The life of a crusty old codger is given new meaning when he takes a youngster under his wing. No, this isn’t “A Simple Twist of Fate” or any of a zillion similar-themed predecessors, it’s Andy Griffith in “A Gift of Love.” Under Paul Bogart’s canny direction, film rises above hackneyed plot by virtue of Robert W. Lenski’s well-wrought script, atmospheric setting and fine acting.
Vidpic, based on 1981 novel by Judith Freeman, is being promoted as tale of an elderly gent who receives a heart transplant from his teenage grandson, who has been killed in an automobile accident. That part’s just a trigger, out of the way in the first 45 minutes, and the story takes on a trail so predictable the characters could find their way home untended.
Despondent to the point of suicide after the loss of grandson Luke (Will Friedle), Phil Doucet (Griffith) hears strange noises: a runaway has broken into his kitchen. What could Phil do but offer a room, breakfast the next morning and bus fare to her next stop?
Before long — even though the runaway is a girl, Louise (Olivia Burnette) — Phil is reminded of same-aged Luke. Only Louise is quickly able to ride the horse that Luke was never able to break.
Not only does Louise capture the heart of Phil, she finds a soul mate in Erika Magnussen (Joyce Van Patten), a neighbor with a similar backstory. Even Phil’s estranged and embittered daughter Helen (Blair Brown) eventually reconciles with him, thanks in part to Louise’s presence.
In the meantime, Louise’s abusive father (Daniel Von Bargen) has hired a private eye (J.C. Quinn) to track her down and bring her home, providing a dollop of requisite suspense. Bulk of the same, such as there is, comes from Louise’s frequent running away and Phil’s chasing her down. Climax brings everybody back together and heartwarming conclusion.
Dialogue is meaty, if a bit too literary for real-life. Still, it gives the fine actors something to work with, and they deliver the lines with assurance.
And isn’t it nice to be reminded, every once in a while, that Andy Griffith is a highly gifted actor, and not just an affable caricature?