'Meet the Mormons': Film Review
The Mormon Church's first feature film delivers profiles of six Mormons from around the world
Mormons are people, too, and really nice ones at that. That's the not-so-revelatory message of Blair Treu's documentary produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and being released in 250 theaters nationwide, presumably more than a few of them in Salt Lake City. Essentially a feature-length advertisement for the Mormon Church which makes AT&T's "Reach Out and Touch Someone" TV commercials seem edgy by comparison, Meet the Mormons is strictly for the converted.
It begins with interviews filmed in Times Square — yes, that former den of iniquity, now filled with chain restaurants and stores — conducted by endlessly perky narrator Jenna Kim Jones. Coming across like a G-rated Amy Schumer, she asks passers-by what they know about Mormons, eliciting the predictable ignorant responses, which the ensuing proceedings will do little to correct. Interspersed with their answers are mocking clips from such films and television shows as 30 Rock, Fletch, The Simpsons, Burn After Reading and even, as if to demonstrate that the church has a sense of humor about itself, South Park. Of course, there are limits — no mention is made of the scathingly satirical Broadway hit The Book of Mormon, playing just a few blocks away.
The film then proceeds to present profiles of six Mormons from around the world, seemingly selected to illustrate the expressed theme that "Mormons come in all sizes, shapes and colors." Not so coincidentally, the first two subjects are Jermaine Sullivan, an African-American Atlanta bishop who works as an academic counselor, and Ken Niumatalolo, the Samoan-American head football coach at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. We learn little about how their religious beliefs influence their professional lives, save for the fact that Niumatalolo took the radical step of cancelling his team's Sunday practices.
We then head to Costa Rica, where kickboxer Carolina Munoz and her husband, Milton, run a martial arts training academy. Then to North Carolina, where we are introduced to the heartwarming story of 92-year-old Gail Halvorsen, famous for his role as the "Candy Bomber" who dropped hundreds of pounds of candy to German children during the Berlin Airlift, about which one effusive commentator proclaims: "It stopped World War III."
The other subjects are Bishnu Adhikari, a Nepalese humanitarian whose down-to-earth quality is typified by his "goofy" dancing, and Dawn Armstrong, a Utah mother of eight preparing to send her oldest son on his two-year mission to South Africa.
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Although clearly not its raison d'etre, there is virtually no information offered about Mormon history, its tenets or its controversies. Instead, we're offered platitudes about the strength of friends and family, the importance of physical fitness, the joys of doing good deeds and the importance of following the teachings of Jesus Christ. To its credit, the film looks good, with glossy production values indicating a generous budget.
We do learn the interesting fact that missionaries are only allowed to contact their families via email once a week and phone calls on Christmas and Mother's Day. Apparently, Mormon dads just don't rate.
Production company: Excel Entertainment Group
Director: Blair Treu
Producer: Jeff Roberts
Executive producers: Blair Treu, David Nielson
Directors of photography: RJ Hill, Brian Sullivan
Editor: Wynn Hougaard
Composer: Sam Cardon
Rated PG, 78 minutes