This gently retro story of a young Morman missionary in the Pacific Islands of Tonga loses some wholesomeness points due to some smug insularity.
It takes John Groberg (Christopher Gorham) 83 days to get to the tiny Tongan island where he will be stationed for two years, following his graduation from Brigham Young University. His only link with home is the monthly mail delivery, and the letters he writes to the girl he hopes to marry (“The Princess Diaries'” Anne Hathaway) provide the narration.
John faces challenges from the culture and setting. The local minister (a Tongan Christian) tells the natives not to deal with him, and even sends some to rough him up. A typhoon wipes out all of the island’s crops and homes. he is caught in a storm at sea. Those darn natives keep wanting to not follow the rules he has come to teach him. And the church criticizes him for not doing his paperwork. Through all of this John is unfailingly wise, patient, and obedient. He cures an injured child with prayer and pre-CPR first aid. He resists a native beauty who offers him sex without commitment. He even proves himself to the rival minister, who not only apologizes but sacrifices himself so that John can survive. Through all of this, John never questions his role, so he never really learns or grows.
Parents should know that the movie has some bloody injuries, scary storms, and character deaths. Native girls go off with sailors who offer passage in exchange for sex. Characters abuse alcohol. John makes it clear that in his view sex is only for those bound by marriage in a covenant of eternal love. Despite the superficiality, it is always good to see a movie character who has a strong spiritual and moral commitment that informs his choices.
Families who see this movie should talk about how we find a balance between respect for the cultures and religions of others and knowing our own moral and spiritual centers. They may also want to talk about the way John and his family draw on their faith in making their decisions.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Christy: Amazing Grace. And they might want to see South Pacific, another story that takes place in Tonga, and one that frankly addresses the issues of racial and cultural diversity.