“Meet the Mormons” is a slick, upbeat Church of Latter Day Saints-backed documentary that aims to answer the image of the church and its members “shaped by the media and popular culture.”
A quick montage of pop culture ridicule of Mormons and Mormonism hits on that — “What are you, Mormon?” punchlines from films such as “Fletch,” “Burn After Reading” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” open mockery by the “The Simpsons” and “South Park.”
And the film’s narrator, Jenna Kim Jones, finds New York’s Times Square full of people with “misconceptions” about Latter Day Saints — “Lots of wives. “Lots of kids.” “Racists.”
But “Mormons,” the fresh-faced blue-eyed blond narrator informs us, “come in all shapes, sizes, shapes and colors.”
So the film shows us an African American Mormon bishop and his family in Atlanta. We meet Ken Niumatalolo, Mormon coach of the football team at the U.S. Naval Academy. We travel to Nepal where a native who has converted is helping build schools and water systems, to Costa Rica, where kickboxer Carolina Muñoz Marin trains, with her husband.
We meet a surviving hero of the Berlin airlift and a young man of mixed race, born out of wedlock, now old enough to go to South Africa to do his two years as a Mormon missionary.
Catholic and Baptist relatives in various countries proclaim their tolerance for the converted.
“I’m not pushing my religion on anybody,” Coach Niumatalolo assures the viewer as he notes that he decreed that his team will not do prep work on the Sabbath.
A Sunday school teacher asks a ten-year-old, “How can you dress modestly for the heavenly Father?”
Their wholesomeness is refreshing. Their optimism, and the film’s, is boundless.
But from the cherry-picked “stereotypes” to the sins of omission that follow, “Meet the Mormons” is nothing but propaganda. The film addresses the church’s reputation for “racism” without mentioning the long history in which that was true. The same gloss-it-over approach is used on the church’s sexist, patriarchal heritage.
And nobody brings up the homophobia that stormed out of the closet when Mormon money and organizers pushed California’s anti-gay Proposition 8 — “Proposition Hate,” it was nicknamed.
There have been Mormon-made movies that approach the religion, its history and reputation with a more open mind — Richard Dutcher’s “God’s Army” is the best of those.
But by being, in essence, a wholesome, sugar-coated recruiting film, “Meet the Mormons” — in 250 theaters this weekend — seems destined to preach only to the choir, the most famous of which is in that Salt Lake City Tabernacle.
MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements
Cast: Ted Niumatalolo, Col. Gail Halvorsen, Carolina Munez
Credits: Written and directed by Blair Treu. A Purdie release.
Running time: 1:19