I likely should be telling you about the latest JLo rom-com or maybe even Kenneth Branagh's latest Agatha Christie re-imagining, but no.
No, I'm not.
Instead, I'm sitting here on a chilly Sunday morning in Indianapolis with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face watching a six-year-old film, writer/director Maclain Nelson's Once I Was a Beehive.
If you've been a reader of The Independent Critic since my early days, then you likely know I've always been sort of on the fringes of the indie LDS (Mormon) cinema scene, a scene I greatly admire and a scene I've often reviewed over the years with a particular fondness for the works of Christian Vuissa. Once I Was a Beehive, it should be noted, is not really, really a Mormon-film as much as it's largely about people who are Mormon and who consider their faith to be at the center of their lives. The film is what I like to more commonly refer to as faith-inspired cinema rather than faith-based as it's less concerned with preaching and teaching and more concerned with living and loving.
The story centers around Lane (Paris Warner), a 16-year-old girl whose father has passed away from cancer and who finds herself a year later still intensely grieving while her mother is not only remarrying but marrying a Mormon. When they head off to their honeymoon, Lane stays with a step-aunt and ends up reluctantly joining her incredibly enthusiastic step-cousin Phoebe (Mila Smith) for a Mormon summer camp for girls.
There is a sweetness, an authentic and incredibly sincere sweetness, that radiates throughout Once I Was a Beehive, a film that I openly admit taps into my own grief journey having lost both my brother and mother over the past year. The film, one of the best reviewed LDS films of the past ten years, is brought to life by a wonderful ensemble that clearly understands this story and brings it to life with such richness that I feel warm and fuzzy even writing about it.
This doesn't mean that everything that unfolds in Once I Was a Beehive is happy, though you'd be pretty hard-pressed to find an LDS film that gets down and dirty. It simply means that the emotions here feel genuine and the story that comes to life never plays a false note. Paris Warner is an absolute gem here in capturing adolescent grief in a way that feels genuine and true and avoids the usual melodrama. Mila Smith is the film's true secret weapon, a vibrant and lovely young girl as Phoebe whose chemistry with Warner is essential to the film's success.
There are so many others. Truly, there's not a weak link here even when we get into the inevitable cutesie moments that seem to always pop up in Mormon-inspired cinema projects including the hunky but chaste forest rangers and the "aw shucks" camaraderie.
The film's soundtrack is sublime and its largely Provo, Utah setting used perfectly.
Once I Was a Beehive is what faith-inspired films should be - showing how to live and love and simply be in a life where tragedies happen and things break and sometimes life really, really hurts and it's our faith that we have to hold onto.
Our faith and each other.
Once I Was a Beehive is a reminder for me of how much I value faith-based and faith-inspired films that worry less about preaching and more about showing how faith can make our lives and the world around us better. This a film that does that and it does it sublimely. Almost without exception, I found myself heading over to IMDB to check out this cast and crew and to discover their other projects.
If you're looking for a film that entertains and inspires, Once I Was a Beehive is it.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic