fall in love after consumption if they’re open to receiving love. This is more local lore and family superstition than actual magic — there are no witches or wands in this movie, so don’t get your hopes up — but that doesn’t stop Lucy from treating her grandfather’s signature candy with lots of reverence and respect. This is why the shop doesn’t promote the candy, nor do they advertise its “side effects.” It’s a real IYKYK thing — that is, until Lucy’s best friend Serena (Christin Park) gets engaged via chocolate cupid “magic” and posts about it on social media. Cue cupid mania!
This grabs the attention of the local news station and intrepid consumer reporter Dean Chase (Dan Jeannotte). He’s made a career out of busting scammers, and a candy shop advertising that one of their treats is guaranteed to leave you happily in love? Seems like a scam that could use some busting! Of course Dean’s boss (Linda Ko) has a different pitch for him: why can’t Dean for once just make a nice, sweet little news package for the Valentine’s Day broadcast, huh?
Will this magic stand up to the scrutiny of an expert journalist eager to make it to the big leagues? Will Lucy be able to make enough chocolate cupids to keep up with demand? Is How Sweet It Is selling out? And what will happen when Dean finally tastes one of Lucy’s chocolate cupids?!
I will admit that, despite having watched well over 100 Hallmark holiday movies over the years, this is my first venture back into the genre post New Year’s. I knew what to expect — small town, local business, impending financial trouble, a little bit of grief, lots of backstory, an event that gives the two leads a reason to slow dance together, etc. — yet I didn’t know what to expect. Specifically, I didn’t know how much of a role Christmas magic plays in making those holiday romance movies work. While the secret ingredient for Hallmark’s October-December output is undoubtedly Christmas magic (not paprika), the recipe holds up just fine without it.
Sweeter Than Chocolate hits all the notes of a Hallmark movie, but a Hallmark romance doesn’t necessarily succeed or fail based on what it repeats. It’s where these movies deviate from the norm, where they manage to inject a little spice — paprika! — into grandma’s hand-me-down recipe. In the case of Sweeter Than Chocolate, the spice comes in the performances.
Mumford and Jeannotte have nice chemistry together, but I really think they do interesting work when apart. As essentially a cynical showboat, Jeannotte plays Dean with a borderline smarminess that — thankfully! — doesn’t go too far. Dean’s gotta be a tough part to play, being the guy who ruins the lovey dovey vibe with facts (boo). He’s honestly close to being Dan Egan on Veep, but Jeannotte deftly keeps his performance in Hallmark territory.
While still having a bit of the spunk that you want from a Hallmark leading lady, Mumford plays Lucy with an undercurrent of sadness that I felt from the beginning but couldn’t put my finger on until the movie revealed more about her history with the chocolate cupids. It’s not a revolutionary reveal by any stretch of the imagination, but the fact that the secret ingredient in these “magic” chocolates is not love, but is instead something else entirely that Lucy needs to find inside herself? That’s a cool little twist.
There are elements in Sweeter Than Chocolate that show unexplored potential. Lucy and Dean interviewing all the couples who cite the chocolate cupids as their matchmaker is a smart way to put a few more romance stories within this larger romance story, but the idea doesn’t go far enough — especially when it seems like there’s a couple out there whose candy-coated love story might not be all its cracked up to be. There’s also the matter of the candy shop’s increased rent, which is a problem that fully disappears for a long stretch of the movie. I’ll also add that it is wild that Lucy has never tasted a chocolate cupid before, out of respect for the whole “gotta be ready for love” bit that her beloved grandfather attached to them. But then again, are you watching a Hallmark Valentine’s Day movie for the plot? Or are you watching it to see charming actors bounce exposition and light jokes off of each other while falling in love? It’s the latter for me.