Once I Was a Beehive
2015, PG, 119 min. Directed by Maclain Nelson. Starring Paris Warner, Mila Smith, Amy Biedel, Lisa Clark, Hailey Smith, Clare Niederpruem, Adam Johnson, Brett Merritt.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Oct. 30, 2015
Contemporary faith-based cinema often veers toward ham-handed treatises in which the main character is beset on all sides by philistines who test his or her faith (see: God’s Not Dead or any post-Growing Pains Kirk Cameron project). That is, thankfully, not the case with the Mormon-tinged Once I Was a Beehive, a sweet summer-camp film and coming-of-age story that is less interested in propagating ideology than it is in just telling a heartfelt narrative of a girl coming to terms with her grief.
Lane (Warner) has been going on monthly camping trips with her parents for as long as she can remember. Now a teenager, the call of the wild holds less of an interest than boys and social media. But her dad, Robert (Johnson, here a poor man’s Jeff Bridges) imbues these trips with impish glee and dad jokes galore, but those bucolic trips end when he is diagnosed with and eventually succumbs to cancer. Flash-forward to a year later, when Lane’s mom Audrey (Biedel) is set to wed Tristan (Merritt), a Mormon, and Lane, who is still grieving for her father, is left in the hands of new in-laws while the newlyweds head off on a honeymoon cruise. Enter Phoebe (Mila Smith), Lane’s new step-cousin and confidant, a mousy girl with an inordinate amount of anxiety who has a service dog, Roxie, to keep the phobias at bay. A weeklong summer camp awaits them both, as Phoebe’s mom Holly (Hailey Smith) and perpetually chipper organizer Carrie (Clark) lead the two, and a handful of other teens, to the forest for a meticulous regime of outdoor activity and inward soul-searching. Lessons are learned, obstacles are overcome, and an incessantly jangly guitar soundtrack plays endlessly over the whole sun-dappled affair.
But for the most part, it works. Some of the ensemble cast gets the short straw as characterization goes, and there are a heck of a lot of contrived scenarios implicit in such films, but Once I was a Beehive couldn’t care less. It is an unabashedly good-natured film that doesn’t ram its religious ideology down your throat. At two hours, the film wears out its welcome a bit, but Nelson and co. deliver a refreshing and often silly tonic to the proselytizing films that define the genre. The messages delivered here are more about being a proper human than anything else, and that’s a reminder we could all use.