Movie Review: Molding Young Minds the Michael Scott way — “YouthMin”

“YouthMin” is a cute mockumentary in “The Office” mold — “The Office” at Church Camp.

It’s got the same “cringeworthy” comedy dynamic as the dysfunctional Scranton paper supply sitcom, a similarly clueless “leader,” but with teen hormones in comic conflict with “wholesomeness” as a new wrinkle.

It could use a few more laughs and another cringe or three, but this indie manages some giggles and a big “uplift” here and there.

Pastor D (co-director Jeff Ryan) is the backward baseball cap, soul-patch sporting youth minister at Bethany Church. He’s 30 and earnest, trying entirely too hard and toothbrush-dropped-in-the-toilet hapless. He prattles on about the big influence his own youth pastor had on him, but when he’s not on camera, there’s his cynical Christian Goth girl youth group member Deb (Geena Santiago) to set us all straight.

“Pastor D is probably the dumbest person I’ve ever met.”

That might be why the group isn’t that popular, and why only six kids have signed up for this year’s Camp Changed, a weekend camp for church groups from all over New England. And it might be why the church has hired Rachel (Tori Hines) as co-youth minister. She’s dropped on Pastor D (for David) just as they’re leaving for camp.

And when the kids meet pregnant and unmarried Rachel, they’re transfixed.

“Can I touch your belly?”

The kids are a collection of “types” — the Goth girl (who also knows all the “dark” parts of the Bible), the nerdish walking Bible Wikipedia (Luke Deardorff), innocent and unworldly Ruth (Amelia Haas) and doofus practical joker Mark (Will Martin) and his crush, Hannah (Grace Ulrich).

The new guy, Steven (Carl Schultz)? He’s the silent, anarchic type.

Camp Changed is as “rah rah Jesus” as you might expect, with an added touch of the old “camp competition” cliche. Pastor D must face his nemesis, trash-talking Redeemed Church youth pastor Jacob (Matt Perusse), once again.

The laughs come from Pastor D’s increasingly unhinged competitive “spirit,” maybe amped-up by the idea that he’s about to be replaced, Deb’s gift for messing with everybody, random bits of church camp slang, activities, singing “Pharaoh, Pharaoh, let my people go” to the music of “Louis, Louis,” and learning.

“MMM” class is all about “masturbation, marriage and monogamy,” “Bible Jeopardy” is one of the contests the groups compete in and while sweet Ruth needlepoints “Jesus Hearts You,” she can’t help but notice the “Sinners Burn in Hell” messaging of another.

Three days of “change” pass too quickly for Mark. “I wonder if it went this fast with Jesus...when he died!

“YouthMin” doesn’t have the edge of a “Saved!” style mockery of religion, but is a lot edgier (some profanity, sexual gags) than “faith-based” comedies.

Let’s just say if you ever went to church camp or had a conversation with a youth pastor, you’ll grimace and grin at the many ways they send both up here.

MPA Rating: unrated, profanity, sexual humor

Cast: Jeff Ryan, Tori Hines, Geena Santiago, Amelia Haas, Carl Schultz, Luke Deardorff

Credits: Directed by Arielle Cimino and Jeff Ryan, script by Christopher O’Connell. A First-Names Films release.

Running time: 1:19

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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