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'Other Side of Heaven, The'

'Other Side of Heaven' true story of young missionary in South Pacific

Friday, April 12, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

"The Other Side of Heaven," now at Star City and Northway Mall, tells the true story of how John Groberg spent three years of his young adult life as a Mormon missionary in the South Pacific island of Tonga.

'The Other Side Of Heaven'

RATING: PG for thematic elements and brief disturbing images.

STARRING: Christopher Gorham, Anne Hathaway, Joe Folau.

DIRECTOR: Mitch Davis.

WEB SITE: www.othersideof



His spiritual journey unfolds one small step at a time rather than in one sudden flash of revelation, which does not necessarily lend itself to the steady pacing or the dramatic tension that movie audiences often demand.

As a result, "The Other Side of Heaven" requires more patience than many filmgoers will be able to muster, although it will certainly have appeal to many of those looking for clean family entertainment and an inspirational message.

Christopher Gorham portrays Groberg, who hails from Idaho. We first meet him at Brigham Young University, where he is playing trumpet for the rock 'n' roll band at the school dance (it is supposed to be 1953, when rock 'n' roll was still below the radar in many parts of the country) and trying to romance pretty Jean Sabin (Anne Hathaway).

He seems a bit impetuous, but he fulfills his duty when he receives his missionary assignment to Tonga. It takes him a while to get there -- the churchmen who are supposed to meet him at his various stops along the way don't show up -- and it's sink or swim when he finally arrives, not knowing the language and having only his companion, Feki (Joe Folau), to help him.

But when he gets tired of feeling sorry for himself, he commits himself to learning the language by memorizing a translation of the Bible. Various scenes follow in which he begins to win the hearts and minds of the villagers by manifesting God's work through his faith.

We get to know the islanders as the movie progresses, but the film remains episodic in nature until a storm ravages the island and provides the sternest test of survival yet. People go on to be saved in different ways from various potentially horrible fates.

Groberg matures into the job, but it is the islanders who change the most. His progress is measured largely in the exchange of letters between him and Jean -- Hathaway ("The Princess Diaries") is mostly heard and not seen in this movie.

At one point late in the film he writes to her, "There is a connection between heaven and earth. Finding that connection makes everything meaningful, including death. Missing it makes everything meaningless, including life." At last, the movie breaks through the strictures of narrative and reaches us on a more profound plane.

But most of the time, writer-director Mitch Davis seems mired in the mundane, even if one understands that, as the movie hints, it takes time for the eternal verities sink in.

This is one movie in which a thousand pretty pictures (the movie was shot in New Zealand and Raratonga) may be worth less than a few well-crafted words.

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