The R.M. exapands to Idaho this weekend and hopes to pull in an another strong per theatre average at this top Mormon market.
On the subject of records and PTA's (per theatre averages) The RM set a Mormon movie record [Ed: Yes, we are keeping count] by posting a solid $8,600 average. The other record is that it grossed $130 thousand dollars making it the high grossing opener for the niche. The highest individual weekend for the genre remains The Other Side of Heaven, which pulled off almost $700,000 about a month into release.
Contributed by Numbers reader
THE R.M. (1 hr., 42 min.; PG for mild thematic stuff) From the makers of "The Singles Ward" comes a far better film, an altogether amusing comedy about a Mormon missionary who returns home to find nothing is as he hoped it would be. Kirby Heyborne is the film's best asset, with a likable Everyman quality as the R.M. The supporting performances are generally good, though Mitch English and Scott Christopher are embarrassingly bad as a freakish roommate and a squirrelly lawyer, respectively. The jokes are hit or miss, and the film turns too serious in its last act. But overall, the parts that make you laugh outnumber the parts that make you roll your eyes. B-
...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.
...Samuelsen said he saw the film knowing little about Greek-American 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...
Anyone looking for a comedy can find their relief in The RM. The only problem is they will not find it in the large doses that accompanied The Singles Ward.
Just like its predecessor, The RM takes jabs at the culture associated with being a Latter-day Saint. Because the LDS audience had never seen jabs at the culture on the silver screen, The Singles Ward was a breath of fresh air.
With many of the cast and production crew returning, including director Kurt Hale, producer Dave Hunter and actor Kirby Heyborne, the fresh air has run out. The jokes were not stale, it is just the way the jokes were told has been seen before. However, the movie was still a push in the right direction.
Heyborne, known as Dalen in The Singles Ward, plays Jared Phelps, a newly returned missionary. Although he believes he has his life put together, his readjustment back to normal life is peppered with trials. When added up they equal one big Job-like ordeal.
The movie follows Phelps as he finds his own ride home from the airport after a non-existent homecoming and discovers his family has moved. He has to share his room with a Tongan exchange student, his parents sold his car, and his girlfriend will not accept an expensive ring because she only waited 23 and a half months.
The situational comedy continues as one thing after another goes wrong in Phelps' life. As his dreams crumble, the idiosyncrasies of Mormon culture are highlighted.
Relief Society centerpieces, college students telemarketing, home-based pyramid schemes, ways to get rid of unwanted engagement rings and a themed restaurant named Book of Mormon Burger are just a few ways The RM's writers found to make fun of the Mormon culture.
The plot thickens as Phelps is caught unwillingly participating in illegal activities brought upon him by his old friend Kori (Will Swenson, who played the lead role in The Singles Ward).
Although the film does have a cohesive plot, the climax is not as, well, climactic as it could, and should, have been. Also, the plot contains gags meant to get a laugh out of the audience, however, they were painfully over the top.
Although the movie contains flaws, overall it is good to see a movie where you don't have to avert your eyes in certain scenes and every joke is good and clean.
The LDS film genre is still in its infantile stage, and though there is room for improvement, The RM is a good movie to see during the growing pains. We will see what other growing pains will be brought up when the movies Church Ball, The Home Teachers, The Work and the Story and others find their way to the big screen.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
If Francois Truffaut gave birth to the French New Wave cinema movement and The Bicycle Thief spurred Italian Neorealism, then on the same note Kurt Hale could be partly credited for the reluctant dawn of Mormon Cinema, the film world's most unlikely new contender at the box office.
Already populated by flicks like The Other Side of Heaven, God's Army and Brigham City, the movement of films -- all of which boast a culturally specific market: members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- only recently has taken off in the movement's own Hollywood: Salt Lake City.
It wasn't until last year's madcap Mormon comedy, The Singles Ward, did the already bustling genre begin to take shape at the hands of director Hale, who took typical LDS lifestyles and turned them on their funny bones.
So far, The Singles Ward, with a mini budget of $400,000, has raked in more than $1.4 million at the box office (even with few prints circulating the country) and sold 150,000 home videos.
"And it hit cult status overnight," Hale said. "People were turned on to it right away and ever since it's turning out to be a success. Certainly no one's getting rich off it, but we're doing good."
Hales' new film, The RM, is expected to further elevate Mormon filmmaking into the annals of box office history. If anything, it will make people of all faiths laugh.
The RM is about Jared (Kirby Heyborne), a missionary from the LDS church, who returns home after his two years of service to find all he had hoped to return home to -- a car, a house, a girlfriend and a job -- no longer is around.
His family had moved without telling him; his girlfriend became engaged 23 1/2 months into his 24-month mission; his car was sold; and his boss, pro baseball player Wally Joyner, didn't need him anymore. Jared must adapt to a new life, one with more twists and turns than he could have ever expected.
The West Valley View spoke to Hale, a 33-year-old Salt Lake City resident, about his recent success and The RM, which opens Friday on eight screens throughout the Valley.
WVV: So did you serve a mission?
KH: Yes, I did, in Santa Rosa, Calif., in the northern part of the state. Grew up in Southern Cal, [the church] sent me to Northern Cal.
WVV: So when you returned, were you the Jared character? Is this movie about your experiences?
KH: You know, it's funny you should ask. When I got home my parents weren't at the airport to meet me. If you think about LDS culture, before the airports were clamping down on security, families were allowed to go right up to the gate and bring balloons and banners.
Anyway, when I got off the plane -- long before these restrictions were placed on greeters at the gates -- nobody was in sight for me, yet there were all these other eruptions taking place with other people's families and friends. I found myself later at the baggage carousel thinking, "Jeez, this sucks."
Walk out to the curb and my dad screeches up doing a 100 mph telling me he's sorry he was late and to get in. That's where the idea started, but really we took all the horror stories of people returning home from missions -- or college or from the military -- and dumped them on our central character.
WVV: Your films aren't religion movies in any way. Was that the plan?
KH: We're not interested in studying the theology, the religion of Mormons. It's not like it's heavy-handed propaganda. Religion plays in, especially in the backdrop, but it's more of a cultural thing.
Anyone who belongs to any culture could find some humor in it if they just stepped back and took a look at it. If you want to really know about Mormons though, talk to a real missionary. If you want to laugh at Mormons come see these films.
WVV: Families like clean movies. Is that part of the appeal of your films?
KH: Exactly. That's nice. Any movie that parents can take a child to and not have to squirm when certain things are on the screen is nice. We want people to laugh for all the right reasons.
WVV: What do you think of the phrase "Mormon Cinema," as your films are being called?
KH: That's a tough one, I guess we are Mormons making films for Mormons, but Mormon Cinema is more of a broader label. Matt Stone and Trey Parker did Orgazmo, and that was certainly Mormon cinema. The fact is Mormons and Mormonism have been in films in different forms for a long time. This current wave though does seem to be a more defined. It's a weird thing, kind of a new little hybrid. It's exciting.
1/2 * [1/2 out of 5 stars]
God, Yahweh, Allah and Shiva damn the Mormons and their moronic movies. May some vengeful deity condemn those latter-day sinners and their reels of shamefully frittered celluloid (Brigham City, The Other Side of Heaven) to burn eternally in Beelzebub's boiler.
Whoah, dude, lighten up. Aren't we being a little extreme here? Well, excuse the blasphemous outburst, but director Kurt Hale and co-writer John E. Moyer's follow-up to last year's The Singles Ward justifies such wrath and indignation.
One positive thing about The R.M. is that the title will likely deter viewers who aren't hip to secret LDS code (it's short for "Returned Missionary"). Our plucky, titular hero (Kirby Heyborne) returns to civilization (Salt Lake City) from some godforsaken hellhole (Wyoming) to learn that a promised job has evaporated, his gal's run off with another guy and his parents are more interested in a Ponzi scheme than their prodigal son.
Enter pretty Britani Bateman, and Kirb's best bud (Will Swenson), who's forsaken the missionary position for a sinful frat house. Adventures with a Town Car and an unlikely courtroom scene precede the inevitable happy ending.
This seemingly innocuous stuff purports to poke gentle fun at the Latter-Day Saints. But the affectionate mocking backfires, unwittingly revealing a sanctimonious and very skewed world view (white, middle-class, privileged). Kirby's mom (Tracy Ann Evans) thinks her South Pacific houseguest (Leroy Te'o) speaks only "Tonganese." And eek! There's a "naked ninja" (Joel Tamiguchi) in the family's old shower. Talk about antediluvian. Such "humor" is barely removed from the noble savage and slant-eyed caricatures of old. In its way, The R.M. is as offensive as D.W. Griffith's glorification of the KKK in Birth of a Nation or The Jazz Singer's Al Jolson warbling about his "Mammy" in blackface.
Yet what makes this excrescence truly unforgivable is its makers have conveniently ignored the injunction that you can't serve God and mammon, and they've learned Hollywood's shameful, open secret: There's endless money to be made by purveying cinematic pabulum to a benighted populace. These folks ain't doing this for God or Brigham Young. They're in it for the filthy lucre. Eternal damnation's too good for them.
Sure, the title is cryptic, but the plotting in "The R.M." is a cinch. It's about a returning LDS missionary who comes home expecting a little TLC, but gets stiffed by the enrollment board at BYU and ends up serving as his ward's EQP. If he remembers to CTR, someday he could be a GA.
What, you're still confused? You must not be Mormon (read: a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), and if that's the case, the movie itself will leave you just as puzzled. Otherwise, "The R.M." (written, directed and produced by the same filmmaking team behind the 2002 Mormon niche hit "The Singles Ward") will inspire a few knowing laughs, a few exasperated groans and, in the more fastidious among you, a deep yearning for an LDS-themed movie that's actually worth sitting through.
Succinctly put, the movie is a Job-esque comic fable about the difficulties -- both romantic and professional -- faced by returning Mormon missionaries (known as RMs) as they make the transition back into society. Just ask poor Jared Phelps, played by newcomer Kirby Heyborne, who looks a little like a young Gene Wilder with hair-straightening treatments. Not only does Jared the star proselytizer step off the airplane to an empty terminal -- after an adventure-free tour of duty in exotic Wyoming, no less -- no one remembered to tell him that his parents moved (d'oh!) or that his girlfriend got engaged to another missionary (double d'oh!).
Now Jared has no job, no girlfriend, no educational prospects -- only his dignity and faith, which are all he might need to snare a tasty-but-down-to-earth Mormon princess (Britani Bateman) who has taken a shine to him.
We're not talking about the most sophisticated humor, here -- silly sight gags and John Hughes-style opportunistic sound effects, mostly. In one scene, we see one of Jared's 11 siblings read an issue of "LDS Teen Beat." There are, however, some genuinely funny scenes, including a bogus TV commercial for a wedding Web site starring former Major League Baseball player Wally Joyner in a black Donny Osmond wig.
Writer/director Kurt Hale pokes gentle, inside-out fun at the Mormon propensity for food storage, large families, acronyms, etc.
In fact, "The R.M." only becomes truly excruciating during the final 20 minutes, when pious, sinless Jared somehow gets tagged with a DUI rap, leading to one of the most insultingly stupid redemptive courtroom sequences ever filmed. LDS or no, there's just no way to tolerate BS such as that.
Playing: Opens Friday throughout the Valley