Jenny Garrard is a Utah Mormon, born and raised, but she’s not a fan of Jello and doesn’t sell anything on Etsy. She suffers from RBF, which you probably shouldn’t Google, but it’s nothing a dirty soda can’t fix. Jenny is married to an Idaho farm boy, and together they have 3 sons.
This is a review of the new Saturday’s Warrior film, directed by Michael Buster, produced by Lex de Azevedo, which opens April 1, 2016.
When I was about 13, I had my first and most memorable encounter with the Mormon cultural juggernaut Saturday’s Warrior in the form of a stage performance by a group of local high school students. As the saga of the Flinders family unfolded before me, I laid eyes on the actor playing the part of rebellious Jimmy and finally understood what my Beehive adviser meant when she said Satan could make bad things seem very, very good. As it turns out, Jimmy and I had never made premortal promises to one another (Upon retrospection, it’s more likely that Jimmy was dating his pretend sister, Pam.). Unlike Jimmy Flinders though, certain Saturday’s Warrior song lyrics were destined to stay with me throughout eternity. With that in mind, I eagerly accepted the chance to view the new Saturday’s Warrior motion picture. Was ours a love that would last?
Like in the play, the first scenes of the movie take place in the premortal realm (Or an Ogden train station . . .), with the requisite gauzy curtains, white outfits, and fog machines. Here, the Flinders children and other spirits anxiously wait for their turn to come to earth, spending their time perfecting their dancing and singing skills. Julie Flinders (Monica Moore Smith) and her spirit-stud, Tod (Mason D. Davis), also take their last few moments together to commit to finding one another on Earth. The remake, however, adds Alex Boyé as a heavenly receptionist of sorts. His main duties seem to be singing intermittently and making sure spirits leave on time for their mortal probation, the portal to which is a bright light at the end of a brick hallway.
The Flinders children (Aside from little Emily [Abigail Baugh], whose turn has not yet come.) make it safely to their earthly home in the 1970s, where Julie tries to navigate decisions about dating and marriage, Pam (Anna Daines) experiences the limitations of a broken mortal body, and Jimmy (Kenny Holland) starts to struggle under the influence of friends who question the wisdom of having a family as large as the Flinders’. Their problems seem almost precious compared to today’s (I can almost imagine a circa 2016 Mr. Flinders trying to convince Jimmy that it’s not the feelings that are a sin; it’s just acting on them that’s the problem.). But just like in the original play, the simplicity of the problems is what draws attention to the family relationships affected by them.
Alison Akin Clark and Brian Clark, a real-life couple playing Flinders family parents Terri and Adam, alternate between comedic performances that come across as awkward caricatures of typical Mormon parents, and more sincere scenes in which they struggle, wondering what more they could have done to help Jimmy stay on the straight and narrow path (Didn’t we love him?! DIDN’T WE RAISE HIM WELL???). These characters are slightly more nuanced than in the original; the parents have unfulfilled ambitions of their own, and movie-version Terri is more than simply a good-natured baby factory.
Until now, Lex de Azevedo and Doug Stewart’s musical has only existed in the form of a play. Even the late ‘80s video version of Saturday’s Warrior was just a filmed stage performance. Making it into a motion picture required the assistance of a Kickstarter account (Like an old-fashioned Mormon potluck, but instead of salads, money! Everyone bring some!), still amounting to a relatively bare-bones budget. But de Azevedo and director Michael Buster didn’t need a huge budget to craft this film to appeal to the Mormon masses. They clearly know just who their audience is, and indicate it by serving up little winks and nods to Mormon culture: a Donny Osmond mention, an Uchtdorf reference (No, seriously.), and cameos by Steven Sharp Nelson and Jon Schmidt from The Piano Guys.
Which leads me to a word about the music: The songs and lyrics are part of what have made Saturday’s Warrior iconic. But for an updated version, it was surprising that some of the songs had not changed much at all. You get what you’ve signed up for: Elders Kestler and Green singing an entertaining enough “Humble Way,” Julie and Tod reflecting on the size and scope of the circle of their love, Jimmy and friends singing about abortion, a couple okay-ish new songs, and having “Line upon line upon, LINE upon line upon, LIIIINE. UP. ON. LIIIIIINE. Upon liiiiiine,” stuck in your head for days.
To be very blunt, I was prepared to sort of hate the whole thing. I’m the person who snorts when someone brings up The Work and The Glory in testimony meeting. I roll my eyes when the Relief Society teacher pops in a Hilary Weeks CD to start off her lesson. I just tend to be cynical about some of the cheesier parts of Mormon culture. But by the time the closing credits started to roll, and I was feeling the feels of the prodigal Jimmy reuniting with his family, some of the feels were coming down out of my eyes “like gentle rain through darkened skies.” Saturday’s Warrior is pretty good, and will likely remain a dependable old friend, if not my Mormon-movie eternal soulmate.
I give Saturday’s Warrior 3 out of 5 Kolob twinkles (Angel Moroni statuettes? CTR shields?) for being exactly what it needed to be, and for Jimmy (Kenny Holland is darling, and the best actor and singer in the show, by a long shot.). It’s rated PG for the part where you will have to tell your 8-year-old “no, that is not root beer they’re drinking,” and possibly because of copious amounts of psychedelic tie-dye. Oh, and Pam dies, so be ready for that.
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