According to director Corbin Bernsen (yes, the former LA Law actor known, according to his IMDB bio, for his “blond and brash, rugged, hirsutely handsome good looks, impish grin and aggressive courting style”) the idea for Christian Mingle: The Movie (which hit DVD last month and aired on UP TV February 8th) didn’t come from Christian Mingle, it came from Bernsen. To hear Bernsen tell it, he just thought that a Christian Mingle movie was something that should exist, so he approached the Christian Mingle people, and they were kind enough to let him use the name. Pro tip: if you don’t want people to think your movie is a paid advertisement for Christian Mingle, maybe don’t call it Christian Mingle: The Movie.
Though you might not know him beyond his aggressive courting, Bernsen has actually directed four previous faith-based films™. He has been described as a born-again Christian in various bios, but when asked the question directly, he tends to reject the label. He speaks earnestly and fairly unobnoxiously about his faith, and in general, sounds like a more accessible alternative to Kirk Cameron, the kind of guy who’d tell you you can believe in God without hating queers or thinking bananas refute evolution. Basically, he doesn’t seem like a heartless profiteer looking to pimp the same horseshit cultural divide, and I tend to think that’s reason enough not to just sh*t on him out of hand. A decent film with a Christian message? Let’s at least admit the possibility.
A kinder, better, gentler kind of Christian, the kind you could bring home to your agnostic mom. I like that. Was his film still a chore to sit through? Oh sweet mother of God yes.
Bernsen described his idea for Christian Mingle: The Movie thusly:
I was talking with my business partner, thinking, “Why can’t there be Christian movies that are faith based, but are just genre films? Instead of the educational, hit-people-over-the-head-with-Jesus movies every time, why not a romantic comedy?”
A fine idea (I guess?), but it seems that in combining the home-spun Christian indie with the soft rock of film genres, Bernsen has created a supernova of caucasity, a movie so white it’d make a Lands End catalog look like Jet Magazine. It stars Party of Five‘s Lacey Chabert as Gwyneth Hayden (a name so white it makes Rooney Mara sound like Quvenzhane Wallis), a single gal with a great job, some gabby girlfriends, and a sassy black secretary. But NO MAN, wouldn’t you know it. Her dishy GFs tell her she’s going to die alone if she doesn’t settle, in typical high-larious rom-com fashion. She works (“works”) as a marketing professional (of course) at the “Maritime Advertising Agency,” under head honcho Stephen Tobolowsky (of Ned Ryerson fame), who shows up to work in a captain’s hat, wears ties with tiny anchors on them, and summons his employees to work with pronouncements like “Clear the decks!” It’s a theme, get it? That’s just good clean comedy writin’ right there.
After being disappointed with the usual dating options, represented solely by a set-up date with a guy who keeps looking past her at the other girls at the bar and makes conversation like “I love stinky cheese. Clogs the pipes, but…”, Gwyneth sees a Christian Mingle commercial on TV one night and decides to take the plunge. Her friends are skeptical, but she assures them “It’s a very popular and legit dating site.” Smash cut to her meet cute with a lost Manning brother played by Jonathan Patrick Moore, the suitably boring named “Paul Wood.” And we’re off!
Now, a note on styling. Some months back, I attended a Halloween party where one of the guys there had dressed as a “basic bitch” – big, done-up wig, dangly earrings, Lululemon pants tucked into Ugg boots, robe top with sash cinch, big sunglasses, and a Starbucks latte cup as a prop. It was uncanny how much he predicted Lacey Chabert’s character in Christian Mingle, the unsatirical basic bitch come to life. If it seems unfair to focus so much on styling, well, facade is really all there is. This entire movie feels like it was filmed inside an IKEA show room. The characters aren’t people, they’re catalog representations of middle class whiteness.
It’s like bland wholesomeness and aspirational styling had a mutant baby that begged you to shoot it in the head. Do they make flannel bullets? Can you hang yourself with a braided belt? Suddenly I want to join the Black Panthers.
But whereas, say, Heaven Is For Real would unabashedly sell you these people as avatars for the “real America,” Christian Mingle is at least self-aware enough to inject some honest introspection. The trailer has an actual record scratch when Paul brings up his “love for the Lord,” and his character is at least self-conscious about how ridiculous he sounds when he refers to his father as “Papa.” Make no mistake, the fact that he’s the love interest for a lost and confused latte-loving city girl (the “city” here being represented by Turlock, California, which is hilarious) is absolutely representative of a deep desire to return to a lost (and mostly imaginary) halcyon era of side-part fifties whiteness, to avoid the hard work of living in a complex modern world. They earnestly sell this fantasy, but are at least aware enough to be embarrassed about it.
The difficulty for The Christian Mingle movie comes in the complication, that part of every rom-com where the love interest finds out the protagonist began the relationship under false pretenses (say, there was a bet that he could make her the coolest girl at her high school, or she’s actually her own mother after a body swap curse), and they split up for a while. The false pretense in Christian Mingle Is Gwyneth “pretending” to be a Christian. Which is revealed when Gwyneth’s too-perfect romantic rival finds a “Christianity For Dummies” book in Gwyneth’s bag on a mission trip to San Luis Potosi. She shows it to Paul’s mom, played by Morgan Fairchild, in front of the entire horrified congregation. Gwyneth read a book? What a Godless f*cking loser!
It’s one of the all-time great record scratch moments, but it also raises the question: if someone wants to be a Christian and is trying really hard to be one, doesn’t that make them a Christian? What else does she need? A baptism? A “blessed” tattoo? Is there hazing, like a holy hell week to commemorate the end of pledge period? It feels like an attempt to placate the Christian base, who might resent a Johnny Come Lately who gets to be a Christian just because she says she is one.
To address this and begin her path to marriageability, Gwyneth tells us via voiceover, “It wasn’t enough to talk about God, I had to know God personally. So we started… a conversation.”
This conversation happens on the most literal terms possible – God, represented by a celestial ray of sunshine (of course), beams through Gwyneth’s window to wake her. “Leave me alone!” she shouts at the Heavens, drawing the curtains. Which “God” blows open again with a sound effect-aided gust of wind. “Ugh, you are so obvious!” Gwyneth says.
I guess it’s supposed to represent Gwyneth wrestling with her faith, but all I could think of was what a nightmare person someone who thought everything in life, down to the smallest ray of sunshine or gust of breeze was God trying to speak directly to them. That news report about a genocide in Uganda was probably just God’s way of telling me not to eat the rest of this quesadilla!
That’s when Gwyneth receives a letter from a smiling ethnic child, still grateful to her white savior in her time of need. “Yer changin’ that girl’s life. Nope, she’s changin’ mine,” and whatnot.
It’s an amazing scene, featuring a letter, read by a little girl with a hilariously bad attempt at a Mexican accent (honestly, how hard was that to find in Southern California?), that starts “Dear Señorita. My sorry por my English no so good…”
That’s it! God speaking through a kind hearted little stereotype from It’s A Small World! Gwyneth should quit her evil marketing job and go get validated by brown people! So she moves back down to Mexico to teach, and by “Mexico” I mean the most hilariously on-the-nose Mr. Belvedere set you’ve ever seen.
Does that kid have a pet burro? You bet your ass that kid has a pet burro.
That’s the thing: Christian Mingle: The Movie wants to be a movie about faith, but mostly it’s a movie where ching chong background music plays when the characters go out for sushi and at least one kid has to be wearing a straw cowboy hat and walking a pet burro to make sure you know they’re in Mexico. Gwyneth takes Paul out for sushi (which he tries valiantly not to be grossed out by), Paul takes Gwyneth out to his family’s favorite restaurant, I sh*t you not, “Steak and Cake.” The film thinks it’s about this culture clash, but mostly it’s just about two people who are really f*cking white.
Christian Mingle: The Movie, aka The Unbearable Whiteness Of Believing.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on FilmDrunk, the Uproxx network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.