|Director: Vicky Wight
|Screenplay: Vicky Wight (based on the novel by Katherine Center)
|Stars: Leslie Bibb (Libby Moran), Josh Duhamel (James O’Connor), Nora Dunn (Jean), Callie Hope Haverda (Abby Moran), Roxton Garcia (Tank), Kevin Alejandro (Danny), Sharon Lawrence (Marsha), Herizen F. Guardiola (Sunshine), Georgia King (Jessica), Carly Pope (Lanie), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Russ McAllen), Marcelle Purdy (Nurse)
|MPAA Rating: PG-13
|Year of Release: 2020
Vicky Wight’s The Lost Husband is the equivalernt of a better-than-average Hallmark movie, by which I mean it hits a lot of the conventions of the grieving-woman-from-the-big-city-meets-small-town-hunky-replacement formula. Other essential elements of the formula are the inherent attractiveness of the main characters, who are always clean and well-groomed even when they’re not supposed to be, and the Pottery Barn-ready nature of the production design. The fact that The Lost Husband takes place primarily in and around a goat farm in East Texas that is supposed to be rustic and rough but features a perfectly maintained and color-coordinated kitchen that looks like Joanna Gaines just got finished with it—well, there you have it.
Based on the fourth novel by Katherine Center, who is described on her official web page as a writer of “bittersweet comic novels about how we get back up after life has knocked us down,” The Lost Husband starts with the protagonist, Libby Moran (Leslie Bibb), a recently widowed young mother, leaving the familiar environs of Houston to live with her Aunt Jean (Nora Dunn), the folksy, homespun owner of a small goat ranch in the scenic hill country. Libby and her two elementary-aged children, Abby (Callie Hope Haverda) and Tank (Roxton Garcia), had been staying with her mother, Marsha (Sharon Lawrence), but for reasons that are made clear later in the film, that situation has proved untenable. Libby, who has no idea what she wants out of life since her husband died six months ago, agrees to take on the responsibility of helping to run the farm alongside James O’Connor (Josh Duhamel), the handsome, gruff farm manager who has no choice but to eventually become Libby’s romantic savior, despite the fact that they get off on the romantically comical wrong foot.
The clichés are boundless, but part of what elevates The Lost Husband above its Hallmark Channel ilk are the performances, particularly Leslie Bibb (Game of Thrones), who gives Libby a tough-but-vulnerable sensibility that she often displays via eye rolling and exasperated sighs that somehow aren’t annoying. Duhamel has the easier load, playing the strong, resilient, and humorous foil who enjoys Libby’s big-city-girl-in-the-country struggles while also maintaining a sense of humanity (later plot developments reveal him to be a man of such noble character that you want to pin a medal on him before all is said and done). Former Saturday Night Live comic Nora Dunn gives Aunt Jean some character shades that take her beyond the slightly cantankerous cliché she could have been. She has some nice moments with Libby, as they both share a lost husband and Libby looks to her as a model for how to move on.
The film also benefits from good cinematography by Aaron Kovalchik, who captures the inherent beauty of the landscape without turning it into a series of postcards, and a soundtrack loaded with songs by Texas native Bob Schneider. The plot offers a few minor surprises, some of which are good and some of which are not so good (an oddball séance scene feels like it was lifted from another movie altogether), but in general it moves smoothly along familiar, comfortable, well-worn tracks. Some of it feels a bit plodding, but writer/director Vicky Wight, whose only other feature film is the largely unseen 2013 indie The Volunteer, injects enough doses of humor and keeps the emotions real enough to keep it from sliding into a vat of schmaltz.
Copyright © 2020 James Kendrick
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