I really didn’t want to watch The Virgins.
Not for any particular reason about the movie itself, or the people involved with it, but simply because it is an independent Christian movie. As I’ve noted elsewhere, there is a certain lack of quality filmmaking within Christian movies, allowing message and content to trump the actual filmmaking itself. So I didn’t want to watch and review Matthew Wilson’s directorial debut because I didn’t want to write a generic bad review about yet another generic film that forgets the importance of real characters and compelling storytelling in favour of creating a Christian-friendly message.
Good thing I didn’t have to.
The adjective that will likely hound The Virgins is “surprising,” simply because many people don’t expect an independent Christian comedy to be, well, this good. The story is fairly simple: Nick and Mary are getting married, and since they’re a good Christian couple, they’ve both been abstinent, and are eagerly anticipating their wedding night. But this night has even more pressure than normal, because the next day Nick is shipping off to Afghanistan to serve in the army for just under a year.
Unfortunately for Nick and Mary, they get locked out of their honeymoon cottage in the middle of nowhere, which sets off a rather spectacular convergence of bizarre hijinks, family drama, and some of the most earnest — and funniest — prayers I’ve ever seen in a movie.
The Virgins re-hashes some classic archetypical characters to its advantage: the over-protective father of the bride, the obnoxious older sibling, the quirky foreign stranger. There is also a surprising amount of bagpipes, which is never a bad choice. But even when it indulges in clichés and archetypes, the film is still able to have fun with them. Sure, The Virgins was produced independently with no budget to speak of, so of course there are missteps in the production (such as a confusing scene involving Mary hiding in a hotel laundry cart). But the movie never stops working as a whole.
Some Christians may object to a “Christian sex comedy,” and some non-Christians may also object, for very different reasons, to a “Christian sex comedy.” But The Virgins will satisfy both camps. The film is funny enough to appeal to non-church goers, and it’s nuanced enough in its ideas about sex and marriage to appeal to Christians. In fact, it’s the film’s use of comedy as a way to discuss sex, marriage, and family dynamics that solidifies it as a success.
Wade Bearden, in his review at Christ and Pop Culture, points out the distinction in the film’s portrayal of sex: “The Virgins portrays sex not as the end all of marriage and relationships, but the symbol of two lives being forged together. Love isn’t intercourse; it’s protection, trust, and sacrifice.” This is where the real substance of the film lies. Once it lifts the veil of the jokes and odd situations, it explores not just, as Bearden points out, what sex is, but what marriage is and what it means for Nick and Mary. Consummating the marriage, two becoming one flesh, is not as important as their two families becoming one family and working through their difficulties. Of course, The Virgins gets there while meandering through its main purpose: getting people to laugh.
Matt Wilson is obviously a gifted screenwriter, and here’s to hoping that The Virgins is a gateway movie to bigger and better things.