Well here’s some news that might make Latter-day Saints take pause and reassess their relationship with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the organization that establishes content ratings for films. The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith, The long-awaited sequel to beloved 2001 missionary film The Other Side of Heaven, has been slapped with a PG-13 rating for “some thematic material including violence,” per Box Office Mojo.
The film continues the story of John Groberg, this time returning to the Tonga as a mission president many years after serving there as a full-time missionary, where he will deal with the struggle of running a mission and maintaining a relationship with his family. Original star Christopher Gorham returns in the role of John Groberg. Some indie actress named Anna Hathaway originally appeared as Groberg’s future wife, but she decided to sit out this installment, replaced by Natalie Medlock. Many other original actors have returned for their roles. It is based on Groberg’s memoir Fire of Faith. The Leading Saints podcast ran a great interview with Elder Groberg in 2017 that is well worth a listen.
This is a curious development, indeed. In the original film our hero dealt with bad weather, injuries, and even sexual advances, but was all pretty firmly in that family-friendly PG territory. We’re assuming The Other Side of Heaven 2 is a “soft” PG-13 but just a bit too intense in some areas to stay in the PG realm. But that’s only an assumption. Maybe it has a ferociously hot make out sequence.
For those of you outside the United States, PG-13 represents something of a midpoint between relatively benign PG – “Parental Guidance Suggested” – and R, which requires anyone under 17 years of age to be accompanied by an adult. Then, of course, there’s NC-17, which doesn’t admit anyone under 17, period. NC-17 films are typically, though not always, rated as such for sexual content. Why a 17 year old can see see such a film but must wait another year to purchase something like Playboy is anyone’s guess. Fun trivia: the PG-13 rating was actually devised by none other than Hollywood icon Steven Spielberg, who received so much flack for the violence in PG-rated Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins that he lobbied the MPAA to create a rating that held the middle ground.
Anyway! PG-13 implies that parents should exercise caution before exposing their kids to the film, and it’s typically a rating that family fare tries to avoid while at the same time is the gold standard rating for Hollywood blockbusters – just intense enough to draw a crowd but not as restrictive as something rated R. Essentially, teenagers are crucial customers.
What will this mean for the denizens of Latter-day Saint-heavy markets? After all, our people are somewhat notoriously dogmatic when it comes to following the ratings board even though doing so doesn’t always make sense, as it’s an arbitrary organization that doesn’t follow God’s standards to create secular ones. A great example came in 2010, when The King’s Speech was rated R for one scene involving about a dozen f bombs that, taken in context, was crucial to the story of a man overcoming a speech impediment. The movie was considered so important that the studio actually released a PG cut where the profanity was simply muted during the one scene. Contrast that with 2010’s other terrific film, The Social Network, which was rated PG-13 but included content related to sexuality, drug use, betrayal, greed, and general jackweedery. And yet, the R rated one was more likely to be shunned by certain social and religious groups because of the rating alone even though the content of The Social Network was undoubtedly more adult in nature.
The Other Side of Heaven 2 is certainly not the first Latter-day Saint-focused film to be rated PG-13. Saints and Soldiers was originally rated R by the MPAA before being cut down to PG-13 for its theatrical release. The atrocious The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol 1 (there has never been a Vol 2) was hit with a PG-13 rating for featuring the highly sanitized decapitation of Laban by Nephi – a crucial sequence in the Book of Mormon narrative. Mormons were so disappointed with the more explicit content that the home video release was edited in order to achieve a more palatable PG rating. (Let’s pause of for a moment and recognize that a film or series of films depicting the Book of Mormon faithfully would undoubtedly be rated R.) More recently, The Saratov Approach, which featured the true story of two missionaries, err, volunteers, kidnapped in Russia was rated PG-13 for violence and thematic material. Freetown, the story of missionaries in Liberia escaping violence was also a bit too intense to garner only a PG rating. (What’s with so many missionary movies being PG-13?!) I’m pretty sure some random Work and the Glory movie was also PG-13.
The point is, Mormon cinema is not bereft of slightly more adult content, but it’s easy to imagine families expecting something pretty benign for The Other Side of Heaven. After all, the first one was so saccharine that Disney picked up the home video rights because it was happily on brand – and also because it could market Anne Hathaway. (This was pre-Marvel and Lucasfilm Disney.)
So will families hold off now on taking their kids to see what they thought would be a happy little Saturday matinee and will a PG-13 rating doom the film’s box office prospects? Perhaps. Latter-day Saint distributors remain quite sensitive to their audience’s interpretation of MPAA ratings, and it will be interesting to see if the studio pushes the filmmakers to edit the film and resubmit it to the MPAA in order to garner that cherished PG status.
The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith will be released nationwide on June 28, 2019.