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Friday, August 30, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

'Singles Ward' is light look at Mormon romance

Seattle Times movie critic

"The Singles Ward"


**
With Will Swenson, Connie Young, Daryn Tufts, Kirby Heyborne, Michael Birkeland. Directed by Kurt Hale, from a screenplay by Hale and John Moyer. 101 minutes. Rated PG, for mild thematic elements and brief language. Bella Bottega.

"The Singles Ward," a low-budget, mild-mannered comedy about twentysomething Mormon singletons in suburban Utah, distinguishes itself from its late-summer Hollywood cousins by being, occasionally, actually funny. For example, the movie's divorced hero, Jonathan (Will Swenson), at one point decides to rebel against the church, and does so by having his cable company unblock MTV, and by renting movies like the uncut version of "Newsies."

Well, OK, it's not exactly "Saturday Night Live," but in late August, you're grateful for what you can get.

So what we have here is a sweet-natured and entirely predictable tale about how Jonathan finds true love and faith with the fetching Cammie (Connie Young). It's the latest in a handful of recent films focusing specifically on Mormon culture to be released in mainstream theaters. (Others include "Brigham City," "The Other Side of Heaven" and "God's Army," at which friendly potshots are taken in this film.)

But "The Singles Ward," as perhaps the first LDS comedy, may be better compared with something like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," another romantic comedy that focused on a specific community and found affectionate humor in its foibles. The comparison is apt in another way, too: Both films gloss over seemingly huge ideological differences between their central couples, resolving questions of faith quicker than you can say, "When's the wedding?" and leaving only happy endings in their wake.

Nothing wrong with a little romantic fantasy, though, and director Kurt Hale presents his with a likable, attractive principal cast. Swenson, who has the blue-eyed handsomeness of a Baldwin brother, is particularly good at making an audience root for him. But the pace is uneven — some scenes, particularly one involving the setup of a new TV, drag on forever — and a few supporting cast members seem amateurish.

And those unfamiliar with Mormon traditions may find "The Singles Ward" occasionally bewildering — little explanation is given for the non-Mormon audience member, and the film's parade of cameo appearances by LDS celebrities falls a little flat if you don't recognize who the people are. For example, that's "God's Army" director Richard Dutcher, in the scene where his movie is dissed. That's a great in-joke, but only if you're in on it.

Moira Macdonald: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2725.

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