Fourth in Popular Series, "Love's Abiding Joy" Now on DVD
- Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
- 2007 8 Jan
Release Date: January 2, 2007
Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements)
Genre: Faith-Based Drama/Western
Run Time: 87 min.
Director: Michael Landon, Jr.
Actors: Logan Bartholomew, Brianna Brown, Erin Cottrell, Kevin Gage, John Laughlin
Following the hit Hallmark Channel trifecta of “Love Comes Softly” (2003), “Love's Enduring Promise” (2004) and “Love's Long Journey” (2005), this fourth DVD in the Janet Oke/Michael Landon, Jr. series arrives after a limited theatrical release from FoxFaith Films, a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox aimed at Christians. Despite the fact that it’s an imperfect movie, if video sales are any indication, it will do very well with its audience.
The LaHaye family is eking out a living on the Western frontier, far from their loved ones, in 1885. Recent droughts and cattle plagues have hurt all the ranchers, including the LaHayes. Some have even lost their land. But most remain upbeat. To help out, Missie LaHaye (Erin Cottrell) works as a schoolteacher, a job she enjoys and excels at. Her husband, Willie (Logan Bartholomew), takes care of the ranch, but eventually accepts a position as the town sheriff, for the salary. When Missie’s father (Dale Midkiff) comes for a visit, after many years apart, all seems well.
But, early one morning, the LaHayes discover their baby girl dead in her crib. Unfamiliar with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, they have nevertheless fallen victim to it. And, not suprisingly, the tragedy upsets the family’s precarious balance. With few friends, no self-help books and certainly no grief counselors, the LaHayes do what everyone did back then – they muddle through. Missy becomes very depressed, however, which causes her and her husband to grow apart. Even their pastor-turned-rancher friend, who is about to lose his ranch, is unaware of their deep despair.
Willie has other problems, as well. In addition to dealing with his child’s death, a new job and running his ranch in absentia, he must now throw his friends off their land. It turns out that the mayor (John Laughlin), for whom Willie works, is quite the shark. He’s loaned money to several families in exchange for their ranches, as collateral, and now he’s calling in the debts. As the town sheriff, Willie must enforce the law. To complicate matters, Willie’s adopted son Jeff (Drew Tyler Bell) is falling in love with the mayor’s daughter – and the mayor is not happy about this at all.
This film series, based on the novels by Oke and directed by Michael Landon, Jr. , was made for the Hallmark Channel and have all been shown on television, so they definitely have a television feel. They are dominating the CBA DVD market, however. “Love’s Long Journey” is currently number one; “Loves’ Come Softly” is number two; and “Love’s Enduring Promise” is number four. So clearly, Christians are resonating with these family-friendly movies. And, while they’re not Oscar material, they’re still enjoyable entertainment in the style that, ironically, “Little House on the Prairie” was.
Holding the film together are Bartholomew (“Love’s Enduring Promise,” “Love’s Long Journey”), Cottrell (“Little House on the Prairie”) and Bell (“The Bold and the Beautiful”), who all give outstanding performances. Laughlin (“Ghost Rock”), as the mayor, does too, despite a caricature of a character. Midkiff, on the other hand, as Missie’s father, overplays his role, which dampens many scenes.
As a Christian who hopes to create uplifting, family entertainment, Landon is to be commended. He is still developing as a director, however. He’s put the bad guy, the mayor, in black, for example. He didn’t tame the evil smirks of the mayor’s assistants – even at the beginning, when nothing is happening. And the LaHaye’s servant (played by Frank McRae) is positively cringe-inducing, despite good acting. He’s named “Cookie” and he doesn’t say much besides “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir.” Part of this is the teleplay (which Landon co-wrote) and part of this is the novel. Take the main characters – who tend to be fairly one-dimensional, anyway. They all have an “ie”-sound at the end of their names (Willie, Missie, Maddy, Cathy). Although true to the original novel, this simply doesn’t work onscreen, just like the oversimplification of characters.
Some of these issues could have been mitigated if Landon had coaxed more nuance and edge from his actors, especially the secondary ones. Toning down the musical score would have also helped. We’re left with the impression that he is cueing us about what to feel and when, and that’s annoying.
When it comes to the faith, Landon is aiming for a subtle approach, which is always preferable. The problem is that in so doing, the characters talk in platitudes (“Just trust God.”). Moreover, no one ever doubts or rails at God – which even non-Christians tend to do in the face of tragedy. The answer to all their problems, therefore, comes across as superficial. Still, Willie and Missie’s struggle to cope with their grief is extremely realistic and well-played, without any pat answers – just as it is in real life. This is something that anyone who has ever suffered loss will relate to.
Overall, the movie is fair. It won’t win any awards, and the subject matter makes it more suitable for older children. Families will appreciate this episode, however, which will allow them to discuss the many ways that God and community can help us overcome pain and outsmart manipulators.
AUDIENCE: Older children and up
- Drugs/Alcohol: None.
- Language/Profanity: None.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: None.
- Violence: People carry guns and seem to threaten harm, but none is ever done. In one scene, a character (who may be drunk) arrives and threatens to shoot someone, but is coaxed away from his gun.