Baptists At Our Barbecue

on October 08, 2004 by Wade Major
Christian Vuissa's "Baptists at our Barbecue" treats the longstanding tension between Mormons and Baptists about as seriously as a snowball fight, which is to say as an utterly trivial conflict that's taken far too seriously by devotees on either side. Scripted by F. Matthew Smith based on the Farrell M. Smith novel, the film spins a "Green Acres" kind of fish-out-of-water yarn about a young Mormon named Tartan (Dan Merkley) who, experiencing a certain anxiety about still being single and on the verge of turning 30, heads far from home to take a job as a ranger in a small southwestern town called Longwinded. There he becomes the "tiebreaker" between the town's perfectly balkanized division: 262 Mormons and 262 Baptists. That's an undeniably ripe setup for all kinds of comedy, but Vuissa's film never really exploits it. Instead, it dovetails into more familiar romantic comedy territory, pairing Tartan with another recently-arrived runaway Mormon loner named Charity (Heather Beers) and developing their romance against the backdrop of a rather stereotypically quirky collection of small-town oddballs.

While there's some undeniable risk in the film's failure to capitalize on its high-concept premise, there's also just enough warm sweetness and offbeat sincerity to compensate. Merkley and Beers have a wonderful chemistry and the supporting cast counterbalances quirkiness with flashes of earnest humanity.

Given that this is essentially a Mormon-made picture distributed through a company that specializes in independent Mormon comedies, it's not surprising that its point of view is predominantly Mormon and not Baptist. At the same time, it's scrupulously fair in affectionately ribbing both faiths for their particular cultural peculiarities. Indeed, having already captured several top prizes on the festival circuit, the film has clearly struck a nerve with neutral audiences as well as the more self-effacing of its subject sects -- by no means a small accomplishment when dealing with a subject as sensitive as interfaith friction. Starring Dan Merkley, Heather Beers, Duane Stephens, Mike Christian and Micaela Nelligan. Directed by Christian Vuissa. Written by F. Matthew Smith. Produced by F. Matthew Smith, Farrell M. Smith, Robert Farrell Smith and Christian Vuissa. A Halestone release. Comedy. Rated PG for some thematic elements and mild violence. Running time: 92 min

Tags: Dan Merkley, Heather Beers, Duane Stephens, Mike Christian, Micaela Nelligan, Written by F. Matthew Smith, Produced by F. Matthew Smith, Farrell M. Smith, Robert Farrell Smith and Christian Vuissa, Halestone, Comedy

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