Once I Was a Beehive in Chicago

beehiveGod’s Army came out my senior year at BYU. And it was a revelation. Fifteen years later, I can still remember the impact of seeing a movie, an actual real live movie, about my people, about my experiences. One that took those experiences seriously.

At the time, I was studying English, with a focus on creative writing. And I was thinking seriously—or, at least, as seriously as I could—about Mormon art. I mean, there was plenty of kitsch, plenty of inspiring-but-not-artistic stuff out there. But Richard Dutcher created a Mormon movie without the kitsch, something quality.[fn1]

After I graduated, though, and moved away from Utah, Mormon filmmaking had almost zero impact on me. Some Mormon cinema was great—I have New York Doll sitting in my DVD collection. Some of it wasn’t. Most of it I never saw, because it never came to New York or Chicago, where I lived. So I was excited to hear that Once I Was a Beehive was going to make its Chicago debut on Friday, October 30. 

I was excited because I’d heard rave reviews of the movie, both from friends and in various online reviews (including John F.’s review on BCC and Eric D. Snider’s review). And now I get to add my voice to the praise.

Actually, I’m going to give two reviews: mine and my second-grade daughter’s. In fact, hers first. About three quarters of the way through the movie, she leaned over to me and said, “This is such a good movie.” After it was over, she said, “Today was the best day of my life. I didn’t learn anything at school[fn2] and then I saw this amazing movie.” And in the day since we saw it, her enthusiasm hasn’t dimmed at all.[fn3]

And with that, my review: it’s a wonderful family film. And I hesitate to say family film, because as often as not, those words mean that a movie is sloppy, scatalogical, slapstick, and stupid, but doesn’t use bad words or have sex or violence.

I mean, there are no bad words, sex, or violence in Once I Was a Beehive—I didn’t cringe once at having my daugher with me. But it’s not a family movie just because of what it doesn’t have—it’s a family movie because of what it does. The story is carefully- and well-constructed, and it’s engaging. At the very beginning, my daughter wasn’t smiling, and she whispered to me that the movie was sad. (It is sad at the beginning.)

And then, something funny happened. And she got a grin on her face. And the grin was on her face the rest of the time.

The movie’s humor isn’t cheap—the humor comes from the interaction between girls and women, girls and women who are mostly, but not entirely, sure they want to be where they are, doing what they’re doing.[fn4]

It wasn’t just my daughter, either: this is a family movie in the most inclusive sense. My daughter loved it, but I did too. The writing is solid, the acting is excellent. And the filming is beautiful—I’ve written that I love the beauty of the city, and this is clearly not a beauty of the city movie; I don’t recall ever seeing an urban (or even suburban) outdoor shot. But I also love the beauty of the outdoors, and the scenery is, well, scenic.

Is it an accurate depiction of Girls Camp? I don’t frankly know.[fn5] But I do know that what happens in the movie is believeable, if exaggerated. (I mean, it’s largely a comedy, so it has to be exaggerated.)

And is it just for Mormons? Again, I can’t say for sure—I’ve never not been Mormon. But it’s not preachy and aggressive, and it doesn’t talk inside baseball. We see the movie’s world through the eyes of someone unfamiliar with the church, which provides a window through which an outsider could approach Girls Camp. And when I saw it, the theater had a number of audience members who weren’t Mormon, who seemed to enjoy it. For what that’s worth.

What I’m saying is, if you haven’t seen it, you really should. It’s rolling out here and there around the U.S. and Canada, and it’s worth keeping an eye on this site to see if it’ll be near you.

And if you’re in Chicagoland, we’ve got it at least until Thursday.

[fn1] At least, that’s how I remember experiencing it. I haven’t seen it in at least ten years, though.

[fn2] N.b.: there’s a little bit of second-grade hyperbole there; I know she took a math test, and I know her teacher taught her. But her school also had its Halloween parade, and her class started the day with a dance party, and I’m honestly glad that my job doesn’t require me to keep the attention of second graders the day before Halloween.

[fn3] In fact, she’s already made me promise that we’ll buy the DVD when it comes out.

[fn4] John points this out in his review, but I wanted to second it: the movie clearly passes the Bechdel test. It mostly follows ten teenage girls and three women; the men, when they appear, aren’t central to the story. And, given that it’s a story about Girls Camp, that’s right.

[fn5] My wife has been to Girls Camp at least 11 of the 13 years we’ve been married, but, for a bunch of reasons, couldn’t see it with me Friday night. She’ll see it next week, and then I’ll have a better idea of its accuracy.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I second Sam’s review.

    I went to the first show on Friday at 3:00. Since I live a long commute away from the City in the suburbs, it was actually easier for me to go to the earlier show than the evening one. I had a general sense where the theater was but I’ve never seen a movie there. At about 2:00 I started the walk across the loop and found the theater about a half hour later. When I walked in the front door, I was a little disoriented; one has to go up a series of escalators to get to the theater (this is definitely a city building, not the sprawling affair we have in the ‘burbs).

    At first I was the only one in the theater, which didn’t surprise me; not a lot of people likely have the ability to slip away from work the way I did. Eventually two other people (not together) came, for a total of three. I was glad to hear that Sam’s session in the evening was better attended. I enjoyed the movie. I agree with Sam that it was wise to give the audience a protagonist unfamiliar with Mormonism as a proxy for the audience, and I liked that it wasn’t too preachy. (I recently saw the Christian film Woodlawn, and while I liked the football stuff the film was very preachy for my taste. Less would have been more in my view.)


    A note of caution: the main girl’s father dies near the beginning, so take that into account if you are bringing a young person who may have recently been touched by death. (h/t Tracy on this point.)

  2. I saw it in Boise, and during the end credits, they show real pictures of girls at girls camp. Two different groups hollered and clapped when different pictures came up, they were pics of their girls. Made me teary and so happy. I saw it with a very full theater of women and young women and it was fun, so positive and affirming.

  3. I ugly cried all during the credits. When my husband asked why, all I could offer was, “Because I loved Girls Camp, and I love dogs.”

  4. I ugly cried a lot. So did Abby. Kevin, thanks- I wish someone had cued me in and I could have prepared my daughter better. It was a lovely movie just the same, and we’ll buy it when it comes out on DVD.

  5. I haven’t seen this yet, but I’ll check if it’s floating around California. It makes me so so excited to see Mormon art and writing moving beyond the bounds of “insider talk” and moving into a space that can connect to human spirituality on a larger level (I assume from the reviews that this film goes into that space.). thanks!

  6. Great review — thanks for the contribution. I agree that people should try to see it. Good stuff.

  7. Thanks for the review, Sam. This sounds great! I hope to see it on DVD, at least, even if it doesn’t make it to a theater near me.

%d bloggers like this: