The minute you spy Mackenzie Mauzy's Kelsey in Sydney Tooley's Sun Moon, you can't help but think to yourself "perfect."
She's perfectly beautiful. She's perfectly kind. She seems like the perfect Christian with the perfect boyfriend and standing at the altar for what promises to be the perfect marriage.
So much perfect.
Of course, life seldom actually works perfectly and that gives us the narrative for Tooley's warm and winning Sun Moon, an Affirms Original film debuting this weekend on Pure Flix.
After being left at the altar by Braden (Jason Burkey), Mackenzie stumbles through the usual and realistic grief and miseries alongside BFF Liz (Madison McLaughlin) until she finally works up the courage to return to the church to retrieve some of her leftover wedding items and stumbles into one of those missions info meetings so many of us have sat through. Initially only passively interested and trying to avoid human contact, Kelsey's entire being seems to light up when when the missionary confesses "“I had plans that fell through and took a teaching job in Taiwan on a whim.” For a woman whose entire life has seemingly imploded, hearing the words “I think God uses everything—what you love, where you hurt, your mistakes, your whims. I guess if you’re stuck, maybe take a leap of faith” has a sort of light bulb impact.
After a conversation with the couple, played warmly by Jordan Frechtman and Stephanie Hong, Mackenzie finds herself with a job offer of teaching English at the Taiwan Adventist Academy. Overnight, it seems, her life goes from seemingly "perfect" to taking a true leap of faith.
For a young woman who has seemingly never left the comfort of her own world, Kelsey's assimilation into Taiwanese culture is, predictably, a little difficult and more than a little endearing. She meets Horace (Justin Chien), a Taiwanese teacher at the school who speaks no English but still finds ways to reach out to the obviously in over her head Kelsey.
In your usual Hollywood film, this would cue a sort of "fish out of water" love story. However, it's safe to say that we're dealing with an Affirm Original film here and a Pure Flix film on top of that. So, of course, rather than turning Sun Moon into yet another formulaic love story the film continues its sublime focus on Kelsey, her faith journey, and theological lessons grounded in scripture and the often difficult practicalities of living faithfully.
Yes, there are formulaic decisions here. That's for sure. From awkward attempts to understand the Taiwan culture to the stereotypical "problem student," Trisha (Yuhan He), Kelsey's fits a good-hearted, feel-good formula yet also radiates an honesty that introduces fundamental questions we all face in trying to live as Christians including the film's biggie - Why would God let this happen to me?
Admit it. You've asked it before. I certainly have.
Kelsey asks it. A lot. Over time, she begins to understand a little bit more, however, she also seemingly embraces the idea that sometimes faith means that we don't understand why things happen. As someone who has never really believed in a plucking God, I found this ambiguity refreshing.
What's a plucking God, I hear you asking? A plucking God, for me, is a God who randomly decides that good things or bad things happen to people. Instead, I tend to believe in a God who is with us in all things. There's a subtle difference, at least for me, and I felt like Sun Moon understood that sometimes in the faith journey there are unanswerables. That's why it's called faith because we have to believe in things we can't always see.
Okay. Okay. Back to the movie.
Honestly? I really enjoyed Sun Moon, a film with an unabashed good heart and yet a film willing to express that the Christian life doesn't always go as planned and, yes, sometimes that's the actual plan. Mackenzie Mauzy is warm and wonderful and vulnerable as Kelsey and Justin Chien adds a layer of dignity and gravitas and steadiness as Horace. The film's not so secret gem is Madison McLaughlin as Liz, initially your straightforward BFF but someone who becomes so much more. The largely Taiwanese ensemble, especially the students, is excellent across the board.
Directed by Sydney Tooley and co-written by Tooley with Susan Isaacs, Sun Moon tells an appealing and relatable story with essential questions about the faith journey that we've all asked a time or two. Whether you believe in a plucking God or not, Sun Moon encourages each of us to remember that sometimes unanswered prayers lead to our holiest of miracles and sacred experiences.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic