Movie review

Dear readers,

I’m introducing the occasional movie review to my blog. My goal is to dip my toe into the ever-expanding genre of faith-based films and to assess the stories through the lens of my growing understanding. I usually see mainstream secular productions, so this genre is new for me.

Here’s my methodology for selecting movies: I dig around Netflix’s faith and spirituality section. I read the little description and, if it sounds intriguing, I add it to my queue. Please share your movie suggestions. If it’s a newer release, I may need to wait for it to come out on Netflix.

First up: Baptists at our Barbecue

This romantic comedy, released in 2004, follows an unmarried Morman man who relocates from Utah (at age 29, this is his first time leaving the state) to a small fictional town in Arizona with a population that is exactly half Mormon and half Baptist. I initially jotted the title as Baptists at THE Barbecue, but quickly realized my mistake. Mormons are in charge of this shindig. I also thought the attractive young man and woman on the poster would be from different denominations like proper faith-crossed lovers. But no, she’s Mormon too. Not coincidentally, this film is released by Haelstorm Productions, an outfit dedicated to Mormon entertainment.

The movie opens with a quote from religious critic Harold Bloom (apparently Mormons appreciate the praise this Yale scholar has heaped on Smith). The text on screen reads: “The most significant development of 21st century religion will be the relationship between Mormons and Baptists.” When Bloom wrote these words, he might not have anticipated the dramatic rise in Nones. Reading Bloom’s quote, I anticipate some explanation as to the source of tension between two significant American denominations. I’m hopeful for an indication of how the relationship will play out.

The cause of the feud between the Mormons and the Baptists in the town appears to stretch back several generations; it’s like the Hatfields and McCoys in that its exact origins are difficult to pinpoint. As far as I can tell, the differences are silly. The Mormons don’t drink liquor and have funny names; the two main Mormon characters are called “Tartan” and “Charity.” The Baptists have ordinary names and aren’t opposed to moderate drinking. One Mormon character shouts, “They don’t believe in Joseph Smith!” A Baptist calls Tartan a “stupid water drinker”—an apparent dig at the Mormon communion drink of choice.

The Baptists have a real church building but seem to prefer gathering outdoors to listen to their preacher deliver fire and brimstone sermons. The Mormons don’t have a permanent structure, but they acquire a double-wide trailer, half of which mysteriously goes missing. The missing half is never found, but after the “All Faiths” barbecue that Tartan and Charity organize, some inroads are made at the two groups getting along. The sign outside the gas station that read, “Baptist discount” is replaced with one that says “Caffeine-free coke.” Perhaps the Baptists are beginning to see the wisdom of a stimulant-free lifestyle. After the talent show portion of the barbecue, at least one Mormon-Baptist romance brews—but only between minor characters.

While the Baptist/Mormon relationship is supposed to be the main dynamic here, I couldn’t help but notice a conflict brewing within the Mormon congregation. One uptight lady, Sister Wingate, sports an unfashionable hairdo (reminiscent of those worn by the women of some high-profile polygamous cults) and seems to represent an outdated mentality. Tartan tells Sister Wingate that the reference in the Bible to God making the earth in seven days is not literal; she accuses him of “preaching blasphemy.” Sister Wingate and her husband have a huge house (hint hint) where services were held before the double wide arrives. She has forbidden singing and music. In moving to the trailer, the congregation rejoices as boxes of hymnals arrive. Sister Wingate considers switching denominations.

Yet, the issues within the Mormon group aren’t unique to the denomination; if anything, they speak to trends in Christianity in general. On qualities that might be considered uniquely Mormon, the two characters seem to agree. Both Tartan and Sister Wingate look for “signs” to guide their decision-making, just as Joseph Smith suggested. Tartan asks Charity if she prayed about their budding romance and felt a “burning sensation” in her chest. Sister Wingate’s attitude improves when she goes to the top of a mountain to seek guidance about the changes taking place and the “mountains hum their approval.”

Throughout the movie, the filmmakers’ weave in little nods to the ways in which Joseph Smith’s influence is still appreciated and, perhaps at times, overstated. Protagonist Tartan emulates Smith’s reverence for place and the biblical significance of North American continent when he acknowledges that the events occurring in the little Arizona town are so profound he wouldn’t be surprised if “the ten tribes had a reunion here” (a reference lost tribes of Israel). Yet, the filmmakers seem to be aware that such veneration of Joseph Smith can be taken to unrealistic extremes; the audience is meant to laugh when one elderly character insists it was Smith, not George Washington, who “chopped down that cherry tree.”

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35 thoughts on “Movie review

    • Hi Frank, I have written you a couple of short notes on Facebook (I call it ‘Noseybook’) but you must not be on there very often. I wanted you to know that I always read your feedback all the way through – no skimming! I think Corinna’s Blog is very interesting and she has chosen a great topic for discussion.

      • Thanks, Carmen, for your kind words. Sorry not to have noticed your Facebook messages. Sometimes I skim through them too quickly. I agree Corinna’s Blog has held my interest from the beginning. She and the people who write in are genuine sharers of their faith tradition. It doesn’t matter whether I agree or disagree. Most often I get something I hadn’t considered before. I often fantasize meeting all of them in person since they all sound like the kind of genuine folks that I would enjoy knowing regardless of their beliefs.

  1. Mmmmm….things may have changed since I last had anything to do with a Baptist, but they didn’t tolerate even MODERATE drinking, as far as I could tell. Hence the grape juice with communion.

    I guess we are to assume that Sister Wingate has never heard of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir????

    • I guess it goes to show that there can be many variations within individual denominations. Not everyone is going to be on the exact same page, and maybe it’s more interesting that way.

      • ever hear of Heinz 57? There are, I think, more baptist denominations than that (not sure I’m kidding here, either). There’s everything from Freewill Baptist to Reformed Baptist (very Calvinistic–more so than most Calvinists)…..take your pick.

  2. Wait a minute here aren’t you getting a little hung on the Mormans. Let’s move on and check some of the denominations.

    • Thinking that way, too, Rick but it’s her blog and her search. Obviously something about the Mormon’s and their interface with Christianity has appealed to her. We’ll just have to see where she goes from here.

      • Hi Frank, Thanks for the movie suggestion. I felt I needed to stay on the Mormons for a bit to grasp the theological points that make them unique. Also, the history books seem to suggest that they have been the “pinnacle” in terms American-bred Christianity (at least so far).

  3. Mormon comedies are pretty light fare and so full of “in” jokes you really need an interpeter to get the humor, we do enjoy laughing at our pecularities. “The Work and the Glory” would be better, (historical fiction) but as you are moving on, don’t worry about it.

    • Hi Ann, Yes, I noticed that the “in” jokes were flying. I also watched Latter-Day Night Live, a DVD of Mormon stand-up comedians and sketches. So much of it was poking fun at little Mormon experiences like the missions, etc. Some of it I got, some went over my head. Even if I don’t review the movie you mention, I can watch it on my own. Thank you for the recommendation.

  4. Movies are nice but sometimes take way to long to make a point. I like a short music video on youtube. Something like Passion, with Chris Tomlin singing “God’s Great Dance Floor” or Casting Crowns singing “Who Am I?” Christian music speaks to my heart better than any sermon or movie. But that’s just me 🙂

  5. Corinna, I am curious as to why they are considered the ‘pinnacle’ of American bred Christianity. Is it because they have had the highest growth or most sustained growth of any ‘home grown’ variety? And is that true? Just curious. Thanks.

    • Hi Patti, I think it’s a couple of things. First, that the Mormon population has grown consistently, and continues to grow. Second, I think the fact that they have moved in popular perception from being “outsiders” to a more mainstream acceptance. I think that the fact that a Mormon (Mitt Romney) ran for president in this last race was a history-defining moment in the U.S., in much the same way that Catholicism became mainstream in a formerly Protestant-identified culture when JFK became president.

      • Another thing–I think–has to do with the fact that they are “American bred,” home-grown in a way that is unique to them and the Jehovah’s Witnesses (can’t think of others off the top of my head). Methodists are American bread as well, but they are considered a more “main line” Christian denomination. The Mormon story is peculiarly American, born on the frontier (mostly)…

  6. I am not a huge fan of foreign films, however, I recently watched a French film (through Netflix) called Of Gods and Men. It was released in 2010 and won several awards. It’s a beautiful story about a group of Trappist monks living among a poor community in Algeria. They have a very friendly relationship with the government and the Muslim community. However, during the Algerian war, Islamic fundamentalists start moving in and the monks must decide to stay or leave.

    All that being said, it is a very slow story. However, I believe they wanted to portray the life of the monks in the best way possible. It was very moving to watch these men who believe so deeply in serving others, struggle with the decision of their own fate in life.

    • Hi Kathi, I actually rented this movie a few months after it came out. At that point, I had come back from my monastic retreat and was interested in stories about monastics. It was beautiful, but a challenging watch–the politics depicted are not an easy or pleasant reality.

      • I’m not sure he’d fit in with Buddhism – he styles himself as a Hindu/Indian/mythical Eastern guru. If you cover new-age spiritualism, obsession with all things “foreign” or mythical gurus he’d fit in nicely there.

  7. Hi Corinna,

    I wish I had caught up with your blog to see your treatment of my faith earlier. Hopefully it is not too late to comment, although the audience may have diminished some. I am the one that commented on your earlier “Brother Martin” post and applauded you on your search. I only asked that you make sure that you discern between the word of God and the philosophies of man, mingled with scripture.

    I commend you for your effort to see what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is all about. I appreciate the research you have done and the time you have spent. I only hoped that your efforts would have lead more to learning from the source rather than disenchanted members. There is so much to learn, and so much to gain that gets skewed by the voices of the ignorant (at best), and purposely destructive (at worst).

    A few notes: We worship God, the Eternal Father, and his Son Jesus Christ as the literal savior of the world. Our faith is centered on His sacrifice, and not on Kolob, or the cosmos or anything you might call weird. Do I care where God lives? Not at all. Its just wonderful to know that He lives! Polygamy, had its time and its place, but that time is not now and it is not practiced by active Mormons or condoned by our leaders.

    I would like to recommend a couple of short online sources where you can learn more about our faith. These are written by members, but not directly affiliated with the church. I think that by visiting them you can learn more about the why, instead of the what of our religion. As always, please visit Mormon.org if you have more questions or would like to chat with a representative.

    The first is an excellent essay on the daily life of missionaries. The author talks about her own experiences in light of the Book of Mormon musical’s stereotype. She recommends some movies that would have been much better choices for your review. I had a very similar experience with my mission in Colorado. It will give you a perspective of an aspect of our faith that you would not see just showing up on Sunday.

    http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2013/06/01/time_for_some_mormon_myth_busting.html

    The second is a lighter treatment of some of the tough questions people ask about the church written by some of my friends. The blog posts are short and typically fun and written in a way that would make sense to a “none.” The premise is to explain to the world why Mormons are “weird.”

    http://www.normons.com/

    I do appreciate what you are doing here. It is a challenge to find out what another believes and why because it is something so personal to them that many times they can’t really describe it themselves. You are doing a lot of good in the world just by writing this blog. As a Mormon missionary my most successful moment was when I learned that someone I taught, who never joined our faith, opened his bible for the first time and started reading. I am certain that many good peoples lives will be improved by just encouraging them to think about their beliefs when they visit this blog.

    • Hi Dan, It’s never too late to add comments. Many people are coming new and catching up. Thank you for providing your thoughts and the links (I’ve gone to both and they are funny and helpful). I don’t think any of the information I used came from disenchanted ex-Mormons (just academic-type books and my first-hand experiences), and I personally have not spoken to any ex-Mormons for my purposes here (or any purpose come to think of it). Anyway, I appreciate you being here and commenting. My goal is just to understand and exchange ideas. As you probably know, I am perhaps the least qualified person to make any judgement on what’s “right” or “wrong” in terms of faith. I don’t think there’s any such thing anyway.

      • I don’t doubt your sincerity, but Harold Bloom is an ardent anti-Mormon as can be seen from his NY Times article from last November. Its fun to quote someone who is so against our beliefs in a comedy, but it should be understood that he is not someone that should be referenced in a sincere discussion about our beliefs. While he is an expert on Shakespeare and very much a scholar, he is not an expert on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Joanna Brooks at Religion Dispatches (http://www.religiondispatches.org/about) said he “cannot write authoritatively about Mormonism since 1840. Because aside from a short season of ‘wandering’ (as he describes it) about ‘the Southwest from 1989 to 1991’ he does not know it.” (quoted in http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700197866/Yale-professor-Harold-Bloom-warns-of-Romney-and-Mormon-theocracy.html?pg=all)

        I apologize for bringing up this subject. It is hard to be a persecuted church, especially when things are presented falsely, even if in a polite manor. I do not fault you for that, but I did need to make the correction.

        There is so much good here that was missed. So many positives that could have been touched on. Solid families and strong values and moral courage and a deep understanding of the scriptures (Bible and Book of Mormon), not to mention an abiding testimony of Jesus Christ in those who struggled to present their speeches in Sacrament meeting. Instead, mention of the “Great Disappointment” (I hadn’t even heard of this one), Joseph Smith/polygamy being about sex (nothing could be further from the truth), and light treatment of something so sacred to so many good people (“rituals are the elaborate secret handshakes in a cosmic clubhouse”).

        Corinne, I know you are trying. I know you are sincere. I just wished that you had presented us as we are rather than relying on these sources. I do appreciate your mention of our pioneer spirit and our culture of community. My sense is that you were expecting something extraordinary or weird (no biker dude, the baby blessing being the most exotic, etc) but found your friends and neighbors instead. We have no paid clergy, you won’t find a rock band leading the ceremonies, but if you look closer you will find faith filled members sharing their time, testimony, and talents with those around them without expectations.

  8. Dan, have you read all of Corinne’s blog entries from the beginning? If you had you would know more of what she is doing. I felt her entries on the LDS church were very fair and for the most part accurate (the gentleman dividing the ward would have been a Stake president, not an assistant Bishop.) Your comments made it sound like you didn’t even fully read what she wrote about the LDS church. You just saw Harold Bloom’s name and ran with it. Quoting Joanna Brooks to discount Bloom is really funny as some of us are not so sure about her, either. And the bit about being a persecuted church is too much, really. If Corinne was to study all the religions she is investigating with the depth you seem wish her to do with the LDS church she would be at this for years. Read the rest of her entries, Dan. It has been a fascinating journey.

    Corinne, there is an old book by Leo Rosten called “Religions of America” you would find interesting. He went to about 20 different religions and asked them to write out what they believed. So you get what they present as their beliefs, not some third party’s opinion of what they believe. It is worth looking into if you can find it.

    • Hi Ann, I appreciate your nice words about my blog posts as a whole. It’s funny because one of the very first books I picked up–when I literally knew nothing–is called Christian Churches of America by Milton V. Backman, Jr. who is (was?) a professor of Church History at Brigham Young University. I’ve read that book five times, highlighting it very carefully, because I feel like he does such a good job of being fair and covering the history of almost every denomination in the United States at least. It really was my first “foot in the door” to this topic. Anyway, I can understand where Dan is coming from (along with others whose particular faith I march into and write about). I imagine it feels a little like a home invasion–having this stranger come in and manhandle your precious things. So, I want to recognize and be sensitive to how it must feel. On the other hand, I want to try to understand so that means entering and I must write how I feel and my experience truthfully–otherwise what good is my word? It’s a tricky balancing act but one that I hope is ultimately worthwhile and brings more communication and understanding into the world. If Dan is upset, I can take responsiblity for my part in it. My motivations are true, if my style a bit clunky. Okay, I’m going to write down that title you mention and see if I can’t get my hands on it. Thank you!

      • Ann/Corinne

        OK, I learned a valuable lesson on being careful with what I send out on the internet. Corinne, I am not upset, but grateful you took the time and made the effort to visit. I wish I would have come across as 99% grateful and 1% correction instead of sounding like an angry bystander. Anne, thank you for calming my post down. It is so hard to read emotions through the computer, and I am the WORST at getting them across. I also didn’t realize how long and rant-like my comments seemed.

        Let me say this again: I LOVE LOVE LOVE this blog. I think you are doing a great work here. Seriously, I am certain you have made a difference for good in at least a few of your readers’ lives. Thank you for all of this. Really, thank you.

        Here is what I had a problem with:
        -I don’t appreciate Joseph Smith’s depiction as mentioned in “A Flutter.”
        -I don’t appreciate the suggestion that polygamy is still a part of the church in “American Ingenuity” or the suggestion that Big Love or Sister Wives (from the comments) had anything to do with our faith.
        -Some of the topics discussed make us sound like the weird brainwashed fanatics that many of the stereotypes are built on. I I know that was not the intent, but it easily is the effect with an audience like this blog has.

        Thanks for calling me out. I did react and should have counted to 10 and taken some deep breaths before hitting send. Sorry for causing a stir. 🙂

        Corinne, Thank you for writing this blog. Thank you for taking the time to actually visit. That goes a long way towards understanding. It is very hard to understand the faith that others hold so close! It is even harder to try to relate those beliefs to others when you are just skimming the surface yourself. It definitely hits close to home when it is your faith that is being presented by someone else. You have taken on a hard challenge, maybe harder than you initially expected. Thank you for what you do.

        • Hi Dan, I have a story for you.
          My mother grew up in a small town in the Maritimes – there weren’t many Mormons but she happened to meet one and developed a serious relationship with him. Her family had reservations about the religion (“different” often meant “suspicious”) but they could not find fault with the man – by all reports, he was a quiet, hardworking, introspective man of integrity – a real gentleman. He became a family favourite.
          They went together for several years and it was assumed by everyone (my uncles have told me this) that they’d be married. In the mid-late fifties, he presented Mum with an engagement ring and went off to work in another part of the country. Awhile after that, my mother met my father, got pregnant with me and a wedding was hastily arranged. It was anything but a happily-after-ever story.

          One of my most fervent wishes is that that my mother had married the Mormon. (insert smiley face as I am technologically impaired!)

    • Hi Ann, I wanted to thank you for recommending Rosten’s “Religions of American.” I got my hands on a copy from the college library and it’s nicely fleshing out the knowledge I’ve gathered from other sources. Thank you for the recommendation!

      • I’m glad you found it. I loaned my copy to someone years ago and never got it back. I’ve regretted that more than once. I should probably try to find another.

  9. Dan, I try not to take Corrine’s blog and subsequent comments as a whole. The negative stuff has been written by fellow commenters. I found myself wanting to rant at them, but they are entitled to their opinions, and contention serves little purpose. Just take a deep breath and shrug it off.

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