The first moments may scare you. That cheesy music, that enlightened-sounding voice-over: This is a church video! It’s “Together Forever” or “Our Heavenly Father’s Plan,” or something! What are we in for?
Fortunately, two or three minutes into “Out of Step,” the newest LDS-themed motion picture, the seminary stuff gives way to teen pop music and images of New York City, and what you thought was going to be preachy or stiff turns out to be a sweet-natured, highly watchable spiritual drama.
Jenny Thomas (Alison Akin Clark) is a life-long Mormon from Salt Lake City who has just left home for NYU, where she hopes to study dance. Alas, she has not gotten a much-needed scholarship, leaving her with her work cut out for her: Get that scholarship in the spring, or she’ll have to head home.
She quickly makes friends with another Mormon, Paul (Michael Buster), a fun-loving film student who chooses her as the subject of his documentary. She also develops strong feelings for Dave (Jeremy Elliot), a non-LDS singer/songwriter who is just as attracted to her as she is to him.
Her dilemma is how attached she should get to Dave. Her well-meaning parents (Tayva Patch, Ricky Macy) don’t want her to marry outside the faith, and Jenny realizes the problems such an arrangement would bring. But as she says in a heartbreaking bit of soul-searching, if she’s not meant to be with Dave, then “why would God let me feel this way for him?” When it comes to matters of religion, can love conquer all?
This is a smart, thoughtful story, acted with intelligence and sincerity by an above-average cast. Clark’s weepier moments are not her best, but she otherwise handles the lead role with grace and confidence. Michael Buster and Jeremy Elliot are very likable as her leading men; David Morgan is effective as a tough-minded philosophy professor, and Nicolle Robledo is charming as Jenny’s friend Keisha.
It certainly is not a perfect movie. There are numerous technical flaws, no doubt due to the shoestring budget (reportedly around $200,000). There are continuity issues, too, such as references to conversations we never heard. And yes, there is a bit of awkward dialogue, particularly in Jenny’s kitchen-sink confrontation with her parents.
But the film engenders such good will with its honest characters and believable romance that you’re inclined to forgive readily. It may wear its heart on its sleeve, but all that does is show us what a good heart it is.
B (; )