'Redeeming Love' review: Misguided faith based romantic drama not worthy of redemption
Courtesy of Universal
Romantic dramas are a subgenre that haven’t been given much theatrical viability in the last few years after audiences (at least the ones who go to movie theaters and purchase tickets) showed they’d rather stay home and binge “Bridgerton.” Instead, most steamy PG13 romances are thrown on streaming services, so D.J. Caruso’s “Redeeming Love,” based on the bestselling novel by Francine Rivers who also wrote the screenplay, is a bit of an anomaly in that you can actually see it on the big screen. Though “Redeeming Love” has elements of watchability (lead actress Abigail Cowen deserves praise for making lemonade out of apples), its dismissive attitude towards the sexual truama of young children and the exploitative nature around prostitution to help further a Hallmarky love story (not to mention a hilarious Irish accent by a sniveling Eric Dane) make a poor case for any type of salvation or, better yet, redemption.
Set during the 1860 gold rush in California, Cowen plays Angel, a beautiful soul who was sold into prostution during childhood and now works inside a brothel under the dutchess (Famke Janseen making a “special appearance” as the credits say) trying to save enough cash to start a new life. Cut between these scenes are flashbacks to Angel’s fractured youth that visualize how she ended up in this situation. It’s standard, predictable fare-mom got sick, the distant father wanted nothing to do with her-and she eventually became engulfed in the rough curveballs life threw at her, which landed her at the doorstep of Dane’s mustache twirling Duke, a child sex trafficiker.
Naturally, as these stories always do, a strapping and handsome young lad comes along to be a knight in shining armor. In this instance, it’s a farmer/prospector named Michael (a slightly above average Tom Lewis) who thinks Angel is a sign from God and believes it's love at first sight. (Aww shucks). To Rivers' credit, Angel is a sternly and independently written character who, occasionally, gets to make her own decisions about what happens to her. In fact, when pressed on the idea of marriage by Micheal, she consistently rejects his proposal and, considering his creepy, stalkerish demeanor (the townsfolk have to enter a daily lottery to have alone time with Angel, whereas Micheal ponies up double the cash) who could blame her.
Of course, the clashing personalities simmer when Micheal nurses Angel back to health after a rough encounter with one of the brothel’s muscles. From there, the script follows all the narrative beats you’d expect and, wouldn’t you know it, the Duke somehow comes back into the picture for some forced and unearned tension. Caurso once seemed like Hollywood’s most promising filmmakers after directing “Disturbia” and “Eagle Eye” but has since lost his touch. Neither of the characters are fleshed out in a convincing manner and the several dozen subplots (how about Logan Marshall Green showing up as the jaded brother-in-law who doesn’t like Angel in the Dollar Tree version of “The Power of the Dog”) barely register.
The sensitive subject matter notwithstanding, “Redeeming Love” undercuts Angel’s journey numerous times by saying the only way a woman can get ahead is by the gratitude of men. Chatter around fatih, rebirth and starting families feel like second nature to a movie that doesn’t offer a silver of Angel’s perspective, and begs the question: Why should she be the one seeking redemption when the cruel world gave her zero opportunities? This misguided faith based drama doesn’t seem to care about those feelings or having a discussion on the long-term effects of abuse. It just wants to be a sappy love story. And not a very good one at that.
REDEEMING LOVE opens in theaters Friday, January 20th.