Most Hallmark Channel movies attempt to convey a sense of uplift, poignancy or inspiration strictly through the story and characters. “Banner 4th of July,” premiering Saturday June 29 at 9pmET/PT, gets an extra boost in that respect from the power of American Idol alum Brooke White’s original music and distinct vocals, which beautifully convey either the melancholy or joy a particular song calls for.
White plays Desiree Banner, a successful recording artist who was once a member of The Banner Project, a family band that consisted of her and her two brothers, Mitch (Christian Campbell) and Johnny (Michael Barbuto). At the height of their success, Desiree left the band because she was feeling restless and wanted to try her hand at a solo project. That decision left Mitch resentful because he lived and breathed the music they all created together. What was once a close family became a fractured mess.
After avoiding each other for 10 years, Desiree and Mitch return to their hometown of Pinewood Hills following news of their mother Rosalind’s (Mercedes Ruehl) heart attack. While there’s no bad blood between Desiree and Johnny, who is raising a family in Pinewood Hills, the tension between her and Mitch is palpable in their terse interactions.
In addition to their mother’s health woes, the Banner siblings discover that the town is on the verge of bankruptcy if it can’t repay a loan after getting hit hard by the recession. The only way anyone can think to raise enough money is for The Banner Project, who were both local and national celebrities, to perform a reunion concert at the annual 4th of July festival. Can a family that bonded over music move beyond old resentments to find healing through music?
“Banner 4th of July” works on a number of levels, starting with the cast. White, appearing in only her second TV movie, brings her natural charm and appeal to the role of Desiree. Though she was good in her debut movie “Change of Plans” a few years ago, it’s evident her acting talent has matured. She convincingly portrays Desiree’s discomfort at being around her estranged brother, her anger at being the long-blamed scapegoat, the yearning to be a part of her family again, and the happiness that results when they finally settle the problems of the past.
In fact, the movie opens with White’s original song “Fly Fly Fly,” about a young person wanting to leave home while still hoping to return some day. It’s a song of longing that perfectly sets the mood for the story ahead, and reflects the area where White’s talent shines brightest.
Christian Campbell brings charisma and tension to his role as Mitch, a man wrestling with the past and the future because he never made it as big as he’d hoped he would. In scenes where Michael Barbuto as Johnny joins them, the group’s sibling bonds and antagonisms come across as real, like the rapport of people who’ve known each other all their lives.
Last but certainly not least, Academy Award winner Mercedes Ruehl rounds out the main cast as Rosalind, the matriarch of the Banner clan who’s also mayor of Pinewood Hills. Ruehl attacks her role with gusto and humor, increasing the energy level of every scene she’s in. She’s a boisterous, loving mama who simply wants her kids to “stop hating each other.” And she’s guaranteed to make you laugh.
Since we live in a world of broken families, “Banner 4th of July’s” subject matter is relevant and relatable as well. Hallmark movies can get a bad rap for tying things up too neatly with a happy ending. But on the positive side, they’re also offering an example of family and community that most people aspire to.
For instance, in response to the ongoing grudge between Desiree and Mitch, Johnny finally declares to them, “It’s everybody’s fault. It was nobody’s fault. But at some point, it doesn’t matter.” That idea of forgiveness, of moving beyond the bad choices and selfish decisions made by people who genuinely love each other, of letting go and letting God – that’s a message that never gets old or tired.
“Banner 4th of July” wraps up similarly to the way it began: with an original song written by Brooke White called “Sun Up, Sun Down” (sung with Christian Campbell). Whereas the mood at the beginning was melancholy, this one is celebratory and exactly the way you’d want an Independence Day celebration to end, especially for people declaring their independence from the emotional wounds that kept them apart.
So if you want to make it a festive holiday, be sure to spend some time with the Banners. Like a lot of family celebrations, they include laughs, music, togetherness, and even a few fireworks. The movie is well worth your time.