Review: ‘Holiday in the Vineyards,’ starring Josh Swickard, Sol Rodríguez, Eileen Davidson, Omar Gooding, Carly Jibson, Julian Rangel and Carlos Solórzano

December 25, 2023

by Carla Hay

Josh Swickard and Sol Rodríguez in “Holiday in the Vineyards” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“Holiday in the Vineyards”

Directed by Alex Ranarivelo

Culture Representation: Taking place in California, the comedy film “Holiday in the Vineyards” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Latino and African American) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An irresponsible playboy goes undercover to get confidential business information for his wine mogul mother, but he falls for the woman whom he has deceived to get this information.

Culture Audience: “Holiday in the Vineyards” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching inoffensive and undemanding romantic comedies.

Omar Gooding in “Holiday in the Vineyards” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“Holiday in the Vineyards” is pleasant and predictable, but not in a way that’s cloying or irritating. Unlike many romantic comedies of its kind, everything in the story is believable. Some parts are dull and uneven, but the movie is watchable overall. It’s the type of film where most viewers will know how the movie ends before the movie begins, but the movie’s characters will keep viewers interested.

Directed by Alex Ranarivelo, “Holiday in the Vineyards” is the cinematic equivalent of a low-priced romance novel that is an easy way to pass the time. “Holiday in the Vineyards” (written by Cecilia Franco and David Zanardi) has an easygoing screenplay that follows a familiar formula of an irresponsible man who might be redeemed by the love of a good woman. It’s also one of those romantic comedies that involves someone telling a big lie to potential love interest, so there romance could be ruined if the deceived person finds out about the lie.

“Holiday in the Vineyards” (formerly titled “A Wine Country Christmas”) begins by showing hard-partying playboy Carter Baldwyn (played by Josh Swickard) waking up on a golf course, after being passed out drunk. Carter is very hung over and is running late for a lunch meeting with his widowed mother Margo Baldwyn (played by Eileen Davidson), who is very bossy and judgmental. She is the owner of the California-based family business called Baldwyn Wines, which is a financially successful company that sells low-quality wine.

Margo has become accustomed to Carter being flaky, but she’s losing her patience with him. Margo’s father-in-law George Baldwyn (who is deceased) founded Baldwyn Wines. She wants to retire in the near future but is determined to keep the business in the family. And so, Margo expects Carter (who is an only child) to eventually take over the company.

However, Margo has serious doubts that Carter is capable of being the leader of anything. He has a history of being flaky and selfish. He was engaged to a woman named Emma Dixon (played by Annika Noelle), who had Margo’s approval. However, Carter called off the wedding and callously told Emma by text that he decided to break up with her.

While Margo waits for Carter to show up for the lunch meeting, Margo is rude to a waiter who serves her some Baldwin win at this lunch meeting. She spits out the wine and barks at the waiter: “We sell this wine! We don’t drink it!” She then orders the waiter to serve her the high-quality wine that she thinks she deserves.

During the meeting between Margo and Carter, she tells him that she wants to go to the rural town of Los Santos, where she wants to buy a property in foreclosure called Huckabee Vineyard Estate. Margo has heard that there’s a rival company that might be bidding on ths property. Carter has been given the task of going undercover at Los Santos to try to find out any insider information to help Margo have the upper hand in closing this deal.

Margo orders Carter to “blend in” when he’s in Los Santos. And that means Carter can’t call attention to himself as the spoiled and wealthy heir of Baldwyn Wines. Through a series of circumstances, Carter makes an impromptu decision to pretend that he’s a carpenter. It’s a lie that he tells to several people in Los Santos, including the main target of his undercover investigation: Valentina Espinoza (played by Sol Rodríguez), the real-estate agent that is representing Huckabee Vineyard Estate in the sale.

Valentina is a lonely and grieving young widow, whose husband Chris died of cancer. The movie doesn’t say how long he’s been dead, but it appears to be less than two years. Valentina and Chris’ two sons are Fernando (played by Julian Rangel ), who’s about 10 or 11 years old, and Santiago, nicknamed Santi (played by Carlos Solórzano), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Valentina gets help from her best friend Cindy (played by Carly Jibson), who is a nurse, in taking care of the children.

It just so happens that Valentina has a guest house that is dire need of a cleanup and renovation. Chris and Valentina have their “meet cute” moment (he crashes a private tour that she’s giving of Huckabee Vineyard Estate), he eagerly accepts Valentina’s offer for him to stay in the guest house. His glee quickly turns to dismay when Valentina says he can stay there for free on one condition: He has to renovate the guest house with supplies, which she says shouldn’t be a problem for Chris because he told her that he’s a carpenter.

Valentina says she will pay for all of the supplies and sends Chris goes to a local store called Walker Hardware. Mo Walker (played by Omar Gooding), the store’s friendly and helpful owner, quickly figures out that Chris has lied to Valentina about being a carpenter. Omar thinks that Chris told this lie because Chris wants to date Valentina. Chris denies that he hs a romantic interest in Valentina, but we all know where this story is going. The movie shows as soon as Carter arrives in Los Santos that the town is having an upcoming event on December 23 called the Holiday Garagiste and Artisanal Wine Festival.

“Holiday in the Vineyards” has a lot of the expected occurrences in a “bad boy/good girl” romance formula, where a “bad boy” has to do some soul-searching about his part harmful actions, in order become a better person who’s “worthy” of the love of the “good girl.” Carter goes from someone who’s a commitment-phobic bachelor who can’t picture himself spending too much time taking care of kids to someone who is surprised at how good he is with Valentina’s children and how much he likes the small-town life of Los Santos.

Meanwhile, Valentina also has to rethink how much her grief is holding her back from trying to find happiness and romantic love again. “Holiday in the Vineyards” realistically shows the hesitancy of a widowed person who is afraid and reluctant to get back into the dating scenes. As attractive and accomplished as Valentina is, she not immune from insecurities and sadness. Rodríguez’s portrayal of Valentina is some of the best acting in the movie.

The “sidekick” characters of Cindy and Mo bring most of the movie’s comedy in ways that are often stereotypical, with some of their jokes landing better than other jokes. Cindy is a jokester and a flirtatious bachelorette who is looking for love. And you can almost do a countdown to the scene where Cindy meets Mo, who is also single, and predict how she’s going to react to him.

Mo is an amateur winemaker who makes wine out of his garage, but his wine needs a lot of improvement, to put it nicely. A running joke in the movie is that Mo often asks Carter for Carter’s opinion on Mo’s wine. Every time Carter drinks Mo’s wine, Carter gags and/or spits out the wine.

“Holiday in the Vineyards” doesn’t have any big surprises. But thankfully, there are no over-the-top and ridiculous scenes of people declaring they’ve fallen in love with each other and want to spend the rest of their lives with a love interest whom they’ve known for less than a week. Any transformation that Carter might go through is well-earned and doesn’t looked forced. The romance in the story, just like this movie, is sweet and has enough charm to keep most viewers interested.

Netflix premiered “Holiday in the Vineyards” on December 13, 2023.

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