“Nothing beats happy cows, hard work, and hope.”
That’s a line from “Home Again,” the newest installment in the “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” movie series, premiering on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries this Sunday, Sept. 24 at 9/8C. And over the course of two hours, all three come into play in this thoughtful, humorous story that moves the characters toward new horizons.
If you’re not familiar with the show, it focuses on four postal detectives (aka The Postables) from the Colorado Dead Letter Office: Oliver O’Toole (Eric Mabius), Shane McInerney (Kristin Booth), Rita Haywith (Crystal Lowe), and Norman Dorman (Geoff Gustafson).
Evident from the get-go is that everyone is having fun, from the actors, whose characters seem re-energized, to the creative team behind the scenes, led by the show’s writer and creator, Martha Williamson of “Touched by an Angel” fame. And while past installments sometimes focused primarily on select members of the Postables, “Home Again” presents a level playing ground, with everyone sharing the stage equally.
MODERATE SPOILERS AHEAD
Relationship-wise, Oliver and Shane have finally gotten past their will-they-or-won’t-they-get-together drama. The first time we see them, they greet each other on the street with coffee and a kiss. And the recently engaged Norman and Rita are also enthusiastically content in their couplehood, with Rita doing wedding research and learning “that four out of five post office brides marry out of their own zip codes.”
Yes, Rita is as quirky and lovable as ever. And we learn where she gets it from since her parents, Bill (Barry Bostwick) and Sunny (Colleen Camp), visit. For instance, Bill is not short for William, but rather Bilbo. As in “The Hobbit.”
Despite his comical name, the crusty Bill is an intimidating figure for Norman, who wants nothing more than to please his future in-laws.
But wait, there’s even more newness! Instead of hanging out at the Mailbox Grille, Shane suggests they need “new horizons” so the Postables take their business to Bistro Ramon, which is owned and run by – you guessed it – the always entertaining Ramon (Zak Santiago). And on top of that, the Postables gain additional office space when Shane inadvertently discovers a secret room while trying to hammer a nail into the wall.
In that room, they find an antique vase that was sent by three little girls – the Kellser sisters – 18 years ago to an art dealer in Denver, but that wound up in the Dead Letter Office instead.
The girls mailing the vase is the scene that begins the movie, and highlights one of the stories implicit themes. One of the girls asks that the mailer mark the package fragile because it contains “hope.”
As is later revealed, the girls wanted to sell the vase to get enough money to avoid foreclosure on their family farm. Their mom is the one whose motto is, “Nothing beats happy cows, hard work, and hope.”
Will the Postables find the Kellsers and return their heirloom in time to avert another family crisis? Will Norman win over his future father-in-law? Will Oliver and Shane move toward real love for each other?
You’ve got to watch to find out all the details, but here are a few more spoilerish observations.
BIGGER SPOILERS AHEAD
The title “Home Again” and the concept of “hope” work on a number of levels. In the sense of the story proper, it’s about the quest to return the vase to its original home, the hope of the Kellsers retaining their family farm, and the return of the prodigal sister who left to pursue her own career goals.
Beyond that, there’s the sad reality of the impending death of the Kellser matriarch, Kim (Kim Delaney). When telling Shane and Oliver about life on the farm, she notes that all the cows have distinct personalities, just like people. They also have a certain instinctual wisdom.
While watching her “happy cows” grazing in the pasture, Kim says, “The sun starts to set, the evening comes, and somehow they just know when it’s time to come home. Someday, so will I. I just hope we’re all together when I do.”
Implying a deep-seated faith, Kim considers her eventual demise as a return home, a return to the God from Whom we all originally came. It’s a mature perspective on death, which once again highlights the subtle-but-meaningful ways in which writer Martha Williamson, infuses her stories with spiritual depth.
The relationship between Rita and Norman presents another dimension of the concept of home, a dimension that reminded me of the Billy Joel song, “You’re My Home”:
“When you look into my eyes
And you see the crazy gypsy in my soul
It always comes as a surprise
When I feel my withered roots begin to grow.
“Well I never had a place
That I could call my very own
But that’s all right my love
‘Cause you’re my home…
“…Well I’ll never be a stranger
And I’ll never be alone
Wherever we’re together
That’s my home…”
Having grown up as an orphan, Norman never had the feeling of family and home that so many people take for granted. His life with Rita is finally presenting him with that opportunity. She is the home he’s been craving. And while Rita had the blessing of loving parents, she too has experienced loneliness and is grateful for the home she’s found in Norman because he loves the person that she is. Their relationship is actually a model for Shane and Oliver as they progress toward a deeper love and respect for each other.
Relationships, of course, are “hard work,” which is why Norman tries so hard to bond with Bill. He wants to be part of Rita’s larger family, too. Though many of his interactions with Bill and Sunny are funny, there are a couple of scenes near the end in which Norman publicly declares his love for Rita in front of her parents – and she testifies to Norman’s virtues. They both act on their “hope,” and wind up bringing it to fruition. The elder Haywiths fully accept Norman into their family.
There’s also a scene between Oliver and Shane which suggests they’re finding a home in each other. After Oliver is forced to pet a cow on the farm, Shane pulls a bottle of hand sanitizer out of her bag because she knew he would likely need it in this environment. They both smile at the complementarity of their relationship and grow more comfortable with each other.
Another virtue in “Home Again” – as in the other “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” stories – is the fact that the characters can be considered role models in different ways, providing entertainment to viewers of all ages while also imparting important messages. Without completely giving the ending away, I’ll say that the story takes some unexpected turns that present a moral challenge for all involved. But acts of goodness, selflessness, and doing the right thing – even when it’s hard – prevail. There’s a beauty in seeing that presented well in story form, so “Home Again” finds success in this as well.
All that being said, I also found this an even funnier-than-usual “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” film. The main characters have their comedic timing down pat, Barry Bostwick plays Bill with a hilarious and curmudgeonly perfection, and Colleen Camp’s quirkiness as Sunny matches her onscreen daughter’s own gifts in that department. Her best line may be, “Norman actually reminds me of a small, woodland creature.”
Let me wrap this up by noting a comment Oliver makes at the beginning of the movie: “True antiques have character – and Providence.”
Despite “Home Again” not being an antique, it nevertheless has character and Providence on its side. And that bodes well for the future of the “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” series.
(Watch “Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Home Again” Sunday Sept. 24 at 9/8C)