The Lost Husband

  • 29 Aug - 04 Sep, 2020
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

Fish-out-of-water story, grief drama, opposites-attract rom-com, family-secrets saga and ode to country living – there are plenty of facets to The Lost Husband, and none of them feels particularly fresh or urgent. With its homespun Hallmark vibe, though, writer-director Vicky Wight's adaptation of a 2013 novel by Katherine Center might be just the kind of comfort food that fans of the romance genre crave right now.

Leslie Bibb and especially Josh Duhamel lend a gentle spark to the story of a recently widowed mother of two whose emotional rehabilitation involves learning to run a dairy farm. Wight (who wrote Boy Genius) establishes an idyllic sense of place but struggles to pull together the numerous threads of the novel, ultimately milking the scenery at least as much as Bibb's character milks the goats.

The actress-producer plays Libby, who leaves Houston with her young son (Roxton Garcia) and teen daughter (Callie Haverda) for the farm of her long-lost Aunt Jean (Nora Dunn). A woman of few words, Jean is the independent, unconventional antithesis of Libby's mom, Marsha (Sharon Lawrence), who's an almost comically drawn villain. Fussily dressed, judgmental and glaring, she drops insults like ashes from her cigarette. She hasn't a maternal bone in her body – and the crucial difference between biological parenthood and caring for a child is one of the potentially stirring ideas that's reduced to a plot point.

Even with a big secret simmering between them, the estranged sisters' animosity is played right on the surface, like pretty much everything in the picturesquely generic proceedings. The friction/attraction between Libby and her aunt's farm manager, O'Connor (Duhamel), offers the only exception, at least sporadically. Even as it travels a well-trod romantic path from insults to wariness to the big clinch, there's a nicely underplayed tension between the transplanted city girl and the avowed country boy.

Mostly, though, the film occupies a place of stock situations and predictable arcs. And through all its half-realised plotlines, The Lost Husband teases out a family mystery. The long-hidden truth, revealed with distracting deliberateness, is hardly the intended bombshell. Even though the movie poses questions worth pondering, it's self-inoculated against doing the pondering. With all the long, loving glances at the orderly pastel interiors of Jean's home, and the constant nudging reassurance of the score, the narrative has been too padded against sharp angles to register a seismic jolt.