Saturday’s Warrior 2016, a Guest Review

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.

”Raise your hands if you know all the lyrics to ‘Pullin’ Together!’”

”Raise your hands if you know all the lyrics to ‘Pullin’ Together!’”

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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Comments

  1. Jared vdH says:

    I can’t tell if this is really real or an elaborate April Fools joke… Did they seriously remake Saturday’s Warrior?

  2. A Happy Hubby says:

    I am so sad you suffer from Radial Basis Function (RBF). As a nerd I like functions, but I realize math isn’t for everyone. Only some were given this skill while they “came down like gentle rain” to this earth (and would any mom describe labor and delivery as “gentle rain”? Really?). :-)

  3. Disfellowshipped says:

    I’ll take your 3 out of 5 Kolob tinkles. I was a little worried because the ’80s version is my go-to Sunday entertainment, and seeing Julie and Tod all decked out in ’70s clothes in the trailer really bummed me out. I can’t wait to see it and sing along. I don’t think anyone could replace ’80s Pam, though. She hawt. The circle of our love extends beyond the reach of time.

  4. When I was in my early teens, on one of our annual family road trips to Utah and beyond, my parents put on a tape somebody in the ward had given them that this concerned ward member thought would be good for me to hear since I was a longhair rocker who needed to be brought back into the fold by someone who could really connect with me etc.
    It was a talk or something by Lex de Azevedo.
    So it starts off and he’s explaining how he has these amazing rock and roll bona fides but he left it all behind because of the decadence or whatever. And I’m expecting tales of debauchery on the road with Led Zeppelin or something. And then it turns out he was the musical director for the Sonny & Cher show. And I’m just like “WTF you guys?” And my parents are like “yeah, this guy’s lame.” And they took the tape out and we never listened to the rest of it, because anybody who would build himself up as having been a real rock and roller when he was actually working with Sonny & Cher wasn’t worth listening to.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the well done review. (I love that half our readers are going to spend the day wondering whether this is a BCC April Fools joke.)

    I’ve only seen Saturday’s Warrior once, as a missionary in Colorado in the late 70s. It was a (very good actually; better than road show standarrd) stake youth performance. And I think I had a companion with the souindtrack so I heard that a bunch of times. And I participated in a sing along many years ago. So I would actually be happy to see the new movie, but I doubt it will make it to Chicago (although who knows? We’ve had The Saratov Approach and Once I Was a Beehive in actual theaters recently). I’ll probably have to wait for the inevitable DVD.

  6. Pam DIES? Thanks for the spoiler alert!

    I watched the late 80’s video version of this either shortly before or after my baptism. A bunch of ward members (and the missionaries) all thought that was a good idea…

  7. I sort of can’t wait to see this. Thanks for the very entertaining review!

  8. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I don’t think I can bring myself to watch this, even if it’s a better remake. While I was a missionary, Ward members would show the original film to investigators to help them understand the preexistence. We would then spend much time “re-educating” our precious investigators. Members would also suggest that they watch Ghost (with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore) because it would help them to understand the Spirit World and the afterlife. We stopped inviting members to help fellowship the people were teaching.

  9. The most accurate depiction of the LDS conception of the spirit world and afterlife is Strange Brew.

  10. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    In my youth, my family was skeptical about spending the money to go see the show, but when it did well, they decided to take the family to see a follow-up production that was called, “Threads of Glory, ” (Not to be confused with Blades of Glory). Threads of Glory was awful. But eventually we did get tickets to see SW with a subsequent touring production at Phoenix Civic Plaza. It was quite a treat to be entertained with modern sounding music and a production with laughs and sadness. I got the SW LP record for Christmas and enjoyed it repeatedly. I was doubtful that this movie version could pull off anything that would make back the cost of the movie, but the new instrumentals supporting the sounds as from the preview that I watched a few minutes ago give me some hope. It would be cool if the church broadcasted a SW sing-a-long so those who grew up in the 70s could sing their hearts out while pretending they were on stage.

  11. Expect to see commercials for it during GC tomorrow!

  12. laserguy says:

    What, it wasn’t updated to include me important words like ponderize? For shame.

  13. At first I thought this might be an April Fool’s joke. Now that I see that it is not, kill me now.

  14. Aside from Alex Boye, is there a single other non-white actor? If I squint, I can maybe make out a non-white extra in the trailer.

    Yes, I know, there weren’t any black Mormons in the 70s. I suppose we should be grateful there’s now a black person in the pre-existence (Boye is so likable, how could they turn him down).

  15. I’m a bit stunned that they set it in the 70’s. So “Zero Population” is still the scary, “worldly” bugaboo? On one hand, I’m glad they didn’t update it and make Ordain Women or something the bad guy, but on the other hand, is any part of their (new) audience going to get it?

  16. @Frank Pellett: One of the members of Jimmy’s band is black, he has a somewhat important role and even sings on the soundtrack.

  17. Saw the movie tonight. Really didn’t like that the music wasn’t “live.” The music was good but dubbed and it’s very noticeable. I felt much of the cast was miscast and some were seriously obnoxious. There were a few definite standouts and some touching moments. Too bad there wasn’t finances to do it right.

  18. I saw the movie today and loved it.
    In an earlier comment the person talked about Threads of a Glory. It had nothing to do with Saturday’s Warriors. I attended a Fireside which Lex spoke at. He said the church leaders asked him to do a play for the bio centennial. Threads of Glory was an excellent play.

  19. Haven’t seen the movie yet. Not in my area and might never get here. But my old roommate sent me the CD and I’ve listened to it, so this is where it threw me down: >>Kenny Holland is darling, and the best actor and singer in the show, by a long shot<<

    I don't know darlingness and I don't know acting, but I know singing and work professionally in the industry. I get that Ms. Garrard might be into Justin Bieber type breathy vocals, with minimized plosives, and lots of vocal fry used as the only styling tool. But by any serious vocal standard, Kenny is the most amature singer on the track. That one line forced me to discount the entire review.