Reviewed by Sheryl Root
Love's Abiding Joy
"...an enjoyable, family-friendly film."
Love’s Abiding Joy, directed and co-executive produced by Michael Landon, Jr., is the fourth movie based on Janette Oke’s series, Love Comes Softly. It’s an enjoyable, family-friendly film. However, as its rating of PG suggests, parents should decide if younger children are mature enough to understand the themes of loss and grief so compellingly portrayed.
Missie & Willie LaHaye, like many ranchers in their area, are fighting to keep their ranch going. The recent drought has made things difficult for everyone, and many have lost their homes. When Missie’s father, Clark, travels west to visit them, it is a joyous reunion. It’s been years since she has seen her parents, and the first time Clark has seen his grandchildren. When a tragedy strikes soon after Clark’s arrival, the LaHaye’s find themselves faced with the ultimate test. Will they be able to trust God and stick together as a family? Or will they be driven apart by their grief and loss?
Differences between the book and movie were not immediately obvious to me—probably because it’s been years since I last read Janette’s wonderful series. I know that, whatever the differences may be, the movie captured the spirit of the book well, with beautiful cinematography and a score that, other than a scene ending where I felt the music was a bit melodramatic, perfectly captured the film’s heart.
Viewing all three of the previous movies first is not essential, although I do think that those who have will find it easier to jump into the story. I watched the first, Love Comes Softly, a few years ago and loved it, but I have not yet seen the two in between.
Love’s Abiding Joy seemed to have more plot threads than Love Comes Softly did, making it feel somewhat rushed, with less time for character development. My connection with Missie and Willie (capably played by Erin Cottrell and Logan Bartholomew) was not as deep as it was with Clark and Marty in the first film (played by Dale Midkiff and Katherine Heigl—now a cast member of Grey’s Anatomy). Dale reprises his role as Clark here, but without seeing him in the earlier movies, I’m afraid viewers may take away a more one-dimensional portrait of his character than he deserves. Erin & Logan’s portrayal of Missie and Willie’s grief, and the strain this can put on a marriage, was convincing. However, my favorite scenes were with their adopted son, Jeff, (played by Drew Tyler Bell) and the mayor’s headstrong daughter, Collette, (played by Mae Whitman). Their growing relationship was refreshing and engaging—a high point of the story.
Those who appreciate the values of faith and family in Little House on the Prairie and Christy will enjoy this series of movies as well. I hope viewers will be inspired to read the books themselves. Janette Oke was a pioneer (no pun intended) in Christian fiction, and while “prairie romance” often is looked down upon today, these books opened up doors for today’s writers across all genres of Christian fiction. I greatly appreciate Michael Landon, Jr. for bringing these wonderful stories to film.
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Sheryl Root is Partner Database Manager at OneHope, a non-profit organization whose mission is to reach every child with God’s Word. She’s also a writer and a reader of everything she can get her hands on … books, blogs, magazines. In other words, she’s both a data geek and a book nerd. She loves to be able to support Christian authors and spread the word on great books and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, a wonderful community of published and yet to be published writers. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sheryl_Root.