The Best Two Years (film)
Scott S. Anderson
Halestorm Entertainment , 2003.
Run Time: 109 minutes
The rumors are true. The Best Two Years -- the latest feature film toemerge from the LDS Cinema genre -- is a real movie in every way, and acut above most of its brethren.
This straight-forward story of four Latter-day Saint missionariesserving in contemporary Holland is an engaging, often inspiring moviethat can be compared favorably not only to recent LDS-made/Utahproductions, but is also better than most bigger-budgeted Hollywoodstudio movies.
The Best Two Years can be compared to some recent films such asMiracle, Secondhand Lions and Holes in that it is a veryfamily-friendly film which older children can enjoy, yet it will appealto discerning adults interested in intelligent, quality cinema. Althoughshort on the action and eye candy that the youngest and most easilydistracted viewers might need, this movie's characters and emotion arehighly engrossing. I was drawn in caught up in the story. Even my8-year-old daughter watched it all the way through with rapt attentionm,and wanted to watch it again.
Although its formal theatrical release throughout Utah theaters did notoccur until today (20 February 2004), The Best Two Years has for manymonths now shown up in special pre-release screenings and a few filmfestivals. I have heard from numerous friends and colleagues who haveseen The Best Two Years and loved it. Most of these people have seenevery or nearly every LDS Cinema movie released, and the majority ofthem actually told me that among commercialy released LDS-themed movies,The Best Two Years is their favorite so far.
I loved the The Best Two Years. This really is a must-see film.Although it is not the BEST movie among the 15 LDS Cinema films to hittheaters so far, it is easily among the top five, and in some ways it isunsurpassed.
One of the most impressive aspects of The Best Two Years is simply thedegree to which it looks and feels like a real Hollywood studio film.Technically, the film seems flawless, with beautiful visuals and greatsound. The imperfections and unevenness seen in low-budget films withregards to film quality, lighting, soundtrack and other areas arenowhere to be seen.
Fortunately, the story itself is a million miles away from Hollywoodfare. The studio-quality sheen is coupled with the strong "indie film" appealof a storyline and themes which could never have come out of thepoll-driven big studios. The Best Two Years is politically incorrectin all the best ways, making it one of the most honest and refreshingfilms in recent years. This missionary movie wears its affiliation onits sleeve, nothing hidden, no sleight of hand. It avoids thedenominational relativism and ham-handed attempts at universalism thathave watered down previous outings.
In telling a story about Mormon missionaries, writer/director ScottAnderson has wisely decided to do just that -- in the best, most directway possible. The Best Two Years thus emerges as the most prototypical and"realistic" movie ever made about Latter-day Saint missionaries. There are no dyingmissionaries (as in God's Army), tidal waves (The Other Side ofHeaven) or GLBT conversions (Latter Days). Not that these extremeplot points can't actually happen -- they HAVE happened, and suchout-of-the-oirdinary events have been the basis for some interestingstories and films. But The Best Two Years takes an even more difficultand courageous route by venturing onto the big screen without anyobvious hooks. It relies entirely on the drama inherent in the mostcommonplace missionary experiences. The triumph of this film is that itsucceeds so entirely on this basis alone. At its core, this is agripping, character-driven story.
The extant to which this movie succeeds is almost inexplicable when oneconsiders that this is director Scott S. Anderson's directorial debut.This is a confident, well-made movie that in no way seems like the workof a first-time filmmaker. Part of the credit for this stems from havingusing well-vetted source material. The movie is a fairly directadaptation of Anderson's own stage play, The Best Two Years of My Life(which is available on video). This was a popular play staged in manyvenues across the country, so the production has been tried outextensively before live audiences.
But much of the credit for the film's overall quality must go todirector of photography Gordon Lonsdale and producer Michael Flynn.Lonsdale is a veteran of dozens of network television series and TVmovies, including Providence, The Magnificent Seven, Space: Aboveand Beyond, and Northern Exposure. He knows how to make a productionlook professional, cinematic and interesting. Some of the shots in TheBest Two Years are simply magical, such as the scenes in which somecharacters appear to move at different frame rates than backgroundcharacters. Lonsdale does justice to beautiful the Dutch locales. Thismovie simply looks great, maybe even better than The Other Side ofHeaven.
Michael Flynn doubtless contributed much to the movie's quality as well.A veteran actor who has had recurring roles on network TV series,including Everwood and Touched By An Angel, Flynn doubles as anactor in this film as well, playing the medical doctor serving as theDutch mission president. Perhaps the smartest thing director Scott S. Anderson did was bringingthese talented and experienced professionals on board, rather thanrelying purely on friends from film school.
Anderson's other stroke of genius was in casting four excellent actorsin the lead roles. Without a reliance on dramatic hooks or specialeffects, this movie truly relies on the talent of its lead actors. LDSCinema veteran Kirby Heyborne and newcomer KC Clyde fill these roleswith aplomb, giving pitch-perfect, nuanced, interesting performances.Casting Heyborne could have been a mistake had he been simply a moviestar, and not an actor. But here Heyborne displays his dramatic talent,submersing himself into a part which is unlike any of the many roles hehas played so far. Heyborne IS Elder Calhoun, the sincere recent convertfrom the rural Oklahoma who becomes the heart of the movie. Clyde, asElder Rogers, the film's main character, is completely convincing as aonce-stellar missionary who now seems no longer to care about hiscalling, and is surprisingly given the task of trainingfresh-off-the-train Elder Calhoun.
The interaction between these two contrasting personalities yields muchof the film's abundant humor. The Best Two Years is very funny, withmany laugh-out-loud moments. Yet it achieves its humor through natural,character-based moments rather than slapstick or anything unbelievable.
I also must point out Scott Christopher's flawless performance as anAmerican optometrist that encounters the missionaries in Holland.Christopher has been in numerous LDS Cinema and other made-in-Utahmovies, and I think this is his best performance to date. His is asupporting role, but a difficult and pivotal one.
A scene in which Elders Rogers and Calhoun present the first discussionto Scott Christopher is bold and original, beginning with some of thefilm's most hilarious moments and then smoothly moving to movingspirituality and testimony. It is daring and effective -- simply anawesome scene.
Despite the many ways in which The Best Two Years succeeds, there aresome things which keep it from being even better. Its very appealingsimplicity is also a weakness. This film is based on a stage play, andso much of it takes place in the missionary apartment that the endresult feels slightly claustrophobic. More scenes OUTSIDE of theapartment, even if they featured the same dialogue, would have beenwelcome. An admirable effort has been made to film on location inHolland, but I was left wanting more.
Also, although this is clearly a movie which is about Americanmissionaries in Holland, and NOT about Holland itself or about Dutchpeople, I felt there simply were too few glimpses into Dutch life, orhow that culture had an impact on the missionaries. Lost inTranslation was another movie completely about Americans rather thanthe foreign country they travel to, yet it offered more a sense of itsforeign setting.
I wonder if the laser-like intensity with which The Best Two Yearsfocused on its four main characters hampered it. Even just one or twoscenes in which actual Dutch Latter-day Saints exchange dialogue withthe missionaries may have opened the movie up more for me, and given mea some idea of what the Elders were attempting to accomplish on theirmission to The Netherlands.
Also, the opening few minutes of The Best Two Years are deathly slowand uneven. The dialogue and timing during the opening scenes beforeElder Calhoun arrives seems to have come straight from a play and theacting seems forced. But Richard Dutcher's Brigham City was similarlymarred by slow, awkward opening scenes, yet it remains the best LDSCinema movie yet made. If you go to see The Best Two Years and arrive a few minutes late,don't worry about it. But if you miss the film's beginning you will missa good song by Michael McLean. My advise is to watch the whole thing,enjoy the music and beautiful cinematography during the opening credits,and don't fret too much about the weakness of the first scene with themissionaries.
Even if The Best Two Years is not THE best LDS-themed movie ever made,it is one of the best. I look forward to seeing it again, and I lookforward to seeing what director Scott S. Anderson does next. I see manymovies, from both Hollywood and Utah, and this is one of the best timesI have had at the movies in years.
© 2004 Preston Hunter