Okay, I *know* you’re not supposed to expect much from a direct-to-DVD, low-budget local film, especially a sequel to a LDS comedy that itself was pretty hit-and-miss as far as laughs.
Still, the original Singles Ward had a fair amount going for it — more than it’s usually gotten credit for since its release. The experience of being single (and/or divorced) in today’s LDS Church — with all the inherent pressures it brings — is a significant issue to Church members in every part of the world. (Even Halestorm’s follow-up movie The RM, while superior in terms of actual comedy, still trailed The Singles Ward in addressing a serious, thought-provoking issue in today’s Church.)
Now with The Singles 2nd Ward, we look forward to something that offers to be, as its title suggests, a continuing look at life when you’re single and Mormon. Happily, The Singles 2nd Ward starts out with great potential and comic momentum…and then goes *spectacularly* off the rails after the first 20 minutes and becomes a huge train wreck.
Let’s start at the beginning, with the things 2nd Ward does right:
In the opening scene we meet Christine — an intelligent and sophisticated convert to the Church who’s just moved into The Singles Ward(TM). Christine narrates her thoughts to us, insightfully observing that singles’ wards can be accurately compared to “leper colonies”. (“The only way out is by death…or a miracle!”) She also notes that girls in singles’ wards can be…a little competitive (accompanied by an effective visualization of girls fighting for an engagement ring). In singles’ wards, you see, your fellow sisters can be your friend to your face, but will often stab you in the back if you’re competition for one of the ‘choice’ guys.
We also meet up with Zac from the first film, who is immediately stood up by his fiancée the day of his wedding. He laments that the worst part of the experience is “having to go back to The Singles Ward(TM)”. And with good reason, as his EQ President comes up to him first thing and says, smoothly: “Hey, Zac, since you’re not on your honeymoon, can you take the stake pharmacy assignment Tuesday morning? And, hey, can I ask your ex-girlfriend out since you’re not together any more?”
That’s brutal…and wickedly funny.
(Another clever line comes from Christine’s home teacher to her roommate: “So, have you thought any more about cancelling the wedding to go on a mission? ‘Hold to the Rod’, you know…”)
So far, so good. 2nd Ward has effectively set itself up to be a sharp, humorous, and bitingly satirical look at single life. After the first movie approached the subject of singles’ wards from the male perspective, it’s a good idea to use the female perspective through Christine for the second, as there are many fundamental differences in the single experience between guys and girls.
And then the problem: 2nd Ward abruptly and completely abandons its premise, and leaves the concept of a movie about being single and Mormon behind without looking back. Say what?
It’s rare that you can pinpoint the exact moment when a movie goes off the rails, but with 2nd Ward it happens 4 1/2 minutes into Chapter 5 on the DVD — where Christine and Dallen have a conversation and decide to get married after dating for two days. Surely, you think, this is merely more humorous exaggeration and satire at how desperate some singles are to get married. Nope — we’re expected to accept this as the real thing.
(A nitpick as a convert to the Church myself who has dated and been friends with many convert girls: yes, LDS girls born into active member families occasionally go for the lightning-quick engagement after meeting a guy a few days — it’s part of the marriage ‘atmosphere’ they grew up in. Convert girls do not — especially convert girls with parents with multiple divorces between them. Sorry, no…)
Admittedly, since we’re talking about Christine (played by Erin Chambers, an easy winner for the prettiest and most personable girl to appear in any Church film to date) and Dallen (played by Kirby Heyborne — the ‘Tom Hanks’ of LDS films), it’s understandable that the movie would get them together and that’s fine.
The problem is: after this scene the singles ward and single life is completely abandoned… We never see the actual singles’ ward again, we lose all of the previous insightful commentary on the dating life of the single LDS female, and — most importantly — we lose all the laughs. The remaining hour of 2nd Ward where Christine and Dallen plan their wedding is pointless and a chore to sit through, and even when they attempt to put in a ‘serious’ plot point (Christine’s parents won’t be able to attend the temple ceremony since they’re non-members), it’s handled poorly.
(Another nitpick: converts are *acutely* aware of their non-LDS family members being unable to attend temple ceremonies. This would have been resolved in some form in Christine’s case LONG before it comes to the fore in 2nd Ward — she would never have committed so quickly to get married unless it was…)
One of the real tragedies here is seeing Connie Young — the main character Cammie in the first Singles Ward — standing around in a handful of scenes with literally nothing to do. I can only hope she got some sort of decent paycheck out of the experience, because appearing in this movie to smile and be a glorified background extra is, frankly, insulting to her, after having such a positive and significant role in the first. (In reality, none of the ‘wives’ have anything to do here — they hang out with their husbands and either (a) smile on cue, or (b) frown disapprovingly on cue…)
The worst part is there’s so much potential material to cover here:
- How does the pressure to get married affect single Saints psychologically?
- Do girls really ‘compete’ with (and back-stab) each other in quest for male attention? If so, in what way?
- How ‘picky’ (or ‘unpicky’) are single Saints — both men and women? Are they more likely to wait and wait for “Mr/Mrs Perfect”, or grab whatever person they can get with a pulse and a temple recommend?
- How does the Church itself contribute to this atmosphere of fear and desperation that singles might feel? What can be done?
Basically, what happened to the “Mean Girls”-style expose of single LDS culture we started the movie with? What a waste…
Final Grade: C-