The Best Two Years

As more Mormon-themed movies are being released, the production value and acting are getting better. The one bad thing that seems to be happening is that they are filming themselves into a niche. Most of the films are insular. There are in-jokes and references to the LDS religion that will fly over the head of non-LDS people. It is difficult to balance how far one wants to go in terms of accessibility. People can probably get the gist of most films, but would require extra explanation to enjoy it fully. The Best Two Years is by far the best looking Mormon production. It's name comes from the two-year mission that many Mormons go on shortly after high school. The film takes place and was shot in Holland, and looks light years better than most of the other Mormon films, where a small budget shows.

However, the some of the characterizations are a tad simplistic, and the comedy a little dumb. The title is a bit curious, since the film is more about one person's reawakening than anything else. Elder John Rogers (K.C. Clyde, Dumb Luck, The Crow: Salvation) is not quite off the religious wagon, but he is close. He once was passionate about his mission, ardently running Bible studies, handing out Books of Mormon, and teaching his fellow elders. Now, he idles around, waiting for his mission to end. Needless to say, he isn't thrilled when he's assigned to partner with Elder Hezekiah Calhoun (Kirby Heybourne, The R.M., The Singles Ward), a new missionary with far too much enthusiasm. The two live with Elder Johnson (David Nibley) and Elder Van Pelt (Cameron Hopkin), who are there mostly for comic relief.

Calhoun wants to go out and proselytize on the streets, lead Bible study, and convert the masses, and Rogers could care less. Still, Calhoun presses forward, and to everybody's surprise, convinces an American, Kyle Harrison (The R.M., The Singles Ward) to learn more about their religion. This is a total surprise to Rogers, and he slowly begins to notice that Calhoun has the fire that he once had. Although he is initially unenthusiastic, he does try to help Calhoun not make a total fool out of himself. Slowly, he begins to rediscover why he loved the Church so much and why it meant so much to him. It is a pretty unfortunate performance by Heybourne, who is portrayed as a nerd. He wears glasses with thick black rims, and cannot function by himself. The presence of the Calhoun character detracts from some of the more emotional aspects of The Best Two Years because he is there partially to be made fun of.

This is the tricky part. Writer/director Scott S. Anderson, who himself went to the Netherlands as a missionary, needs to convincingly present the Mormon faith in such a way that it does not sound preachy and it seems plausible that Rogers moves toward it. He does the former surprisingly well. Although there are quite a few scenes of Bible study, The Best Two Years does not feel preachy at all. Anderson successfully integrates religion into his characters. It is a part of who they are, not just something tacked on in the script. For non-Mormons, Rogers' epiphany will not come across as genuine. Although people can see it slowly happening, it still comes across as somewhat arbitrary. In the end, The Best Two Years works best for Mormons, who can relate to the experiences that Rogers and Calhoun had on their mission. But just like secular films, it looks decent, has a so-so story, and spotty acting.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 52 minutes, Rated PG for thematic elements.

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