Producers: Bridget Stokes, Vicky Wight and Leslie Bibb   Director: Vicky Wight   Screenplay: Vicky Wight   Cast: Leslie Bibb, Josh Duhamel, Nora Dunn, Sharon Lawrence, Herizen Guardiola, Kevin Alejandro, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Georgia King, Carly Pope, Callie Hope Haverda, Roxton Garcia and Stone Garcia   Distributor: Quiver Distribution

Grade: C

If you appreciate Hallmark Channel TV movies, you’ll probably enjoy the homespun soap opera Vicky Wight has concocted from Katherine Center’s 2013 novel.  Cinematic comfort food, “The Lost Husband” has modest ambitions—to make its target audience sniffle and then feel content when things turn out well.  If you’re part of that audience, it’s likely to have the desired effect, although it will undoubtedly prove short-lived. 

The film begins with widow Libby Moran (Leslie Bibb) fleeing the Houston home of her mother Marsha (Sharon Lawrence) with her children Abby (Callie Hope Haverda) and Tank (Roxton Garcia).  Marsha is hardly the maternal type under the best of circumstances, and she’s tired of having Libby as a houseguest six months after the death of her husband Danny (Kevin Alejandro) in an auto accident—a wreck that also injured Abby, who now walks with a limp. 

With nowhere else to go, Libby drives to the remote ranch of her Aunt Jean (Nora Dunn), who takes her in with open arms and also introduces her to her hunky farmhand James O’Connor (Josh Duhamel).  It’s obvious from the get-go that Libby and James are meant for each other, and will be in one another’s arms by the close; you will not be disappointed in that expectation.  Before that final embrace comes, however, both will have to overcome the turmoil in their respective pasts, because he too has suffered marital pain.

There are subplots, of course. One involves Abby’s being bullied by a boy at school, a situation that James, who’s become increasingly paternal toward both kids, eventually handles in a fashion you might find a bit unsettling (not only teaching Abby how to throw a punch, but confronting her tormentor).  Another adds some comic relief in the form of Jean’s boyfriend Russ (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a gregarious fellow with a hearty laugh we’re meant to find irresistible.  And he brings along with him a granddaughter named Sunshine (Herizen Guardiola), who, after some initial friction, becomes Libby’s best friend and confidant.

But it’s the Libby-James interaction that holds center-stage.  We watch as she haltingly acclimates to the rigors of farm life, trading her city duds for overalls and learning to deal with the chickens and goats.  (It’s a routine that goes back to “The Egg and I,” with a nod to “Green Acres.”)  And we see him look on bemusedly, helping when he can (as in a farmers’ market sequence, when Libby is confronted by a trio of old “friends” from her past life).  As they grow closer, cliché piles on cliché—there’s even a scene in which the two find themselves trapped together in a refrigerated locker).  It’s all innocuous, harmless stuff, but hardly a love story for the ages.

And there is, of course, a closing revelation that finally allows Libby to free herself from her past.  It comes with the arrival of Marsha at the ranch, and her confrontations with both her daughter and her sister—scenes that paint her as a mommie dearest indeed.  But they pave the way for that final, comforting kiss.

“The Lost Husband” is no better than an average made-for-TV movie—the cinematography (Aaron Kovalchik), production design (Diz Jeppe) and music (Sherri Chung) are no better than workmanlike, while Wight’s direction and Suzanne Spangler’s editing are pedestrian.  But Bibb and Duhamel are a mostly agreeable pair: she rather overdoes the fish-out-of-water business, but he brings and easygoing manly-man quality to O’Connor.  Perhaps surprisingly, Dunn makes Jean a quietly supportive figure, while Haverda and Garcia keep the cuteness in rein even as Whitlock and Guardiola come on awfully strong in search of laughs and knowing glances.

“The Lost Husband” is a thoroughly ephemeral crowd-pleaser, but for those addicted to this sort of cable-TV-quality romantic hokum, it will probably be an acceptable, if totally forgettable, time-waster.