Love Comes Softly (December 8/04)
While it would be easy to write a review for Love Comes Softly peppered with snarky jabs and cynical observations, the truth of the matter is that the film is immensely entertaining and engaging - albeit in an extremely old-fashioned and predictable manner. The movie is based on a novel written over twenty years ago by Janette Oke, who has since emerged with an entire series of books based on these characters, and it's easy enough to see why these characters have endured over the years.
The film opens with Marty (Katherine Heigl) and Aaron Claridge (Oliver Macready) looking to start a new life in the West, when Aaron is tragically and suddenly killed en route. Marty hasn't even been grieving for a day when she receives an offer from a local widower named Clark Davis (Dale Midkiff): Clark will offer Marty room and board if she will agree to help raise his rambunctious daughter Missie (Skye McCole Bartusiak). Marty begrudgingly accepts, primarily because she doesn't have a whole lot of options, and moves in with the Davis'. Not surprisingly, both Marty and Missie aren't thrilled with this arrangement - though the two begin to bond as the months go by.
Now, it doesn't take a genius to figure out where all this is going - the title pretty much gives the whole thing away, for crying out loud - yet it becomes increasingly difficult to resist the film's charms as it progresses, primarily thanks to the warm and inviting central performances. Heigl steps into the shoes of this grizzled frontier woman with remarkable ease, turning Marty into a figure we can't help but root for. Midkiff - a performer who should have become a big star after his starring role in Pet Sematary but didn't - is very effective as Clark, a character that could've easily come off as overbearing and obnoxious in the wrong hands.
The screenplay - by director Michael Landon Jr. and Cindy Kelley - allows the two characters plenty of space to develop, often eschewing plot twists in favor of quieter, more introspective sequences. Though this results in a film that's far more episodic in nature than expected, Marty and Clark admittedly become figures that the audience would genuinely like to see come together. The film's only real fault lies in a distinct sense of preachiness (literally) that crops up towards the end, as Clark rambles on about the value of faith and prayer. While it's understandable that the character would have a lot to be thankful for, the scene feels more like sermonizing than anything else.
Love Comes Softly is the sort of movie that one involuntarily becomes wrapped up in, despite the often overwhelmingly clichéd nature of the storyline (this isn't necessarily a bad thing, particularly given how well made the entire thing is).