Monday, Apr. 25, 2011

Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy (2003 Movie)

Yes, Moroni, there are Mormon movies: films made by and for the faithful, imbued with LDS doctrine and attitude. The church sponsored and produced films as early as the 1910s, with such titles as One Hundred Years of Mormonism and The Life of Nephi. Modern Mormon movies, of which there are a few dozen, play in areas of LDS concentration (mostly the Western U.S.). They earn more at the box office than most American independent features but are rarely reviewed by secular critics; they are the rare representative of a ghetto cinema for white people. Often the films describe the work of young missionaries: Richard Dutcher's God's Army took in nearly $3 million on a $300,000 budget in 2000, and the 2001 The Other Side of Heaven (co-starring an 18-year-old Anne Hathaway as a girl left behind) grossed $5 million, though its expensive location shoot in New Zealand made it a money loser.

Somebody at Excel Entertainment, the leading producer of Mormon movies, realized that aspects of the LDS way — propriety, chastity for the young, the importance of marriage — might make a perfect fit for the society depicted in Jane Austen novels. Hence the 2003 Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy, directed by Andrew Black. The moral structures that Austen's characters live and squirm under are easily transported to Brigham Young University, where Elizabeth Bennet (Kam Heskin) is a student and budding novelist who works in a bookstore and Mr. Darcy (Orlando Seale) is an English businessman stopping by in Provo. Our heroine has fended off other suitors, including one whose pitch had an LDS tinge: "Elizabeth, we've been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth!" When a male friend says the line has worked for him and that maybe it was the guy's delivery, Elizabeth replies, "His delivery was fine. I just didn't want the package." The screenplay, by Anne Black, Jason Faller and Katherine Swigert, hides many clever references to Austen, and the actors cozy up to the material, making it feel fresh, not anachronistic. Though Excel tried selling the movie to non-LDS audiences, dropping A Latter-Day Comedy from the title and removing some of the more Mormony dialogue, no one bought. It's available from Amazon but not from Netflix.