The Other Side of Heaven

Up to this point, the only cinematic voice for the Mormon Church was Richard Dutcher, who made such films as God's Army and Brigham City. Although simplistic and generally less than mediocre, these films were earnest in their intentions and better than their evangelical Christian contemporaries, which were awful. Mitch Davis is the new Mormon voice in film, directing his adaptation of John H. Groberg's memoir In the Eye of the Storm as The Other Side of Heaven. The Other Side of Heaven recounts Grohberg's mission to Tonga in the 1950s. As a movie, it doesn't really do much except prove that Davis can make a film just as bad as Dutcher can (although better in some ways, worse in others). Grohberg (Christopher Gorham, Dean Quixote, A Life Less Ordinary) narrates through a series of letters to Jean (Anne Hathaway, The Princess Diaries), his college girlfriend and, hopefully, his wife.

The main thing noticeable is the lack of religion in the movie. Davis keeps the preaching to a minimum, only letting a vaguely Christian message emerge. He doesn't show how the teachings differ from Christianity, probably out of the desire not to alienate potential audiences. The Other Side of Heaven is a film for Mormons. They can and will easily relate to everything in the film, while everybody else will remain slightly bored. Grohberg must learn the Tongan language, earn the trust of the locals, minister and preach, and fend for himself. His companion is Feki (Joe Falau, The Whole of the Moon), a genial local who teaches Grohberg how to get around.

Otherwise, The Other Side of Heaven plays like a simplistic travelogue, beautifully shot but emotionally empty. Grohberg does go through a lot on the island, but this never comes through on film. It seems like a bunch of mini problems that he solves, quickly and efficiently. He saves children, fends off temptation, makes peace with rivals and builds his flock. There is no sense of growth for Grohberg, both spiritually in the film and as a character. At the end of the film, Davis does not make anybody believe that Grohberg is any different from when he appeared on the island. The portrayal of some of the islanders is also borderline offensive in its simplicity.

Davis' worst choice is a constant voice over narration by Hathaway and Grohberg. They are writing letters to each other, and the contents of these letters are melodramatic Harlequin romance type musings with some bad jokes thrown in for flavor. Hathaway (who actually filmed The Princess Diaries after this) has the thankless task of doing nothing. Gorham looks like a younger, more confused Ethan Hawke (if that's possible) and does not have the ability to carry the movie.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 53 minutes, Rated PG for thematic elements and brief disturbing images.

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