My wife, daughter and I were able to about a month ago attend the first sneak preview of Meet the Mormons during Education Week. In fact, it was my three month old daughters first movie ever! I meant to post about my experience at the time, but for some reason never got around to it. Since the buzz for the film has really been intensifying as a result of the theatrical release in two weeks, I figured it was about time to rectify my delay and to write about the film.
For those who haven’t been paying attention, Meet the Mormons is the new First Presidency approved film which will be released in theaters nationwide Oct. 10. It focuses on the stories of 6 members all across the world. For the uninitiated, Elder Holland did a fantastic introductory video for the film which I highly recommend watching
I was pretty excited when I heard about the film, though a bit apprehensive as well. I wasn’t really sure if the right balance could be struck between proselytizing tool and uplifting film. On the whole, I think the film struck the balance really well. If anything I think the film might have gone slightly too far in the direction of entertainment. My only criticism is that I don’t think someone watching the film would come away knowing what specifically makes our church unique. I think they would come away knowing that we are good people that attempt to follow our savior Jesus Christ. I hope that they would come away with a desire to gain that purpose and meaning that other members. I am less sure, however, that they would have a glimpse of what makes our Church special (prophets, Book of Mormon, knowledge of Plan of Salvation etc.).
Outside of that critique, I thought Meet the Mormons was a highly entertaining and worthwhile film.
There is an introductory section as well as six stories. I will share a few thoughts about each. (Note, since I saw the movie more than a month ago, my order may be slightly off).
Introduction- The introduction features man on the street interviews with New Yorkers in Times Square asking them questions about our church. The answers are interspersed with video from popular culture including South Park. It was pretty amusing to see the Church using a clip from South Park in its film, but it totally fits the way the Church responded to the Book of Mormon the musical. I thought this segment was overall a good way to set up the need to let me members tell their own stories. It felt a bit stiff at times, but was a successful way to get started.
The Bishop- Jermaine Sullivan : Sullivan is an African-American Bishop in Atlanta. He is an academic counselor by profession and has a really beautiful family. My favorite thing about this segment was the focus on the diversity found in Sullivan’s ward. I really liked how the members interacted. Atlanta is a very diverse city and this segment really showcased that members come from all walks of life.
The Fighter – Carolina Muñoz Marin : Marin and her husband both live in Costa Rica. She is actively involved in kickboxing competitions with the help and support of her husband. I loved that their family situation was non-traditional and yet both are shown as devoted parents as well as actively involved in charitable work. Marin and her husband have a really dynamic marriage and are really energetic and fun to watch.
The Coach – Ken Niumatalolo : This was a really entertaining segment focusing on Niumatalolo who is the coach of the football team at the Naval Academy. My favorite part of this segment was hearing those on the team and those that work with Niumatalolo talk about how much they respect his decision not to hold official practices on Sunday. Because he respects his players, he tells them that they are allowed to practice as much as they want on Sunday, only informally. Even though his job his high stakes and high pressure, it is clear that the Gospel deeply influences him and that he is a shining light to those around him.
The Humanitarian- Bishnu Adhikari : Adhikari is an individual who has really allow his faith to transform his life. He is a convert living in Nepal and lives a pretty extraordinary life. I like his discussions of the challenges he faced in converting to a new faith in a very traditional society. I also love that Adhikari dedicates his life to charitable works and to giving impoverished individuals a leg up. This story was slightly weaker only because Adhikari is a bit too difficult to relate to. So few people can dedicate their whole life to humanitarian work. I admired Adhikari, but also felt that he was a bit unrealistic (even though he is a real person).
The Candy Bomber – Col. Gail Halvorsen (Ret.): Halvorsen has an amazing story that I think will resonate with some audiences deeply. Certainly, his example of charity and faith during WWII is inspirational. I loved hearing him talk about how his faith influences his choice. It was also nice to see an older member of the church talk about how the Gospel has been a large influence on his whole life. On the other hand, just as with Adhikari’s story, I felt like Halvorsen was a bit too idealized or larger than life.
The Missionary Mom – Dawn Armstrong : This is by far my favorite segment and it is definitely the one that I have seen getting the most buzz. Armstrong was a convert to the Church when she hit rock bottom. She details her conversion powerfully and explains the joy that the Gospel has brought to her life. Her conversion is powerful in and of itself. What makes her story even more powerful however, is that Armstrong has now become a mother ready to send her own son off on a mission. We see her joy and agony as she prepares to let her son go off for two years. I really loved absolutely everything about this story. Armstrong and her son were both at the screening that we attended (he returned after serving a faithful full time mission), and it was really great to see them united and happy. This story was a perfect choice to finish the movie and it is the one that emotionally resonated with me most deeply. I think more than any other story, this one shows the power of the Gospel to truly transform lives.
Overall, despite some mild criticism, I loved the movie. If you were skeptical or on the fence, go and see it. Share the videos with your friends and bring them to see it. It’s definitely one of the best films that the Church has produced. It has amazing production values, a great soundtrack and technically shines. Emotionally, some of the stories were especially strong. The members featured are highly diverse, and yet all are united in their devotion to the Gospel. This film is highly highly recommended.