Satirical without ever being savage, YouthMin adopts a cringeworthy mockumentary style of approach to its narrative, bringing to mind the same uncomfortable comedy that made The Office such fascinating viewing.
Whilst its thematics of being primarily raised in the protestant church and the subsequent camps that came with such faith is more likely to resonate with American audiences, the agonising and reactive comedy brought forth via the cast’s breaking of the fourth wall is universal, resulting in a relatable piece regardless of its content.
Co-directed, co-produced, and headlined by Jeff Ryan, YouthMin bases its focus around his Pastor D, a 30 year-old, soul-patch adorned, backward baseball cap wearing minister working at the Bethany Church. He means well, but he’s a little too enthusiastic about his position, sprouting the type of “I know best” jargon that immediately brings to mind Steve Carrell’s socially clueless Michael Scott; “Pastor D is probably the dumbest person I have ever met”, as deadpanly stated by cynical goth-like student Deb (Geena Santiago), is the best summation the film presents.
Pastor D’s limited likability speaks to the only half-a-dozen strong camp he’s able to bring with him to a weekend retreat – a church group getaway known as Camp Changed – where his desire to be placed first among the other New England church groups drives him to considerable lengths of heightened determination. This “pleasantry” factor is most likely the reasoning that his church have embedded the kindly, and pregnant, Rachel (Tori Hines) into the weekend’s proceedings as his co-hort; in true Pastor D style though, he insists she keep her pregnancy under wraps, despite the fact she’s very visibly 6 months along.
Whilst YouthMin‘s team of misfit teens that attend the camp are a variation of typical stereotypes – the silent one, the bookworm, the virgin, and the curious practical joker – they’re no less well embodied, and it’s a testament to both Ryan and writer Christopher O’Connell that the material remains as comical as it does, even if there’s an air of familiarity. As accustomed the archetypes may be, you’d be hard pressed to not produce an audible chuckle of sorts throughout the camp’s many spirited activities, whether that be suffering through the “MMM” class – that’s “Masturbation, Marriage and Monogamy” for the uninitiated – or a needlepointing session where the sweet-natured Ruth (Amelia Haas) can’t help but flinch that her “Jesus Hearts You” artwork is counterbalanced by “Sinners Burn In Hell”.
Consistently keeping the film afloat though is Ryan, expressing a distinct lack of vanity that elevates his pitch perfect embodiment of misplaced enthusiasm. His organically perplexing performance, and the fact that behind all the overt buffoonery is a genuine heart and earnestness that further drives home the film’s ultimate love of its subject, results in YouthMin successfully toeing the line between genuinely agreeable and gloweringly tangible.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
YouthMin: A Mockumentary is available on TVOD (iTunes, Amazon) to rent and/or buy in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom from April 28th, 2021. It will be available worldwide (including Australia) from May 26th, 2021.