I enjoyed The Singles Ward. Admittedly, that may make me unique among film critics in the Salt Lake City area, and that is not to say that I do not recognize that the film had many flaws. It was not what you would call an example of exceptional filmmaking, but then again, this was producer David Hunter and director Kurt Hale's first attempt at a feature-length film, and it was a learning experience for them. It's perhaps unfortunate that their first film had to come under the scrutiny and criticism that has surrounded the LDS-themed film genre for the past couple of years. At least Richard Dutcher had been afforded the luxury of producing his first feature-length film, Girl Crazy, in relative anonymity.
But I thought that, in general, The Singles Ward was a pretty fun experience. If you didn't go in expecting the polished wit and comic timing of experienced filmmakers like Woody Allen or Blake Edwards, and if you fit nicely into the film's very limited target audience - meaning you were LDS and young enough to remember when you, yourself, were single - you could have a fun time, despite the film's shortcomings. It was this element of fun that attracted enough of an audience to make The Singles Ward only the second LDS-genre feature to actually make a profit during its theatrical run. (The other was "God's Army".)1
I was anxious to see what Hale, Hunter and company had learned between The Singles Ward and their next attempt at the LDS feature-length comedy, The R.M. Happily, The R.M. shows some nice progress.
The R.M. is not a sequel to The Singles Ward. Although the film's lead actor, Kirby Heyborne, played Dalen, an enthusiastic young man who is called on a mission during The Singles Ward, this is not the title character in The R.M. This time, Heyborne plays Jared Phelps, a young man who returns home from his LDS mission with a full set of plans and expectations. Now that his time of service has come to an end, Jared is ready to return to normal life and all of the perks that come with it. He has a beautiful girlfriend, a great job, a loving family, a chance to go to a prestigious university and his trusty old car all waiting for him. Now he can reap the many blessings of his obedient and faithful service. Or so he thinks.
It doesn't take long for Jared's plans go awry. The disappointment starts when he steps off the airplane to find that his family has mistaken the date of his return and there is no one waiting for him. The surprises don't stop there. His family has moved, there is a Tongan exchange student sleeping in his bedroom, and - of course - his girlfriend is engaged.
Heyborne's performance is very good. His screen presence is engaging, and he shows a real talent for physical humor. The supporting cast in general is much improved from the previous film. Will Swenson, who had the lead role in The Singles Ward, brings another strong performance as Jared's worldly best friend, Kori, and Britani Bateman also adds a nice, understated performance as Kelly Powers, Jared's new love interest. Although, at times, the rest of the cast is still a bit amateurish, you can tell they are putting their heart and soul into their performances and seem to be enjoying themselves.
The biggest area of improvement in The R.M. is in the handling of cameos. The Singles Ward was simply stuffed with cameos of LDS celebrities, and a number of the jokes in the film could only be understood if you recognized that celebrity. While The R.M. still has a number of cameo appearances, these cameos are woven much more carefully into the fabric of the film, and really, it didn't matter that it was Jazz owner Larry H. Miller or BYU football coach Gary Crowton delivering the line or just another actor with a speaking part. Although this is a better filmmaking practice - making the film accessible to a larger audience - I have to admit, I kind of missed that aspect from The Singles Ward. As much as The Singles Ward was trashed for its amateur use of cameos as jokes, it lent a kind of charm to the film that I think those in its intended audience actually enjoyed. As long as you knew enough about Steve Young to get the joke, the fact that it was Steve Young on the screen giving a lecture about getting married before the age of 26 actually was quite funny.
Much of the humor in the film is also more universal. There are still plenty of culture-specific references that probably won't mean anything to people who have never been to a relief society or priesthood meeting. If you are unfamiliar with Book of Mormon names and places, some of the humorous references in the film will probably seem more weird than funny. But the filmmakers will readily admit that this is a film that is just intended for members of the church. Unlike most of the other LDS-themed films that have been released, they haven't tried to make a film that would attract nonmembers and members alike. But there is also a helping of traditional universal kinds of humor added, especially the kind of physical humor that's been a part of filmmaking since the silent film days of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
Having said all of that, this is still a far from perfect film. Although it starts out strong, it has several lulls along the way and about two-thirds of the way through the film it seems to stop even trying to be funny. This is okay for a while - it's nice to have a break and let the characters develop a serious side - but I feel like the film stays too serious for too long and by the time some of the humorous elements return, it never quite recovers the momentum it started with. Part of that is because nothing funny happens to Heybourne's character for the final third of the show. There are some funny things happening around him, but mostly he is no longer a part of the comedy. It is his energy and comedic timing that carry much of the film, and when that is removed, it is sorely missed.
The ending of the film has several plot elements that are just plain unbelievable - which would be fine if they were unbelievable in a funny way, but they're not even meant to be funny. Also, a couple of the underlying themes of the film are never satisfactorily resolved. Jared seems to come to peace with himself over them, but you are left wondering how he does so because the events in the film don't seem to justify this conclusion and you wonder if maybe an important conversation or epiphany moment somehow was accidentally cut out.
Still, the storytelling aspects of the film are much improved over The Singles Ward, and this is a film that is much more accessible and enjoyable for members of the church of all ages. Best of all, you get the feeling that Hale, Hunter and company will just keep getting better, and that gives us something to look forward to.
The R.M. is rated PG for some thematic elements.
1 The Singles Ward had a reported production budget of $450,000. Its box office gross was just over $1,250,000. God's Army had a reported production budget of $300,000. It grossed nearly $2,630,000 in the theaters. These numbers do not reflect the costs of advertising and making multiple prints of the films for the various theaters. Gross box office receipts are typically split between the theater, the film's distributor and the production company, so a film's actual profit cannot be determined from the above numbers. While Brigham City did gross more than its production budget ($905,000 gross receipts compared to a $900,000 production budget) it is assumed that after the other factors mentioned above are taken into account, that film did not make a profit during its theatrical run. None of the other LDS-themed films have grossed more than their production budget, although Charly, Handcart and of course The R.M. are still in theaters. Another source of income for films is through video and DVD sales and rentals, which is not included in this discussion.
"The RM," the latest movie from the makers of "The Singles Ward," hits theaters across Utah Friday, Jan. 31.
Audience members at Wednesday's premiere offered mixed reviews.
Actor Corbin Allred, best known for his supporting role in the film "Anywhere But Here," said he thought "The RM" compared well to big-budget Hollywood films.
"We learned that we had a good thing with 'The Singles Ward' and we didn't want to reinvent the business model," director Kurt Hale said. "We could have easily pulled together more money and used a bigger budget for 'The RM,' but we still believe there are not enough movie-going Mormons that trust, quote, 'Mormon comedy' enough for us to risk a bigger budget."
"The RM" had a $400,000 budget.
"There's so much trash in Hollywood right now," Allred said. "I don't like going to a movie feeling like I need to go to church right after, feeling guilty. This is one of those movies where you can go take your family and laugh about it for awhile."
Dorothy Lloyd, a 78-year-old extra in the Relief Society scenes, said she doesn't think the movie portrays Relief Society sisters accurately.
"The whole thing is just all in fun," Lloyd said. "This is all a fluffy kind of thing."
Like "The Singles Ward," "The RM" has several standout characters.
Lincoln Hope, who played DaVerl, the love struck loser from 'The Singles Ward,'" has a small part as the Elder's Quorum President in "The RM."
"I had fun being a little more normal," Hope said.
One of the atypical characters in the film is a Tongan exchange student named Humuhumukunukunukuapua'a, played by radio disc jockey Big Budha.
Budha's character eats unusually large amounts of food, and all the shots of him eating are real, Budha said.
"I was able to maintain my weight. I did not lose or gain," he said.
However, not all audience members were enthusiastic.
"It was a little too long," Kelly McBride said. The movie has a running time of one hour and 51 minutes.
"'Singles Ward' was a little bit more quick and crispy," McBride said.
But Kirby Heyborne, the movie's star, said he thinks 'The RM' is a better film and insisted it has nothing to do with the fact that he plays the lead role.
Supporting actor Will Swenson, who played the lead in "The Singles Ward," agreed with Heyborne.
"We learned a lot of lessons about how to put a film together. The editing is stronger and the base is better," Swenson said. "I think it has a little more universal appeal. There was a lot of exclusive humor in 'The Singles Ward' and these jokes are easier to get."
Some have been wondering if "The RM" is a continuation of the plot from "The Singles Ward." But Heyborne said he doesn't think people will have a problem differentiating between the two movies.
"The Singles Ward" grossed $1.5 million in theaters. Jed Ivie, director of media and public relations for Halestorm Entertainment, predicted that because of increased publicity, "The RM" will do even better.
...The LDS film trend doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon. "The RM," directed by Hale, hits theaters Thursday. Another comedy titled "Church Ball" is scheduled for release in January 2004.
"We can make 50 movies based on how strange we are," Hale said.
If you log on to the website for The RM, the new LDS comedy from Halestorm Entertainment, you'll notice a prominently displayed ad for an online LDS singles service called HotSaints.com. It sports the painful slogan "Chase and Be Chaste!"
It is this kind of tongue-in-cheek cultural humor upon which The RM (Returned Missionary), which opens in Utah theatres this weekend, is based. It's so over-the-top, you're not sure if you should wince or laugh. But the movie is like its predecessor The Singles Ward -- you have to know the Utah/Mormon culture from the inside out in order to appreciate its oddities and be able to laugh at them.
Writer/Director Kurt Hale and co-author John E. Moyer clearly know the culture well enough to effectively poke good-natured fun at it. They've got Mormon humor down to a science. Women who carve ice sculptures for Relief Society centerpieces. Furniture made out of food storage supplies. Wedding announcements featuring couples with matching denim shirts.
The RM is the story of LDS Missionary Jared Phelps (Kirby Heyborne) who, upon returning home from his mission, finds that real life isn't the fantasy he dreamed up on the flight home. Jared fully expects all the "promised" blessings of missionary service to be in place when he arrives. His beautiful girlfriend Molly (Erin M. Robert) will be anxiously awaiting his proposal. His 10 adoring siblings and his parents will be waiting adoringly at the airport gates. His application for BYU will be accepted. And the promised job from his former employee will fall effortlessly into place.
None of the above works out for Jared as planned. He's left floundering, trying awkwardly to get a date and stumbling through his night job as a waiter. To add insult to injury, his sweet-spirited younger sister, Sariah (Maren Ord) is busily engaged in making wedding plans for her own marriage.
But things aren't all bad. Jared still has his best friend, the mischievous Kori (Will Swenson) to keep him on his toes with all kinds of questionable activities. He's recently been appointed the position of Elder's Quorum President in his LDS Ward. And he finds himself pleased to be persistently bumping into a beautiful General Authority's daughter named Kelly Powers (Brittani Bateman.)
But every time Jared gets a break, something happens to bring him down. Jared finally hits rock bottom by finding himself in a compromising situation with his drunken best friend, a couple of sorority girls, and a stolen car. At this point, The RM must decide if he wants to re-enter the real world while continuing to uphold the standards of an LDS missionary, or re-enter the real world as a more "worldly" Jared.
The RM is truly a hilarious romp in Happy Valley, as long as it's all in good fun. What presents more of a comic opportunity than the familiar follies of an awkward returned missionary, re-entering life without the protection of strict religious parameters? Although prone to cartoonish stunts and extremely inside jokes, the movie has a sweetness and sincerity that draws in its audience.
But The RM's downfall comes when it begins to take itself too seriously. The film moves along at a pleasantly inane pace with continuous sharp comedy. But late in the film comes a devastating subplot about Jared and His Big Choice About Honesty. It's straight out of something you might see in The Friend, and it doesn't fit here; especially since the movie doesn't even try to get serious until the last third of the film. But, since the first two-thirds of the film is such a pleasant surprise in terms of lovingly delivered jabs at the Mormon culture, it's definitely worth your time.
As for the cast itself, it's generally strong (with the exception of a totally bizarre and badly executed courtroom scene involving Scott Christopher as a prosecutor). Actress Tracey Ann Evans as Jared's mother Emma Phelps benefits from a perfectly written characterization of a typical crafting, cooking, fretting, childbearing Mormon matriarch. Brittani Bateman also stands out as an overly-sweet, but not unlikable, love interest. And of course there are the usual suspects in Utah celebrity cameos.
But it's the face of the film's star, Kirby Heyborne, that lights up the film. His genuinely befuddled performance as the quintessential fresh-faced, eager-to-please RM is as endearing as it is funny. Heyborne establishes himself as the Mormon Ben Stiller -- awkward, clueless, a little prone to falling over and bumping his head--but as sincere as a schoolboy in love.
Bottom Line: Hilarious, (if slightly flawed) look at readjustment to life outside the mission. B.
On Wednesday, I attended the premiere of the movie "The R.M." Being an R.M. myself, it was only natural that I go and see the film version.
The film is the follow-up to "The Singles Ward," which I did not see because, like most good R.M.s, I never made it to a singles ward. I was engaged about a month after I got home.
"R.M." of course is Mormon-speak for "returned missionary," meaning someone who went on an LDS Church mission to some horribly weird place such as New Guinea or New Jersey.
Anyone who finishes a tour of duty and comes home with an honorable release is considered an R.M., provided that the police are not waiting for them. It is generally understood that you cannot claim R.M. status if you got sent home early for throwing some nitpicker of a zone leader off a roof.
Personally, I think anyone who went on a mission and stayed longer than six months without trying to poison a companion is worthy of the title. There is nothing unusual about being an R.M. in Utah. You can't swing a plate of s'mores around here without hitting one -- whether or not he or she deserves it.
Though some would dearly love to, it is considered bad form even among the most orthodox Mormons to add the initials R.M. at the end of one's name as if to denote a special degree or status, i.e. Ralph Blattz, M.D., DFC and R.M.
This is not to say that R.M.s do not enjoy a certain level of regard around here. In the Mormon culture, they are considered prime marriage material for anyone with a high school diploma and a full hope chest.
Indeed, an R.M. is to the LDS mother of a teenage daughter what a doctor is to a Jewish mom, and what any guy with a job is to a Catholic mom.
Oh, stop. Some Catholics told me that one.
Mainly, I went to "The R.M." to see if being an R.M. has changed since I became one nearly 30 years ago. The answer, of course, is nay.
The film is about an elder who finishes his mission in far-off Wyoming and returns to a world gone completely nuts, starting with the fact that his family moved without telling him.
Actually, the world hasn't changed nearly as much as Elder Phelps. Without the security of a controlled environment, nothing can be predicted. He goes semi-insane trying to cope with life colored outside the lines.
It happened to me. Frankly, no one who endures two years of being hidebound gets right back up to speed as soon as they come home. It takes a while to figure out that you are the one who is nuts.
When I came home in '75, the hardest thing to cope with was the loss of someone telling me what to do, what to read, how to think, what to wear and when to go to sleep. I solved that problem by getting married as soon as possible.
Is "The R.M." any good? Would I recommend it to anyone I liked? Well, it made me laugh. It made my wife laugh. That's something any religious culture needs plenty of.
Halestorm Entertainment's second LDS themed movie "The RM" hit theatres last weekend. The RM (return missionary), has a story set on the life of a young man named Jared (Kirby Heyborne) who recently returns from serving a mission.
Returning from serving in Evanston, he returns home to what he thinks is a perfect post-mission life. From the very beginning his expectations are crushed.
His family has changed, the waiting girlfriend is no longer and his dream job is not available.
His problems only get more intense as he is stuck with an expensive engagement ring that his girlfriend rejects and the search for a job is difficult. The real trouble comes from his best friend Kori (Will Swenson), who tries to lure him to the dark side by tempting him to the party lifestyle of college.
Things turn out for the best when our missionary meets a potential new love interest and all of his problems are resolved in the end.
The performance is packed with cast from The Singles Ward. The expected LDS based humor is thick and strong throughout the movie. At times the set-up for an obvious Mormon joke is lengthy and often painful. Mormon product placement is ever evident through the entire feature. The cameos from Mormon celebrities are numerous and unnecessary.
I could tell what the film makers were trying to accomplish. They were trying to put so much in this film that the humor is thinned out and mild. The really funny moments were reserved for those who are submerged deeply into Mormon culture. The RM is probably the worst out of all the recent LDS themed movies. If you enjoyed The Singles Ward, then get ready for disappointment. If you didn't like Singles, then I recommend you don't bring any sharp objects with you when you see this feature, for your safety and others.
LDS films such as Dutcher's "God's Army" and "Brigham City," along with HaleStorm Entertainment's "The Single's Ward" and "The RM," leave some anti-Hollywood Mormons with bitter-herb aftertastes of irreverence and even blasphemy.
... 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."
"The R.M." set the record for the highest opening-weekend box office of any LDS-themed film, taking in $130,352 on 15 screens last Friday through Sunday.
Its predecessor, the similarly farcical "Singles Ward," also from HaleStorm Entertainment, grossed $46,649 on its opening weekend a year ago.
The opening-weekend record for LDS films was previously held by "Brigham City," which scored $103,629 when it opened in April 2001.
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...
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.
The R.M. in "The R.M." stands for "Returned Missionary" Jared Phelps, played by Kirby Heyborne.
After serving a 2-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Phelps comes home to find his parents have moved, his girlfriend hasn't waited for him and general insanity has taken over his life.
The film, although very much an insider's movie, has some pretty good comedic moments in it brought to fullest potential by Heyborne's unflinching (almost deadpan) style. Heyborne has an "every man" quality about him, a kind of "regular guy" presence making the comedy in the film sting harder and the audience laugh deeper.
Certainly the film is a product of Utah and contains some gags and scenes (including inept father / son "talks" and Utah's mulit-level madness)which non-residents and non-LDS may need an interpreter to translate for them, but overall the film is a witty and enjoyable romp, reminiscent of the John Cusack film "Better Off Dead," but on a smaller scale.
The R.M. gets 3 stars (in Utah) and 2 * stars for the rest of the planet. It carries a PG rating for suggestive language and mild violence.
Kirby Heyborne, who stole the show in the Mormon film "The Singles Ward" and who stars in the new movie The RM (which opened Jan 31) will next appear in "The Work and The Story" a comedy by Nathan Smith Jones. The movie should be in theatres by May 2003.
Sources close to the project call it "hilarious", "a comedy not just for Mormons!", and "the funniest Mormon film to ever hit the big screen."
Kirby Plays Ephraim Thomas, who is the production assistant to Peter, one of the film's antagonists.
Additional source: ldsfilm.com Source: theworkandthestory.com Date posted: 2003-02-01
A couple of limited openers had encouraging debuts with Universal's cross-cultural comedy The Guru entrancing roughly $630,000 from 62 venues and Halestorm's feel good modern-day Jonah comedy The R.M. (an acronym for Returning Missionary) scoring $218,000 from 15 screens. Halestorm, a Utah-based indie, produces family films with a modicum of religiosity and last year had a theatrical success with The Single's Ward grossing $1.25 million.
"Chicago" continues its strong showing, climbing into the top five despite its limited release pattern of only 623 theaters for the top per-theater average of $11,321. The Miramax musical will more than double its number of theaters this weekend.
The CIA-themed thriller "The Recruit," with Al Pacino and Colin Farrell, edged out the youth horror thriller "Final Destination 2" as the weekend's top-grossing film, but had a much higher per-venue average than its competitor, with an average of $6,861, compared with $5,652 for "Final Destination 2."
Meanwhile, three films debuted in limited release. "The Guru" grossed $613,485 at 62 venues for an average of $9,895 per venue; the Mormon family comedy "The R.M." grossed $130,352 at 15 venues for an average of $8,690; and "Lost in La Mancha" took in $63,303 at eight venues for an average of $7,913.
|Weekend Top 10 By Theater Gross|
|Movie||Gross||Theaters||Per Theater||Total Gross||Days|
|2||City of God||$252,608||23||$10,983||$669,294||17|
|4||Red Circle, The (Cercle Rouge, Le)||$9,670||1||$9,670||$85,702||24|
|5||Power & Terror: Noam Chomsky in Our Times||$17,546||2||$8,773||$113,185||73|
|7||Quiet American, The||$68,274||8||$8,534||$728,066||73|
|8||Lost in La Mancha||$63,303||8||$7,913||$63,303||3|
|9||Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary||$15,357||2||$7,679||$29,551||10|
[Capsule reviews of currently playing movies.]
** [2 out of 4 stars]
A Mormon kid (Kirby Heyborne) returns from his mission to find that things aren't going as he planned. Director Kurt Hale and his "Singles Ward" crew are improving their comedy skills, but many jokes still repel all but the most faithful LDS moviegoer. (S.P.M.) Rated PG for some thematic elements; 102 minutes. Salt Lake County: Century 16, Cinemark 24 (Jordan Landing), Megaplex 12 at The Gateway, Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons. Utah County: Cinemark 16 (Provo), Water Gardens. Weber County: Tinseltown 14 (Ogden). Davis County: Gateway 8, Tinseltown 17 (Layton).