An open letter to the Mormon movie-goers of Utah.
Disclaimer: I am not Mormon. You may label me as an east-coast Catholic girl, a non-member, an investigator, or even a sinner. In the fog of my college days, I met a fair-haired, blue-eyed guy who denied splitting a bottle of wine with me and took me out for ice-cream instead, because he was a member of the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” to which I replied, “Never heard of it.” This week marked our 5 year wedding anniversary. He is still a very devout Mormon. I’m still drinking that wine (not currently), but I do attend church with him sporadically (still afraid of Relief Society), I spend my holidays in Provo, UT and sometimes I have to wash my husband’s garments, so consider me a “Mormon enthusiast.”
I am one of the producers of the Mormon-esque film, “Once I Was a Beehive” (the only non-member producer) and when my husband, Maclain Nelson (producer of “The Saratov Approach” and also the actor who plays Elder Propst ) told me he wanted to create a movie about a Mormon Girls Camp, the conversation went something like this:
(sweetly, like always.)
Why not? The stories I hear from girls camp are hilarious and I think we can make it inspirational.
Those two words never go together well.
Trust me on this one. It’ll be like “The Sandlot” with girls.
…A long beat.
Will you give me a good part?
Can you pull off an 18-year-old Mormon girl?
(imitating an 18 year old Mormon girl)
“I think President Uchtdorf is sooo handsome!”
Fine. But you have to trust my vision.
Fine. But please, no long, emotional testimonial meeting.
Yeah, that’s probably gonna happen.
Luckily, he ignored my initial reaction and we went on to make the film. When it was finished, both the critics and I were pleasantly surprised. In fact, it is the highest reviewed LDS film in over a decade. Here are a few snippets.
“Faith-based cinema” is such a disaster on such a regular basis that it’s almost startling when someone gets it right.”
– City Weekly
“As good as the Hollywood product…” 3.5 out of 4 stars
-The Salt Lake Tribune
“Once I Was a Beehive is not only the best movie of the summer, but also the BEST Mormon movie ever made.”
-Celestial Shine Magazine
“Once I Was a Beehive” achieves a quality few LDS-themed films have managed to reach: accessibility.”
– Deseret News
Perhaps the recipe for such widespread acclaim and “accessibility” begins with the story’s point-of-view – which is told through the eyes of a 16 year old, non-LDS girl, Lane Speer (portrayed beautifully raw by actress Paris Warner) who “does not know what she believes”. After having lost her liberal-tree-hugging-christian father, her mother remarries your ‘typical mormon guy’ and just like that Lane is thrown into a world she knows nothing about, culminating in a week at a Mormon Girls Camp.
It is here where Lane, and all other non-mormon audience members, slowly realize this Mormon world is not something as foreign as we may have thought, rather a place where people are dealing with hope, fear, loss, gain, or should I say: standard human emotion.
Having married into the Mormon culture, I started to understand the GAP between perception of Mormons and the reality.
My pretty-yet-näive friend Carly once asked, “So…like I know Mormons can’t drink before they are married…but what about after they get married?” and “Are Mormons allowed to have sex on Sundays?” The point is, the “Carlys” out there could watch this film from beginning to end and not only ‘get’ everything that’s going on, but also learn more about Mormons .(other than the fact that they are most-likely-always-sober) To quote another somewhat reliable source:
“This movie made Mormons seem so normal! Everyone should see this!”
– My kind-of-Protestant friend Monica from high school.
So when my Catholic family asked when will it be coming to a theatre near them (Chicago)? I had to answer: ” Well, it might not be…” Because the hard truth is, unless this film does well in its limited theatrical release in Utah, the filmmakers won’t be able to expand to furthering states, which ironically is really where this film really needs to be viewed. In short, or as my dad put it:
“So if Mormons don’t go see this Mormon movie about Mormons than we non-Mormons don’t get to see it?”
But he wasn’t worried because… “A highly reviewed, hilarious and heartfelt film about Mormons should do well in the highly concentrated LDS communities, right?” Well that’s where it gets tricky. The behemoth juggernaut we call Hollywood, has spent billions (Ok fine…millions) enticing us with big budget features that spend more on marketing than on the film, so they can steer our brains to their shiny content. Its why our little film (literally not figuratively, there are a lot of small humans in it) can’t compete with “Straight Outta Compton” and “Man from U.N.C.L.E” and that remake with the handsome scientologist who keeps jumping out of things…But “let us be smarter than the juggernaut!” –
I have noticed that Utah film goers enjoy talking about “appropriate media” but when they get to the box office they are steered toward the shiny object, (“Squirrel!”). Don’t be distracted, you have the internet, read the the reviews, and go see this film! Especially if you are either of the following:
- Woman: since this is the type of film you should be supporting, not “Fifty Shades of Grey” (which, fun fact: cleaned up at Utah box offices). With a cast of 80% women, this film is already a Hollywood minority.
- Man: I know, your wife/girlfriend/girl you like but won’t text you back right now but maybe she is on vacation knows, and your mom knows how vivaciously Mormon men support and praise women (I say that with much seriousness), but again with the media vs. reality GAP, Mormons are often portrayed as somewhat chauvinistic, old-school- thinking type men. So, you too should be rallying behind strong female stories, which are, after all,: just human stories. Prove to Hollywood that you really do support the gender equality and score some major points for taking a girl to a movie that you thought was just for girls but you realized that you cried harder than the 12 year old in front of you.
Let us rally together to help spread the unrealized norm that :Mormons are trying to reach out to the world by example and not judgement an overall theme of the movie. Do I not convince you? How about these guys:
“I saw this with my daughters and we loved it. Great movie!”
– Ty Detmer, Heisman trophy winner and Former BYU and NFL Quarterback
“..a lot of belly laughs, we recommend it to everyone!”
– Whitney Call, Studio C
“Everyone who has reared a daughter will want to see this film.”
– Richard L. Bushman, Author, Rough Stone Rolling
“Funny, honest and pulls at the heart strings”
– Branden Campbell, Bassist for the Neon Trees
“This film is pure joy”
-Eric D Snider, film.com
“Clare Bear! I love it, I’m so glad there’s no aliens or dragons in this one.”
I think I’ve made my point, and now to tell you why it matters. Well actually, let this guy tell you why it matters:
“I exhort you to sweep the earth with messages filled with righteousness and truth—messages that are authentic, edifying, and praiseworthy—and literally to sweep the earth as with a flood.” (Elder David A. Bednar- you know who he is)
The rain can start with Utah, the nest of your values, from there, the water can fill other’s souls and eventually flood to the non-members home, where they can connect with the ‘weird- mormons- who- drink- milk- instead- of- whiskey’. Because, spoiler alert, this film is about all of us being God’s children.
You will understand the irony in this metaphor when you see the movie.
You deserve to be portrayed better than the “Book of Mormon” musical or Mitt Romney’s SNL skit. So let yourselves be. Support people who support you. I challenge you to make a ‘choice’ and hold yourselves ‘accountable’ (I’ve learned a lot about the young women’s values) and go see “Once I Was a Beehive” over “Fantastic Four”: since it “is a pile of something, you fill in the blank”. (Peter Travers; Rolling Stone) . Although I think Mormons are allowed to say ‘crap’. Plus if Utah doesn’t show their love and support it will not expand to other states and Monica and Carly won’t be able to go see it on girl’s night after happy hour. Worst of all my dad will be so sad he didn’t get to see it that he will eat a whole box of Flavor-blasted Goldfish and go into a Smooth-Jazz tailspin on his rooftop deck.
To those of you who have been supporting this little gem of a movie. We thank you a million times over. You’re the ones that keep independent film alive. Keep spreading the word and quickly before another “Fast and the Furious” movie is made. Isn’t it time to give “The Rock” a break?
Luckily the thousands of people who have supported us already have earned us at least one more week in theaters and the expansion to at least Arizona and Idaho. And for those who haven’t see it, like any good scripture story, there is a chance for redemption.
Let us see what will come to pass…
P.S – I will let you know if Monica wants to meet with the missionaries.
- Clare Niederpruem