Our rating: 5 out of 5
reviewed by Rissi C.
Having seen the first three Love Comes Softly films, I was anxious to see this latest installment. But it is the biggest disappointment so far. Aside from the story not being at all similar to the book, there were many other production changes, and while the main actors are back, it leaves you wishing they weren't.
With a train coming out west, Missies (Erin Cottrell) father Clark (Dale Midkiff) is planning a trip out to Missie and Willies (Logan Bartholomew) ranch. Missie is a bundle of nerves while waiting for her fathers arrival, anxious to introduce him to the grandchildren she's written him about for the last several years and show him how well they have done with their ranch. Clark has a lovely day with his daughter and getting to know his wonderful grandchildren Jeff (Drew Tyler Bell), Maddy (Brett Coker), and baby Kathy. But sadly, on their second day together, tragedy strikes the LeHayes. Once the family recovers from their initial shock, Missie quits her teaching job and seems to withdraw further from reality and her children.
Missie and Willie slowly begin to grow apart instead of leaning on each other in their time of sorrow, and because of that everyone suffers. They also experience financial difficulties that make their troubled lives even more difficult. In order to make a little extra money, Willie takes the job as the local sheriff and has a difficult decision to make regarding his neighbors. Meanwhile, their adopted son Jeff starts to spend time with the mayors daughter Collette (Mae Whitman) and as his friendship grows with her, he starts to see that mayor Doros (John Laughlin) isn't the most upstanding citizen he tries to make the town believe he is. A drawback for this film, and maybe the reason it strayed so much from the previous in the series, is that Michael Landon Jr. didn't direct this adaptation. I was sorry to see him go. I loved how well he portrayed the characters in the other films. The acting was unimpressive. I didn't feel anything between Logan and Erin in this film; their relationship felt more platonic than romantic.
The deviation from the book that bothered me the most was that they didn't bring Marty out to visit with Clark. That was such a wonderful part of the book for me, having their families reunited. Jeff and Collette was another change, but that was all right. They also tried to make this film more of a western through the presence of some "tough guys." I was not happy with that, either, since Janette Oke didn't bring any violence in her books, westerns or otherwise. This is still an enjoyable tale, just much different than the first three. Love's Abiding Joy doesn't have much in the way of inappropriate content. Two young characters sneak out together on a few occasions and share a kiss. Collette goes against her fathers wishes several times; she remarks that she has been telling her father what she will do since she was old enough to dress herself. A group of men stop a young man and take him by gunpoint, but no shots are fired. A man comes into town shooting his gun and Willie must calm him. Faith is involved in various aspects of the plot. Willie and Missie pull away from God for awhile, both questioning why He would put them through such grief. Ultimately, their faith returns.
My personal opinion of this film is rather bland, not merely for the changes from the book but also the disappointing directing and unsatisfactory acting. Overall it isn't a bad movie, just unappealing to someone who loves the original story. If you haven't read the books or are just looking for a clean faith filled family film, Loves Abiding Joy is a decent family film despite its faults, but if you love the book, don't go into this expecting it to be anything like Janette Oke.