"The Ballad of Lucy Whipple" feels like a fore-runner to the Janette Oke "Love Comes Softly" stories which were turned into movies with its story of young Lucy Whipple dealing with living in a Gold Rush town. It has that old fashioned innocence of a town where bad guys get there comeuppance quickly and the right thing gets done and whilst there is some nastiness it is shown in an innocent way. It also has a touch of the old adventure movies as what we have are a series of events in Lucy Whipple's life from meeting a young girl who lives in the woods to defending a woman on trial for murder, yes and that does mean that "The Ballad of Lucy Whipple" is as much a movie for children as it is for adults seeking some innocent entertainment.
After the death of her husband Arvella Whipple (Glenn Close - 102 Dalmatians) relocates the family, young California Morning 'Lucy' Whipple (Jena Malone - For Love of the Game) along with her brother and sister to the Gold Rush town of Lucky Diggins where she is to run the boarding house. Lucky Diggins is a muddy town and Lucy doesn't like it, she also doesn't like the fact that her mother demands so much of her when it comes to running the boarding house leaving her little time to read. But slowly Lucy begins to settle down, she makes friend with Annie (Olivia Burnette) who lives in the nearby woods and enjoys spending time with Preacher Clyde Claymore (Robert Pastorelli - Michael).
So as already mentioned "The Ballad of Lucy Whipple" has that feel about it of one of those Disney adventure movies which focus on a young child as they travel across country. There is no travelling here but we get a series of episodes such as Lucy meeting Annie Flagg who lives in a hut in the woods and then them both discovering a secret about one of the towns gold panners. We also get drama as her brother has an accident whilst near the river and there is the big scene where Lucy defends a woman accused of murder. There is a lot more than just these episodes and we have a continual element of tension between Lucy and her mother but it is a movie of little episodes in the life of Lucy.
And there is nothing wrong with that as all these episodes are entertaining, some more so than others and they all have an innocence about them. And that innocence comes in style because "The Ballad of Lucy Whipple" is a cross between the "Love Comes Softly" series of movies and "Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman". It means that whilst these episodes sometimes have a darker side such as an abusive man or a dead body there is an overall simplicity to them. Basically it makes it family entertainment but with just enough grittiness so that adults have something but not too much to upset children.
To be honest "The Ballad of Lucy Whipple" doesn't really have any weaknesses and whilst the characters are not really memorable they are nicely delivered. Glenn Close, Bruce McGill and Robert Pastorelli are solid in their roles whilst Jena Malone does a good job as the focus of the movie, making Lucy an initially moany character but one which quickly grows and doesn't annoy anything like you might have initially expected.
What this all boils down to is that "The Ballad of Lucy Whipple" is an entertaining family movie which delivers a nice series of episodes about a young girl in a Gold Rush town. It's not overly memorable, it's not a movie you would go out of your way to watch again but if you are looking for something which is as entertaining for adults as it is for young teenagers it will probably do the job.