Harmless, fairly charmless romantic comedy about the perils of being young, single and Mormon, Kurt Hale’s “The Singles Ward” has grossed just under $1 million after 6 months of very limited release in such Mormon-populous states as Idaho, Arizona and, naturally, Utah. Now expanding westward into California (where pic opens Sept. 13) just before a planned Oct. 8 video release, cloying effort is the latest — but hardly the best — exponent of the recent wave of films — “God’s Army,” “Brigham City,” “The Other Side of Heaven” — made by, about, and predominately for Mormons. In the overwritten script by Hale and John Moyer — in which many of the lines sound like rejected sitcom punchlines, overly extroverted standup comedian Jonathan (Will Swenson) recounts, via a series of grating first-person monologues delivered directly into the camera, the breakup of his one-year marriage and his subsequent re-immersion into the world of Mormon “singles wards” — a prayer group consisting exclusively of unmarrieds which organizes dances and other social mixers.
Jonathan’s divorce has soured him on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its doctrine, and even introduced Mormon parody into his standup routines. But that all begins to change when he meets the bright and beautiful Cammie (Connie Young), activities director of his singles ward. Interminable montage sequences in which the budding lovebirds do cute/romantic things for one another, accompanied by a plethora of upbeat “Mormon rock” tunes, are followed by big fallings-out, as Jonathan finds himself ill-prepared for commitment, still stunted by his breakup, still tempted by the offerings of the secular world.
Swenson and Young are appropriately fresh-faced but they don’t have any real romantic chemistry together, nor are they helped by the pedestrian scenes and dialogue. And the filmmakers, rather than trying to build some real wit or insight into their characters, are preoccupied with pic’s raft of cameo appearances by Mormon luminaries, including filmmaker Richard Dutcher, ex-“Real World” castmate Julie Stoffer and a clutch of former athletes, including footballer Steve Young.
For the most part, pic — produced in part by a Mormon online dating service — is innocent and dull. The most risque behavior on display consists of drinking beer, renting R-rated movies and inhaling balloon helium. But at the same time, it’s hard to know what audience the filmmakers were targeting. On the one hand, the movie is sprinkled with insular references that will undoubtedly be lost on non-Mormon audiences; on the other hand, pic stereotypes Mormons as unexciting, vaguely nerdy types with minimal social skills — and by pic’s end, the sole non-Mormon character, (a spiky-haired, nipple-pierced, tattooed delinquent,) becomes Mormon. Ultimately, “The Singles Ward” feels like a put-on — a movie that does more to shroud real Mormon culture and lifestyles than to thoughtfully and inquisitively explore them in the way of, well, Richard Dutcher’s films.
Pic is marked by the overreliance on source music and “clever” visual transitions. Tech credits are thoroughly undistinguished, even by micro-budget standards.