The bland leading the bland
DVD review: Love Begins. Twentieth Century Fox Home entertainment. 88 minutes.
Strength, faith, courage, romance and the Wild West just seem to go together. But in Love Begins, it’s not blind faith as much as bland faith.
This film is a prequel to Janette Oke’s eight-book Love Comes Softly series, though it’s part of the Hallmark series based on them. It pretty much fits the pattern of Oke’s less-than-Wild West, where nearly everyone says “ma’am” and “sir” and sticks to a firm code of honor. And where fine, upstanding women always get their man.
Good-lookin’ Ellen (Julie Mond of General Hospital) and kid sister Cassie (Abigail Mavity of Summerland) work hard to maintain the dusty ranch their dead parents left behind. They smile and talk hopefully, but they’re losing ground.
Meanwhile, over the hill gallop Clark (Wes Brown of True Blood) and his buddy Daniel, on their way to join the gold rush in California. In the town of Trinity, Daniel hits on the womenfolk, and he and Clark get in a brawl with the menfolk, busting up Miss Millie’s café (not a saloon; in this version of the West, no one drinks anything stronger than coffee).
The two men are arrested, but Daniel escapes, leaving Clark to work off the cost of repairs. For the sheriff, the obvious solution is to make him a hired hand at Ellen’s ranch.
This arrangement doesn’t sit well with her: She’s still bitter over Jake, her former lover. Like Clark, he left for the gold rush two years ago. She agrees to hire Clark but treats him coldly.
Gradually, her attitude softens as Clark shows a polite, hard-working nature. His tall, rawbowned frame, shy smile and bright blue eyes don’t hurt either. And the annoyingly perky Cassie helps him work and chats him up.
A few dinners, a gentle dance, and Clark and Ellen confess their love. As he pays the last of his debt, he reconsiders his plans to leave. But oh, no, a plot twist! A well-dressed Jake steps off the next stagecoach! Turns out he struck it rich in California after all. He asks for Ellen’s hand and offers to take her and Cassie to his fine house in San Francisco.
What’s an upstanding frontierswoman to do? Will she sell the ranch and run off with newly rich Jake? Will she stay behind with poor but hardworking Clark? Will she listen to her heart or . . .
Aw, c’mon, everyone knows what she’ll do. Fact is, very little in this story is a surprise. OK, maybe the return of Jake, but that’s about it.
Nancy McKeon’s Millie does little to liven the movie, despite her acting credit as tough-talking Jo in The Facts of Life. Jere Burns, currently playing sleazy blackmailer Anson in Burn Notice, does a decent job as the stern but fair-minded sheriff.
Faith is a quiet undercurrent in this film. Ellen and others attend church and drop God’s name now and then (never Jesus’ name, though). But is it a strong faith? How would we know? Our heroines show little doubt or anxiety. They ask why God would allow a thunderstorm to loosen the barn doors. But they never shout or cry. They never worry about keeping the ranch. They don’t even break a sweat lifting lumber in the hot sun.
This isn’t the biblical model. In the scriptures, Jacob literally wrestles with God; Elijah runs and hides after Jezebel threatens him; even Jesus begs for his life in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Yes, we get it. Oke wants to give her audience something solid, strengthening, faith-building. And without the sex and violence that infects most other entertainment.
It’s a good goal, but it misses some crucial steps. Faith grows stronger only through conflict, hardship, opposition. You suffer; you doubt; you resolve and endure; you grow in faith. What you don’t gain is blandness.
James D. Davis
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