Before shacking up with British royalty and doing a 180 back to the States, Meghan Markle was, as we all know, best known for her acting work on USA’s legal drama Suits. What most people don’t bother to engage with, however, is that Markle’s sparkle made its way to the Hallmark Channel on two occasions, the latter one being a 2016 romp called Dater’s Handbook. It is … fine. More than passable, even. It’s typical algorithmic Hallmark fare, in which Markle portrays a HBIC marketing executive plagued by mediocre boyfriends, who gets cajoled into taking relationship advice from a book. The man that the book says she should choose? A cauliflower floret has more charisma, obviously. And the other guy, who dares to be “spontaneous” and “fun”? That’s a hard book pass.
“I’m just drawn to how relatable the script is. When I first read it, I thought, There are so many women who are going to connect with this story of trying to find a balance in work and also in relationships and trying to find love,” Markle previously explained, quite earnestly, about choosing the role. “It’s really heartwarming and affirming and validating … with stories like this, it keeps it very light and easy and makes everybody feel good. At the end of a long day, that’s what I want to watch.”
Me too! I’ve now watched Dater’s Handbook five times since our self-isolation era began, and can confirm it is, in fact, a completely innocuous thrill ride despite being the Bechdel test’s worst nightmare. As it’s unlikely you’ll be shelling out $5 on Amazon Prime to watch the future duchess nail line readings such as, “Ah, you’re suggesting the Dater’s Handbook,” I am left with no choice but to pour a glass of something and recap the film for you. We’ll get around to the second one eventually.
We open as most Hallmark films do: With a CGI panoramic shot of Denver. Markle’s character, Cass, has a very cute dog and dresses like a pre-financial-ruin Outdoor Voices ambassador. We’ll soon learn that she has a boyfriend who’s oblivious to everything about her.
It’s the titular handbook that Cass comes across during a morning news blitz.
But anyway, off to work Cass goes. She owns her own marketing agency and generally has it all. She’s on top! Somebody bring her some haaaaaaam!
And because she’s on top, she’s totally, definitely fine with her assistant getting married in a few days.
This is also the look of a woman who’s totally, definitely fine with her boyfriend forgetting that she’s allergic to honey and also the fact that he would rather “eat subs in front of the big screen” than go to her assistant’s wedding with her. Or family functions. Or work events. Or … anything.
Cass is relegated to the kids’ table at the wedding, but alas, who do we have here? It’s Suitor No. 1! He’s nice, charming, and works for the city’s parks and recreation department. So, basically a male Leslie Knope.
The sparks, and the cake slices, are flying.
Sadly, Suitor No. 1 couldn’t get Cass’s number in time, and it’s back to the work grind for her. Conveniently, she finds the handbook in her co-worker’s desk and she’s … not not uninterested.
After a year and a half, Cass finally decides to dump this man’s ass in the batting cages. She’s more than fine.
Wow, what a surprise that Cass’s sister tries to cheer her up with a lecture from the Dater’s Handbook author.
It’s not the man, it’s her! It really is. She could be as noncommittal as the guys she’s been choosing, for all we know.
Suitor No. 1 boomerangs back into Cass’s life, thanks to a well-timed meet-cute in the park. Matching blue outerwear? The mutual love and affection toward doggos? Just ask her out already, man.
She’s happy he asked her out.
We like to think this was her exact lip gloss routine before her first date with Prince Harry.
The handbook advises that a potential suitor should choose a first date that “captures your personality” and is “something you would enjoy.” (The stakes have never been lower.) For Suitor No. 1, this means mini-golf. Cass excels at it.
Remember, there are no fouls in mini-golf. We encourage you to try this PGA-approved technique during your next trip to the putting green.
We also like to think this is how her first date with Prince Harry ended.
Okay, the inevitable occurs: Suitor No. 2, one of Cass’s clients who [checks notes] maybe works in insurance, decides to swing by her office and ask her out on a date. After some thought, she doesn’t deem it inappropriate and accepts — despite some initial confusion.
Chivalry is not dead! The book yells at her. It’s okay to expect and want a gentleman!
Suitor No. 2 takes her to Denver’s equivalent of Eleven Madison Park, orders for both of them, and speaks fluent French. He also doesn’t seem to understand the concept of “humor.”
Cass videochats with the fam to spill about Suitor No. 2 and admits he’s a total snooze. But a fancy snooze.
No matter, because she’s back with Suitor No. 1 on an indoor running date. Between the headphone splitters, the soothing sounds of REO Speedwagon, and her flopping ponytail, Suitor No. 1 falls off the treadmill. Did he really hate the groovy tunes of the ’70s that much?
The weather cleared up, so they’re back outside for a car picnic. Ladies: Try this sensual move on your next date.
Ah yes, right on cue, time to get mansplained about the deeper significance of an owl painting by Suitor “Not Sure the Artist Would Agree With You” No. 2.
Damn, it’s actually cold there.
In an ultimate power move, Suitor No. 1 surprises Cass and her mom with tickets to see REO Speedwagon at a benefit concert. I can’t stress enough that REO Speedwagon essentially becomes its own supporting character at this point. I’d also love to know how much the rights to “Keep on Loving You” cost the Hallmark Channel.
Can’t really complain about halfway-point sponcon when it’s as adorable as this.
Surprise! It’s Cass’s birthday, and this is a big effin’ deal for the handbook. Giving the right gift is imperative, and it needs to be personal. Suitor No. 2 swings by her office with a bunch of lilies, her favorite flower.
Suitor No. 1 has the same surprise idea. They rub elbows. Awkward.
Suitor No. 1 wooes her with an iPod, which was pretty much a given after the REO Speedwagon gym incident. Oh yeah, he cracked and destroyed her old iPod Classic with the fall.
Okay, it’s decision time for Cass. She’s going on one last date with her men. How well do they know her? How much effort and planning are they putting into their relationship? Do they respect her boundaries? Do they worship at the shrine of REO Speedwagon? Suitor No. 2 starts things off with a concert that’s decisively not dedicated to Illinois’ finest rockers.
But the champagne and strawberries are a nice touch.
And yet, Suitor No. 2 can’t muster up anything but a platonic hug at the end of the night. Respectful? Yes. Romantic? Hell no.
Things start off well and hoppy for Suitor No. 1’s diner excursion …
… but alas, the curse of the honey allergy returns. Cass has a bite of a wing that’s been subtly coated with the delectable substance and this happens.
Things don’t look great for Suitor No. 1.
After a quick hospital trip, Suitor No. 1 ends up staying the night to look after Cass but commits a grave sticky-note faux pas: Stick to even surfaces only!
The wait is over. Cass has to dump one of the suitors and will debut her pick at her nephew’s birthday party. Drumroll, please … it’s Suitor No. 2! Cass thinks Suitor No. 1 abandoned her, even if that isn’t the case.
Her mom is not happy.
[Inserts GIF of Mr. Darcy angrily standing alone at the ball.]
Oh yeah, even her dog hates Suitor No. 2.
And her faucet.
It’s wintertime in Denver, which means Cass needs to go to an “auto shop” to purchase “seasonal snow tires” for her “multiterrain vehicle.” Suitor No. 1 was bound to be there, although Cass isn’t exactly happy to run into him.
Suitor No. 1, who’s also waiting for his multiterrain vehicle, is sad that Cass dumped him and convinces her to go bowling with him “as friends” while they wait. Friends? Friends.
She doesn’t want to brag, but she was an eighth-grade bowling champion.
She regrets the smooching and runs off.
The next night, over dinner with her mom, Suitor No. 2 sternly rebuffs Cass for daring to take a bite of his pâtisserie treat. So that’s where they’re at.
Her mom is displeased by this Big Mediocre Energy.
And now, presenting the face of every woman finally realizing the extent of their shitty choice in men.
Suitor No. 2 really does dislike fun, doesn’t he? “If this is the sort of place you like going to,” he tells her, “I’ll learn to like it too.”
Here goes nothing.
As an important sidenote, the author of the handbook got divorced and is now doing a press blitz for Dissecting Divorce. Seems reasonable.
WE MUST NEVER CEDE CONTROL OF THE MOTHERLAND. FOR IT IS TOGETHER THAT WE PREVAIL [AGAINST DATER’S HANDBOOK].
Cass and her family swing by Denver’s annual Lantern Festival, which is conveniently being organized by Suitor No. 1. Time for the requisite sprint against the clock to get her man back!
Knock those dragons out of the way!
Forget that lantern!
Awww. You can practically hear the REO Speedwagon music cue gently playing in the background.
And that’s a wrap for this beautiful, age appropriate, non-royal couple.