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Michael Landon, Jr.
Alpine Medien Productions
A free-spirited young woman goes out west. You know the rest of the story. Well, perhaps it’s not quite as bad as that—and even if it was, predictability isn’t as great a drawback as it’s made out to be. Anyone who has seen the same movie or read the same book twice clearly finds certain things more appealing than a surprise ending—or a surprise anything, for that matter. Besides, while there are times when suspense and rigorous intellectual challenge are desirable, there are times when they are… well, less desirable. And while there is no time when it is either safe or smart to shut down our vigilance, no matter for how short a time, there are times when it’s nice to escape from the intellectual demands of life-as-usual. That is to say, sometimes we really don’t mind a little predictability now and then, especially when we’re confident that our vigilance won’t be taxed much… at least, not that much.
Love Comes Softly is certainly neither suspenseful nor intellectually challenging, and it has several of the handicaps made-for-television features usually have. That being said, I’m going to ruin my own surprise ending by letting the reader know now that my review of Love Comes Softly, while it focuses mostly on the negative aspects, has a positive conclusion. The conclusion is meant to recommend the movie to certain people, under certain circumstances; the rest of the review is meant to provide the caveats and qualifiers.
For those who find the barely minced oath “Dad blame it!” offensive, I have to give a warning three times over. “Oh God” and “Oh Lord” are used with just enough seriousness to make me uncertain whether they should count as swearing or not.
Violent and Intense Content:
Unlike so many other dramatic television productions, Love Comes Softly doesn’t show any blood (well, barring the aftermath of a chicken butchering). That does not mean, however, that it doesn’t show any more than viewers are guaranteed to be comfortable with. The sight, for example, of a dead man, wrapped in blankets, draped over the back of a horse—and the subsequent, unnecessary and fairly lengthy sight of his face (though he is neither bloody nor pale, and has his eyes closed)—may be a little disturbing to sensitive viewers—that is, the kind of viewers most likely to be watching it, in the first place.
If you are naturally given to laughing at other people’s pain, you will probably find a couple of scenes highly amusing. If you are more compassionate than that, you will probably pity the characters. Either reaction is possible.
The costumes in Love Comes Softly are generally very modest—except when Marty’s undergarments can be seen through her blouse, when they can be seen because she hasn’t got anything else on, or when she isn’t wearing a costume at all. In the first instance, all that is visible is an anachronistic strap over her shoulder; in the second, her underdress bares no more than her arms; in the third, nothing is revealed that a strapless dress would have covered, but, given that Marty is in the bath when we see that much, and that people do not customarily bathe with strapless dresses on, we are definitely supposed to assume that the water level is only a fortunate coincidence.
While it is perfectly acceptable for Marty, the character, to kiss her first husband in the beginning of the movie, and her second husband at the end, it is not, in my estimation, acceptable for the actress to, in the beginning, kiss a man who was not her husband, and, at the end, another man who was in fact someone else’s husband.
The difficulty viewers may have in separating acceptable behavior for the characters from acceptable behavior for the actors, is at least matched by the difficulty they are likely to have differentiating between conduct that is acceptable for a married couple, and conduct that is acceptable for a married couple who took no “till death do us part” vows, who never live together as man and wife, and in fact plan to separate in just a few months, never more to meet. The question of what makes a “marriage” valid is worked around, rather than through, in Love Comes Softly, which also discourages us from asking what makes a marriage of convenience a wise one. True, Clark proposed marriage only as a temporary, practical device, but he did so under the impression that Marty would be able to teach valuable things to his daughter. Asking if Marty was a Christian would have been a wise preliminary step—as would a thousand other, less critical questions. I know that the movie was never meant to further the idea that marriage is absolutely meaningless without romantic love, or that Christians really needn’t worry about being unequally yoked, but the story is capable of doing just that, if the issues are not recognized and addressed.
Similarly, though not quite as seriously, Marty’s verbal fight with her husband in the first scene of the movie (before she learns better, presumably), or her step-daughter Missy’s physical fight with a school boy (before she learns better, presumably), are just as easily taken as examples of flawed character as of strong character—which means that children could just as easily take them as examples of strong character as of flawed character. Missy’s tomboyishness could be wrongly elevated to role-model status, almost, or it could be presented to younger viewers as an area in which Missy could use sanctification. There is a subtle progression away from harsh tomboyishness toward… let’s say, less-harsh tomboyishness, that could be pointed to, to support the latter theory. Even so, Missy only wears her ahead-of-her-time overalls a little less often, at the end of the movie, and she has only moved from ignoble fighting to sophisticated shoving. The boy’s statement, “I ain’t fightin’ with no girl; it’s only Missy,” if left unaddressed, could contribute to the behavior=gender message younger girls are more likely to embrace without realizing it. The positively presented idea of girls fighting dragons vicariously through books, where no one can tell them they are too young, could distract us from asking whether there are any other good reasons why girls shouldn’t be fighting dragons.
A secondary character, probably jokingly, refuses to come when her husband tells her it’s time to leave, and then refers to him as an “ornery old goat”—an unmistakably joking, but unnecessary remark.
As for the religious tone of the movie, it is generally good (good enough to earn the movie a positive rating, as I mentioned before), but the theological statements do, from time to time, stop short of purity and precision. When Marty questions God’s goodness in allowing “such unthinkable things happen to decent people,” Clark replies to the “allowing” part of the question, and neglects to correct Marty’s faulty concept of natural depravity. And when he addresses the issue of God’s sovereignty, he tends to use the language of human helplessness (and terribly faulty analogy) to describe it. “Missy could fall down and hurt herself, even if I'm walking right there beside her. That doesn't mean that I allowed it to happen.” On the other hand, he later asks God to help him accept His plan, even though he doesn’t understand it. One way or another, Clark is living inconsistently with his own theology—either God at least allows everything, or he ultimately has no sovereign plan; there’s no in-between position. Again, the problem is worth explaining to younger viewers, but it will probably be harmless after that.
At one point, Missy is seen pretending to talk to her mother, as if trying to live over again the time before her mother’s death. The monologue goes back and forth between addressing her as if she were present and alive, and then addressing her as truly absent, and in fact dead.
Christmas is celebrated, tree and all—just a warning for viewers who may have concerns about this.
Viewers’ own answers to the question of what constitutes “church” may or may not agree with the movie’s position.
I’m afraid that Love Comes Softly simply isn’t a masterpiece, however you look at it, but it isn’t exactly a failure, either. It may not be what we’d call historically accurate, but neither does it create a fantasy world too benign or too bleak to be real. The characters are a bit transparent, but their reactions are not implausible. The aesthetic elements are sometimes poor, sometimes fair, and sometimes good. The Christian message is flawed, but unmistakably present. And, once again, the story is certainly predictable, but if the predictability, the made-for-television quality, and a few obvious historical inaccuracies don’t bother you too much, I think you will find Love Comes Softly an enjoyable film. Women are more likely to enjoy it than men are; women who love Christian romance, as a genre, are more likely to enjoy it than women who do not. Children eight years old and up, accompanied by their parents, will probably be able to handle the emotionally intense parts, and children twelve years old and up should be able to handle the theological mistakes on their own.