Movies about Mormon missionaries have almost become a new genre. Some are made by Mormons (“God’s Army”), some are outrageously anti-Mormon (“Orgazmo”) and some are more moderately critical (“Latter Days”).
The latest to appear in theaters, “The Best Two Years,” is closest to “God’s Army” in spirit, though it isn’t as preachy or as juvenile. While it’s still speaking to the choir, it does so in a less gung-ho, more realistic, even pessimistic way. Indeed, rejection is the true subject.
Not only do four young missionaries to Holland get doors slammed in their faces; they get dumped by their formerly faithful girlfriends. Homesick and feeling abandoned, they grouse about their romantic follies and lack of success in making converts; the most cynical of them wears a sweatshirt that proclaims “Good Boys Go to Heaven, Bad Boys Go to Amsterdam.”
The newest and nerdiest member of the team, Calhoun (Kirby Heyborne), is of course the most enthusiastic. He’s assigned a partner, Rogers (KC Clyde), who is so discouraged that he expects people to reject the Book of Mormon when he takes to the streets. When Calhoun lands a potential convert, Rogers tries to prepare him for the worst, and he’s astonished when the conversion starts to feel genuine.
The movie works best when it deals with the interaction between these two, and between their feuding roommates, Johnson (David Nibley) and Van Pelt (Cameron Hopkin), who behave like deprived children when they work out their frustrations on each other. The actors all have showbiz credentials, and Heyborne and Nibley have done improv comedy; it shows in their light, professional approach to the material.
The writer-director, Scott S. Anderson, based the script on his own missionary experiences and his 1981 play, “The Best Two Years of My Life.” He handles the frat-house humor more convincingly than he does the conversion scenes, which are so serious and emotional that they seem to come from a different movie.
It doesn’t help that Anderson provides so little basis for an outsider to understand the process. The name “Joseph Smith” is sprinkled around like pixie dust, but if you know nothing about Mormon history, “The Best Two Years” won’t be much help in filling that vacuum. “God’s Army” may have erred in the other direction, but at least it was consistent.