It's a bit like a leper colony


This weekend, I watched The Singles 2nd Ward, the sequel, of course, to the original Singles Ward, the movie which successfully proved that you don't have to be Richard Dutcher to make a Mormon-centric film. I'm guessing most of you didn't even know a sequel was in the works, let alone released. But, what I am here for if not to keep you up to the minute on your Mormonganda? Before I launch into my review, you need to know my thoughts about the first film: I liked it, but with reservations. Basically, I'm not the harshest critic of the Mollywood efforts, mostly because I see them as a beginning. That said, I find a lot of the original Singles ward very charming and funny, but there are parts that are bad, bad, bad. Such as the acting of just about every female in the cast. Or the serious "dialogue" which alternately was stolen from some poorly crafted Lifetime Original or penned by folks suffering from some major dissociative disorder.

I think the crew got wind of this last problem and decided the way to do away with this was to be aggressively flippant. And flippant they are. We rejoin the same motley crew who appeared in the first film at some indiscriminate point in the future (six or so years, it appears). Jonathan and wife Cammie are back in Provo, shooting the original Singles Ward film (the movie is very postmodernly compiled, and this is not a compliment in this case). Jonathan's story is a backdrop, however, to Dallen, the centerpiece of the film. He's a professor now of Mormon Mythology at BYU. And there's a new girl in both his class and his ward (I'm not sure, but I think there's policies at BYU keeping the profs out of student wards, but I could be wrong. And besides, this isn't the only plot problem). As you can imagine, romance ensues and they're slated to get hitched.

Then, the film turns into a Meet the Parents for the Mormon set. Christine, you see, is a convert. Her parents are wealthy, urbane coastals with their own jet and who have had more marriages than they can remember. Therefore, they are, naturally, horrified that their little girl is going to marry a yokel and in one month to boot. I'm sure you can imagine the jokes that are played out as they arrive in Provo, UT. Being a Mormon film, there is a happy ending here, but, being a Mormon movie, this means we have some serious soul-searching before we get to that point.

There are some good things about this movie, Christine, for instance, is played by an actress you can, you know, act. Erin Chambers, it appears, has a BFA from BYU and the film is all the better for it. And there are some jokes that amuse. But there are also loads of problems with the film. I had high hopes that, since Christine is in charge of thoughtful voiceovers like Jonathan was in the first film, we'd be better a more female perspective on the LDS singles scene, but it never really materializes. Also, there's a lot of joking about the Mormon cinema market and the various films it's produced, which takes the Mormon in-joke a step further, feels a bit incestuous, and isn't really all that funny. I kept wanting to say, "yes, folks, we know you know you're making a movie. Can we please move on now?"

The main problem, though, is that the film wants so desperately to be funny, to be not serious, to make the audience laugh, that nothing is spared a joke or two, including Christine's conversion story. This is fine and all, but then when the movie suddenly wants to be serious, we have a hard time believing that they're being sincere. Let's put this another way: if you're going to joke about a two-day long courtship and praying about marriage, you can't also have the couple torn up when real problems come along and then fall back into the belief that their prayers were accurate.

The conflict, though, of a non-Mormon family dealing with not being able to see a wedding is compelling, though. It's one of the few uniquely Mormon conflicts seen in Mollywood cinema so far. Think about it. For most of the other films, you could replace a generic Christian or even an observant Jew and have the same conflicts. Here, though, we're firmly in the territory of the Saints. This mini-drama plays out rather nicely, and could have been part of a much better movie, if only the filmmakers didn't want to cram as many jokes per minute down our throat as possible.

All in all, I don't want my 86 minutes back. For those who derive some sort of satisfaction from LDS films, you'll probably want to check this one out, as it's far from the worst offering thus far. But for those who think the films too provincial, too in-jokey, or just don't find the constant ribbing of Mormon culture funny, leave it alone. If you do check it out, be sure to watch the outtakes. There is one jibe at Richard Dutcher that is, in fact, one of the funniest in-jokes I've heard in a long, long time.


Katya said...

Out of curiousity, what would you say are the top 5 Mormon movies?

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