Let’s be real. This movie has two of my favorite things: The best/worst president of the fake United States and the crazy world of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS). Call me crazy, but I love learning about insane groups of people like Scientology or cults. Do I have a problem? Maybe. Whatever, I’m LEARNING.
This particular Lifetime movie is based on Stephen Singular’s book When Men Become Gods, documenting FLDS leader/prophet Warren Jeffs’ (played by the great Tony Goldwyn) rise to power following his father’s death. It should be quite interesting watching our beloved POTUS acting as a mentally ill man. Here we go!
M: I never read the Singular book, but I can definitely recommend Under The Banner Of Heaven if you’re interested in non-fiction works about LDS offshoots. Look, we never pretended to be cool; only interested in things.
T: One second into the movie and there’s already a shirtless Tony Goldwyn. I already know I’m going to have very conflicting feels about this
OH GOD IT’S BECAUSE HE WAS NAKED IN BED WITH TWO WOMEN AND ONE OF THEM CALLED HIM “UNCLE WARREN”. AND THEY’RE FLEEING. Well, he’s fleeing. With a gun. So, I mean, that’s a sign of trouble.
Apparently Martin Landau is in this and TBH I thought he had passed away already. Whoops.
The executive producers of this movie are Craig Zadan and Neal Meron who have been producing the Oscars for the past few years, but more importantly, a lot of your favorite movie musicals, including Footloose, Cinderella (with Brandy), Annie (with Kathy Bates), Chicago, Hairspray, and Smash. Clearly they thought the next step was to make a Lifetime movie about the FLDS.
Oh yeah POTUS singing, playing guitar and harmonizing… is that what these people do at their sister wives weddings?
M: I will say, the establishing shots of the rural Southwest really make me want to take a vacation in Arizona or something. The wedding music sounds a LOT like folksy protest music from the late 60s, early 70s. Like hippie stuff but minus the drugs.
T: Martin Landau plays Warren Jeffs’ father Rulon, who litrally said, “Help this old man get to his feet” then proceed to grope the girl who helped him get up.
He proceeded to get married to a young girl, and it total at his death, Rulon had 56 wives.
M: Martin Landau is in the exact same costume and makeup as he was for the Anna Nicole movie. As he feels up a young pioneer-looking girl’s ass, I realize he’s basically playing the same character too. Bet they saved some cash and filmed these movies simultaneously.
T: Basically the FLDS believes that Jeffs was a direct descendant of the big JC and Mormon bigwig Joseph Smith, so he preached that this plural marriages were necessary in order to preserve the “sacred bloodline”.
Rulon also told WJ: “Why don’t you go entertain people with your little guitar” the SHAADEE. WJ didn’t take it well because he went into the bathroom and proceeded to slap himself
M: It was very “Crazy Eyes” from Orange Is The New Black.
T: One of the weirdest things about this sect of the FLDS is that they didn’t go to real school and Warren Jeffs taught the kids, and only taught them from the Book of Mormon. Side note: I bet Tony Goldwyn would be a fantastic teacher.
M: Okay, in the classroom scene a girl is wearing a really unrealistic side-braid. Please, lady. It’s bouffant or nothing. I always wondered if these sects taught all girls to do the big puffy braid as some sort of a right of passage. Or maybe there’s like one lady who’s really good at it, and you’d never want to piss off your sister-wife who did the ~good braids. I bet these women talk shit about sister-wife LaMarvys or Dorcas or whomever whose braids always look flat.
T: True story: When I went to Austin recently, I got there ahead of my friend so I spent some down time in the hotel putzing around. Apparently in Texas they provide you with not only a Bible in the drawer but the LDS bible (The Book of Mormon) as well. I found myself reading it and I got lost within the first few pages. What a snoozefest.
BTW, when we were texting about this movie, Molly said, “The girl from Ramona and Beezus is in this”, because that’s a reference that we both embarrassingly would know her from.
WJ has a heart to heart with Beezus who I’m so afraid will have an inapprops relationship with POTUS
M: She’s so grown up! In FLDS circles, I believe that’s what you say before you decide it’s about time for a gal to get married off. In case you’re wondering, Ramona and Beezus is pretty cute. You should watch it. Maybe instead of this, if it’s airing on FX or HBOFamily right now.
T: RULON HAS A GIANT PORTRAIT OF HIMSELF HANGING ABOVE HIS DESK. DO YOU THINK IT’S HIS HEAD SHOT?! DEAD.
M: It’s also of really poor quality. Looks like a paint-by-number. By the way, paint-by-numbers of Rulon Jeffs’ head is one of the few sanctioned hobbies for FLDS ladies. It also passes for art class in their weird Book Of Mormon One-Room Schoolhouse.
T: June 12th is apparently the “Day of Reckoning”, and that entails a lot of candles and Rulon dying because his prophecy of the End of the World didn’t come true.
M: Yeah, there are so many candles and vintage-y dresses and creative braids at the announcement about the Day of Reckoning that it honestly looks like a wedding from Pinterest.
T: Wait so Rulon didn’t originally want WJ to be his successor as prophet? It’s like when *Scandal season 2 spoiler alert* Fitz killed Verna in the hospital bed to keep her quiet about Defiance!
M: As in every board room scene, I totally zone out when they’re meeting in the conference room about the successor. Unfortunately, I also zone out the same way in conference rooms in real life. Ooops. Warren has a chat with Ramona The Pest and she says her second cousin is “mean to her.” Oh shit I smell a forced marriage.
T: After Rulon dies, WJ takes his dad’s glasses and proceeds to wear them throughout the movie. But this guy was legitimately cuckoo, no?
Oh boy a white-haired man spies on WJ and his wives and the rest of the family as they’re burying Rulon – I smell undercover cop.
M: Do they have a pathetic-looking cemetary for religious reasons, or did Lifetime just blow its budget on booking Martin Landau back-to-back? It is a half-step above the elephant graveyard from Lion King.
T: Well, WJ straight up tells the congregation during his eulogy for his dad that he’s the next prophet and all the church elders are all… “WTF”
M: Rulon is one of those names that sounds more and more ridiculous every time you say it in a row. Rulon. Rulon. Rooo-lon. Actually maybe it’s just one of those names that sounds ridiculous.
M: A little girl just told Warren that her dad’s about to make pancakes. F’real? I never got the impression that this was like an “even division of household chores” type community. Although, there’s something to be said for having a lot of backup like the sister-wives do. No wonder they got so pissed when the compound got raided. They had it good. No, they had it GREAT. Every kid having like 20 different moms? What a plum deal. (The reasons that this setup is actually the worst deal ever will be clear soon enough, guys.)
T: Uncle Warren confides in Beezus that he’ll always take care of her… then creepily looks at her through a crack in a door and sees her making out with some other kid… and in a fit of rage/jealousy, he forces her to marry her step-cousin Allen!
WJ: “Your mother tells me you’ve been getting your monthly visitor. That means you’re ready (to be placed).” #vom
M: Okay, this Menarche Wedding is a billion times worse than that First Moon Party from that commercial that was all over the internet a few weeks ago. Ewww. #RedWedding
T: Beezus is ACTING. And omg this is the worst. Too bad they couldn’t give her a sedative before this ceremony. She’s 14 YEARS OLD!!
M: Ugh okay this is the part – as in almost every Lifetime movie – that I remember that this is based on actual events and feel really horrible for watching it as entertainment. I mean I even feel bad that Quimby had to ACT this because I still feel like she should be playing with her doll Chevrolet, let alone that this for real happens.
WJ: “Go forth multiply and replenish the earth” REPLENISH the earth?? Replenish the earth with humans who are all related to each other and most likely have birth defects?
M: Oh, gross. They’re like the freaking Habsburg monarchs. Also is this horrible wedding (that I can’t even quite watch) happening in a Marriott suite? Or is the FLDS compound just modeled after Holiday Inn-level hotels?
T: WJ’s first wife is inspecting some girls who are getting prepared to be set up with their future husbands. In this process of making sure their horrendous dresses are perfect and not a hair on their head is out of place, she comments to one, “Your braid isn’t tight enough” I mean also your braid isn’t in fashion, but apparently there’s a reason. That reason is for Jesus.
M: I guess this answers my braid question from earlier. We are also treated to the first wife slapping a girl in the face, and the foley artist REALLY gets into the slap sound effect.
T: Rebecca is the Jinger Duggar of the family (in that she wants out immediately, one can assume). Formerly married to Rulon before his death, Rebecca wants to be “obedient” to their marriage contract, and refuses to be placed with another guy. Because she disobeyed the current prophet, WJ, he has her locked up in a trailer to think about what she’s done (?). Rebecca is a real person who escaped the FLDS at 19 and helped the police decipher evidence of child molestation and bigamy found on the ranch WJ and his hundreds of followers live in in Colorado City, Arizona. She has since become an advocate for victims of human trafficking and also wrote a book, called The Witness Wore Red (which you’ll read later why).
In addition to locking a girl up for not wanting to be married off to some guy way older than her, WJ grabs the kid Beezus was making out with and drives him off to the middle of nowhere and leaves him to fend for himself. Great prophet, this Warren Jeffs. On the way back to the compound, he notices the same undercover cop from earlier and then basically harasses him through the window. Then back at the cop’s motel, he discovers an open door and goes into to find a bunch of papers strewn about and basically evidence against WJ. Shit’s going down.
Oh god this is horrible. WJ has three of his wives sitting naked on the bed, while he’s having sex with another one and making her say “I feel god in you” and it’s the most awkward.
M: If I were not live blogging this I would have turned the TV off by now. I’m now remembering that it took me weeks to get through Under The Banner Of Heaven because I kept wanting to put it in the freezer like Joey Tribbiani. To tell the truth, I’m watching this on DVR and fast-forward through the rest of the scene.
T: WJ is not messing around with Rebecca Duggar. He tells her, “I’m going to break you. I’m going to teach you to be an obedient wife” Cue Rebecca Duggar escaping the HEllllll out of there. This remind me of another Lifetime classic, Escape from Polygamy. Miss that one? Don’t worry, I liveblogged that for you too.
M: To focus on the positive, with her normal side braid and white nightgown, Rebecca Duggar looks like a girl from the junior’s section of the JCPenney catalog circa1994.
T: WJ stirs from his slumber after all the sex and has some kind of creepy Spidey sense that something is wrong and goes to check on Rebecca. He sees she’s not in her room, and he yells out, “ONE OF YOU BITCHES LET HER OUT!” What a nutjob.
M: At first I thought that WJ was wearing that special LDS underwear but isn’t that more of a onesie? I guess he’s just wearing a t-shirt and white boxers. By the way I obviously have a huge problem with these weird break-out groups where Ramona Geraldine Quimby marries anyone but Howie Kemp – because I’m a normal human, right? – but nothing against regular LDS folks, here.
T: I just LOLed because WJ slapped the kid who married Beezus after telling him that she wouldn’t have sex with him. He’s all what do I do and he straight up slapped him. Is it wrong that I think this is hilarious?
But then they finally do have sex (obviously they didn’t show it) and it physically makes me want to vomit. Right on Warren Jeffs. Not Tony Goldwyn. Warren Jeffs in jail.
M: I also am getting closer and closer to vomiting as this goes on. I don’t even mean that metaphorically, I mean maybe don’t eat too much before you watch this movie.
T: The cop tells the local news that Warren Jeffs’ compound is much like the Taliban and WJ gets so be mad he legit pulls the tv from the wall and throws it out the window. That’s not exactly how the news works, but okay.
As a result of his furor, WJ attempts to gain “power” back by setting some more rules within the compound. Here are some completely reasonable rules: The color red is forbidden. That means no wearing red or having any objects that are red (a kid’s tricycle is taken away!). Sports are no longer allowed, no media allowed (except radios – and apparently someone had satellite TV before?!), no dancing or music, and probably one of the worst ones: no canines since they’re relatives of the wolf.
THEY ARE PUSHING DOGS INTO A PIT AND SHOOTING THEM WITH SHOTGUNS HOLY SHIT IS PETA AWARE OF THIS WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK.
M: My dog actually started whimpering when the dogs cried, stood up and looked around in concern when they shot them, then came over to me for reassurance. NO WJ. NOW YOU GOT MY DOG UPSET.
T: THESE WIVES ARE GETTING YOUNGER BY THE MINUTE.
WJ HAS A GIANT PORTRAIT OF HIMSELF HANGING ABOVE HIS DESK JUST LIKE HIS DAD.
M: I feel like I’m watching some bizarre combination of The Giver and The Handmaid’s Tale. Reminder: THIS REALLY HAPPENED IN AMERICA. UGH the new wife is an actual baby, like should be shopping at Limited Too (is that still a thing?)
WJ straight up excommunicated a group of men for warning him about the cops being on to him, making them leave their families ASAP.
M: Fun fact: when I was a kid I used to sometimes go to a church where everyone ended up getting excommunicated from the Catholic church. My aunt went there, and she was my Confirmation sponsor, so I’m not sure if I’m still all the way Catholic, technically? Point is, excommunication is about as big as it gets as far as punishments from religious organizations.
T: Wait Beezus was pregnant? And she lost the baby? After that one time? I mean if the girl has a stuffed animal (for herself) in her hospital bed, it’s a sign she’s wayyyyy too young to be having a child.
Someone just used the word “rabble rousers”, which frankly is a word I don’t think is used quite enough. Let’s start that, shall we?
Beezus is out of the hospital and going into the lake to ‘cleanse’ herself, and I thought she was straight up going to drown herself (which obviously is not the way to go, ever, but I would get it). But luckily – Praise BEEZUS – she’s leaving! She followed in Rebecca Duggar’s footsteps and straight up said deuces the compound by stealing a car and driving away.
M: Jeez, Ramona Quimby Age 8 should still be dubbing her dad Nosmo King and accidentally making a crown out of burrs, not running away from forced marriage and child rape, but PRAISE BEEZUS indeed.
T: Eeee another difficult scene to watch. Even with a seemingly naked Tony Goldwyn it’s completely wasted because he’s forcing a group of his wives (like 6 of them?) to basically gang bang this one girl. Also, filming this must have been horrendous too.
M: Fast forwarded. Not sorry. By the way, during the Warren Jeffs trials, audio of these sessions was presented in court and even the transcripts will make you want to simultaneously puke and cry.
Oh look! Surprise visit (B-Roll footage) by Anderson Cooper! More movies need this.
M: There are some very Lilith Fair-sounding vocals going on behind the Cooper footage. Did they tell us how WJ picked which wife to take? It reminds me of visiting my grandparents as a kid and having to decide which stuffed animal to bring. Except, horrible.
T: THIS MULLET DISGUISE I CAN’T
WJ: “10 Most Wanted List? I’m gonna be bigger than Bin Laden” oooh chile.
M: Oh, so it’s okay when YOU compare yourself to Taliban affiliates, but the news does it ONE TIME and nobody can have TV anymore?
T: He gets caught in Texas while a passenger in a RED CAR eating a salad. This is a true story. the cop asked his name multiple time and he kept eating the damn salad.
M: That is one of the craziest things I’ve seen thus far. Nobody likes salad that much. I actually had the same salad that I brought in my lunch for three days last week, just waiting to finally feel like eating it.
I never ate the salad.
Further proof that Warren Jeffs is not actually even human.
T: The cop just asked the driver if he was carrying a firearm because he could see there was one in his belt holster – hello you should know better than this. It’s Texas.
“What do we do?” asks the young wife that was chosen to accompany WJ on the run for 2 years.
“Keep sweet,” says WJ.
Apparently “Keep Sweet’ is the mantra for the FLDS.
M: Yep, it’s very much A Thing. And actually “sweet” in general shows up in a lot of fundamentalist Christian circles across the board – like if you read fundamentalist mommy bloggers (even though you are neither a fundamentalist Christian nor a mommy), when they talk about a lady they’ll always call her “sweet [Name].” It is basically what they aim for as a personality trait. NOPE. NOT OKAY. Anyway after I found out about that, my “creepy meter” goes off when a certain kind of person talks about a lady being sweet.
T: So Beezus is back in court testifying against WJ – but where did she go after she fled? Like who did she stay with?
M: I Googled it, and found pictures of Elissa Wall when she got married. She’s such a kid, she looks like season 1-era DJ Tanner.
Tony’s face in trial is so disturbing and looks just like WJ that I’m getting the chills.
AU: Warren Jeffs gets transferred to Litchfield for a day and all the women beat him up then he gets sent to SHU.
Once in prison, the other cell block mates yell at WJ as he walks in, and someone actually says, “You the wife now”! Yeah. you sit there in your cell and think about what you’ve done.
BALD TONY GOLDWYN! BALD TONY GOLDWYN!
All the wives are wearing black now, because he’s in jail. So dramatic.
Uh oh big ol’ WJ is breaking down. He admits he’s not the prophet and never was. What do you do now followers????
WJ attempts to kill himself using his bedsheets to hang himself, and the cellmate across the way sees this and yells to a guard, “The dumbass prophet is trying to off himself!!”
M: They set it up with WJ talking to a successor and it feels like the end of a horror movie when they leave room for a sequel and it’s clear that nobody is safe.
T: At the end, there’s a moment when WJ realizes he still has power inside of jail after a dude comes back to him saying that his 10,000+ congregation will not back down and continue to follow him even if he’s in jail. And I got chills. Tony Goldwyn – you are superb and expertly creepy in this role and I’m gonna need you to star in some kind of rom-com where you play a charming sonofabitch who has hot sex scenes with a beautiful woman okay bye.