Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Singing with Angels Review

If you live in Utah right now, you have the opportunity of going to see the small, LDS film about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (Motab) called Singing with Angels. If you don't live in Utah and you've seen the trailers, you'll most likely have to wait until this comes to DVD before you can view it because I don't think this is expanding very far. Now the LDS film community is growing tremendously and I think that's great. Major LDS films have been hitting theaters rather frequently following the success of God's Army in 2000, but recently they've been doing very well with movies such as The Saratov Approach and Meet the Mormons that have gotten the attention of national media. As someone who is LDS and has been watching these LDS films for much of my life, even before they started putting them in theaters, I usually take it upon myself to see these movies and review them, especially for a movie like Singing with Angels that hasn't gotten very much attention at all. I honestly wish I could give them all positive reviews, especially when the intentions are great, but the fact of the matter is sometimes these movies just fall flat. Unfortunately Singing with Angels falls very flat.

I first saw this trailer a few months ago in front of some other faith-based movie. I can't remember which one it was, but honestly it looked terrible. Yes, there can be great movies that have bad trailers, especially if it's for a small movie like this, which is why I decided to give it a shot. Because I almost didn't. My biggest question going in was what is this movie? Is it a documentary about the Motab? Is it a docudrama? Is it a movie inspired by the true events of someone who was in the Motab? I really didn't know. The advertising didn't even really make that clear. Turns out this is purely a work of fiction and is definitely not a documentary. Is this inspired by true events? I think it might be. But the movie didn't say anything about that, so I don't know. Either way, we are telling the story of a woman who made it into the Motab and her experiences with her family during her tenure there. There's a lot of different directions that they could've taken this movie, but unfortunately the direction they took was a surprisingly boring and uninteresting one.

Had this been a musical drama following the Motab, it could've been really interesting. It could've been a concert movie of sorts, either fictional or biographical. I've seen both work very well. But it's not. Outside a few practices and rehearsals, you get almost no Motab music until the third act of the movie. They also could've made a movie about a guy whose life was saved when he stumbled on music by the Motab. That would've been great. Yes, that's in there. But it's really just shoehorned in there as it only takes up about five minutes or so at most. Instead this is just a movie about an average family living an average life. We have an annoying mother-in-law. The daughter gets sick at one point. The mother is trying out for the Motab. Events happen. They go to the store a few times. The father talks about his job. They move at the beginning of the movie. The mother is teaching a choir class at a high school. But holy freaking cow there's almost no conflict in the movie and almost no Motab. To make things worse, the story is told out of chronological order. It's not confusing, but it does take away any drama or anticipation of this mother getting into the choir as well as a few other plot points that they tried to make interesting. And it was completely unnecessary.

Was this a movie showing the behind-the-scenes of how to get into the choir? Kinda. Does this show what life is like in the choir? Kinda. But not really. It's just a story about an average family. It's like if someone who was actually in the choir starting filming their average, normal life for a few weeks and edited it into an 94 minute movie and made you watch it. Yeah this movie covers five years, but you get my point. Speaking of editing, the flow of this movie wasn't good. It felt very choppy and all over the place. Some of the shots were good, but they just weren't put together very well and they didn't feel super professional. They had a lot of shots of temple square and the tabernacle that the choir practices in, but they looked like they were shots that were taken directly from Music and the Spoken Word or General Conference, if you know what I mean. And every time we bounced back and forth through time, we had to fade into black and white. If I'm being completely honest, I was so bored for the entire movie and the fact that the production of the film looked very low quality and homemade made it even worse, especially with a lot of the editing and story-telling choices.

Sure, you could chalk a lot of these issues up to this being a very low-budget film and forgive it because of that. But I can't do that because I've seen plenty of low-budget films that are fantastic. You wouldn't know by watching them that they had little to nothing to work with. Last year we had an LDS film called Once I was a Beehive that was fan-freaking-tastic and I'm sure their budget wasn't super high. So it's no excuse. This looked like a low-budget film and the screenplay was bland and uninteresting. The acting in the movie was fine. Our biggest name in the movie was Scott Christopher, which if you are up to date on your LDS movie culture, you should know exactly who he is because he shows up in like everything. Most notably he plays the investigator Kyle Harrison in The Best Two Years. He did a good job in this movie. As did the others who are lesser-known. But they just weren't given anything to work with here. But hey, this is a Motab movie, so if the music is great then we can forgive the rest, right? Ha. Ha. Ha. Yeah, nice idea. Like I said, there's almost no Motab in this movie. And I'm not convinced that anyone in this movie actually sang. It felt like they were lip-syncing to dubbed over Motab music.

I do have to give credit where credit is due and there is a third act to this movie that actually tries to be good. Despite almost literally nothing interesting in the movie happening for almost the whole time, something finally happens and I was like, hey! I feel emotion! I kinda care about this part of the movie! Kinda. It was too little too late for me to really feel affected. Also in this third act, they finally had some actual Motab singing and those one or two songs were pretty good and emotional like a Motab movie should be. They either brought in or spliced in the actual choir for these pieces and for once it didn't feel like lip-syncing. And I know it was the actual choir because I have a friend in the choir right now and I saw him in the movie. Twice. And it made me happy. But then it made me nervous and sad because I knew I was going to go home and write this horrible review of a movie that had a person in it that I actually knew. And that person might read this. Yikes! But anyways, back on track, you will get the feels for a bit and I was hearing sniffling from others around me, but at the same time I was more frustrating because I feel this should've happened a lot earlier in the movie. Not at the end. Thus it was like wasted potential instead of emotional feel-goods for me.

In the end, I really feel bad writing this review because I know that there was good intentions with this movie. There is a lot that you could do with a Motab movie. Make it a musical drama. Make it a concert movie. Make it an actual documentary where we interview past and current members of the choir. Make a full movie out of that five minute scene we got in the middle of this where we told the story of how the Motab saved a guy's life. Any of these would've been an excellent option. Instead we get a fictional movie about an average family with almost no conflict whatsoever until the very end and almost no Motab music. It was a very disappointing experience. I've seen a lot of great LDS films in the past. I've begged people to go see these films. But this time I am going to beg you to stay home and save your money. Don't see this in theaters. This is the type of movie where if it's on sale at a Deseret Book for a dollar or two, it might be worth picking up and playing as background noise on a Sunday evening when you have nothing else to do. But even that's a stretch as it might be more enjoyable to listen to a Motab CD or re-watch an actual Motab concert. My grade for Singing with Angels is a 5/10.

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