Let the holiday mush begin! “Miss Lettie and Me,” a Johnson & Johnson Spotlight Presentation for TNT, is as fluffy and sterile as its sponsor’s cotton swabs. Based on the short story “Poor Little Innocent Lamb” by Katherine Paterson (“Jacob Have I Loved”), the pic has its moments, due mostly in part to supporting actors Charlie Robinson and Irma P. Hall. Although top billed stars Mary Tyler Moore and Burt Reynolds sound like a dream team, the two veterans aren’t utilized to their full potential.
Moore stars as Lettie Anderson, an embittered woman who has closed herself off emotionally after years of heartache. Lettie has run the family farm for years with the help of her longtime hand Isaiah Griffin (Charlie Robinson), but has watched as life and loved ones have passed her by.
Isaiah and his mother, Mama Rose (Irma P. Hall) have been witness to Lettie’s heartbreak over the years and are able to tolerate her curmudgeonly ways. Still, Isaiah isn’t afraid to speak his mind especially when Lettie’s estranged niece sends her young daughter Travis (Holliston Coleman) to live on the family farm.
Lettie raised Travis’ mother Alison and expected her to take over the farm one day. But Alison, who always dreamed of a career in showbiz, ran off with a musician. Lettie lost touch with Alison and didn’t even know Travis existed. But even when the precocious nine-year old shows up on her farm, Lettie doesn’t want to take the time to get to know her, figuring she’ll just leave as well.
As Travis’ brief visit turns into an indefinite stay, the young girl becomes more interested in her heritage and stirs up old wounds for Lettie, who becomes even more withdrawn. With the help of Lettie’s one time love, Samuel Madison (Burt Reynolds), Travis works her way into the stubborn woman’s heart.
Even those unfamiliar with Paterson’s short story can easily guess what’s around every corner. And while writer Dalene Young has captured Paterson’s trademark themes of loneliness and isolation and well as tolerance and diversity, director Ian Barry knocks off plot twists as if he’s checking off emotions on a list. There’s love, loss, sick animals and even a threat to sell the farm. By the predictable climax, all that’s missing is Tiny Tim and a Christmas goose.
Moore comes alive towards the latter part of the film, especially when verbally sparring with Robinson. Most of the film however, rests on the shoulders of young Coleman as Travis. Although extremely earnest and amazingly cute, it’s too much for the young girl. In fact, Coleman may actually be too cute for her own good.
The truest moments come between Hall and Robinson, as a very believable and loving mother and son.
Frank Galline utilizes a goldmine of a set, the historic Brookfield Plantation as an authentic backdrop to the film, while Alan Williams’ musical score shows temperance amidst all of the sentimentality.