John H. Groberg, a middle class kid from Idaho Falls, crosses the Pacific to become a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint missionary in the remote and exotic Tongan island kingdom during the 1950's. He leaves behind a loving family and the true love of his life, Jean. Through letters and musings across the miles, John shares his humbling and sometimes hilarious adventures with "the girl back home", and her letters buoy up his spirits in difficult times. John must struggle to overcome language barriers, physical hardship and deep-rooted suspicion to earn the trust and love of the Tongan people he has come to serve. Throughout his adventure-filled three years on the islands, he discovers friends and wisdom in the most unlikely places. John H. Groberg's Tongan odyssey will change his life forever.Written by
Mary Jane Jones
The photographs in the opening sequence are of the actual people portrayed in the film, not just period photos. See more »
The majority of Tongan characters speak with New Zealand accents throughout the film, although the only white people they have supposedly been in contact with are the American missionaries. This is due to the fact that most of the actors portraying Tongans are actually from New Zealand or the Cook Islands. A lot of the Tongan dialogue is also mis-pronounced throughout the film. See more »
There are absolutely no nuances to any character in this film. The Tongans, who the lead character (the story is based on his actual memoirs) initially describes as (paraphrased here) "the people I grew to love" are simply portrayed as carefree savages saved by the attentive, miraculous attention of the Mormon missionary sent to convert them.
There's no mystery and subtlety, either: the most beautiful Tonga literally drops her skirt for him, her mother begs him for a "half-white baby," he brings a dead child back to life, the music swells when his feet are inexplicably "eaten" in the middle of the night -- and he takes his first steps toward a cheering, loving, docile tribe. There's little doubt who he'll have romance with, where he'll end up and how the experience with this "primitive" non-Mormon universe will change him forever (after all, not only did he manage to get a book published, he also got this movie produced by Disney).
In short, it's tremendously irritating -- it's insulting, it's racist, it's condescending. He obviously has a revisionist history in which he is wholly god's representative and adored. He is completely unflawed in his mind and in this rendering.
The film is one that should be reserved for whatever the Mormon version of catechism is and should stay within the confines of that community, where it will no doubt be appreciated and be singing to the choir.
The scenery is stunningly breathtaking, and it would've far been better had they decided to make a travel documentary of New Zealand and the Cook Islands, where the film was shot.
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