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Picks and Pans Review: The Substitute Wife

updated 05/23/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/23/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

NBC (Man., May 23, 9 p.m. ET)

B +

Despite such recent films as Threesome and Reality Bites, Generation X filmmakers don't have a monopoly on the love triangle plot. Take, for instance, this surprising, beguiling western romance.

With four young kids, a laconic homesteader (Peter Weller) struggling to make a go of it in a sod house on the prairie is overwhelmed when his hardworking wife (Lea Thompson) develops a fatal illness. She scours the countryside to find him a new helpmeet before she goes. But there's a real shortage of good unattached Christian womenfolk in the territory.

You know what they say: When all else fails, lower your expectations. Thompson finally drafts a painted harlot named Pearl (Farrah Fawcett) to step into her clodhoppers.

What we have here is a sort of cross between 1991 's Sarah, Plain and Tall and Overboard, the Goldie Hawn-Kurt Russell comedy of 1987. Considering its unlikely premise, this is a heartening tale, a modest, touching and nicely played little gem.

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