We’ve had video game movies, we’ve had The Lego Movie, we’ve even had Foodfight! (a movie centered around grocery store mascots like Charlie Tuna and Mr. Clean), so why not a film adaptation of a dating website? What’ve we got to lose?
Written and directed by Corbin Bernsen (you know, the grumpy old man on Psych), Christian Mingle is a spastic blurring of the line between infomercial and parody. Romantic comedy seems like the ideal genre for the subject matter, but it is only partially a narrative film. Half sentient, and a Christian cyborg almost aware of its own existence, the movie’s tone hits the painfully awkward middle between commercial and satirical love story that could leave one cringing as it struggles with its own monstrous reality.
Before I get into the plot, let’s look at some of the endorsements this film lists on its official website. Author Caleb Breaker says “Christian Mingle is a charming film that’s going to strike a cord with single believers everywhere… Give it a watch and then pass it along to the single in the pew next to yours.” Pam and Bill Farrel, authors of the excellently titled Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti, loved the music. The Farrels seem like the kind of honest, well-meaning, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” sort of people this film doesn’t much care for.
From its erratic title sequence that looks like an experimental lightshow made out of various Bible Belt scrapbooks to its simple vocabulary and Puritanical ideas of humor, Christian Mingle has the tone of an extremely popular, lowest common denominator Christian blog post. Gwyneth (Lacey Chabert, solidifying her peak as the third best Plastic from Mean Girls) is fed up with dating. Where have all the nice guys gone? Is she to die alone? The first sense of her desperation comes when she tells her girlfriends that she “just [wants] a guy to look at [her] for 10 straight seconds and smile.” After that, she’s sold. If this is the bar guys have to pass and still fail, she either has poor taste in dates, an abrasive personality or a particularly racist facial tattoo. The latter two can be dismissed, leaving the former as the culprit.
After another lonely night at home of flipping through her TV that only shows commercials (there are three full-length “Christian Mingle” commercials inside this movie-length commercial), Gwyneth has a shame-driven epiphany that steers her to online dating. These fake infomercials are all shot the same as the movie, as is the “Christian Mingle” commercial. Straight-ahead shots of centered actors sell the cultural product. Piecemeal editing of both sound and video highlight the fiction as the lighting fulfills its duty to marketing rather than narrative — everything is perfectly soft and visible no matter whether it’s a dark streetcorner, a Bible study-hosting home or a conference room.
So yes, cue the rapturous pop music about suffering and hardship as Gwyneth does the kind of cartoonishly parabolic laptop finger jab that should’ve died out with Tom Hanks in the 90s. The account is created. Then she buys “Christianity for Dummies.”
That’s right, Gwyneth may identify as a Christian, but is she a real enough Christian? This is the real crux of the film — not any romantic or comedic elements. Authenticity, not to oneself, but to a specific way of worship, is hammered over and over. This is the film’s one plot point which is encased by dozens of metaphors and allegorical situations, because if there’s one thing these Christians know, it’s that nothing is more meaningful than repetition.
Gwyneth’s job as a brand manager (a vice president, no less, though the film doesn’t seem to understand what that could possibly mean) hocking a miracle baldness cure for her boss (Stephen Tobolowsky, dressed as an admiral for some reason and hopefully putting a child through college) invites the comparison of leaps of faith, then swiftly undermines it. When hammering the mysterious and miraculous wonders of an unknowable God, snake oil juxtaposition may be a detrimental choice. The absurdity mounts with shoddy production and the uncomfortable humor between “laughing with” and “laughing at” that makes any office scene feel like a Saturday Night Live sketch mid-crash-and-burn.
Every new development reminds the audience to be themselves. Gwyneth doesn’t want to go by “Gwennie,” a shopping montage for church clothes jabs at grandmotherly fashions and a date lies about wanting to try sushi. “This is the ‘in’ thing now, right?” he asks, before chewing on the fish like he’d only ever had kid’s menu chicken nuggets. How foolish I felt. Of course God hates sushi and loves burgers, steaks and hot dogs — a theory later confirmed when this date takes Gwyneth to a restaurant called “Steak & Cake.”
This date, Gwyneth’s fellow Christian Mingler, is Paul (Jonathan Patrick Moore). A psychopathic Norman Bates type, Paul smiles soullessly like a demon inhabiting the husk of a temporally-displaced Leave It to Beaver extra. “Heck” and “snap” come freely and without charm, like if Kyle MacLachlan’s Dale Cooper was scrubbed of charisma. Paul is a walking, talking loaf of white bread whose personality fizzles in comparison to particularly eye-catching background props.
The pair hit it off, leading to the purchase of another “For Dummies” book. At this rate, you might think the producers would balk at the close association with their characters, Christians, and “Dummies,” especially considering that the books catalyze one of the film’s only plot points. Casual sexism permeates their relationship (you’re funny for a girl) until the casual racism takes over on a mission trip to Mexico.
The white savior takes no more than two steps in the dirt before a random local girl rushes up to hug her. The movie plays this for comic relief, and much of Christian Mingle that takes place in this salsa commercial Mexico is so tone deaf that it unintentionally resembles something as dry as Wet Hot American Summer. Teaching these poor savages about the wonders of Jesus tips the balance of the film from sheer incompetence to enjoyable inanity.
After the Idiot Plot ( a Roger Ebert term for romantic comedies in which a small complication makes drama between two idiots), Gwyneth finds Jesus the “right” way and heads back to Mexico. Finding Jesus the “right” way, if you were wondering, involves abandoning her successful career and apologizing to a storm. Then a letter arrives from the random Mexican girl, including repeated apologies for broken English and thanking Gwyneth for teaching her about God. This reminds her that Jesus died for her sins, which seems to me like Jesus 101 that should’ve been covered in one of the two books she purchased on the subject (not including an actual Bible). After returning to Mexico, still refusing to learn Spanish and teaching Sunday school, Gwyneth earns the right to be with a real Christian man like Paul, who materializes and kisses her. The film cuts to a smiling old Mexican man over and over again, just in case the audience isn’t sure whether or not two kissing white people were the highlight of his month.
I haven’t even gotten to the sassy black friend (she says “Say what?!”), a knock-knock joke with such poor editing that it gave me whiplash or a story about a drifter named Wood who sees Jesus in a piece of driftwood. Really.
Like a lot of reality television, Christian Mingle is funny for hateful reasoning that displays damaging, scary facets of our culture. It is divisive between types of Christians, pitting the big-haired southern blonde Bible-pounder against the quietly devout brunette city girl. It is sexist, racist and paradoxically unsure of its own metaphors. For those that don’t agree with its rhetoric, it can be a lot of trashy fun. For those that do, this is Nero’s latest fiddle album.
From AAA TV to Z-movies, Oklahoma City-based critic Jacob Oller (@JacobOller) would like to bring the world together through entertainment, writing about it for publications like The Guardian, the Oklahoma Gazette, and his own blog. He’s a decent impressionist, semi-decent karaoke participant, and terrible dancer, although you’ll have to get a few drinks in him first.