The Singles Ward
review by Gregory Avery, 4 October 2002

Watching The Singles Ward was a little like revisiting a strange planet, or a foreign country -- one where I lived, for three years, during the late Seventies and early Eighties, with a certain amount of bemusement and incomprehension, where people spoke about respecting other's "personal standards," guys worried about whether girls were just sizing them up for marriage or whether they really, really liked them (while the guys themselves felt like they were in a race-against-time to get married, settle down, and have children), and where any misstep in terms of abstinence or behavior could result not only in catastrophic consequences in the immediate world, but in the Hereafter, as well.

Jonathan (Will Swenson) is a BYU graduate who served his time in the L.D.S. mission field and now lives in Provo, Utah, working as a stand-up comedian. He was once married, until he came home one day to find his wife, in a foul mood, smoking and drinking (simultaneously -- a beer in one hand, a lit cigarette in the other). Now a divorcee, he doesn't want to attend the local "singles ward" -- attending the "married ward" means running the risk of finding yourself sitting one pew ahead of a flock of noisy kids to all but completely drown out whatever is being said at the podium. Being on the "singles ward" membership list, though, makes one liable to finding strange people you don't know pounding on your door at all hours of the day and night, enticing you into participating in activities like cheesecake-sampling -- "the reconnaissance tactics of fellowship and reactivation." Jonathan manages to reproof any and all comers, but he nevertheless is fated to meet up with Cammie (Connie Young), who's pretty and intelligent and spirited and can match him riposte with riposte. (To his credit, Will Swenson -- who is required to spend a good deal of time talking directly to us onscreen -- is pugnacious, agreeably cocky, and has genuine comic verve. He may be something of a find.)

Thus it is that The Singles Ward reveals itself to be the first L.D.S. dating movie. I don't know if the world is quite ready for this. There are a lot of L.D.S. insider references, some of which turned out to be so obscure I had to ask somebody about them. (And what's with all the business about bungee-jumping -- with cars? I haven't been this mystified over something since I last caught some of "Jackass" on M.T.V., which is blocked, by the way, on most of the Provo Valley cable systems.) The guys in the film use their own home-made brand of euphemisms to substitute in cases where they might otherwise use swearwords: examples: "Oh, flip! She's a cutie" "Oh, my holy fudge!" This is actually refreshing after some of the language I've heard passing for dialogue in some of the movies that have come out this year. One of the characters (played by Robert "Bob-O" Swenson) is the goofy-but-lovable non-member roommate, and there is also a requisite L.D.S. African-American buddy (played by Terance Edwards). Some of the jokes and gags in the movie work, and some of them fall flat -- real flat, in some instances. But there are also some rather good things: the way Jonathan's three closest friends are introduced with a "Reservoir Dogs"-like group walk; Cammie's reaction when she discovers Jonathan ragging on the Church during his standup comedy routine. Jonathan and Cammie follow a fairly predictable courtship ritual involving sparring, relenting, dating, then being driven apart by something. In this case, it turns out that Cammie has already put in her papers, not long before her first meeting with Jonathan, to go on a mission, and she gets called at a penultimate moment in the story, during which Connie Young gets to deliver what must be a first in motion picture ultimatums: "And, despite what I think, there's something I know: the Lord needs me in Australia." Jonathan, whose commitment to the Church is already shaky, slips off the track -- he plays pool, imbibes, shoots dice, and starts reading "Rolling Stone" -- and when he goes home with the lithesome female bartender (Michelle Ainge) at the comedy club where he works, she tells him that the "view on the balcony is incredible," whereupon Jonathan throws open the curtains and...well, it's the same thing that he looks at during an all-night vigil in his car during which he decides whether he's going to stay in the boat or get out of it.

The film is at its best when it is light, which turns out to be most of the time. (There are a number of cameo appearances, including a bizarrely  humorous one by former NFL player Steve Young, and another by Richard Dutcher which is definitely one of the funniest things I've seen all year.) There is also a certain amount of confusion regarding the ending (stop here if you don't want it spoiled), in which it is uncertain whether one of the lead characters stays or goes. A second pass at the film actually reveals that this question is answered in a line exchanged between Steve and Cammie in one of the very last scenes, but it is very easy to miss. It opens the possibility for the film becoming a first in another way, though: usually it is the woman who is expected to wait patiently for the man to return home.

Directed by:
Kurt Hale

Starring:
Will Swenson
Connie Young
Kirby Heyborne
Daryn Tufts
Michael Birkeland
Michelle Ainge
Wally Joyner

Written by:
John Moyer
Kurt Hale

Rating:
PG - Parental
Guidance Suggested.
Some material may
not be for children.

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