“My mother says I could be a fashion model,” 10-year-old Belle Winters tells her childhood pen pal, a farm boy named Josh. “I hope I’m pretty enough.”
“Beautiful is what’s on the inside and made by God,” young Josh responds, wise beyond his years.
A beautiful bracelet Belle’s grandmother gives her echoes Josh’s wisdom. It’s covered with sayings about what true beauty consists of: “You are beautiful because you are special, unique, one of a kind, that no one can replace.”
But Belle’s mother’s influence proves stronger. Years pass. Josh and Belle’s correspondence ends. And Belle achieves her mother’s dreams for her, becoming a global fashion icon.
As the decades pile on, so do the telltale signs of age. “Am I aging out?” Belle anxiously asks those around her. Of course not, they say. Preposterous! Belle knows better. She knows that her beauty is fading. And she doesn’t have any idea who she is apart from that quality.
Then she remembers the bracelet, which she lost while visiting Josh at his farm shortly before their last exchange of letters. Maybe if she could find that bracelet, she could rediscover who she really is.
Soon, Belle’s on a plane to Georgia, en route to a farm she hasn’t seen for 25 years, hoping beyond hope that she can somehow find her lost bracelet.
Josh is still there, of course. He’s got his own 7-year-old daughter now, named Adele. Her mother passed from cancer some years before. Together, along with Josh’s dad and some other loyal farmhands, they’re gearing up for the 87th Annual Santaland festival at their farm.
But folks aren’t much interested in rustic, old-fashioned Christmas events these days. And if they can’t raise $75,000, it’ll be the last year for the storied event. Little does this faithful farmer know that Belle’s on her way to see him—and that this year’s Santaland event is going to be unlike any other.
The core message of The Farmer and the Belle is a simple one: True beauty comes from the inside, not the outside.
Belle’s mom drilled into her exactly the opposite message. Young Belle puts it this way: “I know what I’m going to be when I grow up: beautiful. And everyone will love me.” We see a fashion magazine with a cover headline reinforcing that idea, saying, “Looks aren’t everything, they’re the only thing.” But it’s a false hope, the movie repeatedly tells us.
By the time Belle arrives at Josh’s farm as an aging celebrity with an existential crisis, she’s primed to receive a different message: Our identity, worth and value aren’t dependent upon what we look like. Josh reinforces that message, as do his daughter and father and pretty much everyone who works at the farm.
Josh, for his part, has growing to do and lessons to learn himself. He’s falling in love with Belle, but those feelings are complicated by the memory of his first beloved wife, Mandy. And as the story unfolds, Josh must confront his own inner struggles, too, before he can offer his heart fully to Belle—and before she can accept it.
The story’s core message is based upon the repeated assertion that we can love each other—and love ourselves—because God loves us.
Several sayings on Belle’s bracelet, for example, are echoes or paraphrases of Scripture. “I am valued magnificently, a masterpiece, beautiful. Body and soul, I am marvelously made.” And, “I am generous. Joyful giver. True beauty is serving others.” And, “Make yourself attractive by doing acts of love. Use whatever gift you’ve received to serve others.” We see Belle gradually internalize these messages. Belle also finds a book called Divine Beauty: Becoming Beautiful Based on God’s Truth.
Josh’s father gives him a cherished heirloom, a special lighter that they use to light their Christmas candle each year. He says it will help Josh and his family to “share in the Spirit of Christ,” and that they can “carry on the family tradition.” When they actually light the candle, Josh’s dad says, “It symbolizes the light of the Savior welcoming His presence into our hearts.”
We hear a brief conversation about the importance of forgiving those who’ve hurt us in the past. Belle admits that her mother did exactly that by teaching her to value external appearances alone.
Josh talks about praying for guidance in his growing relationship with Belle, and admits that he’s “fighting God’s answer.” Josh is pretty tight lipped about most everything—including the fact that he’s a pastor.
Several characters participate in a Christmas nativity performance in which we hear the carol “Silent Night.” There’s a cameo appearance by John Schneider, who sings a song called “The Spirit of Christmas” which includes the lines, “Love is in air/God put it there for us to share.”
After a holiday-themed photoshoot, someone says, “Belle, you are a Christmas-brand goddess.”
The Farmer and the Belle is a prototypical Hallmark-style romance movie. An odd couple, one from the city, one from a farm, slowly overcome their individual issues to offer and receive love from each other. And so it goes here, with Belle and Josh moving haltingly—but unerringly—toward each other in a gentle, innocent romantic story.
A couple kisses. A montage of Belle’s fashion photo shoots includes a few images with bare shoulders and a bit of cleavage. A male makeup guru is stereotypically effeminate.
A bit oddly, in a series of scenes played for laughs, Josh’s dad (whom everyone calls Granpoppy) sets up a fundraising kissing booth, and there is a fairly long line of women he kisses quickly, some on the lips.
Young Belle has the wind knocked out of her when she falls into a pig pen.
We hear of a woman who has died of cancer.
None, save a kitchen towel for sale by a Santaland both vendor that reads “Love the wine you’re with.”
During a professional photo shoot, a horse urinates on Belle’s leg (which we hear, and then later see evidence of). Belle’s agent laments that he’s not generating much endorsement interest in her these days, except for an “adult diaper” company that wants Belle to be their celebrity spokesman.
A plot point turns on an important undisclosed piece of information that damages trust between two characters.
What happens when a little girl internalizes the message that her beauty is all that matters in life? And what does it take to unmask that soul-squeezing lie? Those questions form the narrative foundation of The Farmer and the Belle: Saving Santaland.
This gently spiritual romantic comedy follows the well-established narrative conventions for the genre—which typically involve an unlikely couple coming to the conclusion that they love each other despite different backgrounds, interests and values. And, spoiler warning, country values always trump the big-city variety in stories like these.
That said, what’s different here is a faith element paired with a message that goes a couple of layers deeper than your typical holiday romcom. This one drives home the importance of understanding what makes us valuable as human beings. It’s not physical beauty, but rather that beauty of a heart loved by God that in turn loves, serves and encourages others.
As Christian movies go, the spiritual themes here aren’t overbearing. There’s no melodramatic altar call scene—although getting to the altar in a more matrimonial way is apparently in the offing. Instead, this romance movie gives us likeable characters whose wisdom and values are winsomely grounded in their faith without ever turning the movie’s morals into an overly preachy sermon.
Eagle-eyed viewers may spot the Focus on the Family book The Wholehearted Wife, by Erin, Greg and Gary Smalley in the film. To order it, click here.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.