As I seek out Hallmark’s “older” content (“older” as in older than ten years old), I find myself gravitating toward Hallmark Hall of Fame’s VHS exclusive titles. For those who are not familiar with the history of Hallmark Hall of Fame, there are several movies from this collection that were only released on VHS. Caroline? from 1990 is one of those films. All I knew about this particular title was how the story revolved around a woman claiming to be a long-lost family member. Since I haven’t reviewed a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie in several months, I thought reviewing Caroline? for my latest Blog Follower Dedication Review would be perfect! Over my five years of movie blogging, I’ve noticed how my Hallmark related content has become some of my most popular content. In fact, one of my Hallmark Hall of Fame reviews, After the Glory, has garnered over a thousand views and counting! But will I like Caroline? as much as I liked 1992’s After the Glory? Keep reading my review in order to find out!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: When portraying a titular character, that movie’s actor or actress needs to use their talents to not only carry the production, but also shine on their own. While I’m not familiar with Stephanie Zimbalist’s filmography, she did succeed in this task! In Caroline?, Stephanie’s portrayal of the titular character was so naturally presented, her interactions with the other characters were fluid. One great example is when Caroline is being questioned about her past whereabouts. In a calm voice, she answers every question given to her. As she sits upright in her chair, Caroline recounts how she survived a plane crash, looking away from Grace and Paul Carmichael as she’s remembering what happened. When Paul confronts Caroline over her selfishness, her face effortlessly turns to sadness. Caroline’s mouth conforms into a frown and her eyes appear to be on the verge of tears.
While watching Caroline?, I was fascinated by the interactions among the characters. This was achieved because of the strength of the cast! But two performances that impressed me the most came from Shawn Phelan and Jenny Jacobs! When a younger character plays a significant role in a story, the likability of that character can depend on an actor or actress’ performance. With Heidi and Winston, their interactions felt so realistic! A perfect example is when Winston is looking through a family photo album. Curious about Caroline’s true identity, Winston sneaks into his father’s office in the middle of the night. Several minutes later, Heidi comes into the office, wanting to look at the photo album as well. Throughout this scene, there is tension between Winston and Heidi. Winston is frustrated by Heidi’s constant questions and comments about the photos. He also does not like the fact he can’t look at the photo album independently. Meanwhile, Heidi is frustrated at the idea of being left out of Winston’s activity. She even looks defeated after Winston doesn’t believe her claims that she can read. With a combination of vocal inflections, facial expressions, and emotions, both Shawn and Jenny were able to present a sibling relationship that felt believable!
The element of mystery: As I mentioned in the introduction, Caroline? is about a woman claiming to be a long-lost family member. Even though I wouldn’t consider this film as a part of the mystery genre, the mystery of Caroline’s identity is spread out throughout the story. This creative decision allowed the audience to witness the interactions between the characters. Through these character interactions, the audience is left guessing if Caroline is who she says she is. All I can about the mystery’s resolution is it ended on a plot twist I didn’t see coming. The combination of these creative decisions presented a movie that was captivating to watch!
The messages and themes: Hallmark films, especially Hallmark Hall of Fame productions, are known for featuring strong messages and themes that most people can support. Caroline? is no different, as this story contains a collection of great themes and messages! While in the Carmichael family’s attic, Winston and Caroline are talking about the past. During their interaction, Winston tells Caroline, “My history teacher tells me that the secret to the future is often found in the past”. This quote resonated with me, as I, more often than not, talk about films from the past on 18 Cinema Lane! Later in the movie, Winston is frustrated with Heidi because she won’t receive academic assistance from Caroline. When Winston comes to Caroline with his frustrations, Caroline tells him, “I can’t force her to. I can’t help her unless she wants me to”. That quote alone highlights the importance of respecting one’s wishes. At the same time, Winston’s desire to see his sister academically succeed shows how necessary it is to support those you care about.
The differentiation of time: The story of Caroline? features two time periods: the “present” (1990, when the film was released) and the past (late 1940s to early 1950s). Because of choices in styling and presentation, these time periods appeared distinct from one another. In one scene, Mr. and Mrs. Carmichael (Winston and Heidi’s parents) are debating the legitimacy of Caroline’s claims. This scene takes place in their bedroom, which contains two separate beds. That specific choice in the movie’s set design is a strong reflection of the ‘40s to ‘50s, as it was more common for married couples to have separate sleeping arrangements. It also boasts the historical accuracy between these aforementioned time periods.
What I didn’t like about the film:
Questions left unanswered: Any story containing a mystery will raise some questions within the script. Usually, these questions are answered as the film progresses. But in Caroline?, there were some questions I wish were addressed. While shopping at a bookstore, Winston purchases a book of poems for Caroline. Yet, at Caroline’s party, he gives the book to Heidi. Speaking of Heidi, she is called “Heidi” by her mother, despite her name being Hilary. These are two examples of questions that weren’t explained.
My overall impression:
The story of a character claiming to be a long-lost family member is nothing new. The ‘90s, the decade when Caroline? was released, saw the premiere of 1997’s Anastasia, which revolves around this same type of story. But Hallmark Hall of Fame’s presentation makes several creative decisions that allow their story to travel down different avenues. It goes beyond simply figuring out if the protagonist is the claimed long-lost family member, as the film discusses reaching one’s full potential and helping those that need help. As I mentioned in my review, I was fascinated by the interactions among the characters because of the strength of the cast. That combined with the intriguing nature of the story is what kept me invested in the film! Caroline? is a movie I was Hallmark had re-released on DVD. In fact, I wish more people knew about this movie. With that, I’d like to thank all of my followers, as you are the reason why this review exists!
Overall score: 9 out of 10
Have you seen or heard of Caroline? Which Hallmark Hall of Fame movie would you like to see reviewed on 18 Cinema Lane? Please tell me in the comment section below!
Have fun at the movies!