During the last fifteen years I have seen a number of films created by Mormons about the Mormon experience—some have been painfully bad collections of stereotypes, poor production values, and low quality acting, but some have been insightful, artistic windows into the peculiarities of Mormon life. When I first heard about Once I Was a Beehive, a new movie about girls’ camp, I worried it would be terrible. Comedy can be really hard to get right, even in films produced by major studios. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by a film that is funny without being silly or mean, and offers a sincere story of love and acceptance that anyone can relate to, Mormon or not.
The film uses the common trope of an outsider observer to introduce the somewhat quirky Mormon institution of girls’ camp. Lane is a sixteen-year-old girl whose widowed mother has just married a Mormon man. Lane is sent to spend a few weeks with her new aunt and cousin, just in time for girls’ camp. She remains the focal point of the film, offering commentary on the strange ways of her new Mormon friends and family—starting with a question of why the youngest girls are “Beehives” and not “Bees”. During the week of camp, Lane and the girls get to know each other and learn how to work together in a spirit of love and unity. The message of this movie reminded me of this quote from Gordon B. Hinckley: “…bring with you all that you have of good and truth which you have received from whatever source, and come and let us see if we may add to it” (General Conference, October 2002).
Lane has a lot to offer the girls she is camping with—both practical camping knowledge gained from years of regular camping trips with her dad, and wisdom gained from her life experiences, including her dad’s death. The girls and leaders she goes camping with also have a lot to offer her in return. This reciprocal respect is one of the biggest strengths of the film—too many Mormon films and books set up a false dichotomy between members and non-members, and too many require conversion of the non-members as a requirement for a happy ending. This movie doesn’t take that easy way out, and it’s much stronger for it. Not only that, but it’s really funny. The jokes are probably funnier if you’ve spent any time working with Mormon youth, but you’ll still laugh even if you haven’t.
Would I recommend seeing Once I Was a Beehive? Emphatically yes—movies are expensive, but I believe in voting with my dollars for the kind of entertainment that the world needs more of. The world needs more movies about Mormons that are complex, thoughtful, and sincere. Also, there are so few movies written by and acted in by women; we need more movies like this where the women (both young and some old) are the characters who drive the action and who save each other. If you need more convincing, read this post by one of the writers or this from one of the producers.
I would recommend this movie for nearly everyone, although it runs a bit long and there are a few intense parts that might freak out anyone under ten years old. Make sure you take your whole family—not just the girls. For the last few weeks it has been playing locally in Utah, but will soon be expanding nationally. Since it is not a major studio release, theater time will be short, so catch it while you can. Check the website to see if it is available near you.