Movie Review: “Meet the Mormons”

mormons“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 famous Salt Lake City Tabernacle.

2stars1

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

(Read a review of “Missionary,” a new Mormon-bashing indie thriller)

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33 Responses to Movie Review: “Meet the Mormons”

  1. John34 says:

    Is this a review or a political commentary based on the writer’s conjecture and own personal bias and religious intolerance? Just because a Church does not believe in gay marriage does not mean that they are “haters” as you suggest. In fact, you seem intolerant of other’s religious ideas and beliefs. Also the comment of the “church’s sexist, patriarchal heritage” is wholly inaccurate and incendiary. This is not an honest review but a mask for religious intolerance, historical inaccuracy, and a political commentary. Shame on you Roger Moore.

    • What are the Latter Day Saints if not political? Why does this movie look suspiciously like the current “We are Republicans” ad campaign, purporting to show African Americans, Asians and Latino members of that conservative, older, overwhelmingly white political party?

      Change the title to “Meet the Muslims” and ask yourself if you’d think it fair and accurate, and not simple white washing. Change the title to “Meet the Scientologists” or “Meet the Gays.” What questions would you want such a film to ask?
      “South Park” is more balanced on the subject. PBS did that whole mini series on the faith and its history that pointed out the good deeds and opportunistic expediency of the church, over its lifetime. Polygamy’s necessary. Polygamy’s a sin. Blacks aren’t in the Bible. Blacks are welcome. Women are subservient. OK, maybe that’s a little harsh, let’s change that. Rent “God’s Army,” Mormon-made, a movie that acknowledges how the church earned its reputation, missionaries forced to confront the idea that it was founded on fraud. Shame on you for not being a more critical thinker.

      It’s a movie review that points out a movie’s shortcomings. Nobody is questioning your faith, no wisecracks about polygamy, “magic t-shirts,” “golden tablets” and an obsession with genealogy so you can claim the dead as “Saved” by you (all in profanity-laced comments I had to delete here). But passing yourself off as “mainstream,” ignoring your VERY RECENT racism, lingering sexism and current homophobia? Pretending it’s not there and that golly, Everybody’s Mormon? PROPAGANDA.

      • Jex says:

        Nailed it, Roger. (speaking from a great, unfortunate deal of experience) The above commenter doesn’t appear to understand terms like “sexist” or even “inaccurate”.

      • Sandra says:

        ^^ My God, I think I love you.

  2. Larry Richman says:

    I found the movie to be refreshing, upbeat, and inspiring. In 70 minutes, you can’t expect a film to cover every aspect of belief and history, nor does it pretend to. It highlights 6 families who are doing their best to live their religion and help others.

  3. CDMMSG says:

    This is not just a review of the movie but also seems to be a commentary on the author’s own opinions about Mormons and the Mormon faith. The movie was produced by the church to present an opposing voice to all the “punch lines” and “open mockery” as cited by the author in his piece. But I would certainly not call the creators of “South Park” balanced on any subject, least of all Mormons. I disagree that the people profiled are stereotypes of the typical Mormon but are representative of a growing and increasingly diverse church. However, I think that his description that this is a church produced recruiting piece and his assessment that the film will be preaching to the choir is probably accurate. Since the movie’s intent was to present a positive image, I personally would have preferred that the author stick to commentary about the movie and stay away from the personal notes. What church would talk about their controversial history in a promotional piece? The NFL’s Football Hall of Fame still presents a positive image of O. J Simpson and other troubled players at their facility. I think that those who go to see the movie are smart enough to come to their own conclusions about it.

    • Justin Sorenson says:

      LDS member here. I used to think the same thing about that South Park episode that describes how the BoM “translation” occurred. I was so upset. I thought, “These guys don’t hate Mormons. They’ve said on multiple occasions that they like Mormons. Why would they just make up the rock in the hat stuff rather than getting the accurate version?” Then, I did a little research. I realized that the South Park episode in question was more historically accurate than any of the lessons I was taught in Seminary. Scary, sad times when Matt and Trey are more reliable for true history than my own church.

  4. John34 says:

    Most churches, including the Latter-Day Saints, have the purpose to bring souls to Christ. The purpose of your website, presumably, is to review movies. Although I would expect a social commentary related to a movie review, your review is an ad hoc political and religious attack on a religion to which you are clearly intolerant and as you say a “fraud.” I would look forward to a Meet the Muslims or Meet the Hindus or any other such movie which shows people doing good in their lives and in the lives of others because I am tolerant and I understand that all religions have transformed and evolved in a dynamic process. Your reasoning is shallow, historically inaccurate and simply ad hominen.

    In your review, due to your myopic obsession and assumptions that Mormons are sexist, racist, homophobes, you miss the point of the entire movie. You are correct that this movie is preaching to the choir — made by Mormons for Mormons — but somehow you miss that the value of diversity is being preached to the choir.

    Your research about Mormons centers on another movie which I suppose is the depth of your critical thinking. I base my beliefs on my interactions with other people of different beliefs as well as reading their texts or scriptures. When those beliefs contradict my own, I don’t call them frauds but I find common ground or purpose. I am happy for those that find strength in their beliefs even when they conflict with my own.

    I do give you props for leaving this conversation on your website though, perhaps you are more fair minded than your words would indicate.

    • mike says:

      You have to understand that the vast majority of the public if not the entire world holds a very controversial image of Mormonism. While it’s quaint that the Mormon church is doing it’s best to change it’s PR image, the church won’t be turning heads until it decides to address its controversial beginnings, strange practices and current political views. It’s great that the majority of Mormons are good if not great and honorable people. If that’s all this movie is, which is what it sounds like, then the only people who will want to watch it are other Mormons. I would have wanted to watch this movie if the church highlighted all its controversies and re-stated their beliefs despite them. Viewers wouldn’t have to necessarily agree with the church’s stances or beliefs but they would have respected the church for being forthright and open. The Mormon church’s reputation on being forthright and open is, as you know, not very stellar.

    • grant says:

      “due to your myopic obsession and assumptions that Mormons are sexist, racist, homophobes, you miss the point of the entire movie”

      As a non-mormon who lives in Utah and has to deal with Mormon culture on a daily basis, I have to side with the author on this one. It’s unfair to categorize every mormon as sexist, racist, and homophobic. But these are things that are very much a part of the culture here.

      Your church doesn’t allow women to hold the priesthood. Your prophet isn’t female. Nor are any of his apostles. None of your bishops are female. You won’t see any females in leadership roles. You won’t even let them watch the priesthood session of conference. When they complain and voice their disapproval you excommunicate them.

      Many would consider this behavior sexist. But in addition to denying women the priesthood, your church also played a key role in blocking the equal rights amendment in the 1970s. They couldn’t keep their sexism to their selves, they had to make it political.

      Brigham Young said some very racist things. His attitudes towards blacks is well documented. Your church wouldn’t allow blacks to hold the priesthood until the 1970s. Mormonism has a history of racism.

      Since the 70s, it appears the church has made some progress. With that said, your prophet isn’t black. None of his apostles are black. It’s hard to think of your church as diverse when all of the upper leadership is white men.

      As for homophobia, it’s VERY hard to look at your church’s recent political activity and not think of the organization as homophobic. I wouldn’t be as upset with your church if they simply taught that they believed homosexuality was wrong and left non-mormons to live their lives as they wished. However, your church put a lot of time, money, and effort into denying the LGBT community equal rights. Your church’s actions towards the LGBT community are disgusting and you should be ashamed.

    • Saul Goodman says:

      John34, you’re pretty full of yourself, commending Roger’s willingness (giving “props”, haha splendid) to leave the conversation intact, as if you were making him look bad or showing him up in some fasion?

      Son, the only one you’re making look foolish here is yourself. Any author would leave this dialogue with you up on their article, you’re only outing yourself a fool to the merriment and entertainment of the rest of us readers. How could any serious discussion ensue when your comical levels of hubris coupled with naivete create such a serious obstacle to any reasoned discourse?

      Part of me hopes that you’ll just run along now but the other part of me wants you to stay. You are quite amusing, after all.

      • John34 says:

        I appreciate that you find my commentary amusing. Your commentary is simply an unreasoned attack on a religion and on myself. Its easy to use big words like “foolish” and “comical hubris” but you lack any serious discussion of the tenets of my commentary and my arguments.

  5. LDS Skeptick says:

    Just so you know, Mormon’s can’t take criticism. I know – until a few weeks ago, when I resigned my membership, I was born, raised and lived the Mormon shiny life. Criticism makes them feel sick inside. Its called cognitive dissonance. The dear leaders have sold this movie as ‘it will change the world’. It won’t. People are finding out, in large numbers, that Joseph Smith was an adulterer and paeophile, that the book of abraham is a proven fraud, and that the witnesses to the book of mormon all denied their testimony. You are right – this is PROPAGANDA. Its what the church does best. Its a Bonneville Communications ‘Heartsell’ marketing tool. They are trying to rebrand. Too little too late.

    • Tharv says:

      Oh I’m sorry you feel that way! If you knew anything about the LDS faith you would understand that criticism has been something the church of Christ has been dealing with since biblical times up to the present day. If the church couldn’t handle a little criticism it would not exist today. Your comments, and anybody else’s comments for that matter, that are negative about the church of Christ are only fulfilling the words of the prophets. So I guess I should thank you for strengthening my testimony in the LDS faith. I hope you do find your way back some day:)

  6. Brandon says:

    As an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ, I find absolutely nothing wrong with your review and apologize on behalf of my fellow Mormons for their remarkably thin skin regarding your statements, particularly after they presumably listened to church counsel from our general authorities this weekend specifically instructing us to be better friends and neighbors. This film is certainly a publicity piece designed to help people see the joy we believe can come to people of all walks of life from following Christ’s teachings, but you are right that a more forthright discussion of current issues that may deter people from interest in the Church (as opposed to what you rightly point out as “cherry-picked” stereotypes about polygamy) would probably have been pertinent. Thank you very much for your opinion; I hope that my other brothers and sisters here will take it under consideration rather than reacting with vehemence.

  7. Craig says:

    It is appalling surprising how people who are commenting cannot see this “movie” for what it truly is, mormon propaganda. Not a single Mormon commenting here would pay a dime to see a movie titled “Meet the Scientologists” because they would immediately know it would be a biased piece of Scientology propaganda

  8. Hailee says:

    The first line of the review has a flaw that might seem minor to some, but I feel it is important to note that the name of the church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It’s not the Church of Latter Day Saints. The error omits the most important part of the LDS religion, which is Jesus Christ.

    • notsofast says:

      Correction: It WAS named The church of latter day saints (after being named Church of Christ). The name you suggest is actually only a trademark and not the name of the organization. The legal name is “Corporation of Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “.

  9. Kera says:

    As a Mormon who is EXTREMELY frustrated by my church’s lack of info on how incredibly racist it was, sexist it IS, and the amount of time (and money) it has put into anti-gay bills, I get what this author said. Don’t present “Meet the Mormons” as anything but a propaganda film. To be fair, though, I’d say 95% of Mormons know very little about the church’s racism, sexism, and don’t pay much attention to how homophobic the church is. They are just good people plugging away at life.

  10. Fishstix says:

    These comments really show how out of touch the Mormon community is with the real world. I guess that’s expected considering they believe in a book written in the 19th century using 17th century English by a man who was a known con artist and felon. Seriously, the author was being nice. Even Christians (who are mostly also bat shit crazy) look at Mormons like, “how can you believe this crap?”. You are literally the laughing stock of the religious world, and your numbers are dwindling.

  11. Johnathan says:

    Excellent review. I might see this when it comes out on youtube but I do fully expect it to be a missionary video intended only to convert and whitewash what is truly a troubled religion.

    (I’m a high priest currently navigating out of the LDS faith – I understand it very well)

  12. TinyT says:

    The Mormon Church – polishing turds since 1830.

  13. Squeebee says:

    Mormon church makes blatant propaganda film, reviewer calls it blatant propaganda film and cites examples as to why, Mormon cultists cry persecution. Nothing to see here, move along.

    Of course, anyone reading these comments will see the bias as easy as a professional film reviewer watching a propaganda piece.

  14. nonsequiter says:

    This is a movie? I thought it was an ad campaign for the mormon company…
    You can;t expect anything published by the mormon church to tell you anything other than what they want you to hear… and they only want you to hear how “normal” they are… because at the end of the day they are all about converts… converts yields tithing. Tithing yields revenue.

    The only thing that amazes me is how many mormons seem to think people other than mormons are going to pay to see this tripe.

  15. Cory says:

    The film purports to be a documentary, so criticism of its veracity and fair-mindedness is totally warranted. It does not claim ot be a propaganda piece, or a true-life drama, anything similar. It claims it is a representative depiction of the religion and thus opens itself up to critical analysis

  16. Josh says:

    I see the Mormons are out in full force defending their film.

  17. notsofast says:

    The target audience of this film are the members themselves. Local leaders are pushing very hard for their congregations to buy tickets. As a partially non-prophet (pun intended) organization they really do know how to make a profit as they milk members of their hard earned cash. Your honesty in this review is greatly appreciated.

  18. ScottW says:

    It would seem that they have invested a sizable amount in promoting positive stories about how the mormon church impacts the lives of those profiled. I’m not sure how reasonable it is expect them to do a full history or a doctrinal breakdown in 90 minutes. I do see on the website that all net proceeds (net of distribution costs) go the American Red Cross. I’m curious to see how well attended it is. I do suspect they anticipated much more post release activity than theater turnout in the Netflix era when curious people can watch in their own home for free.

  19. Julie says:

    @notsofast….All net proceeds from the film will go to charity, specifically the American Red Cross.

  20. JDC says:

    So much animosity, hate and finger pointing. No person, except Jesus Christ, is perfect and the LDS Church has openly stated its history and is currently publishing–according to Library of Congress standards–all of its historical writings and documents which is amazingly transparent. I have great respect for a group who is simply trying to do some good in this confused world and help people see the positive side of things. It is sadly obvious that this is not a professional review, but is just a critic’s opinion and everyone is entitled to their own, so it’s fine. At least the Mormons are really trying to do good in the world (all net proceeds of this film go to charity by the way). People really can be honest without being demeaning, candid without being hateful, and historically accurate without being spiteful. I pray we will all try a little harder to be better human beings like those portrayed in this film–regardless of their religious denomination.

  21. Brandon says:

    I am glad you said it. This seems to me more of a ploy to disregard the issues that made Mormons who they are today. If you cannot scrutinize the past, then who are you at all? If you want to “meet the mormons” you must get to know how the Mormons came to be. It’s not living in the past, but merely following the path that led you to today. This is nothing but a full leg th movie extension of a long infomercial. Oddly enough I don’t see many people paying to see this “film”. You’ll have huge amounts of people in the mormon category seeing it only to keep it in the theaters for advertising. It’ll be their new missionary tool. By the way, movie critics can have opinions and express their own bias towards a film. They are “critics” and by definition have the ability to say what they think. Those who are offended or calling out this critic for being bias must be mormon and are pushing the “persecution complex” card. Get over yourselves. This “film” is only an infomercial trying to sell you on the PR points they want you to see. South Park is more real about mormonism than the mormon church is. If by some chance someone outside of the mormon circle wants to see this, you should look into its past to get a clear idea on what mormonism is.

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