Review: ‘Meet the Mormons’ a sales pitch in the guise of a documentary

First Published      Last Updated Oct 22 2014 02:24 pm

There are a lot of issues raised by the existence of "Meet the Mormons," a documentary backed by the public-relations arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

None of those issues are tackled, or even mentioned, within the film itself. The movie is simply a string of vignettes, all nicely told by director Blair Treu, telling the stories of six members of the LDS Church whose lives and work are influenced by their Mormon faith.

The six are:

• Jermaine Sullivan, an LDS bishop in an ethnically diverse Atlanta ward.

• Ken Niumatalolo, head football coach at the U.S. Naval Academy.

• Carolina Muñoz Marin, a young mom in Costa Rica — who's also an amateur kickboxing champ.

• Gail Halvorsen, the "Candy Bomber," who dropped parcels of chocolate to war-displaced German children during the Berlin Airlift of the late 1940s.

• Bishnu Adhikari, an engineer and humanitarian in Nepal who works to build roads, schools and water systems in villages there.

• Dawn Armstrong, once a struggling single mom, now sending her son Anthony off on his LDS mission.

The six are strong, photogenic, positive representatives of the Mormon faith and a model of the church's diversity.

Treu finds small moments of authentic grace and humanity in each, as he tells their stories in the style similar to the "up close and personal" profiles one sees on TV during the Olympics.

Framing the six stories is a narrator, comedian Jenna Kim Jones, who starts off in Manhattan with person-on-the-street interviews about Mormon stereotypes.

These moments are intercut with pop-culture references ranging from "The Simpsons" to "South Park" (though, notably, not from the "South Park" episode that famously shredded LDS doctrine as "dumb, dumb, dumb").

And thus the problem with "Meet the Mormons": not what's in the frame, but what's outside it.

The movie, like the church's "I'm a Mormon" ad campaign that it resembles, is great at presenting its six subjects as just regular folks who credit their faith for giving their lives foundation. Nothing wrong with that, except there's little that differentiates Mormonism from other denominations.

There are fleeting mentions of doctrine in Jones' narration — like the Book of Mormon or the fact that Mormons don't drink.

But there's nothing in the movie about Mormon history, and no discussion of the unique aspects of LDS doctrine about which non-Mormons tend to be the most curious.

So "Meet the Mormons" isn't a definitive look at people of the LDS faith. It's not a documentary but an informercial, meant less to inform than to introduce a sales pitch.


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‘Meet the Mormons’

Six stories of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, deftly formed into a sales pitch by the church.

Where » Area theaters.

When » Opens Friday, Oct. 10.

Rating » PG for some thematic elements.

Running time » 78 minutes.