"MIDWAY TO HEAVEN" — ★★ — Curt Doussett, Kirby Heyborne, Brittany Peltier, Melanie Nelson; PG (mild thematic elements); in general release
"Midway to Heaven" is a valiant effort at creating both a family-friendly movie and a romantic comedy — genres that will always have a place in Utah.
But at times, in gets lost somewhere in between, leaving the viewer wanting more connection to the characters, more development of relationships and more fun.
An adaptation of Dean Hughes' popular novel, the film follows a widower, Ned (Curt Doussett, "Saints & Soldiers", "The R.M."), as he struggles to get back in the dating game, especially when he has to keep an eye on his daughter's new boyfriend, David (Kirby Heyborne, "Saints & Soldiers", "The Best Two Years"). His daughter, Liz (Brittany Peltier), and deceased wife, Kate (Melanie Nelson), returning from the dead to offer advice, seek to convince Ned that he can, and should, try to fall in love again.
Without question, the women shine in this movie.
Nelson is beautiful and serene. Peltier is endearing and believable. But the actress audiences are likely wondering about is Michelle Money, who plays Ned's love interest, Carol Holly.
Remarkably similar to how she is portrayed on "The Bachelor" (minus the cattiness), Money is the most entertaining character in the film — full of charisma and intrigue. Money is a breath of fresh air in the LDS film genre, bringing a totally different kind of character to the table.
Ned's character doesn't achieve a high level of likability, however. In that sense, Doussett fulfills his role, but in doing so becomes very difficult to relate to as he goes beyond the understandably protective father and ends up just being a jerk. He targets his cruelty toward his daughter's boyfriend — everyone's favorite LDS actor, Heyborne.
Despite Ned's surliness, the film is reminiscent of "Sleepless in Seattle" (it even alludes to the popular romantic comedy) and adds a touch of Nicholas Sparks. Following that model, the film ends on a positive note.
"Midway to Heaven" walks that thin line between the LDS film genre and a movie in which the characters just happen to be Mormon. However, LDS terminology is blaringly clear, and it would be difficult for a non-LDS viewer to understand most of the phrases used. In potentially the most romantic scene of the movie, the casual dialogue comes to a screeching halt as Carol compliments Ned on his gospel doctrine lessons.
But in context of the evolution of the Mormon film genre, it's a respectable effort.
The film has beautiful cinematography and showcases the Wasatch Front at its best. Whether it will reach audiences beyond Utah is a question. But for this demographic, it's a perfectly adequate film.
"Midway to Heaven" is rated PG for mild thematic elements; running time: 92 minutes