The greatest change comes from within...
Built around this simple tagline, writer/director Christian Vuissa's second full-length feature film, "The Errand of Angels," blossoms into an insightful, touching and funny story based upon the real life testimony of Heidi Johnson's 18-months as an LDS missionary in Austria.
Vuissa's first film, the hidden gem "Baptists at our Barbecue," was a lighthearted film about the silliness that often divides us, the simple things that can bring us back together and the power of one human being to make a difference.
With "The Errand of Angels," Vuissa paints a richly human portrait of Sister Taylor (Erin Chambers, "Alvin and the Chipmunks"), a wide-eyed and enthusiastic 21-year-old from Boise excited about her opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Austria.
While it is easy to compare "The Errand of Angels" to Richard Dutcher's similarly themed "God's Army," a film that has long been one of my favorite LDS films, Vuissa largely avoids Dutcher's tendency towards dramatic storylines and conflict-based plot exposition. While Vuissa's approach seems lighter, "The Errand of Angels" is an immensely satisfying and emotionally resonant journey through Sister Taylor's growth as a young woman and as a missionary while in Austria.
Filmed on location in Vuissa's native Austria, "The Errand of Angels" is mesmerizingly vibrant largely owing to the stellar cinematography of Brian Wilcox ("Touched by an Angel") and Joshua Ligairi's ("Me and You and Everyone We Know") complementary production design, though I will confess that, on a couple of occasions, I found myself questioning Ligairi's costuming choices as being a bit "sexy" for the mission field or minimally thinking "Would they really be allowed to wear that?"
As nearly anyone who has ever served in ministry or in the mission field would testify, the experience is frequently a unique blend of humbling, awe-inspiring, affirming, overwhelming and faith-affirming. Erin Chambers beautifully captures all of these things as the wide-eyed Sister Taylor, a young woman whose zest for serving God sometimes comes at the expense of serving those around her. Chambers' Sister Taylor vacillates from joy to sadness to frustration and back again as she learns how to love even those whom she cannot quite understand.
While "The Errand of Angels" is largely focused on the experiences of Sister Taylor, the supporting cast equally as impressive.
Rachel Emmers ("States of Grace") sparkles as the slightly wiser, more experienced missionary Sister Young, from whom Sister Taylor gains insights into her troubled relationship with her field companion, Sister Keller (Austrian actress Bettina Schwarz).
Schwarz, as well, offers an incredibly restrained and touching performance as the missionary that it seems nobody can understand. In Schwarz's capable hands, Sister Keller seems to have something constantly bubbling underneath the surface until, finally, the fullness of her being is revealed.
With "The Errand of Angels," Vuissa solidly plants himself as one of America's most promising independent filmmakers. While "The Errand of Angels" is firmly targeted at the worldwide LDS moviegoing audience, it is a film that will resonate deeply with anyone who lives a faith-based life or has served in a missionary field.
Vuissa, who was interviewed by The Independent Critic after "Baptists at our Barbecue" was released on DVD, humanizes faith in a way few directors have proven themselves able and, as well, offers subtle inroads into a more diverse, richly human Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
When "God's Army" was released, I had been quickly becoming a fan of the LDS cinematic scene and quickly proclaimed Dutcher's film my favorite among them all...until now. Intelligently and sensitively directed by Christian Vuissa and behind a funny, tender and touching performance from Erin Chambers, "The Errand of Angels" is a must-see for men and women of all faith traditions.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic