You have to admire people who suffer for the peaceful expression of their beliefs. Mormon missionaries not only ply their faith on your doorstep, but also in remote corners of the world.
Corners don't get much more remote than the Tongan islands of the South Pacific. That's where a college student named John Groberg found himself dispatched in 1953. His only two orders were to learn the language and to spread the gospel. In this case, that included The Book of Mormon.
But "The Other Side of Heaven" is a faith-based true story that doesn't prosletyze for a particular dogma. Instead, it's a compelling adventure story with an unusually conscientious hero.
Jazz-happy John (Christopher Gorham) is a student at Brigham Young University when he gets the word that his mandatory mission will take him to the South Seas. His farewell to the fair Jean (Anne Hathaway from "The Princess Diaries") includes a playful plea that she not marry another suitor until he returns in three years. Displaying great will power, she agrees, despite a competing offer of marriage.
John's voyage to Tonga takes many weeks but eventually lands him on an outer island in the chain, where he establishes a beachhead with his church-assigned Tongan sidekick, Feki (Joe Folau).
After an inadvertently comical greeting to the locals, in which he confuses the words for "missionary" and "outhouse," John exiles himself to a sandbar for a marathon study session. Here we see for the first time the depth of his commitment, as he refuses food and shelter until he has conquered the native tongue.
His stint on the island is a series of trials and triumphs, from a devastating hurricane and the censure of a competing minister to a miraculous healing and some hard-won baptisms. Mostly the tone is earnest and upbeat, with a geniality that is reinforced by Gorham's boyish charm and the character's ubiquitous necktie. His letters to Jean, recited in voice-over, add a touch of chaste romance, while a thwarted flirtation from a local lass is the only bit of raciness in this family friendly film.
Cynics might say that "The Other Side of Heaven" could use some more friction. For instance, we never learn why the other Christian minister would disapprove of Mormon doctrine, and the propriety of subverting native religious traditions is never questioned. (How would the people of Salt Lake City feel if Tongans suddenly arrived to save their souls?) Nonetheless, the solid acting, concise script and visual gloss (courtesy of a co-producer of "Jurassic Park") should wow the faithful and could even convert some skeptics.
"The Other Side of Heaven"
* * * (out of four)
Rating: PG (for thematic elements and brief disturbing images)
Running time: 1:53
Drama. Starring Christopher Gorham and Anne Hathaway. Directed and written by Mitch Davis. (PG. 113 minutes. At the Galaxy.)
In the 1950s, John Groberg left his hometown of Idaho Falls and went halfway across the world to the Kingdom of Tonga, a South Pacific archipelago where he was sent as a missionary by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Groberg was 19 when he left his home and spent the first months on Tonga struggling with language barriers, hurricanes, mosquitoes and the islanders' suspicions. His 1993 memoir, "In the Eye of the Storm," has been adapted as "The Other Side of Heaven," a film that recaptures his early adventures and uses them as an example of the benefits of missionary work.
"The Other Side of Heaven," made without church sponsorship, is handsome and sincere but slightly awkward in its combination of entertainment and evangelical boosterism. Directed and written by Mitch Davis, it focuses primarily on Groberg's cultural adjustments on the island of Niuatoputapu but slips occasionally into sermonettes extolling the virtues of Christian service.
Christopher Gorham, who looks a bit like the young Tom Hanks, is appealing as Groberg. Arriving at the island where he will live for three years, Groberg cuts an odd profile in his suit and narrow tie, surrounded by skeptical island men in grass skirts and women who titter that he looks "whiter than soap."
Groberg learned Tongan by reading the Scriptures, but for some reason the islanders, played mostly by New Zealand actors, speak English once he has learned Tongan. The South Pacific photography by Brian Breheny is very strong -- the film was shot in the Cook Islands -- and Anne Hathaway ("The Princess Diaries") is lovely as the girlfriend Groberg leaves behind.
One of the factors behind the phenomenal growth of the Mormon Church is its unique missionary program that puts young men and women in the field. This film, written and directed by Mitch Davis, is based on the memoirs of John H. Groberg, a high-ranking leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It will make a fine companion piece to God's Army, a 2000 movie that explored the missionary efforts of some ardent young men in Los Angeles.
John Groberg (Christopher Gorham) is a student at Brigham Young University in 1953 when he is called to mission service in Tonga, a South Sea island. This Idaho farm boy, who plays the trumpet, knows that before leaving he must make clear his love for Jean Sabin (Anne Hathaway). In a very romantic courtship, he asks her to wait for him to return and notes that they will always be together under the same moon in the sky.
The three-month journey to Tonga is filled with obstacles that test John's patience. When he finally arrives, his companion, Feki (Joe Folau), is there to serve as his interpreter and aid him in his ministry. One of the Mormon converts in the small village tells his friends that during the Elder's first talk they must nod their heads and look interested. John stumbles through this ordeal and then takes time off to learn the Tongan language.
Many Mormons when talking of their missionary system point out that people like John start out as boys and return as men. John's initiation into the real world of suffering, pain, tragedy, and hardship opens his heart. He heals a young boy; has the soles of his feet bitten by rats; saves a little girl during a hurricane, and endures near starvation in the aftermath of the storm when food is in short supply. His develops a deep friendship with Feki.
Throughout his spiritual adventures, John is buoyed by letters to and from Jean; she is his lifeline. The most attractive young woman in the village wants to have sex with John but his strict adherence to the Mormon moral code and his allegiance to Jean enable him to overcome this temptation. Although a minister from another religion does try to set the Tongan people against John, he does a turnaround and demonstrates his respect for the disciplined young man's ministry in a touching and surprising act of charity.
"Spread your love everywhere you go," Mother Teresa said. "Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier." John Groberg leaves Idaho as an idealistic youth and returns home a seasoned young man eager to serve others. The Other Side of Heaven lifts up and celebrates the spiritual practice of enthusiasm as an energizing and radiant way of life.
Category: Based on a true story
Release Date: 04/12/2002
Director(s): Davis, Mitch
Rated: PG for peril, death, and sexual references
Audience: 10 and older.
Nudity/Sexual References: Mild references to prostitution, attempted seduction, strong argument for chastity
Alcohol/Drug Abuse: Characters abuse alcohol and smoke
Violence/Scariness: Several scenes of peril, characters die
Tolerance/Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
This gently retro story of a young Morman missionary in the Pacific Islands of Tonga loses some wholesomeness points due to some smug insularity.
It takes John Groberg (Christopher Gorham) 83 days to get to the tiny Tongan island where he will be stationed for two years, following his graduation from Brigham Young University. His only link with home is the monthly mail delivery, and the letters he writes to the girl he hopes to marry ("The Princess Diaries'" Anne Hathaway) provide the narration.
John faces challenges from the culture and setting. The local minister (a Tongan Christian) tells the natives not to deal with him, and even sends some to rough him up. A typhoon wipes out all of the island's crops and homes. He is caught in a storm at sea. Those darn natives keep wanting to not follow the rules he has come to teach him. And the church criticizes him for not doing his paperwork. Through all of this John is unfailingly wise, patient, and obedient. He cures an injured child with prayer and pre-CPR first aid. He resists a native beauty who offers him sex without commitment. He even proves himself to the rival minister, who not only apologizes but sacrifices himself so that John can survive. Through all of this, John never questions his role, so he never really learns or grows.
Parents should know that the movie has some bloody injuries, scary storms, and character deaths. Native girls go off with sailors who offer passage in exchange for sex. Characters abuse alcohol. John makes it clear that in his view sex is only for those bound by marriage in a covenant of eternal love. Despite the superficiality, it is always good to see a movie character who has a strong spiritual and moral commitment that informs his choices.
Families who see this movie should talk about how we find a balance between respect for the cultures and religions of others and knowing our own moral and spiritual centers. They may also want to talk about the way John and his family draw on their faith in making their decisions.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Christy: Amazing Grace. And they might want to see South Pacific, another story that takes place in Tonga, and one that frankly addresses the issues of racial and cultural diversity.
[3 checks out of 5]
One check: Really awful, almost impossible to sit through or particularly offensive
Two checks: Poor, particularly dumb or tedious
Three checks: Average -- if you enjoy this genre or these stars, you'll probably like it
Four checks: Exceptional, something special about it that makes it especially worthwhile
Five checks: One of the all-time greats -- don't miss it!
The Other Side Of Heaven (2002)
(pictures © 2002 Excel Entertainment Group)
U.S. Rating PG
Sexual Content: B
"THERE IS A CONNECTION between heaven and earth. Finding that connection makes everything meaningful, including death. Missing it makes everything meaningless, including life."
-- John Groberg
John Groberg (Christopher Gorham), a precocious boy from Idaho, doesn't let obstacles stand in his way. Blowing trumpet for a dance band at university in the early 1950s, the nineteen-year-old jumps off the stage to claim the girl of his dreams -- even though she's sock-hopping with someone else. When asked by his church to serve a mission on the other side of the world, he tells Jean (Anne Hathaway) to wait for him -- for a mere three years.
An arduous journey finally brings the highly anticipated "great white preacher" to a remote Tongan island. Groberg's tenacity and commitment are immediately put to the test as he adjusts to the primitive conditions, tries to master the language, and attempts to live up to the congregation's expectations. But his greatest challenge is convincing the people not to sacrifice their souls. As mere existence demands everything, many residents believe liquor or prostituting their virtue are the only ways to a brighter future. With the assistance of Feki (Joe Folau) -- a faithful local who helps him understand the culture -- the young missionary embarks on the daunting task that can only be accomplished by finding a meaningful connection between heaven and earth.
Based on a true story, this inspirational tale was shot on location in the Cook Islands. Perhaps its only flaw is Gorham's somewhat flat character's unfailing ability to overcome endless obstacles and temptations, including redirecting the desires of a young woman who drops her clothes (no nudity shown) and begs for his passion. Parents may also be concerned that some depictions of intense storms, and suffering due to poverty, may be unsettling for young viewers.
Despite a tight budget, first time writer-director Mitch Davis and powerhouse producer Gerald Molen (Schindler's List, Jurassic Park) have created a film that never appears cash restricted. Families searching for examples of unwavering faith and determination will enjoy this cinematic achievement -- a rare find this side of heaven.
Interested in reading John Groberg's memoirs that inspired the movie? Help
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Talk about the movie with your family...
Although John Groberg looks a little nervous about leaving the security of his familiar life, what proves to be the most difficult thing he has to do?
Looking at the Tongans, Groberg observes, "These people have nothing, and yet they have everything." What does he mean?
For other movies that portray characters with deep devotion to their faith try: Fiddler On The Roof, Lilies Of The Field, and The Robe.
As a South Seas adventure movie, "The Other Side of Heaven" possesses the requisite storms, shipwrecks, culture clashes and medical emergencies. Set amid lush rain forests and pristine beaches, with production values belying tight budgetary restrictions, the word "Heaven" in its title is not misplaced. But more than a few viewers will be surprised, in this day and age, at a movie that so staunchly celebrates white paternalism.
This film is based on the true story of a young man who served as a Mormon missionary in the remote Kingdom of Tonga during the 1950s. The religious imperialism at the heart of such an experience is accepted at face value without any critical examination of the notion of a young man from Idaho going to such a far-flung land to help the natives not by bringing better food or medicine or education but simply a "better" God. The biopic, being given a national release by Salt Lake City-based Excel Entertainment Group, could attract a family audience on the basis of its exoticism and visual effects, but the central story lacks punch.
The episodic tale, adapted by director Mitch Davis from John Grosberg's memoir, gets off to a swift start at a jitterbug dance on the Brigham Young University campus in 1953. John (Christopher Gorman) is established as an earnest, clean-cut farm boy in love with his college sweetheart Jean (Anne Hathaway). Before he can entertain thoughts of marriage and a family, though, he must fulfill his obligation to the church by going on a mission to a place no one has heard of.
The journey to Tonga has its amusing moments as church contacts fail to meet his ship at every port of call. In Fiji, he is even jailed until his papers are sorted out. Eventually, he makes it to Tonga in an open boat. There, despite not speaking the language, he is instructed to "build a kingdom." With help from a converted native, Feki (Joe Folau), John gets a crash course in the native tongue and customs.
A mild conflict develops with a native religious leader (Nathaniel Lees) who is wary of this missionary of a foreign God, but not enough is made of this. The movie also shies away from the sexual attraction between John and a native woman (Miriama Smith). John simply delivers a Sunday school lecture about abstinence, which the woman and her mother accept with gratitude.
Instead of developing characters or conflicts, the film adopts a pattern of natural disaster striking and the white missionary coming to the rescue: He heals a boy in a coma, saves a little girl during a hurricane and even deals with a medical emergency of his own when rats gnaw on his feet while he sleeps.
Whatever the relationship of the movie's events to the actual experience, they fail to dramatize any inner conflict within the main character. Does he never experience any doubts, say, when near starvation follows a hurricane or when a dear friend dies of blood poisoning?
Gorman gives a sturdy performance, but the character is written without much depth. As his lady love, pining away back home with only an occasional letter to warm her heart, Hathaway is completely extraneous. Yet thanks to "The Princess Diaries," she has become the best-known name in the cast, so her diaphanous role remains.
While it's unusual for a distributor to so ardently promote a film's co-producer in its advertising, in this case it actually makes sense. Under the guidance of Gerald R. Molen, former head of production for Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, this $7 million production achieves an epic look. Shot on the island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, the film's design and visual effects are outstanding. Nevertheless, this does shift the focus to the more sensational aspects of John's missionary work at the expense of his interaction with the villagers or questions of spiritual development.
What lies on "The Other Side of Heaven"? Harmless schmaltz that gives it old-fashioned appeal, along with a charming cast capable of engaging its viewers.
Christopher Gorham isn't bad as John Groberg, a Mormon missionary whose memoir, "In the Eye of the Storm: The Other Side of Heaven," is the source for the story. Anne Hathaway ("The Princess Diaries") graces the film in the smaller role of his love interest. The charming Hathaway brings a lot of warmth to the screen.
Unfortunately, the story lays it on thick when it comes to what a young Mormon must face to do God's work on the Tongan islands. The filmmakers obviously didn't believe in the subtle route, pulling down what could have been a winning film.
Gorham faces feet-nibbling rats, elephantiasis, hurricanes, the language barrier and lusting Tongan virgins (gasp!). He successfully learns to speak Tongan by reading the Tongan and English bibles, side by side, in just four days. If that wasn't enough, he also brings a dead child back to life over night and survives a CGI storm bigger than the one that waterlogged George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg in "The Perfect Storm."
Its heart is in the right place, but who knew this much corn grew on "The Other Side of Heaven"?
$$ 1/2 (2 1/2 out of possible 5 dollar signs)
* 1/2 (1 1/2 stars out of 4)
Your enjoyment of The Other Side of Heaven, about a young, fresh-faced Mormon missionary who travels to the remote Tongan islands in the South Pacific during the 1950s depends greatly on your appetite for wholesome family entertainment and your immediate reaction to proselytizing.
The film is absolutely unswaying in its determination to show conversion of an indigenous people to Mormonism as an important endeavor. If the idea of the white man arriving on foreign shores to show wary natives the true light is abhorrent to you, the simplistic Heaven will quite likely be more like hell.
Based on the memoir, In the Eye of the Storm, The Other Side of Heaven follows John Groberg (Christopher Gorham) across the ocean to an island where no one speaks his language or has ever seen a white man. John leaves behind an extraordinarily patient fiancée, Jean (Anne Hathaway, The Princess Diaries), whose role is primarily to wait for John's two-year stint in the Pacific to be over.
In the meantime, they exchange remarkably uninteresting love letters while John learns the language by reading the Bible in four days. He also performs a miracle (or, as he says, helps God perform one) to earn the trust of the islanders. Gorham is likable, but we never really understand why John is considered such a great teacher because we never really see or hear his teachings.
There are certain things required in such a film: a rival minister who warns his flock not to trust the newcomer; a moment in which the missionary will prove his mettle and God's strength (in this case by walking on rat-gnawed feet); a big storm that wreaks havoc on a simple village; a friend's death that teaches the missionary about suffering. These elements and others equally predetermined are present; and a tedious predictability overtakes the film despite a dogged earnestness overall and even a fairly realistic storm scene.
Yet, even to a charitable viewer, The Other Side of Heaven will feel like a piece of propaganda. The film is supposed to be about tolerance, but the only acceptance comes in terms of how the islanders accept the Mormon teachings. Somehow, that doesn't quite feel divine.
How are audiences going to remember the vague, colorless title of the family-friendly flick The Other Side of Heaven? Just think of it as "that Mormon movie." It's a true story set in the squeaky-clean mid-1950s, where native Iowan John Groberg (Christopher Gorham) recalls his youth serving as a missionary in the Tongan Islands. Groberg weathers storms, survives famine, and helps rebuild and strengthen the tiny island community, all while impressing upon the denizens the virtues of chastity (he's saving himself for his college sweetheart, natch) and temperance. In other words, the earnest missionary comes off as the world's biggest square (he wears a tie while living in a grass hut, for God's sake), but his kindness and persistence eventually pay off in the form converts. Writer/director Mitch Davis doesn't seem to know how to resolve catastrophes and conflicts for maximum payoff, and The Other Side's perspective on the religious life is muddled and superficial and shies away from tough questions. (Could his Western values represent a corruptive force?) This visually stunning film (shot in New Zealand and the Cook Islands) may suit families on the lookout for wholesome fare, but not those uncomfortable with the G word.
Review: As a recruitment device for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, "The Other Side of Heaven" might do the trick. For general audiences, however, the tale of a young Idahoan's three-year stint as a missionary on the South Pacific island of Tonga during the 1950s will probably seem like one very long, haltingly delivered sermon. For all its good intentions, the picture's strenuous efforts to convey an uplifting message collapse in a sea of amateurishness. To begin with one of the film's few strengths, it has to be said that the scenery is beautiful, and it's generally nicely photographed. Indeed, some of the shots of cloud-ringed islands rising majestically out of the azure-blue sea are so lovely that you half-expect to hear somebody belt out "Bali Hai" on the soundtrack. But it's not enough to assuage the eye; a film also has to tell a story with some degree of subtlety and coherence. It's here that "Heaven" fails. The basic problem is that the material hasn't been shaped with any intelligence or skill. The tale of Mormon missionary (and now church elder) John Groberg's stay on Tonga becomes just one episode after another, presented in a random order that might reflect chronology but creates no effective dramatic arc. (It doesn't help that the natives, unable to pronounce Groberg's name, consistently refer to him as "Koli-Poli." Any picture in which those syllables become a refrain was probably doomed from the start.) Very early on, for example, the young man wins the confidence of some of the natives by effectively raising a child from the dead; when one starts from such an accomplishment, it's obviously difficult to raise the narrative line to a higher plateau! Moreover, having the dialogue scenes constantly interrupted by sappy narration derived from letters exchanged between the protagonist and the fiance he left back home saps energy from the story. Nor do the actors help matters much. Christopher Gorham, who plays Groberg, seems a personable young fellow, but he isn't asked to bring a great deal to the character beyond a generalized boyish enthusiasm and religious commitment. The native performers surrounding him are often impressive presences, but their thespian abilities are distinctly limited (some would easily be overshadowed by Wilson the Volleyball), and the script treats them as little more than props in the protagonist's odyssey. The only other Caucasian actor of note is Anne Hathaway, as Jean (the girl Groberg's left behind); she's consistently shot through gauze-covered lenses to give a nostalgic tone to the inserts of her awaiting John's return back home. Most importantly, though, when all is said and done, Mormon doctrine seems to have been virtually neutered in the making of the picture. The many peculiarities in the church's belief system have simply been suppressed, and the creed reduced to the most basic, general Christian principles. (An opening student-dance sequence set at Brigham Young University, moreover, is really odd. It's choreographed in such a rambunctious, MGM style, and involves such suggestive movements, that it hardly seems characteristic of Mormon restraint. At first it might seem it's intended as some sort of weird dream episode, but it turns out that's not the case.) Perhaps it was felt that this sort of simplification--or homogenization--was a price that had to be paid for mainstream acceptance, but it's really a cop-out. And it seems especially incongruous when considered alongside one of the major subplots in the script, involving the animosity that a native mainstream Christian minister on the island--one of the community's most respected members--bears toward John. The hostility doesn't make much sense unless a viewer fills in a lot of the doctrinal blanks himself, and the outcome of the quarrel--in which the old man gives Groberg his share of food during a famine caused by a hurricane, essentially deferring to the missionary because of the sanctity that's shown forth in him--comes across as hollow self-promotion. In the final analysis, however, these sorts of questions aren't likely to alter the reaction most viewers will have about the film. Good intentions and pretty scenery can't overcome the slipshod construction of the script and the mediocre quality of the storytelling. Though it might aspire to attract a wider audience, "The Other Side of Heaven" is a film only a Mormon could love.
* (1 out of 4 stars)
There is nothing remotely believable in this schmaltz memoir of the early missionary days of a young Mormon who was assigned to the remote south sea island of Tonga in 1953. From the opening scene at a Brigham Young University dance where all the bobby soxers swing in perfectly choreographed syncopation right through the final shots of picture-postcard South Pacific sunsets there is not an ounce of authenticity.
Based on some true events and real people, the standard disclaimer at the end that some events have been dramatized made me laugh out loud. It is not only that the young Elder Groberg evidentially recalls himself as a savior with an inside track to the favors of God (he prays all night over a young island boy near death from an accident and viola! in the morning the boy the boy is well). That he was apparently pulled out of school in the middle of his studies and ordered by the church authorities to this remote island is one the multitude of leaps of logic in this story. He was told to learn the language and take charge of the souls on this island. Instead, all the natives are speaking fluent English after just a couple of months. Guess he forgot his orders to learn the language.
He and his two loyal councils (converted natives) survive a tempest at sea with a wave to rival the fatal one in "The Perfect Storm." However, here they are washed up on a handy sundrenched beach. After the storm, we see John's girl friend, Jean, back home awakening in luscious designer bed linens in a heavenly bedroom. In Idaho? In 1954? So unreal was this that I thought they had all perished in the storm and were together in an otherworldly paradise. But no, simply this cinematic version of it right here on earth.
No doubt, we all color the happy times of the past to seem better than it was, but the myopic view of director writer Mitch Davis is so one dimensional that these people have no humanity. They do however always have a shirt, tie and tie clip even after going through a hurricane. This film is by no means alone in its unrealistic portrayal of the Hollywood version of life, but its agenda is so unmistakable it makes one wince.
The high production values in this bit of unabashed propaganda may give it an air of trustworthiness to some but it's total transparency shines through. This movie takes itself so seriously that its audience can only be those who are similarly biased aka, preaching to the converted. The farewell scene with all the islanders, fat and happy waving goodbye is just too much.
A young missionary has coming of age adventures in Tonga. He and the Tongans develop mutual love for each other. (Christopher Gorham, Anne Hathaway)
Genres: Coming Of Age/Adventure
Length: 113 minutes
Studio/Distributor: Excel Entertainment
Finally, a film that exposes the secret of resurrecting the dead with the use of simple
massage techniques! This telling of mormon Elder John H. Groberg's 1950s missionary visit to Tonga
wants you to believe that Groberg taught himself to fluently speak the native language by reading their
translation of the Bible. And that he also brought a dead child back to life by rubbing it for three days.
Strangely, those aren't the worst qualities of this movie. Heaven fails to offer skeptics a way into the
worldview of these characters other than a tacit acceptance of its "truth." It takes drama and drains
it of friction. And it makes religion look like just another Cross and the Switchblade fake out. And for
those who remember that laughably bad Pat Boone movie, you know just how hellish that sort of failure can be.
the other side of heaven by whateva71 : the first review mentioned had to be written by a bigot. Regardless of the performance and story line of this movie, you have made it your mission to bash movies that don't coincide with your own religious preferences. By the way, it is possible that one can learn a language in about 2 months time, I know, cause I have done it. You won't know this unless you speak portuguese with me sometime. It is by faith that miracles occur...
A pretty good movie by moviechick867 : I enjoyed this movie. I laughed, I cryed, and I felt moved by the story. The romance was a little sappy, but I liked the perspective gained about his experience in a foreign culture. I would recommend this movie to anyone, not Hollywood's best, but a nice change of pace
3 stars [out of 5]
[According to RottenTomatoes.com]
[In the Detroit News the movie was given a 1 out of 4 rating, alongside the same review.]
Based on the memoirs of Mormon missionary John Groberg. "The Other Side of Heaven" plays like a recruitment film for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A tad preachy and more than a little bit sanctimonious, it's a lite version of 1966's "Hawaii," a film whose epic scope gave a far more complex treatment to what "Heaven" writer-director Mitch Davis seems to view as the encounter between God's benign white emissaries and the noble savages of the world.
As Groberg, Christopher Gorham (late of TV's "Popular") arrives in the Tonga Islands in the early 1950s, armed with an indefatigable optimism and a 2 1/2-year supply of razors. This is judging by the fact that he almost never appears on camera with less than a freshly shaven chin, despite harrowing brushes with flesh-eating rats, a hurricane, starvation and a frisky island maiden with designs on his "seed" -- something he has promised to save for his fiancee back home (ethereal Anne Hathaway of "The Princess Diaries," given little to do but appear in gauzy dream sequences).
On the plus side, "Heaven" is refreshingly movie-star-free, and the screen is often graced with pretty shots of South Pacific real estate (Rarotonga in the Cook Islands standing in for the real setting of Niuatoputapu).
Although it's hard to be too mean to such a Pollyanna-ish movie, one thing is clear: Your stomach for "Heaven" depends largely on your appetite for canned corn.
THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN (R, 113 minutes) -- Contains a minor blow, an abortive encounter with island toughs, bloody feet, a scary storm or two, a gravely ill child and euphemistic discussion of sex. At the Potomac Mills 15, AMC Academy 14 and Muvico Egyptian 24.
The Other Side of Heaven A beautiful and boring adaptation of a missionary's memoir, this pep-talk for faith, hope and charity does little to offend, but if saccharine earnestness were a crime, the film's producers would be in the clink for life. Like a less-charismatic Josh Hartnett (if that's possible), Christopher Gorham plays real-life 1950s Idaho boy John Groberg, who makes it his job to convert the crazy, misguided heathen of Tonga to Christianity. Joe Folau plays his ethnic insta-friend, and Anne Hathaway plays his back-home squeeze, whose plentiful correspondences with Groberg run the gamut from "I'm not screwing anybody" to "Are you?" The islanders (Miriama Smith, Nathanial Lees and Whetu Fala, to name but a few) are awesome, but they're sadly enslaved within writer-director Mitch Davis' preachy little episodes, which offer some local color but never manage to congeal. (And by the way, how the hell does someone accidentally sleep through rats devouring the soles of their feet?) Some pretty views on offer, but you'll discover more intriguing missionary positions by revisiting The Mosquito Coast. (G.W.) Opens Friday.
Drama, 01:53 minutes, Rated PG, 1 Stars
A shamelessly overheated and proselytizing South Seas tale of a young missionary who shepherds a Tonga island community from the wages of sin. Everything but Bing, Bob and Dorothy Lamour boiling in a pot over a ceremonial fire. Youthful stars Christopher Gorham and Anne Hathaway conceal their mortification like old pros.
San Francisco County UA Galaxy 11:00-1:35-7:00-9:50 Alameda County UA Hayward 6 12:20-2:50-5:15-7:45-10:15 Contra Costa County Brenden Concord 14 11:20-2:00-4:40-7:30-10:10 Brenden Pittsburg 16 1:00-3:40-6:50-9:20 San Mateo County UA Metro Center 11:00-1:30-4:10-7:00-9:40 Santa Clara County AMC Saratoga 14 Theatre 1:40-4:50-7:40-10:25 Century 20 Great Mall 11:45-2:15-5:35 Solano County Brenden Vacaville 16 11:20-1:40-4:20-6:50-9:20
By: Cinema Source
Date: 12 April 2002
Source: KGW.com / Northwest NewsChannel 8 (Oregon & SW Washington)
Synopsis: John Groberg, a farm kid from Idaho Falls, crosses an ocean to become a missionary in the remote and exotic Tongan islands during the 1950's. He leaves behind a loving family and the true love of his life, Jean. Through letters and musings across the sky, John shares his humbling and sometimes hilarious adventures with "the girl back home," and her letters buoy up his spirits in difficult times. John must struggle to overcome language barriers, physical hardship and deep-rooted suspicion to earn the trust and love of the Tongan people he has come to serve. Throughout his adventure-filled three years on the islands, he discovers friends and wisdom in the most unlikely places. John Groberg's Tongan odyssey will change his life forever. (1.0 stars - Cinema Source)
Review: A shamelessly overheated and proselytizing South Seas tale of a young missionary who shepherds a Tonga island community from the wages of sin. Everything but Bing, Bob and Dorothy Lamour boiling in a pot over a ceremonial fire. Youthful stars Christopher Gorham and Anne Hathaway conceal their mortification like old pros.
[This news source reversed the "Synopsis" and "Review" portions of the Cinema Source review. This has been corrected on this page.]
** (2 out of 4 stars)
A journey to "The Other Side of Heaven" requires submission to a soul-numbing purgatory of boredom.
This is not to say there aren't any good movies about religious people spreading the word according to them. In fact, many a fine film exists regarding missions, stories of the faithful being tested, growing in their beliefs in some way. But there's no wrestling with theological questions in "The Other Side of Heaven." There's not even a villain, unless you count a destructive hurricane, yacht pimps who swing by for a visit, a church superior obsessed with proper paperwork and a few rats with a taste for the soles of human feet.
No, there's just a thoroughly Caucasian guy spreading the word of the New-New Testament to a bunch of good-natured Tongans on a tiny island in the South Seas.
Mind you, this is no isolated Eden, this island. It's a hotbed of lusty virgins, unkempt drunks, former philanderers and gasp! a minister's flock resistant to an incursion by Mormons. None of this fazes young John Groberg (Christopher Gorham) intent on delivering his message without undergoing any significant transformation himself.
In the film, Groberg is a superhero. Saving children from death by massaging them overnight! Learning the language by reading the Tongan Bible against the English one -- in four days! Able to fend off elephantiasis and attempts to abscond with his prized white-man seed! He survives on the love of his innocent fiancee Jean ("The Princess Diaries' " Anne Hathaway), who writes him letters and kindly flits through feverish dreams in virginal white.
As exciting as all this exoticism might sound to the typical Pax viewer, the rest of us will be lulled into a coma. And though it's lauded by some for its message of cultural tolerance, "The Other Side of Heaven" still falls into subtle Kiplingesque traps as this isolated culture all but leaps to embrace the ways of their white visitor. No matter how nice Groberg is, it'll still leave you with a feeling of unease.
All of this is based on Groberg's actual memoirs as an Idaho farm boy who went on the mission in the 1950s. But I submit that if Ron Howard can take liberties with John Nash's life in making "A Beautiful Mind," director Mitch Davis can surely insert some gripping conflict. The lack of it makes getting through to "The Other Side of Heaven" a journey not worth undertaking.
A young Mormon missionary travels to a distant Pacific island and learns as much as he teaches in this formulaic adventure film.
** (2 out of 4 stars)
John Groberg (Christopher Gorham) is sent on a two-and-a-half-year mission to the tiny island of Tonga. Once he learns the native tongue, he begins building churches, schools and lifelong friendships. But will the girl he loves back home wait for him, or is John saving himself for another man's wife?
Although the film is based on John H. Groberg's autobiographical novel, "In The Eye of the Storm," the drama feels manufactured. Told episodically, conflicts arise every 10 minutes or so, and then are systematically overcome. Although leading actor Gorham is likeable enough, the character comes off a bit too heroic to generate any true empathy. His unshakeable faith, not to mention his recuperative powers, is nearly superhuman. Filmmakers are often vilified for being creative with biographical films, but, in this case, a little extra drama would've been just what the medicine man ordered.
Current avg. rating: **** (4 out of 4 stars)
** (2 out of 4 stars)
If the movie industry had settled in Salt Lake City instead of Hollywood, movies might look a lot like "The Other Side of Heaven." This independent release about a Mormon missionary in the 1950s has exotic locales and impressive production values, but its story of uplift and conversion won't hold much appeal beyond its obvious target audience.
The story is based on the memoirs of John H. Groberg (Christopher Gorham), an Idaho farm boy who began a lifetime of missionary work with 3 years on the South Pacific island of Tonga. In the movie, the initially apprehensive natives soon embrace him as a trusted friend.
Gorman, a TV regular on WB's "Popular" and Fox's "Party of Five," approaches his role in earnest. But the character is one-dimensional in a Norman Rockwell kind of way -- no doubts, no crisis of faith. Even Jesus was allowed second thoughts.
This highly episodic movie presents obstacles that Groberg can't help but overcome. When a beautiful, brown-skinned girl strips in front of him, do you really think he's going to pull a Paul Gauguin?
One morning he wakes to find his exposed feet gnawed upon by hungry rats. His recovery, which involves bathing his bloody soles in sunlight, takes forever on screen, especially compared with the hurricane climax, which is awkwardly set up and then over in a flash. The movie preaches "Thou shalt not steal," yet the gripping image of Groberg's boat riding up the side of a monster wave shamelessly mimics "A Perfect Storm."
To its credit, the movie manages some nifty special effects on its reported $7-million budget, undoubtedly from favors cashed in by coproducer Gerald Molen, whose credits include "Schindler's List" and "Jurassic Park."
Falling just short of propaganda, "The Other Side of Heaven" refuses even to question whether missionaries might sometimes have a detrimental effect on native cultures and belief systems. The movie's self-righteousness can go overboard, as in the case of the near-miracle Groberg performs on a dying Tongan boy.
Reality is on the run from the get-go, as first-time writer-director Mitch Davis opens the film at a swinging sock hop at his alma mater, Brigham Young University. As the kids flip, dip and prance around in poodle skirts, you quickly realize that the kitschy "Other Side of Heaven" is headed not only overseas, but also way over the top.
It feels almost blasphemous to write anything negative about The Other Side of Heaven.
Lord knows, its heart is in the right place. And as Christian films go, it offers a welcome, uplifting change from the "apocalypse any day now" flicks so popular among the holier-than-thou set.
And yet, apart from the movie's in-your-face, artless directing, there's a disturbing "Great White Hope" undertone to The Other Side of Heaven that subtly undermines its message of Christian love and compassion.
The movie is based on the true story of John Groberg, who, as a 19-year-old Mormon missionary from Idaho in the 1950s, finds himself on a tiny island in Tonga. His 2-year mission: Learn the language and build a kingdom.
He's joined by Feki, (Joe Falua) a Christian native from a nearby island who serves as his translator, tour guide and friend. After an initial gruff greeting from the natives, John (Christopher Gorham) and Feki settle in with little difficulty, and John -- almost always dressed in slacks, amazingly white shirt and tie -- begins his work.
Meanwhile, John is writing to, and getting letters from, his girlfriend back home. He hopes she isn't going to marry Edward.
After an embarrassing speech to the villagers in their native tongue, John ensconces himself on a sand dune with an English Bible in one hand and a Tongan-language Bible in the other and proceeds to read through them both back-and-forth, a sentence at a time. After several days he emerges from this trance-like state fluent in Tongan-ese.
>From that odd sequence, the film becomes a paint-by-number sketch of your basic island picture: You have your exotic injury, your love interest, your hurricane, your enemy-turned-friend, your friend-turned-dead-friend, your white guy who'd rather sleep on the floor than a bed.
John turns the corner in the conversion department after another strange sequence during which he brings a kid who's fallen from a tree back to life by lying him on his side and pushing on his ribs for a couple of days while saying, "The bad air goes out, the good air comes in."
When the boy revives, of course, the villagers are all over this Mormon stuff.
The question arises, though: Who's saving whom? The Tongans were wonderfully happy people before John showed up. They were even apparently practicing some form of Christianity. And John himself notes that he wants to be more like them because "they have nothing, and they have everything."
Are their lives better now because they can get dressed up, stand on the beach and tearfully sing "God Be With You Till We Meet Again" in harmony as John walks away, his mission accomplished?
In an era when parents take 8-year-olds to see Blade II, The Other Side of Heaven is certainly a great choice for a family outing. The key is avoiding feelings of smug superiority and instead learning the same lessons that John Groberg did.
The Other Side of Heaven' is the story of John Groberg, a Mormon from Idaho, and his adventures in Tonga.
* (1 out of 4 stars)
"The Other Side of Heaven" boasts tidal waves and typhoons, wretched deaths and inspiring resurrections, hideous tropical maladies and bizarre down-home cures. It has exotic backdrops fit for Bloody Mary: swaying palms, cozy grass huts and epic moons.
And boy, oh boy, it's a howler, a textbook example of how the tagline "based on a true story" can be a come-on for the most artificial artistic impulses.
The directing debut of Brigham Young University grad Mitch Davis, "The Other Side of Heaven" is an unabashed Mormon propaganda piece disguised as an adventure film.
The film recounts the spiritual initiation of John Groberg (Christopher Gorham), an Idaho native who leaves behind an adoring girlfriend (Anne Hathaway) and his beloved alma mater in the 1950s to cut his teeth as a missionary in the South Seas kingdom of Tonga.
The young Groberg (who today serves as an elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) instantly captivates the natives with his congenial air, his abiding faith and his funny-adorable bag of malapropisms.
Facing down a never-ending litany of challenges with only a Bible and his seat-of-the-pants gumption, Groberg faith-heals an ostensibly deceased young native boy back to life and steers hard-drinking island rowdies from the ways of Satan.
The apex of thrillingly awful moments occurs when Groberg presides over the lagoon-water baptism of a Tongan teenage girl, saving her soul in the nick of time while just offshore, a bevy of misguided island lasses is deflowered by a boatload of rum-running seamen.
"The Other Side of Heaven" is the most unambiguous in a recent spate of broad-market films about the other love that dare not speak its name in Hollywood, the worship of God. Not since English missionary Ingrid Bergman saved the Chinese from their basest instincts in "Inn of the Sixth Happiness" can we recall such a narcissistic screen spectacle of white Christian chauvinism versus the dark-skinned heathen.
Only more grotesque than the film's clueless air of self-congratulation is the screenplay's square-as-"Father Knows Best" sense of humor, which the director has ostensibly incorporated from Groberg's memoirs. The whole trippy experience is like being held at gunpoint by a Jehovah's Witness at the front door while George Gobel holds forth in the living room on Nickelodeon.
MPAA rating: PG, for thematic elements and brief disturbing images
Jan Stuart writes about film for Newsday, a Tribune company.
'The Other Side of Heaven'
Christopher Gorham...John Groberg
Anne Hathaway...Jean Sabin
3Mark Entertainment presents a Molen Garbett production, released by Excel Entertainment Group. Writer-director Mitch Davis. Producers Gerald R. Molen, John Garbett. Executive producers Mitch Davis. Cinematographer Brian Breheny. Editor Steven Ramirez. Production designer Ric Kofoed. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.
In general release.
[NOTE: The "1-star" rating appeared in NEWSDAY, the original source of the review, but did not appear in the online L.A. TIMES version of the article.]
Average of Reader Reviews: **** (4 stars)
Number of Reviews: 15
4 is the highest possible rating
April 16, 2002 Jason Chong Santa Clarita , CA **** (4 stars) Jan Stuart's critique seems to be unwarranted without any merit. Especially the comment regarding "based on a true story". I suggest Jan read Groberg's book upon which the movie is based. One of the best adaptations I've seen in a long time. April 15, 2002 Patricia Lonhurt Hawthorne , CA **** (4 stars) Next time I want to see a movie, i'll see what Jan Stuart "The Critic" doesn't like, and go see it. This movie is great, and she needs to reevaluate her career. I'm not sure what she has against this movie, but she is DEAD WRONG. I went not expect much, and a bit skeptical, due to the Christian Missionary thing, but came out fully loving this movie. It was totally entertaining and had great acting. Don't believe her, just see this one! Patricia. April 15, 2002 Mitchell Wilson Ontario , CA **** (4 stars) I thought the actors were very good, and so was the photography. Gripping storyline--especially the hurricane. Overall, a great movie. April 15, 2002 chris lagoni long beach , ca **** (4 stars) good flick! very enjoyable and good acting. who are these movies critics? so what it this is about a missionary. get over it. i would not want to be a missionary, but this was a cool film to see what all that is like. above all, it was very entertaining! see it for yourself. April 15, 2002 Wilson Davis Los Angeles , CA **** (4 stars) I would not have written a review of this movie but for the Newsday review. I am sick of so-called "national movie experts" reviewing movieds based on their personal bias. This reviewer obviously has a big problem with missionaries of all faiths -- a bias that tainted his review. Anyway, this movie is great. It's warm, funny, and caring. Who cares that the lead is playing a missionary? This movie is about love and culture. And it's a winner. April 15, 2002 Bill James Los Angeles , CA * (1 star) Plain and simple, trash. Should have been the movie of week somewhere in Utah. I am surprised it received theatrical release. Although the acting was well done, the sentimentality was forced and lost my interest. April 15, 2002 Aurela Jones LA , CA **** (4 stars) All four of us that went to see it wanted to see it again. It was so much fun, and made us cry. Cant wait to go again. I really think this movie should win an academy award for something next year. It was so well done and we enjoyed this so much. It was intense, and had some scary parts, but was fun too. I would highly recommend this to other people to see. April 15, 2002 Dean Bennett Alhambra , Ca **** (4 stars) I loved this one. Great story, Great acting and great filming. This movie is a winner. April 15, 2002 Rick Solom Los Angeles , CA *** (3 stars) There were a couple things that were a bit overdone, like the waves, but other than that it was very good. I thought the story was pretty good. April 15, 2002 Scott Mellick Santa Monica , CA **** (4 stars) ok, who is that critic??? I am not sure if she saw the same movie. I loved this one, even though I don't know much about Mormons. It was not that much about a church, but about people. It was a great story, and very well made. Go see it! You'll see! April 15, 2002 Laura Heinz La Habra , CA **** (4 stars) I loved this movie. Anne Hathaway was great in Princess Diaries, and I thought even better in this one. It was so educational to learn more about Tonga, and now I feel like I have been there. This was a great movie that I will tell everyone about. April 15, 2002 Mark Capriolo Costa Mesa , CA **** (4 stars) This was an enjoyable movie for us and our teenage daughter. We did not know what to expect, but just picked this movie by chance, and were so surprised to see such a good movie. I hope word gets out what a gem this one is. This must be the beginning of a long, successful carreer for both of these new stars. they are fine actors! April 12, 2002 Andrew Brown Northridge , CA *** (3 stars) A must see movie! Based on a Morman Missionary preaching the gospel in Tonga. Despite it's religios backround, there still is suspense in the movie. The rewiew by newsweek was completley un-called for! And I quote: "And boy, oh boy, it's a howler, a textbook example of how the tagline "based on a true story" can be a come-on for the most artificial artistic impulses." or listen to this one: The directing debut of Brigham Young University grad Mitch Davis, "The Other Side of Heaven" is an unabashed Mormon propaganda piece disguised as an adventure film. and one more thing: and I quote "The young Groberg (who today serves as an elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) instantly captivates the natives with his congenial air, his abiding faith and his funny-adorable bag of malapropisms." An apology is due to America and the Mormon faith "JAN" April 12, 2002 Sonja Brown Northridge , CA *** (3 stars) Despite the biting review reprinted by the L.A.Times from Newsday....I found The Other Side of Heaven to be fascinating, thought not perfect. I wouldn't expect film critics to love this picture. It doesn't bear the usual favorite stamp of cutting edge violence, nudity, or social disfunction wrapped in silently vacant performances by up and coming stars. The movie is genuine, and should be approached in that way. Apparently the fascinating real life experiences of a young man left alone to teach Christianity on a pacific Island, really happened. The interaction between a westerner and the terrific islanders is good filmmaking. You won't waste your money. But go to be uplifted, not violated... which is how onee often feels when you sucker for the recommendations of big city critics.