The Best Two Years (film)
Scott S. Anderson
D. Michael Martindale
Halestorm Entertainment , 2003.
Run Time: 109 minutes
Richard Dutcher (why is it so hard to avoid mentioning his name whendiscussing an LDS film, even one he had nothing to do with?) didn'tcreate the new genre of LDS film--he blew it away. His first two films,God's Army and Brigham City, established a nonexistent film genreand set the bar for quality right from the beginning. It's been alldownhill ever since.
To date, as an LDS film critic, my list of quality LDS films has beenvery short: Brigham City is the best, followed by God's Army, andthe barely noticed Out of Step a distant third. Charly was aborderline movie, and all the others (that I've seen so far) fall underthat borderline of quality. I despaired of ever seeing another film that could be added to the quality side of that list until Zion Filmsreleased the next Dutcher movie.
But at the recent Association for Mormon Letters' fifth annual writersconference, I had an opportunity to view a pre-release screening of thefilm The Best Two Years. It's with no small sense of satisfaction thatI'm able to add a fourth LDS film to the list of worthy additions to thegenre.
Best Two Years falls squarely into third place, edging Out of Stepinto fourth. Dutcher still reigns supreme, but the list of worthy lordssurrounding the king is finally growing after a long period ofstagnation.
What makes Best Two Years a bronze medalist instead of silver or goldis the fact that it's pure fluff. The plot is anorexically slim; theclimax as predictable as a Scooby-doo episode. But that doesn't harm thefilm, because that's all the film was ever intended to be. As fluff, itsucceeds admirably. As some lightweight, pleasant entertainment for anLDS audience, it scores in all the required categories.
Best Two Years chronicles the day-to-day experiences of a district ofLDS missionaries stationed in the Netherlands. We join them as theobligatory new greenie shows up, communicating in a language that noneof the railroad station officials can identify. The other missionariesare familiar characters, including the one who has lost his zeal for thework, and maybe his testimony as well.
The screenplay gets the job done, the acting serves the screenplay well,and the technical results are of adequate quality. Nothing overlyglowing here, but a competent effort that delivers.
The plot exists to support the laughs, which come at a regularfrequency. It's not the slapstick bellylaughs of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad,Mad World (although some of the comedy does edge precariously close toover-the-top), but the sort of comedy that arises out of the charactersand the situations they find themselves in. The serious moments aregentle and effective--and thankfully sparse, because, after all, thisis fluff. No attempt was made to justify this lighthearted piece ofentertainment with A Message so the filmmakers could be sure theirefforts were Building the Kingdom.
And in the process, they did build the kingdom. They created a filmthat told a Mormon story with real (slightly exaggerated) Mormoncharacters full of the sort of foibles one would expect from humanbeings, even human beings engaged in the Lord's work. But never is thedignity of the work itself compromised. It's just the sort of thing theart of the Kingdom needs right now to crawl its way out of theclub-over-the-head approach to uplifting entertainment.
Scott Anderson, the writer/director, adapted this film from a stage playhe'd written some time ago. Perhaps that seasoned heritage is why thefilm works so well. Halestorm is the company Anderson chose todistribute the film. It's the first film Halestorm will be distributingthat it didn't produce itself.
This film may be the film that puts Halestorm on the map as arespectable contender in the LDS film industry. Until now, all they'vedistributed are their own forgettable comedies, which made many Mormonslaugh for a moment, but are poorly designed to withstand the judgment oftime. Best Two Years has the quality to withstand. If its foundationisn't quite rock, at least it's concrete, and will weather the storm ofcriticism much better than the sandy foundations of Singles Ward andThe R.M. The irony is not lost on me that the film that could makeHalestorm respectable is a film they didn't produce.
But I give them credit for recognizing a film that is quality when itcame their way. Best Two Years fits right into their modusoperandi--lighthearted comedic fluff--but does so at a level of qualitythat is to be applauded--and seen.
D. Michael Martindale
© 2003 D. Michael Martindale &