Our rating: 5 out of 5
reviewed by Rissi C.
As a little girl, reading Janette Oke's bestselling series was the highlight of my evening and I always looked forward to that time spent with my family. With each release of the films, I find myself less and less impressed with the cast, storylines and the acting. (I couldn't help but wonder what was going on when they cast Erin Cottrell three films back; she certainly isn't my idea of a perfect Missie!) But it's in the newest installment of the Hallmark series that we have our biggest and most disappointing story change
After two years of struggling and attempting to make it on her own, Missie LaHaye (Erin Cottrell) has decided to head back home to her parents. She knows that since her beloved husband Willie died in the line of duty, she has to stay strong for her son, Maddie (Brett Coker). As they set out on the tedious and tiresome journey back east, Missie is both saddened to be leaving Willie behind and excited at the prospect of being with her family again. Once settled into their new home, Missie begins a teaching job in town. Although grateful to be with her supportive mother Marty (Samantha Smith) and her loving father Clark (Dale Midkiff), Missie finds it difficult to get past her husband's senseless death and struggles to raise her son properly while putting decent food on the table.
While attending an adoption distribution of orphans at church, Missie decides to take in a troubled girl, Belinda (Holliston Coleman). During the weeks that follow, Missie attempts to break through Belinda's tough exterior while she making sense of newfound feelings for the local sheriff (Victor Browne). Once again, for those of us that are fans of the original stories, this will disappoint. However, this installment is a bit better than the previous films, and I've tried to look for all the positive aspects in it and its prequels. To begin, the element of faith portrayed is simple, but touching and I feel we should support any of these smaller films that are being made and distributed as Christian films. The screenwriters have kept Clark in all five films, which is certainly something I appreciated, but not having the original Marty in them was a let-down.
As I think on the biggest and most crushing changes, I cant help but wish they'd stopped at the original -- and the best crafted -- Love Comes Softly. In this, as you've probably guessed, Willie dying is something I'm not at all pleased with, but it was done, so that aside, the other storytelling faults in the production are still numerous. I'm sorry to have to report that there was something not quite right when Erin Cottrell landed the role of Missie. She does decent enough in the scenes that she's upset or strongly believes in a cause, but she is lacking in the chemistry department. If I wasn't convinced before that it was her fault for the lack of romantic tension, I am now -- after two different male leads, its not the actor's fault. Some of you may be wondering why I'm still watching these and yet with each one am a little more saddened at the outcome. Id have to say it is a love for the stories and curiosity as to what changes will be made.
All book-to-screen quibbles aside, these films are really wonderful family films. I think if Id not read the novels so many years ago and loved them Id enjoy these as an individual story without comparing them to their original plot. This is probably the second most awkward film as well as being far too rushed in Missies love story. In one scene she's pouring her heart out to her mother about feeling unfaithful to Willie, and in the next she tells him a heartfelt good-bye and then goes to see Sheriff Tyler (you can no doubt imagine what she tells him). Unfortunately, we cannot see when the change of heart occurs for Missie, not even a tiny glimmer is there in her acting. Victor on the other hand did fairly well. The kids were also well cast and I found myself delighted to see Holliston in something again; she is turning out to be a talented young lady. Brett Coker is also a great little actor and it was nice to see him in a more prominent part. Belinda also comes about in the books in a much different way than Missie adopting her.
Its suggested although never seen that a man is abusing a young boy.
During flashbacks we see Willie being shot, which is very poorly done,
and should have been filmed to look more realistic than it was. Sheriff
Tyler breaks up a couple of fistfights, guns are fired a couple of
times. A man threatens Missie. Its implied Clark must put a horse down
to end its suffering, in a particularly strange scene Belinda gives a
puppy mouth to mouth and despite it being fake looking; I couldn't help
but find it odd. Since Belinda grows up to be interested in the medical
field, the screenwriters did a nice job of showing her interest.
As I viewed the trailer for the next tale in the series, which premieres on DVD in May of 2008, I found myself looking forward to the release and yes, even after three in a row that weren't what Id expected I've still got hope for future productions as long as they do continue their pursuit of them. It can be best summed up like this: if you can get past the characters' sudden, very sudden and often corny revelations, there are some genuinely well shot scenes. But there were so many unanswered questions, such as what happened to adopted son Jeff and the Davis' two boys, and unfortunately it begs the question; why Janette Oke is even credited as a contributor?