If you got your Family Home Evening group together one Monday night and made a little “movie,” except you got dozens of your friends to help out, found some editing and sound equipment, and made the thing last 102 minutes, you’d have “The Singles Ward.” There are very few jokes in it that the average Mormon with a sense of humor couldn’t come up with on his own, and most of the performances are nothing beyond what your friends could muster.
That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, although it’s certainly not a very good one. Its amateurishness is sometimes endearing, but other times, the over-the-top performances ruin what might have been passable jokes. (This occurs mostly among the one-scene characters, who exist only to provide punch lines and who apparently thought, incorrectly, that bigger was better.)
The central character, who also talks to the camera Ferris Bueller-style, is Jonathan Jordan (Will Swenson), a 27-year-old stand-up comedian who got married while still at BYU but whose wife subsequently left him. Now he’s single and inactive and resistent to change, though he finds the church’s efforts to reactivate him more amusing than annoying. (“I’m a spy who joined the other side,” he says. “I know all their tactics.”)
As befitting real life, he starts getting involved in the singles ward activities due to his interest in a girl. She is Cammie (Connie Young), a pretty, headstrong gal who thinks Jonathan makes jokes to cover up his real feelings. Jonathan is also egged on, patiently, by his pals: Franklin Planner enthusiast Eldon (Daryn Tufts), urban legend-spouting Dallen (Kirby Heybourne) and all-around good guy Hyrum (Michael Birkeland).
Most of the humor is derived from the sights and sounds of an LDS singles ward in Utah. It is generally broad-side-of-the-barn stuff; you’ve made a lot of the same observations yourself, probably. It does win points, though, for being first to put those observations in a movie. Jokes about LDS life are one thing when you’re whispering them in the back of Sunday School class; there’s something delightful about seeing them on the big screen, even if they’re not exactly original.
The film, written by Kurt Hale and John Moyer and directed by Hale, boasts numerous celebrity cameos. There’s Lavell Edwards, Danny Ainge, Steve Young, Johnny Biscuit and Richard Dutcher (the man behind “God’s Army” and “Brigham City”), among others. Nearly every single one is wasted. Rather than having the famous person show up and do something funny, most of them just show up — the cameo IS the joke. Dutcher’s bit stands alone as clever and amusing, though his presence in “The Singles Ward” is sort of like a student filmmaker inviting Alfred Hitchcock to the set.
There’s a definite sense of fun within the large cast; everyone involved clearly had a good time. But there’s also a definite sense that Hale and Moyer wanted to cram in every LDS culture-related joke they could think of, often at the expense of the story and characters.
They make fun of uptight people who get upset over, for example, the missionary-on-the-toilet scene in “God’s Army.” But later, one of the main characters gets uptight in exactly the same way, overreacting to jokes Jonathan makes at the expense of Mormons — only now, we’re supposed to agree with her. “The Singles Ward” wants it both ways, where jokes about our culture are OK, and where they’re also a sign of apostasy. Comedy is tricky business, and this one’s too slapdash and undisciplined to make it work.
C- (; )