Now and then, it's okay to pause in that quest to be ever hip; it's okay to take a breath and clamp down on contemporary cynicism, and to let out the inner romantic. So curl up with your loved ones and see this one, do, if you're in the mood for a sentimental, good old-fashioned slice of Americana. The mild heads-up is that HIDDEN PLACES offers no twisty topsy-turvy plot, no "Hey, notice me!" performances by anyone in the cast, or gimmicky special effects, or trendy innovative camera shots. HIDDEN PLACES, boiled down, is simply a warm and watchable made-for-television movie, structured on the bedrock of professional acting and solid narrative. The bonus is that it's also a period piece.
Set in the backdrop of 1930s California, deep in the Depression era, this Hallmark Channel piece tells of a young widow named Eliza (Sydney Penny) who struggles to keep her home and her as yet unharvested orange orchard. But a death in the family devastates Eliza and her two little children and a looming debilitating mortgage payment may just be the final nail in the coffin. But, then, unlikely aid arrives in the shape of a grief-stricken hobo.
Who isn't a sap for hardluck stories? The plot to HIDDEN PLACES won't surprise anyone, but the cast still makes it work, and beautifully. Sydney Penny simply looks radiant and she offers up an intimate, heartfelt performance; I wouldn't mind at all seeing her in more films, if she can just sneak away from her soap opera gig. Jason Gedrick is low key but effective as Gabriel Harper, the down-and-out WWI veteran now riding the rails but who sticks around long enough to lend a hand. And with these two leads looking the way they look and with that bit of spark between them, you can probably figure out how the rest of the story unfolds. The supporting cast is first rate, including the two kid actors and especially Shirley Jones, who plays the unconventional Aunt Batty. Aunt Batty, besides providing moral support for and dispensing a series of practical advice to Eliza, proves to be the catalyst to bringing Eliza and Gabe together. And it's always neat to see Mrs. Partridge.
You'll have to overlook the cliche about the evil banking institution, of course. That's pretty much par for the course in films like this. HIDDEN PLACES is a lovely little gem, and one you can spend happily watching with your children and your parents. Even though the film takes place decades and decades after the frontier and settler days, it still hearkens to that strong can-do pioneer spirit. The movie speaks of putting in that good sweat and perseverance and harboring compassion and a measure of trust for those not so lucky as you. All this is old-fashioned stuff, and tried and true, but certainly these messages haven't lost any of their timeliness. And I'm thinking, we should maybe thank Hallmark Channel for safeguarding and nourishing its tiny corner of wholesome.