A big-budget movie based on Jack Weyland's best-selling 1980 novel, "Charly," will hit the screens nationwide on Jan. 24. But Anchorage will get a rare screening of the story about a philosophy student (played by Heather Beers, above) who shelves Plato to become an Avon lady in order to support her family. Be among the first in the nation to catch this PG film of romance, family and cultural conflict at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, at the Dimond Center.
With the 2000 premiere of "God's Army," the story of the struggles of missionaries in Los Angeles, the nation was hit by a new genre of film -- the Mormon movie.
Since then, numerous movies with Latter-day religious undertones, including "The Singles Ward," "Brigham City" and "Charly," have graced the screens.
The more popular LDS movies are available at most local video stores. Blockbuster assistant manager Judie Meyers said "Brigham City" and "The Singles Ward" are often checked out. When the store's distributor didn't include The Singles Ward in its recent shipments, Meyers said, the local store went out and bought copies just to meet rental demand.
"We had to go out and buy four copies," she said. "There's always at least one checked out."
Although they serve a primarily LDS audience, "Charly" screenwriter Janine Gilbert said, the themes of her movie can touch anyone.
"We tried to make it accessible to all audiences," Gilbert said. "I think the themes are universal. It asks us to think about what is most important in our lives."
The film, "Charly," based on a novel by Jack Weyland, is a romance story about a couple from different walks of life, and the troubles they face as a family.
Director Adam Thomas Andregg read the novel as a teen and fell in love with the story. The book, he said, addressed serious issues like death in a way he had never seen before.
"It was a very emotional experience. It was a very unexpected experience," he said.
Charly is currently playing at the Centre Theatre in Idaho Falls, and will open Jan. 24 in theaters in California, Arizona and Alaska. The movie will hit major cities on the East Coast later this year and will come out on video after it leaves theaters.
Andregg said most people who go to the movie are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but they, like all movie-goers, simply want to see a good film. Gilbert said the movie is something a family can do together.
"It gives audience members a chance to reconnect as a family," she said.
Pocatello First University Stake President Scott Waldram hasn't seen "Charly" or other LDS movies, but has heard his congregation rave about comedies like "The Singles Ward," a movie about LDS single life.
Most people, he said, turn to LDS movies because they want to see a good movie without the lewd nature of many mainstream films.
"I think they'd like to go to a movie and feel good about it afterwards," he said.
Church member Ryan Bitton saw "The Singles Ward" twice.
"I really enjoyed it," he said. "I laughed."
LDS Movies Available on Video:
- Brigham City: Peace in a small Utah town is shattered when Sheriff Wes Clayton discovers a dead woman on the roadside. Clayton, an LDS bishop, must solve the mystery and keep the town together.
- God's Army: The story of young Mormon missionaries in Los Angeles, and their trials and triumphs.
- The Singles Ward: The Singles Ward is a comedy about the struggles of a newly-divorced returned missionary adjusting to single life in the LDS Church.
For hundreds more LDS film titles, check out www.ldsfilm.com.
On the big screen
- Charly, a movie based on the novel by Brigham Young University-Idaho physics professor Jack Weyland, is playing at the Centre Theater in Idaho Falls tonight at 6:45 p.m. The movie is a double feature with Tuck Everlasting. For more information, call 525-3340.
- Handcart, the fictional story of Samuel Hunter, a man whose faith is challenged as he makes an arduous trek to Utah with the ill-fated Martin Handcart Company, is showing at the Paramount Theater in Idaho Falls at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. For more information call 523-1142.
Kurt Cox, an employee at Blockbuster Video, restocks DVDs of "The Singles Ward" next to the DVD "Brigham City," two of the LDS movie titles they carry.
Cover of "The Singles Ward" DVD.
Books are often adapted and made into movies. Sometimes the movie is better than the book but not often. A book on which a movie is based in the vernacular of Hollywood talk is called "the property". It makes me shudder to think of the Book of Mormon in such crass commercial terms.
I did not need your comments to be reminded that the Book of Mormon is not Tolkien's, Lord of The Rings, or Rowling's, Harry Potter. And in the realms of Mormon Cinema, it can hardly be equated with Groberg's Eye of the Storm -- or Charly, by Jack Weyland.
...The Book of Mormon is scripture. It is revelation from God. It is sacred text. It is the keystone of our religion. It is the most correct of any book on earth. It is published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
For students and faculty at BYU who watched and worked with the CBS program "Touched by an Angel," the announcement of its cancellation has met with both disappointment and relief.
In its ninth year, the show has received plummeting ratings and an audience comprised of an older population, to the angst of youth-oriented advertisers.
CBS announced the show's end Monday Jan. 13 at the Television Critics Association press tour.
The show, starring Roma Downey and Della Reese, features a group of angels who intercede in mortals' behalf. It is filmed in Salt Lake City and other locations throughout the state.
The series concludes in May with a two-hour finale. Its Saturday night prime-time slot will be replaced during the new fall lineup, according to officials at the Salt Lake City CBS affiliate, KUTV.
"We're so sad to see the show end," said Leigh Von Der Esch, executive director of the Utah Film Commission. "Besides its economic effect, the show brought a sense of spirituality and values that were fitting for the state."
Von Der Esch said the show employed about 200 Utahns, more than 90 percent of its crew, and brought about $200 million into the state's economy during its run.
BYU faculty and students have weighed in with their opinions about the show's end.
"The only thing I can say about the cancellation of 'Touched by an Angel' is that I rejoice," said Dean Duncan, associate professor of film.
"I'm not surprised," said Rory Scanlon, professor of visual design. "I think the show was an intriguing piece because of its family flavor, but it definitely wasn't one of the most quality scripts on television ... it's kind of sad that we lost a show of its genre."
Justin Wong, 23, a media arts major from Bel Air, Maryland, said the show had a niche audience, but its demand was not high enough to keep it going.
"It wasn't the greatest writing," Wong said. "Sometimes it was a bit sappy, a bit melodramatic, but it had an audience. It was a popular show, and it had a religious following."
Rory Scanlon, professor of visual design said he was not surprised the show was cancelled.
"I think the show was an intriguing piece because of its family flavor, but it definitely wasn't one of the most quality scripts on television," Scanlon said. "It's kind of sad that we lost a show of its genre."
Several BYU graduates have worked for "Touched by an Angel," including Adam Anderegg, director of the LDS-film Charly. Many students have had small acting parts on the show, Scanlon said.
One professor said she feels the program's conclusion will have negative repercussions.
"It affects the whole state in the sense that it was a pretty nice employment for students," said, film professor, Sharon Swensen. "Since we graduate a lot of people, and some of them want to stay in Utah, it'll definitely affect employment in that area."
Scanlon said although CBS will stop making new episodes, he thinks the show will be on the air for years to come through syndication.
However, the series ending, will not end filming in Utah.
"Everwood," the new WB program about a New York City neurosurgeon who moves his family to a small fictional Colorado town, is currently filmed in Ogden and South Salt Lake.
"We have another new series here, so it's not like there isn't anything here for students to work on," said Barta Heiner, associate professor of theater.
Like most busy suburban moms, Heather Beers has little time for outside activities away from her home and family.
But, despite the full schedule and familial responsibilities, she has managed to carve out some spare time to pursue a hobby.
Her hobby opens Friday at The Block at Orange
Beers, a former Fountain Valley resident who lives in Salt Lake City, plays the title role in the new film "Jack Weyland's Charly."
Based on the 1980 bestseller "Charly," the relatively low-budget ($600,000) film is an opposites-attract romance between a cynical, sophisticated New Yorker (Beers) and an idealistic, small-town Mormon (Jeremy Elliott).
"It's a universal message," Beers explained, "about how two people who are polar opposites in their experiences in the world can come together because of their differences."
With a personal background that stretches from laid-back Orange County to laid-back Utah, one wonders how Beers prepared for her role as a tough New Yorker.
"I watched a lot of Woody Allen movies," she said with a big laugh. "But, I suppose the real answer is that I discovered a side of me that is more direct and more abrupt than I usually show. It's a side of me that says what she thinks and what she wants.
"I also lowered my voice to sound more sophisticated, and pretended I was witty."
So, why would a professional actress starring in her first feature film call acting a hobby?
The simple answer is that she is more interested in having a real life than having a career pretending she has a real life.
"Don't get me wrong; I love acting," she said last week during a promotional swing through Orange County that included a stop at a book store in Orange, and then a visit to her parents' home in Fountain Valley. The independent film is being released regionally, with this week's California and Arizona release following showings in Utah, where the film was shot.
"But, I know that a career in acting is a lot more than getting behind a role. This is an industry, a very big industry, and I'm not as happy with that aspect of acting.
"My parents are wonderful people, my kids are great and I married an amazing man. I like my life the way it is. I know that's probably not a wise thing for an actress to say, but it's how I feel right now. I care about my life.
"If I get the chance, I will act again, but not at the expense of living my life.
"I'm not so sure you can do both," she added. "Look at the industry's track record. Careers and family life don't always mix."
Adam Thomas Anderegg is not surprised by her admission.
He directed her in "Jack Weyland's Charly," and he said he witnessed her love of family.
"It would be a great loss if she chose not to act again," the director said, "but she has seen the other side, and she understands the value of living her life.
"She has put a lot of effort and investment into building that life outside of acting, and I can understand why she doesn't want to lose it."
BORN ON THE BOARDS
As the daughter of Diane Christenson, a veteran director of Orange County community theater, young Heather was exposed to the acting life early.
She appeared in her first theater production at 5, playing a naughty child in a skit, and continued acting with the Orange County Children's Theater for many years.
At Los Amigos High School, she appeared in school plays and continued in local community theater, but she said she never considered a film career. She was a good student and a self-described "extreme nerd." Let's put it this way -- she played the flute in the school's marching band. Enough said.
After graduation in 1988, she enrolled at Brigham Young University, where she met the man she would marry during her freshman year. Both later transferred to the University of Utah, where she graduated as an English major.
Although she acted in college, she put that aspect of her life on hold for several years to have her first child and work in a local public relations firm.
"After my first son was born, I started thinking about acting again," she said. "So I got an agent and started going out on auditions."
She appeared in commercials and various TV and film projects, but her big break was landing the starring role in "Jack Weyland's Charly."
"Her first audition was stunning," director Anderegg said. "We knew we had our Charly from those first moments.
"She had an interesting mix of savvy and innocence. She was very feminine but could seem as though she came from a tough background. Not many actresses can play that without seeming jaded."
Once filming began, the director said, his leading lady proved to be even better than he thought.
"She was absolutely fantastic," he said. "She has to carry the movie, and she did it with ease. The camera loves her, and I think she actually looks even more beautiful on-camera than she does off-camera."
Although the actress said she loved doing the movie and hopes to act in many more, acting is not a priority right now.
Her sons, 4 and 7, are priorities. Her husband, with whom she runs a small advertising and marketing company, is a priority. Her faith (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is a priority.
"I have no grand plan for my career," she said with an unapologetic shrug. "I hope I can get more acting jobs, but it's not something I'm thinking about.
"My primary focus is my life. I'll take the acting as it comes. Acting is something I love, but it's not something I pursue. That attitude may change someday, but for now, I'm very happy just to live my life."
And, maybe, find a little time for a hobby
PHOTO CAPTION: HEATHER BEERS: The demands of an acting career take a back seat to family, she says. "My kids are great and I married an amazing man. I like my life the way it is."
The latest release from Excel Entertainment -- which produced the well-reviewed God's Army, about a novice Latter-day Saints missionary on the mean streets of Los Angeles -- is a rocky-road-of-love tearjerker made from a frankly religious point of view. It simply takes faith for granted as a motivating factor, and thus pulls off the neat trick of never making us feel we're being preached at. A crisis that erupts in the budding relationship between an exuberant New Yorker (Heather Beers) and a buttoned-down Mormon (Jeremy Elliott) -- when he discovers that she has "a past" -- is resolved without a lot of fuss or bluster by a reaffirmation of the LDS doctrine of the "clean slate." The only real flies in the ointment are the heroine's staunchly secular parents, their brows furrowing with concern when she begins hanging out with a suspiciously well-mannered crowd and coming home at all hours from her Bible classes. Yet, as directed by first-timer Adam Anderegg, from Jack Weyland's 1980 novel, the movie is too amateurishly square to make the most of its own ironic implications. Beers' energetic portrayal of Charly, who is supposedly an arty urban free spirit, is especially constrained by the picture's PG-rated, TV-movie aesthetic.
QUICK HIT: Heavy on cliches and the predictable arc of tragic-romantic love stories, "Charly" suffers from stilted dialogue and characters that are absurd. Orange County native Heather Beers has a leading role.
STARS: Heather Beers, Jeremy Elliot, Randy King, Gary Nelson
BEHIND THE SCENES: Directed by Adam Thomas Anderegg from a script by Janine Whetton Gilbert
RATING: PG for adult themes
RUNNING TIME: 1 hour, 41 minutes
PLAYING: Aliso Viejo Stadium 20, Brea Stadium East 12, Foothill Towne Center Stadium 22, 30 On The Block
If transporting bad melodrama across state lines was a federal offense, Utah-based Excel Entertainment would be serving serious prison time for "Charly," another cliche-swollen portrait of budding romance and -- yes, I'm afraid so -- terminal illness.
Even fans of Jack Weyland's original 1980 Mormon-themed novel will have a hard time finding anything fresh to savor in "Charly," which joins a veritable clone army of movie tragedies involving cancer-induced romanticus interruptus. Let's review: There was "Sweet November," then "Here on Earth," then "A Walk to Remember" -- along with who-knows-how-many Lifetime specials. About the only thing going for "Charly" is that it doesn't star Leelee Sobiesky.
Instead, first-time director Adam Anderegg and scripter Janine Whetton Gilbert saddle their film with two of the silliest, most inane caricatures to grace a movie screen since Tango met Cash. Sam (Jeremy Elliot) is starchy BYU college student so immune to spontaneity that he lets his Palm Pilot tell him when to have lunch. Charlene (Orange County native Heather Beers) is the exact opposite -- a sassy, brassy Park Avenue princess so immune to common sense, she starts a date by taking a dip in a reflection pool outside the Salt Lake City Temple. Wow, crazy!
Framed by the filmmakers as an infectious free spirit, Charly instead comes across as a deeply obnoxious woman in dire need of horse tranquilizers. Or religion, as the case may be. Captivated by the Mormon emphasis on eternal marriage in this life and beyond, Charly takes a shine both to Sam and his faith, followed by the usual bumps and divots as the lovebirds work through their issues.
Inevitably, Sam the virginal bumpkin hops on a jet and follows Charly back to salacious New York City, in a sequence that could and should have yielded more humorous moments than it does. You know a movie is bad when it makes you wistful for the thematic genius of "Crocodile Dundee."
Everything is hunky-dory until Charly starts feeling those mysterious aches and pains, resulting in a brief deathbed drama that couldn't more manipulative if Charly leapt off the screen and waved freshly cut onions under our eyes.
It's a cheap tactic, but there is a heart-tugging byproduct: Sam, ever the passionate sponsor of the afterlife, has to put his money where his dogma is, and his anguished reluctance to do so reminds us that faith is only for show until put to the test.
Scene: Heather Beers as Charly confronts her fiance (Adam Johnson) as her parents (Lisa McCammon,Gary Neilson) watch.
NEW THIS WEEK
"Charly" - PG - Mormons don't smoke crack, but I'm at a loss to explain how else the filmmakers came up with dialogue this stilted and characters this absurd. Orange County native Heather Beers has a leading role. (C.O.) 1 hour, 41 minutes. Grade: C-. Reviewed, Page 13
Grade: * [1 out of 4 stars]
Charly is a very bad movie.
I want to stress that I do not mean that it is disqualified because it's a movie about Mormons and faith. In fact, there have been a string of LDS films in the past few years, and several have been quite good.
Charly is not good.
It is as if they have taken Love Story and the Book of Mormon, thrown them into a blender and pressed "puree."
Oh, and throw in Brian's Song and Sterile Cuckoo, just for redundancy.
Heather Beers plays Charlene Riley, a "free spirit," as if one were constructed out of spare parts from central casting. She falls in love with the strait-laced and awkward Sam Roberts (Jeremy Elliott) and converts to Mormonism, both with the alacrity of someone following a script without thinking about it.
What happens next is not only predictable but torturously unavoidable.
Worse, the characters do not even rise to the level of being one-dimensional. One dimension, please, at least one, I plead - but no, not even one.
I do not know whether screenwriter Janine Whetton Gilbert used scriptwriting software on her computer, but it certainly feels as if she did, plugging in names and plot cliches and hitting "enter."
What comes out the other end of the program is as synthetic, artificial, stiff and unrealistic as the worst Saturday-morning cartoons. The Stepford wives were more lifelike.
Worse, the film never seems to end. Each time you feel mercy is upon you, we launch into a further denouement that only leads to another dragged-out denouement. Please make it stop.
After watching Charly and Sam gurgle and coo on a Ferris wheel that serves as the movie's idea of a symbol, I can only turn to The Third Man and see what a real Ferris wheel scene can be. My palate needs cleansing.