Elizabeth, a 26-year-old aspiring novelist and Brigham Young University student, lives with her close friend Jane and three other girls, all unusually obsessed with marriage for anyone born in the last fifty years, and strangely celibate for anyone not in a tight-knit religious community… Hey. Utah. Brigham Young. I get it. Anyway, Jane falls for rich, goofy, middle-of-the-road guy, Charles, who happens to be good friends with Darcy, an unpleasantly frank publisher with whom Elizabeth has already butted heads. Wickham, another friend of Elizabeth’s, has also had problems with Darcy, but as is abundantly clear to anyone who would pick up a Jane Austen film, Darcy might not be the villain, and Wickham might be some kind of pervert who wants to have sex with women.
Jan Austen meets the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints because… because… Damn, I can’t think of a reason.
Taking its cue from Clueless, Amy Heckerling’s hip update of Austen’s Emma, Pride and Prejudice moves the story to that bastion of edgy youth culture, Utah, and morphs the characters into living-in-the-fast-lane LDS students. OK, that last sentence should tell you where things went wrong. I’m sure there are some pretty wild Mormons…somewhere…and there may be one or two parties a year in Utah that raise the roof, but those aren’t the norm, nor are they in this movie. We’re seeing the nice and polite side of Moron college kids. I’m a huge advocate of nice and polite people, and I’m glad that the LDS community has such a high percentage of them (at least if this film is to be believed), but nice and polite isn’t very interesting to watch. There are plenty of modern tunes, though nothing that you’ll be running out to pick up for your next rave. And there are plenty of jokes about the characters’ quirky behaviors, which, aren’t all that quirky outside of being celibate, never swearing, and acting like it’s 1950.
What most surprised me was how many moments were cleverly constructed and then fell flat. “That should have been funny,” was the phrase of the night. The culprits are loose editing, workman-like cinematography, and merely adequate dialog. This is Clueless made by mediocre craftsman who have nothing to say. It isn’t terrible, just uninspired.
Having previously concentrated on Mormon missionary films (The Other Side of Heaven, God’s Army), Excel Entertainment’s attempt to bring an LDS film to the masses is embarrassing both financially and artistically. Initially titled Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy for wide release, “A Latter-Day Comedy” was lopped off, and minor cuts were made throughout to remove direct references to the Mormon faith. So, we’re shown a religious service that is atypical for most of America, and then no explanation of what it is or why these people all go to it. Wearing its colors proudly would have helped in numerous areas, including explaining the weird guy who keeps hitting on our heroine (he’s a recently returned missionary, but that is no longer explained), and making it clear why everyone has the same, conservatives moral principles. A film that shows a group of people going to confession shouldn’t hide that the characters are Catholic, and this one shouldn’t have eliminated references to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The DVD has the cut version, but it has the complete release hidden as an Easter egg. Nowhere does it mention the second version. I’m guessing the trick to getting at the original cut has been spread in the LDS community.
But cut or uncut, this isn’t a good film.