Sacramento Bee Grade: Two Stars [out of 4]
Anchorage Daily News Grade; ** [2 out of 4 stars]
Fresno Bee Grade: C+
(January 23, 4:04 p.m. AST) - "Charly" is not to be mistaken for "Charly," the Cliff Robertson film based on the Daniel Keyes book, "Flowers for Algernon," that won Robertson a best actor Oscar in 1968.
No, the new "Charly" is not a remake, but rather the slick, antiseptic film version of another book - Jack Weyland's 1979 best-selling romance that won the hearts (and continues to win the hearts) of lovelorn young Mormon girls. It could be called "Love Story for the Latter Day Saints." The film is old-fashioned, occasionally charming and as subtle as boldface.
This is the story of a trendy young woman who finds true love when she finds herself - and according to this fable, she finds herself when she discovers the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like the recent "The Single's Ward," this is a date film for Mormons.
Charly is Charlene Riley (played by attractive Heather Beers), who is studying art in cosmopolitan New York when she returns to her native Salt Lake City for a family visit. This is Mormon territory but Charly is decidedly a non-member. Naturally, fate will throw her into the arms of a card-carrying LDS guy who will enlighten and recruit her.
His name is Sam Robertson (Jeremy Elliott), a computer-science grad student at Brigham Young University and something of a nerd who, like Charly, will be transformed by the relationship. She'll become a believer, he'll become more hip.
When they first meet, she's condescending, not unlike Ali MacGraw in "Love Story." He's a bumbler - and very uptight. They swap romantic-comedy repartee and then the preaching begins. He invites her to pray, she resists - teasingly. Charly, who was amoral before meeting Sam, is introduced to a new life.
But, wait! Charly has this fiance, Mark Randolph (Adam Johnson), back in the Big Apple. It's a boost for Sam that Charly's parents (Gary Neilson and Lisa McCammon) don't like Mark, whose rugged, long-haired, bearded look brands him as the the devil in this film. Still, that doesn't make it easy to accept the Sam-Charly connection. It would have to take a guy a lot more charismatic than Sam to not only sweep Charly off her feet, but also convert her in record time.
And it doesn't help that Sam is bent out of shape because Charly's not a virgin.
Their dating adventures in Salt Lake City provide a mini-travelogue during the early sections of the film, with visits to Liberty Park that underline the child-like joy of falling in love. However, as Charly and Sam inevitably grow closer, the movie grows up a little and matures, turning serious and then sad - the kind of sad that causes hysterics on screen.
Sermonizing in religious-bent films is a given, and in terms of preachiness, "Charly" falls somewhere in between "The Single's Ward," which was fairly restrained in its pushing of Mormon culture, and "Time Changer," the intolerable exercise in Christian cinema whose rampant moral messages made sin look even more seductive than it actually is.
Beers is the one professional in a movie that seems to be filled with performers who are uncertain and untrained. You may not quite believe Charly's story, but thanks to Beers you believe her transformation from a lively, unformed girl into a woman of commitment. She reminded me of the women on "The Bachelor," and Beers' toothy smile is difficult to resist.
Robertson is serviceable as the stolid hero, perhaps a little too believably stolid, but frankly, I liked Johnson's Mark better. Of course, there would be no movie if Charly went back to Mark. The film exists only to point her in the direction of Sam and, by extension, Mormon culture.
No, don't mistake "Charly" for "Charly," but all comparisons are open where "Love Story" is concerned. Just add the religion.
Commercial LDS films of note include: "God's Army," "Brigham City," "The Other Side of Heaven," "The Singles Ward," "Out of Step," "Charly," "Handcart," and "The RM." Scores of LDS films are currently under production as BYU film graduates try to produce films fast enough to write their story on the plates of gold that Dutcher has unearthed.
SIERRA VISTA -- In three years, a growing list of theater-release films featuring characters who just happen to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or centered on church-related themes have hit movie screens across North America, including one such film -- so far -- that has played in Sierra Vista.
Film distributors say two more might follow suit soon.
Among the offerings are: "God's Army," "Brigham City," "Handcart," "The Other Side of Heaven," "Out of Step," "The Singles Ward," "Charly," "The R.M.," "Suddenly Unexpected" and "The Work and the Story."
Many have played across Arizona and the West from Washington to California and Nevada to New Mexico -- sometimes showing up in North American theaters as far away as Ontario, Canada, and in movie houses in sunny Hawaii.
Just as one needn't be Jewish to enjoy "Fiddler on the Roof" or a member of the Greek Orthodox church to relate to the humor in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," one needn't be LDS, more commonly referred to as "Mormon," to enjoy LDS cinema.
In fact, some of the strongest local supporters of the burgeoning LDS film genre are not LDS.
...Mary Jane Jones, spokeswoman for Excel Entertainment, said there is a possibility that Sierra Vistans might get the chance to view Jack Weyland's "Charly" without making the trek to the Phoenix area, where it has been playing from Glendale to Mesa since Jan. 24. The movie is a wholesome romance between a New York artist and a college student from Salt Lake City. It is based on Weyland's best-selling novel originally set in the 1980s, but updated for the new millennium.
Again, the ability to convince local theater managers that local support exists will be key in whether or not the movie will be shown in Sierra Vista, Jones said.
..."It is a really good movie," Thornburg said of Mitch Davis' "The Other Side of Heaven." As for the potential local market for "Handcart," "Charly" and any other LDS films that might come along, "People who like a movie with values who know they can sit back and be edified will come," she said, adding that in today's world, she is glad to be able to add LDS movie soundtracks to her daughter's CD collection to help keep Katie on track spiritually.
Mormon fiction didn't exist until the 1970s, he [Orson Scott Card] said; now it's a real genre.
Jack Weyland's novel "Charly" has even been made into an LDS movie...
Adam Thomas Anderegg would love to have just a fraction of the success that "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" has enjoyed.
Anderegg, a 1988 graduate of University High School, is a first-time feature filmmaker. His film, "Charly," opened Friday at the Newport Cinemas.
And like any typical independent filmmaker, he is touring the country as his film opens city by city, talking to theater managers, giving media interviews, posing for photographs and doing everything he can to get people to see his work.
That's how it works when you don't have big-name support behind you. The "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" phenomenon proved that.
Before Rita Wilson convinced her husband, Tom Hanks, to go and see Nia Vardalos' stage show, few of us had heard either of Vardalos or her modern-day story of a Greek ugly duckling.
Once Hanks and Wilson helped get a film version financed, though, "Greek Wedding" (which comes out on VHS/DVD on Tuesday) quickly became the highest-grossing independent film ever made: $180 million and change.
If pure effort can achieve that kind of result, then Anderegg would have no worries. In the last couple of weeks he has driven a white minivan back and forth from Spokane to Seattle, made a quick stop in Kennewick and may still go to Yakima. Other cities go by in a blur: Boise, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Anchorage, Vancouver, B.C.
Before that, Anderegg, who lives just outside Salt Lake City, took his film through what he considers "safe territory" -- most of Utah and southeastern Idaho.
Why safe? Because "Charly," based on the novel by Jack Weyland, has a heavy Mormon emphasis.
Yet like some of the other recent films with Mormon themes, Richard Dutcher's "God's Army" in particular, Anderegg's film is more than a simple exercise in religion. Anderegg is the one who mentions "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," comparing it to his film in the way that each explores what he calls "a different culture."
"We didn't set out to make a Mormon movie per se," he says. "We were just trying to make this cool story we felt had dilemmas for the human condition in it."
The story comes from Weyland's novel, published in 1980 and the best-selling author's first book. It revolves around two characters: uptight Mormon Sam Roberts and perpetual jokester Charlene ("Call me Charly") Riley.
They are worlds apart. He maintains his life though his personal electronic organizer and is devoted to his church; she lives life as it comes and is skeptical of all religion, the Mormon church in particular.
Yet they can't quite ignore the slight bit of mutual attraction that keeps them in contact and which, gradually, grows into love.
That, however, is only the first two-thirds of the story. From that point on, Sam and Charly are confronted with a crisis that tests the faith of both, humbles Sam and, one hopes, makes him a better person.
"It's a real good exploration of faith and what happens to people's faith as they get older," Anderegg says.
At 33, he understands how maturity can deepen some convictions, soften others. Much of his own maturity, he says, developed in Spokane.
"I did all my growing up here," he says. "Everything I learned about being a person was pretty much after the age of 10."
That was when Anderegg's family moved to the Spokane Valley. His mother, who died recently, was a teacher in the Central Valley School District. His father lives in Las Vegas, but Anderegg still has a sister here whom he visits regularly.
Stories about filmmakers typically are filled with tales of youngsters with cheap cameras, honing their skills early on. Anderegg's story is different.
He got into filmmaking by mistake.
His initial interest was music. He'd been a part of an award-winning vocal jazz group while at University High, and he'd actually appeared for a while in the early 1980s on a Saturday-morning children's show broadcast on KHQ. Since he knew that he'd need help to pay for college, he applied to every school that was offering music scholarships.
"The high school counselors, bless their hearts, got really involved and helped me find a lot of different options," he says.
The admission office at Brigham Young University wasn't quite as competent. BYU, perhaps mixing up his application with others to the school's music/dance/theater department, ended up offering him a scholarship in film.
"So, seriously, it sounds stupid, but I declared myself a film major to get the last $200 of my tuition," Anderegg says. "And I fell in love with it."
During his stay at BYU, which was interrupted by a two-year church mission to Brazil, Anderegg immersed himself in every aspect of filmmaking. In his final year (during which he bumped shoulders with another former Spokane resident, then-BYU film student Neil LaBute), he began working for a picture studio in Provo that has ties to BYU. He began in the production department, then moved to editing.
When he felt ready, he formed a partnership with a friend, Micah Merrill. Together they bought the rights to "Charly" and began the process of making a movie.
It took almost eight years. On the basis of an award-winning 1997 short titled "The Touch," Anderegg and Merrill began producing corporate films. Doing that two to three days a week, they spent the rest of the time trying to develop "Charly." They maintained the effort through script development, finding financing, hiring a cast and crew, shooting (in September 2001) and post-production.
"It was a balancing act the whole time, and sometimes it was a little overwhelming," Anderegg says. "I'm convinced the reason why it worked out was because we didn't give up. Just keep pouring on the gas and the engine will keep going."
Now Anderegg is out on the promotional trail, away from his wife Carol (formerly Carol Harmon, also from Spokane) and their nearly 4-year-old son Tyson. Recently, he even addressed a couple of classes at his high school alma mater.
This much he knows: There is no guarantee of success. "Charly" opened strongly in Phoenix and played well around Los Angeles, but it did only moderate business in Utah.
"It was kind of home plate for us, because it was safe territory" Anderegg says, "but I found out that it really wasn't."
Anderegg thinks that Utah's strong Mormon influence is, ironically, the reason why audiences there weren't overwhelmed by "Charly."
"There was no need for it, if you will," he says. "People were like, 'Yeah, that's cool,' but they didn't run out in hordes."
Still, he thinks he knows what to do next.
"Maybe we can get Tom Hanks to come in," Anderegg says with a laugh. "What's his wife's name, Rita something?"
** 1/2 [2 1/2 stars out of 4]
"Charly" has a simple set-up: devout Mormon geek named Sam (Jeremy Elliott) meets carefree non-Mormon jokester Charlene (Heather Beers) and love ensues. Of course, it doesn't come easy. Before they can connect, he has to get over himself, and she has to takes things a bit more seriously. And then once they do connect, they have to face a further crisis (is mentioning the film "Love Story" too much of a clue?). Anderegg has made a serious attempt to deal with equally serious issues, but he is sabotaged by a predictable set-up (30 minutes of courtship, 30 minutes of complication, 30 minutes of crisis). Elliott's performance is also a problem: It's just too much of a stretch to think that the vivacious Charly would fall for the fussy wimp that he portrays. By the time the story becomes Sam's, it's hard to have any sympathy for him. Which is too bad, because the intent of "Charly" is admirable: It tries to explore something more than exploding cars, blazing guns and blatant sex. And that's worth watching whether the story is set in Salt Lake City, Beijing or Baghdad.
Rated PG (thematic elements).
** 1/2 [2 1/2 stars out of 4]
In recent years a new genre of film has been coming out of Utah: Mormon stories made for the mainstream.
While these films are steeped in the Mormon experience, works such as Richard Dutcher's "God's Army," Mitch Davis' "The Other Side of Heaven" and, most recently, Kurt Hale's "The Singles Ward" are made to be accessible to a larger audience.
At the very least, each deals with mainstream concerns: adherence to a creed, personal loyalty, remaining hopeful in the face of adversity, the search for meaning -- not to mention happiness -- in a complex world.
"Charly," a film directed by 1988 University High School graduate Adam Thomas Anderegg, is no different. First of all, it takes place in Salt Lake City. Second, one of its protagonists is a devout churchgoer whose idea of a date is to have a milkshake at Temple Square; the other is his not-so-willing disciple.
Yet the foundation of "Charly," based on the novel by Jack Weyland, is love. In fact, it wouldn't be too far off the mark to say that it is, in essence, a "Love Story."
In other words, it isn't a story about Mormons falling in love as much as it is a love story that just happens to feature Mormons.
One of the characters is Sam (Jeremy Elliott), a straight-laced guy whose whole life rests in his pocket-size electronic organizer. Assigned against his will to pick up the daughter of his father's colleague, Sam finds that Charlene ("Call me Charly") is nothing close to what he expected. She jokes unceasingly, and takes regular jabs at Sam's uptightness.
Their first meeting is a disaster. Naturally they end up falling in love.
Oh, it doesn't happen quickly. Sam has to bore Charly by taking her fishing. Charly has to embarrass Sam by taking him up on a Ferris wheel and pretending to be his fiancee. He has to ask her to kneel down in a garden and pray with him. She responds by giving off the film's best line: "If these bushes burst into flames and Charlton Heston appears, you're in big trouble."
Not much happens in "Charly" that you can't predict. The script follows a formula: first 30 minutes devoted to courtship, second 30 minutes to complication, final 30 to crisis.
The film is further hampered by a lack of chemistry between the two stars. The notion that the vivacious, joke-a-minute creature played by Heather Beers would fall for the fussy wimp played by Elliott is a bit much to accept.
Yet "Charly" has its moments. Charly ends up undergoing the kind of crisis that a only surrender to spirituality can help her weather. And Beers, especially when Anderegg allows her to let her emotions flow, summons up a shower of tears that works as a natural tug at the heart.
What's unfortunate is that the film ends up being Sam's story. While Charly changes, he is utterly resistant to accept anything that doesn't fit neatly within his own rigid set of rules. It's only when that rigidity fails him that he is willing to let go of his stubborn self-absorption. By the time that happens, some viewers are likely to already have written him off.
Which is too bad. Like the rest of these new Mormon-made films, "Charly" tries to explore something more than exploding cars, blazing guns and blatant sex. And that's worth watching whether the story is set in Salt Lake City, Beijing or Baghdad.
PROVO -- It's a Sunday afternoon somewhere in Utah, and all of the relatives -- some of them rather quirky people -- want to meet the new beau.
Everybody has a bit of advice and an embarrassing story to tell about the bride.
There are snoopy questions for the groom, especially after the bunch discovers he didn't serve an LDS mission. Or -- gasp! -- isn't even a member of The Church.
Could such a scene work on the silver screen?
Yes -- and it might work well, says Eric Samuelsen, a Brigham Young University drama professor who dabbles in theater with Mormon themes.
Samuelsen says Mormon culture could work effectively in crossover films just as Greekness worked in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," a surprise hit at the box office.
The movie, scripted by and starring Nia Vardalos, has -- at last count -- taken in more than $240 million for its makers, who spent only $5 million to produce it. A spin-off/sequel TV series, "My Big Fat Greek Life," debuted this week on CBS, starring Vardalos and many others from the movie's cast.
In the movie, the leading lady, Toula, is part of a big, noisy family full of crazy characters. The family struggles to deal with her engagement to Ian Miller, a non-Greek man.
A similar formula could generate a crossover Mormon movie, says Samuelsen, who spoke at the recent conference of the Association for Mormon Letters.
And it's more than departing from the standard boy-meets-girl, girl-and-boy-fight, girl-and-boy-kiss-and-makeup conflict pattern used in so many movies.
"The key . . . is to focus on the inclusiveness and cultural negotiation that goes on in a social structure like the LDS culture," Samuelsen said.
"I'd like to suggest that cultural negotiation is the key to the film's extraordinary success. Greek culture, as portrayed in this film, seems loud and boisterous and earthy, but we can also see how confining it is. And yet, in the film's finest moments, the film reveals a culture confident enough to open itself up to redefinition."
Samuelsen said he saw the film knowing little about Greek-Ameri-can society -- but it intrigued him. "The story really is about this woman's gentle rebellion as she attempts to carve out a place for herself" in a loving but controlling family.
"It's comparatively conflict-less. Toula is mature, sensible. When she's told she can't see Ian, she sees and marries him anyway, recognizing that she's 30, old enough to make her own choices."
Samuelsen said LDS-centric movies such as "RM," "Singles Ward" and "Charly" tend to take the opposite approach to what he sees as a more workable and joyful tack.
"They seem to say you need to fit into the culture, like a bunch of square pegs into neat little round holes," he said.
Samuelsen said his ideas went over big at the Mormon Letters conference.
He wasn't intending to write a screenplay when he began his scholarly paper, but the response now has him considering it.
Maybe not "My Big Fat Mormon Wedding" -- perhaps "My Big Fat Mormon Funeral."
"It could work," he said. "I actually think Mormon culture is more inclusive than we get credit for. We know, in our hearts, we're as big -- and as fat -- as any Greek."
The Association for Mormon Letters has presented 17 writing awards for 2003.
The full citations for each of the award winners will be published soon in Irreantum and posted to the AML Web site at: www.aml-online.org.
The awards include:
Novel: Chris Crowe, "Mississippi Trial 1955"; Young Adult: A.E. Cannon, "Charlotte's Rose"; Honorable Mention: Martine Leavitt, "The Dollmage"; Honorable Mention: Kimberley Heuston, "The Shakeress."
Picture Book: Rick Walton, "Bertie was a Watchdog."
Short Fiction: Susan Palmer, "Breakthrough"; Honorable Mention: Karen Rosenbaum, "Out of the Woods"; Honorable Mention: Linda Paulson Adams, "First."
Poetry: Kimberly Johnson, "Leviathan With a Hook."
Film: Christian Vuissa and Agustina Perez, "Roots and Wings"; Honorable Mention: Andrew Black, "The Snell Show"; Honorable Mention: Ryan Little, "Out of Step."
Drama: Reed McColm, "Hole in the Sky"; Honorable Mention: Melissa Leilani Larson, "Wake Me When It's Over"; Honorable Mention: Tim Slover, "Hancock County."
Film Adaptation: Janine Whetton Gilbert for "Charly."
Lifetime Membership Award: Lavina Fielding Anderson.
The AML also has two new board members: Suzanne Brady, who is an editor for Deseret Book, and Jen Wahlquist, who is with the English department at UVSC. In addition, BYU's Linda Hunter Adams joined the staff as editor of the annual proceedings of the AML.
Due to the death of Neila Seshachari just after her designation as president-elect, Gideon Burton consented to serve a second term as president of the AML. Melissa Proffitt, who has been serving as AML secretary, was nominated to become president-elect. Both of these positions were ratified by a unanimous vote of the membership.