December 04, 2006

Mobsters and Mormons: The Movie

In the last five years or so, a subculture of independent Mormon-themed films has sprung up, with a certain amount of success. (I hesitate to say they've become cult favorites, thanks to some ill-mannered folks still in denial about the church's openness.)

From "The Other Side of Heaven" to "The Singles Ward" and "The R.M.", members of the LDS church have turned the other cheek, mocking themselves and a myriad of stereotypes, ranging from their puritanical avoidance of drugs, alcohol and gambling, to traditional approaches to dating, and a regimented schedule which includes three hours of church services each Sunday, home teaching throughout the month, and countless service projects. Throwing a wrinkle into this formula is a film, which we saw on DVD from Netflix last night, called "Mobsters and Mormons", where a mob-affiliated stool pigeon is relocated via the FBI's Witness Protection Program to friendly Salt Lake City, and the worldly family tries to adapt to an unfamiliar straight-laced neighborhood, complete with area gossip queen, aggressively helpful neighbors, and the local bishop, who finds the father a job in his hardware supply store.

To say the film featured top-notch world-class actors and a prize-winning script would be a lie, but it was certainly entertaining. The family, in a "fish out of water" scenario, finds the Mormon differences very odd. The fact the Mormons don't drink alcohol or coffee draws comparisons to the Amish, and the visitors haven't been in Utah for more than a minute before asking a gentleman at the airport if he has multiple wives. (He doesn't, and explains the church's 100-plus year ban on the practice, in vain.)

While one would expect a film about Mormons, in Utah, produced by an LDS producer and featuring a largely Mormon cast, to always show the church in a good light, it does speak to those who might be watching where it says that while the church may be true, not all its members are. In a show where the outsiders are embraced by some, they are also shunned by others. They feel out of place, exacerbated by shut doors and closed window blinds. Yet, somehow, they get by.

If you're looking for a film likely to be toasted with multiple Academy Award nominations, this isn't your show. Some of the acting is amateurish, and stereotypical, not just of the Utah Mormons, but of the New Jersey-based Italian mobsters. The plotline is funny, but easily anticipated. If you want to laugh and can relax about those things, feel free to pick it up. You might be surprised.

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