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Saving Sarah Cain DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Director: Michael Landon, Jr. / Writers: Brian Bird, Cindy Kelley; Beverly Lewis

Cast: Lisa Pepper (Sarah Cain), Tess Harper (Miriam Esh), Elliott Gould (Bill Alexander), Tom Tate (Bryan Ford), Abigail Mason (Lyddie Cottrell), Phil Abrams (Charles Eberley), Yolanda Wood (Norma), Soren Fulton (Caleb Cottrell), Jennifer O'Dell (Madison Miller), Danielle Chuchran (Anna Mae Cottrell), Tanner Maguire (Josiah Cottrell), Bailee Madison (Hannah Cottrell), David Clennon (Homeless Man)

Original Air Date: August 19, 2007 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: PG

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French; Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
DVD Release Date: January 15, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98 (Reduced from $22.99)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9); Black Keepcase

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When it comes to film portrayals of the Amish, the phrase that instantly comes to mind is "culture shock." Witness dealt with it dramatically, For Richer or Poorer mined it for comedy, and now Saving Sarah Cain reverses the formula,
placing Amish folk in a contemporary city for the purpose of melodrama. Sarah Cain, the one you're least likely to know, didn't reach theaters as planned, instead making its debut on the women's cable network Lifetime last summer.

That's not too surprising considering the track record of Michael Landon, Jr., the son of the actor who, among many things, portrayed the "Little House on the Prairie" paterfamilias. In a stretch of five years, Landon, Jr. has become a mainstay of the TV movie industry as writer, director, and producer of annual feature adaptations of books in Janette Oke's Love Comes Softly series. Though Sarah Cain moves Landon, Jr. from his home base Hallmark Channel and has him without a hand in the script (penned by his Love collaborators Brian Bird and Cindy Kelley), he's still in his comfort zone because this too is a book-adapted Christian drama.

The book in question is The Redemption of Sarah Cain, a 2000 novel by Beverly Lewis that has undergone changes more severe than in title. Lisa Pepper stars as Sarah Cain, an utterly wired writer for the Portland Times whose column has been losing markets and luster as she has continued to tackle insignificant subjects. Just before her judgmental British boyfriend Bryan (Tom Tate) can propose to her, the thirtysomething Sarah gets a call from her niece informing that Ivy, Sarah's barely older sister, has suddenly and unexpectedly died. Ivy had adopted an Amish life with her predeceased husband and plain living is all their five orphaned children know.

Sarah Cain (Lisa Pepper) is a stranger at her estranged sister's funeral, as evidenced by the man in the background's bushy beard. The five Cottrell children move into their aunt's lavish apartment. Left to right, they are: Anna Mae (Danielle Chuchran), Josiah (Tanner Maguire), Lyddie (Abigail Mason), Hannah (Bailee Madison), and Caleb (Soren Fulton).

The odd stares Sarah gets at her sister's Lancaster County burial are one thing, but the fastidious Pennsylvania Child Services department ensures there's a whole world of awkwardness coming her way. They show up demanding Sarah either assume custody of her three nieces and two nephews or agree to put them in a foster home. She brings the quiet brood to Portland with her, where the kids, ranging from young Hannah (Bridge to Terabithia's Bailee Madison) to responsible 16-year-old Lyddie (Abigail Mason), have to adjust to lush modern living and colorful public schools.

As the children are tempted in various ways to abandon their Amish upbringing (from wrestling to being fashionable),
Sarah gets a career boost by regularly writing about their tribulations. Our attentions are divided among the kids for amusing (intentionally or not) little episodes, though the ultimate destination is never whatsoever in doubt.

The seasoned Landon, Jr. and a spirited cast keep the proceedings about as bearable as they can be with such a predictable path and cartoonish caricatures (like the curvy colleague, played by Jennifer O'Dell, whose sights are set on Sarah's job and the condescending boss played by Elliott Gould). There's plenty of room for character introspection and a bit of maudlinness as well. But the heavy-handed messages and cheesy production values that have long been associated with the TV movie aren't readily found here.


Ten years ago, TV movies looked the part with plain fullscreen and stereo presentations. Not any more. A product of advanced times, Saving Sarah Cain could easily be mistaken for a theatrical release with its sharp 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen picture and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. There are only small clues to Cain's modest budget, like the digital video used that casts some blurs and the occasional shimmer. The audio is filled with peaks and valleys, particularly when folk and pop ballads are emphatically summoned -- about half a dozen songs are sprinkled throughout.

Director Michael Landon Jr. reveals he's no Amish, speaking aside his soundboard, computer, and other high-tech whatnots in the featurette. Sarah shares "A Seashell Prayer" with little Hannah (Bailee Madison) in this deleted scene. With a content smile on her face, Sarah Cain doesn't appear to need saving on her static main menu, even as five Amish kids surround her.


The most substantial bonus on a lightweight disc, "Saving Sarah Cain: Behind the Scenes" (19:45) is a rather good all-purpose featurette. We hear from director-producer Landon Jr., writer-producer Brian Bird, author Beverly Lewis, and most major cast members (not Gould). A potent blend of upbeat interview comments, location footage,
and the occasional movie clip, the piece covers production, the cast, and characters in a steady, informative fashion.

Four deleted scenes (6:19) are also worth checking out, as they're on par with the feature content and given sufficient context.

Billed as a Special Feature but really an ad is a 90-second "Fox Faith Trailer" that shows off some of the studio's recent "inspirational" movies. Playing at the start of the disc are previews for two other Michael Landon, Jr. productions on DVD, Love's Unending Legacy and Love's Unfolding Dream.

The still, static menu screens are a most basic affair with characters pasted in front of environments. An in-case insert provides a list of the 24 scene selections and serves to further promote the Landon Jr. Love Comes Softly movies.

It's hard being the new kid in school, but even harder being a Plain Girl too. At least the fact that vintage is in works to the advantage of Anna Mae (Danielle Chuchran), who's not to be confused with Japanese animation. Two worlds, one family: Sarah Cain consoles one of the young'uns of her five Amish wards.


For Saving Sarah Cain to really delight, you'll have to hold a special fondness for this type of thing. Even then, at least to my untrained eye, the Christian classification seems a bit of a stretch. And you certainly can't be a stickler for absolutely fidelity to source text because apparently many liberties are taken. But, the inoccuous movie shouldn't be too coldly received by anyone who can handle predictability and a little cheese. Fox's DVD is about as good as you could expect for a movie that premiered on Lifetime.

Buy from Amazon.com / The Book: The Redemption of Sarah Cain by Beverly Lewis

Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed January 31, 2008.

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