Even though I grew up a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when I heard they were sponsoring a feature film I was highly skeptical. All I could see were super cheesy, very fake families who breezed through made-up challenges with far too much ease because they read scriptures and prayed as a family every day. It was as if being a member of the LDS church would make everything bad in your life disappear because you go to the “right” church. I couldn’t imagine “Meet the Mormons” being any different from the thousands of cheesy, poorly-made videos I’d watched in Sunday school all my life.
Boy was I wrong!
“Meet the Mormons” was definitely not the rah rah, sickly sweet prayer meeting that I thought it would be. I was angry, I cried and I laughed, which is something I’ve never done while watching a church-made movie before. For one, it’s a documentary, not a movie, so everything is real. No made up, fairy tale story here. It was still a feel-good, bring-a-tissue film, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by it in any way. I walked away from the theater feeling refreshed, having seen other members be faithful to principles taught by the LDS church through good times and bad.
Like I said earlier, “Meet the Mormons” is a documentary. It follows six members of the LDS church and their families. From a football coach in Maryland, to a humanitarian in Nepal, the members that “Meet the Mormons” follows are not the typical white-bread, Utah natives that I anticipated the movie would follow. Each family was unique and had their own problems and strengths. What was more impressive was that despite the happy valley, everything’s perfect, ignore-the-bad-things-and-they’ll-disappear mentality that dominates LDS culture, “Meet the Mormons” showed the good and the bad, the happy and the bitter situations for each of the families.
For example, one of the last stories told is about Dawn Armstrong. Stories like hers aren’t something you usually hear in sacrament meeting. She leaves home at 15, gets knocked up by her boyfriend and drops out of high school. After giving birth to their son Anthony, Dawn’s boyfriend wants nothing to do with her or his son, so he leaves her alone, homeless and destitute. Doesn’t that make you feel good inside?
Fast forward a couple of years, Dawn is doing a little better. She and Anthony have an apartment instead of living in a homeless shelter. Anthony’s father shows up again. Dawn gets pregnant and daddy dearest turns tail and runs again. Dawn’s second son Trey, dies not long after his birth. Distraught and lost, Dawn meets sister missionaries and finds the peace and solace that her life has always lacked.
Dawn ends up married to a nice Utah Mormon boy and goes on to live the typical Utah Mormon mom life, but she doesn’t forget her past. She remembers, continues to try to learn from her mistakes and tries to share the lessons she learned the hard way with those around her.
“Meet the Mormons” is a great movie for Mormons and non-Mormons alike. As a Mormon, I never know how to share my beliefs with others without sounding preachy or like I’m trying to force my religion on others. For other people with my same conundrum, “Meet the Mormons” is that perfect balance of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and showing that Mormons are normal people motivated by one central teaching.