If this first film from the highly-publicized FoxFaith Films is any indication of what to expect from the fledgling branch of 20th Century Fox, the first thing that comes to mind about the company is a line from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — “And he took the faithful. That’s all, he just took them.”
Love’s Abiding Joy isn’t even a film. It’s a Hallmark TV movie — literally — one that will be shown on TV in December. FoxFaith and company haven’t even bothered to disguise the fact — the thing has a credit for its “teleplay,” not its screenplay, and the places where commercials are to be inserted in a month and a half are painfully obvious. Equally obvious is the contempt and condescension shown by FoxFaith for its presumed audience: To make a quick buck, fobbing them off with a bland TV movie they can see for free in a few weeks. And judging by the unenthusiastic turnout Love’s Abiding Joy has inspired, a buck is about all they will make.
The film is based on a series of faith-based Western novels (think Little House on the Prairie with a thick coating of piety) by Janette Oke. Preceding it are Love Comes Softly (2003), Love’s Enduring Promise (2004) and Love’s Long Journey (2005) (if this keeps up, we can perhaps look forward to Love’s Trip to Mars). All of them have been dutifully brought to the small screen by Michael Landon Jr. (well, he had to do something after he milked the Bonanza cow dry and vilified his late father in a TV biopic).
The telefilms seem to have garnered some degree of interest with a specific audience. But what people will watch at home for nothing and what they’ll pay money for in a theater are two distinctly different things (a lesson Hollywood seems incapable of learning for very long). I’ve never seen the earlier films, but they all appear to work on a similar formula that’s suffering from diminishing returns.
I suppose this aggressively sanitized opus might play better on TV. Certainly, its squeaky-clean look — did the Old West ever look so completely like an attraction at Disney World? — would be less glaring shrunk down, but the flat-footed plotting, the cardboard characterizations, the corny dialogue and the appallingly bad acting would be about the same. The setup — or setups — all center around a series of misfortunes that beset the LaHaye clan and their responses to them with each ultimately dismissed as “God’s will.” It’s old-fashioned in the worst sense of the term (a cigar-smoking villain who dresses all in black, a menial black manservant called “Cookie”) and completely lacking in even rudimentary dramatic tension (in its place is a treacly musical score that tells the viewer what to feel). If you must see this (I cannot imagine why), save your money and wait for its TV airing. Rated PG for mild thematic elements.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke