...shining light on the media, one review at a time
As most conservative viewers are well aware, we live in an era when turning on the TV to watch even “family” programming usually results in an assault on one’s morals and beliefs. It seems that instead of keeping offensive content at bay, the most active censorship in media is now focused on blocking family values and morally uplifting content.
Little wonder, then, that my initial reaction to seeing Change of Plans, originally aired as a Walmart and Procter & Gamble TV movie, was incredulity. Are they really allowed to show such a movie on TV? For Change of Plans could stand as the dictionary definition of a family-friendly movie, as it communicates vital messages about love, family, marriage, and adoption through uplifting entertainment.
By all appearances, Sally and Jason Danville are living an ideal life. They are still young, but starting to reap the benefits of hard work in their careers. Financially well-off, they share a special marriage relationship, in which they enjoy freedom from responsibilities other than loyalty to their jobs and each other. As Jason says at one point, children are not in their “playbook.”
The first indication that the Danvilles are not in control over their universe comes with the news that Sally’s mentor and best friend has died in a tragic accident. Sally is contacted to meet in reference to her departed friend’s will and wishes, but she has no idea that this meeting will change her life. Shock is not a strong enough word to express the blow to Sally and Jason when they are told that Sally’s friend left her four children to the care of Sally.
The Danvilles initially rebel against the idea of parenting, as would any couple used to rather self-centered lifestyles. When reminded of her agreement, made many years prior, to serve as guardian of her friend’s children if needed, Sally starts to feel a pull of conscience. Told that the kids are on the premises, waiting to meet the Danvilles, Sally and Jason do their best to do the charitable thing, agreeing to take the children home until more suitable guardians can be found.
Yet the Solarte children are no ordinary youths. Raised in Uganda until their parents’ death, the remaining Solarte family is made up of one biological child and three adopted children, each from different countries. That their lives and upbringing were unusual is apparent in the kids’ dress and behavior, yet the differences prove to be wholly positive, as these children teach the Danvilles much about family, love, and the truly important priorities in life.
Even so, the Solarte kids aren’t perfect, and they get into more than one scrape. These moments allow Sally and Jason to impart their own share of wisdom and much needed parental guidance to the children, demonstrating by example a plethora of favorable traits. Though Sally and Jason, as a professional singer and aeronautical engineer, respectively, live rather privileged lives, they are exceptionally laid-back and sharing with their many possessions.
In addition, their natural ability to parent well flies in the face of their claims that they don’t know how to deal with kids. Even when they believe their guardian role is temporary, Sally and Jason are unfailingly patient with all the Solarte children and exemplify a loving concern for their emotional and physical well-being.
The children also have in Sally and Jason an exemplary demonstration of what marriage should look like. Played by newcomer Brooke White (a former American Idol contestant) and Joe Flanigan, the Danvilles bask in a rare connection that is charmingly brought to life by the actors. Sally and Jason are clearly in love, but of the deepest, enduring kind that is rooted in a friendship and kindred connection that is sure to last for a lifetime. This foundation means that Sally and Jason can disagree or fight with each other (which they occasionally do in the film), mess up and be selfish, but they remain faithful to one another and know how to forgive and move on. These are clearly two people who are better, and can do greater things, together than they could be or do on their own.
This appealing portrayal of marriage, as with all the imitable attributes of Change of Plans, could simply drown in a puddle of good intentions if not for the strong production values of this film. A unique, strong story and well-written script provide the basis that allows this film to bust the myth that wholesome entertainment has to boring and clichéd. While a few of the kids are a bit one-dimensional, they are also highly realistic, and the limited scope of these characterizations is understandable, given the film’s shorter, TV length. There must be a tight primary focus, and, in this story, the emphasis is primarily on the Danvilles, who, as a result, are multi-layered characters whose journey from self-absorbed couple to selfless parents is enjoyable to watch.
A good part of the entertainment these central characters offer can be credited to strong performances by White and Flanigan. Despite her inexperience, White makes an impressive showing as Sally, infusing the character with an enchanting openness and individuality that communicate more honesty than many experienced actors can manage. Flanigan pairs well with White, as the two create an onscreen chemistry and natural humor that makes their marriage at once palpably real and enticingly fun—the kind of relationship that could make even a die-hard single consider getting married.
Another gifted member of the cast is featured in the most developed and oldest Solarte child, Jordan. In this complicated role of a teenager who must act as mother and protector to her younger siblings, Jayme Lynn Evans displays acting chops that indicate a promising future for her in the industry. The young talent in the film is balanced by the star presence of Phylicia Rashad, of The Cosby Show fame. Though only playing a limited role as the social worker who places the Solarte children, Rashad is as incomparable as ever and brings a charismatic screen presence to every scene she graces.
In these acting performances, one can see the influence of a truly gifted director. John Kent Harrison’s veteran skill is apparent in his ability to successfully coax solid and even exceptional performances from an inexperienced star and, a director’s greatest challenge, four children. It is no easy thing to find young talent and then make them feel secure enough to imaginatively thrive in front of the camera, but Harrison seems to have mastered the directorial skills necessary for the task.
Harrison’s ability as a director is no surprise, however, as he has a long track record of producing high-quality, family-friendly films. Much of his work has been produced by Hallmark, and his showing there has been exceptionally laudable. Harrison is a rare director who relies not on offensive content to please the public, but rather strong stories and human emotion, as he consistently creates films that have the power to entertain, instruct, and inspire.
If Change of Plans is an accurate representation of what we can expect from the partnership of Walmart and Proctor & Gamble, these companies’ effort to reintroduce well-produced, family-friendly movies to the public may be one of the greatest movements to hit modern television. Only Hallmark, with the long-running Hallmark Hall of Fame series of television movies, has dared to air such standout family films on network TV. By releasing the Walmart-P&G programs on DVD after their television premieres (as does Hallmark), the movies also become a competitive challenge to the rest of the film world.
Perhaps Change of Plans will thus fulfill its title in a bigger way—inspiring the film and television worlds to change the direction of their work and realize that keeping media clean and positive is not only profitable, but results in superior entertainment that will lead to a better world. In this way, Change of Plans, the companies behind the movie, and the viewers who support it can team with Redeemer Reviews in the effort to reclaim the media for a greater cause and a brighter future.
Check out these similar titles:
Saving Sarah Cain (Believe Pictures, 2007)
The Magic of Ordinary Days (Hallmark Hall of Fame, 2005)
Sarah, Plain and Tall (Hallmark, 1991)