Bible Quiz: Slamdance Review

Bible Quiz Slamdance Still - H 2013
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Bible Quiz Slamdance Still - H 2013

Familiar competition-format doc benefits from focus on a single, highly sympathetic contestant

Nicole Teeny's debut doc enters the world of competitive Bible scholarship.

PARK CITY -- Adolescence is only a minor obstacle to Godliness in Bible Quiz, Nicole Teeny's documentary about a teenage girl quietly tackling the expected concerns while mastering much less familiar skills -- like memorizing entire books of the Bible. Taking an approach that's as unassuming as its almost instantly lovable subject, the film neither plays up the novelty of teens obsessed with Bible trivia nor attempts to gin up fake intrigue; the lack of a more colorful hook limits commercial appeal, but viewers who find it will discover a protagonist worth rooting for.

Mikayla Irle, a not-particularly-girly 17-year-old in Tacoma, Wash., is part of a small church group participating in a nationwide competition of Bible knowledge; at meets, kids quote long chunks of scripture with a machine-gun pace that would impress livestock auctioneers. Her team has a shot at the national championship largely thanks to team captain JP O'Connor.

A child of divorce whose alcoholic mother offers little support, Mikayla finds a family in this crew, dominated by the tall, good-looking JP and his best friend Christopher. Longing to fit in even more, she wishes early on, "if only I was a tall, athletic boy …"

It's obvious to viewers, if not always to Mikayla, that this desire for bonding  also is first love. The main pleasure in Bible Quiz is watching this wryly self-conscious girl try to figure out how to handle that in a community so focused on sexual purity that peers brag about retaining their "lipginity" -- which is to say, they've made it to 18 without being kissed.

That odd lingo aside, Teeny's film never condescends to its subjects despite observing them making statements -- "Jesus is my best friend," for example -- some viewers will find extreme. Mikayla may eventually decide she's not as single-minded in her faith as the kids whose approval she so craves, but that's something the movie trusts her to work out on her own.

Production Company: Teeny Motion Pictures

Director/producer/director of photography: Nicole Teeny

Executive producers: Marco Williams, Nicole Teeny

Music: Christopher North

Editor: James Codoyannis


No rating, 76 minutes