When I saw there was a BYU film from 1961 called “Shannon” I pulled the trigger and that’s how we ended up here. I have not seen this. I know nothing about this film other than its fabulous name. I will be recapping it as I go.
The film begins with a young woman walking around taking roll at some sort of party. You always know you’re in for a good time when attendance is being recorded. The attendees of this event are young women who are supposed to be 16 but are actually all 95.
Brace yourself. I’m going to make a lot of comments throughout about the apparent age of these teenagers with hairdos you could carbon date.
The party appears to be a good time. Girls are dancing, talking, saying “hub bub” to each other in the background to create an atmosphere of general conversation, etc.
Suddenly we are introduced to a woman who is supposed to be much older than the other girls, although I don’t know how because so far everyone looks like they could be in my grandma’s Canasta group (apart from the lack of face tattoos). This woman’s name is Martha and she is apparently the youth leader (“Laurel advisor”) of this group of teen gals.
I just became very angry realizing Martha is probably only 35.
Martha is upset to find out that someone named Shannon did not show up to this raucous party.
Shannon’s absence has been noticed throughout the room. “I knew SHANNON wouldn’t come,” one of the Golden Girls says. “This party is much too tame for her.”
“Why should she come? There aren’t any boyssss here,” another gossiper in a JODI dress quips.
It appears there is a consensus that Shannon is too cool for . . . whatever the hell this is.
I’m two minutes and eight seconds in and I’m already team Shannon.
Martha then takes us to a flashback with a voiceover in which she summons the most Utah of all accents. “Shannon. Why it was only two weeks ago that I became her LAURel leadAR.”
(Note: the Laurels are a group of girls in a Mormon congregation, ages 16 and 17.)
This flashback happens in a church building where the Laurels seem to have just been dismissed from a lesson. “Hi Martha,” Phyllis Schlafly says. “How did your first class go?”
We find out this woman is the president of the Laurels, so she is Martha’s superior.
“I hope you’ll enjoy your work in Laurels as much as I do,” she tells Martha.
The two women start talking about Shannon, who reportedly doesn’t always come to class. “The problem with Shannon,” the president says “is when she does come to class, she’s usually the center of attention!”
Fun. Sexual. Entertaining. So far I’m not hearing a single actual criticism of this Shannon person.
“We must try to get all our girls active and keep them active,” the president tells Martha, referring to church attendance.
The flashback ends and we’re taken back to the party where suddenly the doorbell rings. One of the girls answers it. We hear a voice from outside shout, “It looks like this is the right place, Steve. Thanks for bringing me!”
The entire cast of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is on the couch, and they are all riveted and ready for this new arrival’s grand entrance.
And then . . . we finally meet the illustrious SHANNON.
“Hi girls!” Shannon says to the silent crowd of admirers, fully soaking in the spotlight.
That sleek shawl. Age-appropriate hair. Classic jewelry straight out of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Confidence you could bottle sell at a straight man convention.
Shannon is a star.
Martha goes to introduce herself to Shannon. “Hello, I’m Sister Gregory. Welcome to our”
but then Shannon cuts her off and says “Hello. MRS. Gregory.”
OH SNAP. A LINE HAS BEEN DRAWN.
This Shannon character does not care for Martha’s religious titles.
By the way, my latest working theory for this film is it was initially intended to be a long advertisement for The Bumpit.
We move on from the party. “Shannon did attend class,” another sassy Martha voiceover tells us. “Whenever she thought there was nothing more IMPORTANT to do!” Oh the shade. I can already tell Martha is going to have her hands full with Shannon, who is clearly wild. Somehow.
Martha goes on to say she “ran into Shannon everywhere EXCEPT CLASS!”
There’s a brief montage of Martha running into Shannon around town.
Martha did everything she could to manage the Shannon problem. The Shannon problem is so far defined as “doesn’t go to every church meeting and sometimes rides in cars.”
Martha tries calling Shannon on the phone.
She tries to visit Shannon in her home.
She writes Shannon letters under a Mr. Belvedere lamp.
Martha needs a hobby in the worst way. This film is already starting to turn into Fatal Attraction.
No matter what she tries, Martha just cannot seem to rein in Shannon’s wild lifestyle.
Some time passes, and then we are taken to a Laurel lesson. Martha is at the front of the classroom having each of the girls announce how many times they’ve been to church recently so she can record it in her attendance book.
Just then Shannon strolls in. You can almost smell the sin on her. What sin, specifically, I don’t know. But there’s definitely sin happening.
“Shannon, what meetings did you attend this week?” an already frustrated Martha demands to know.
“Well, at least I’m here tonight,” Shannon responds with very minimal sass.
After an uproarious outburst from the rest of the class over Shannon’s absolutely badass takedown of Martha, Martha tells the girls they need to spend the evening planning for their “Laureling Ceremony,” including making invitations to give their mothers and designing the decorations.
Upon talking to the girls about the upcoming event that OMG I am so excited for because there’s no way it’s not going to be amazing, Martha finds out that Shannon is apparently good at event decorations.
“This was just the opportunity I was looking for!” voiceover Martha says as she’s depicted picking up the phone. “A chance to get Shannon into activity!”
I am so confused. The film is trying to explain that Shannon doesn’t come to church activities but so far basically every scene Shannon has been in she is at church activities.
Martha pitches the decorating idea for the Laureling ceremony to Shannon who declines, honestly so so politely. “That’s really nice of you to ask, but unfortunately I won’t be there.” Shannon says. “My mother will be out of town and I won’t be able to make it.”
Martha is not pleased. Sinister music I can only describe as “contemplating the murder of the woman you can’t have” broods as Martha slowly puts down the phone.
Yes, Martha has the personality and energy of a coked-out TSA agent who recently found Jesus, but I want the record to reflect that I think her skin is absolutely flawless.
By way of recap, this grown woman has become completely obsessed and angry over this 16-year-old seemingly-lovely girl (who does appear to attend church, but sometimes misses meetings), because she is not as devout in youthful evangelism as she could be.
Ok. It looks like it’s already time for the Laureling Ceremony. I thought that was going to be the final scene of the film but it’s coming at us not even at the halfway point. This just goes to show that even after you’ve watched hundreds of old Mormon films like I have, you never know how these things are going to go.
I just got very depressed about my life choices.
In any event, I can tell this scene is going to be amazing.
It begins with Blanche, Rose, Sophia, and Dorothy holding up a banner that says “PEARLS of BEAUTY.”
The breathy teen geriatrics monotonically recite: “We represent beauty. Lustrous pearls of immeasurable worth to all women. Those who seek us will find us in purity and self respect, health and cleanliness, cheerfulness, appreciation.”
The original wives of Brigham Young are in the audience and they are into this.
“That which is beautiful is good. That which is good will become beautiful,” the girls continue, summoning the great spirits of the underworld.
Martha is having a fantastic time at this absolute rager, but she can’t help but be upset that Shannon isn’t there to recite all of these mantras about how important it is to be hot. “I’d give anything if Shannon could be here,” she says through voiceover. “I wonder where she could be,” Martha adds, looking off longingly into the distance.
The ceremony goes on for a while. It’s not totally clear what the purpose of this event is. Is it a hazing ritual? Is it performance art? Has someone trapped everyone in this room? Can they leave freely? Is Jim Jones involved?
This one in the front in the white dress and clutching her purse on her lap like she doesn’t trust any of these people seems ready to get the hell out of there and secretly soak in a bath of Cabernet Sauvignon.
I like to imagine Linda (I decided her name is Linda) wandered into this room mistakenly thinking it was an AA meeting and she isn’t sure if she should wait for a possible break to leave.
The event finally ends so Martha goes home to find her husband and two sons (who both went to the Deseret School of Overacting) meaninglessly working with tools. Because that’s what men do!
Martha’s children have the personalities of overeager EFY counselors who definitely plan to “keep in touch” with the teen attendees.
Martha explains to the rest of the Cleavers that the girls eat an alarming amount of food, but she somehow managed to bring home just enough cake from the activity for her family.
Martha sits down and starts telling her husband about the Laureling Ceremony. “Shannon and her mother weren’t there,” she tells him. “I guess she didn’t think it was important enough!”
Ok, maybe it’s because I’m a heathen, but I do not understand the importance of the event we just witnessed. It was literally just a handful of teenagers standing in front of their extremely bored mothers reciting lines about how it’s important to be pretty.
“I just can’t get close to her,” Martha whines to her husband. “How do you help a girl like Shannon!? I’ve tried everything I can think of to try to interest that girl!”
Then Martha starts crying a little and if her husband was not so aloof, he would for sure become suspicious and deeply concerned by this point.
Up next, back in the classroom Martha has each of the girls write their names and interests on a piece of paper and place it in a box. The girls and Martha will be drawing names for a Christmas gift exchange and the hobbies are supposed to help the gift giver come up with ideas on what to buy.
Martha ends up drawing Shannon’s name. An extremely disappointed Martha voiceover reads what’s on the paper. “Shannon Leroy. Hobbies: dancing, clothing, and boysssss.”
The three great evils.
Martha is not impressed.
Suddenly we cut to Martha storming into the house crying. “Do you know what she’s done!?” Martha yells at her husband. “Shannon! She’s engaged!”
Ok. Shannon is 16 and this is objectively concerning, but all of the character development and Martha’s obsession up to this point suggests she’s not upset about the engagement for the right reasons.
As it turns out, Shannon is engaged to a 21-year-old named Stevie. They’re getting married next summer in front of Shannon’s mother’s fireplace, which based on the tone of Martha’s voice when she explains this, it does not appear Martha is impressed with this wedding venue.
A few days later the boys and girls from church all meet together to start planning a Christmas activity, which will apparently include a sleigh ride and dance.
I actually know this boy.
He cloned himself 15,000 times and had all of the copies attend BYU with me from 2005 to 2008. I remember them well. They used to raise their hands in Elders Quorum meetings every Sunday and confidently say “it’s only a sin if you act on it.”
After the planning meeting concludes, Shannon approaches Martha meekly to tell her she would like to be in charge of the decorations for the dance. Martha is THRILLED.
You can tell Shannon is becoming humbled because she’s no longer wearing a Bumpit.
It’s unclear where this about-face from Shannon is coming from, but I’m guessing it doesn’t really matter.
The day of the sleigh riding activity arrives and after some fun in the snow, the teens and Martha all gather in a cabin to sing Christmas songs. At one point Shannon and another girl named Susan turn the activity into the Lawrence Welk Show by performing a musical number about courtship.
The performance includes hand actions, using their bodies as percussion instruments, summoning hats from nowhere, and a full tap-dance routine. None of this is relevant to the plot of the film in any way, but it’s fabulous.
The song they perform is called “Get Acquainted In Style,” which allows for a perfectly seamless segue to the lesson. “Now we all know how to get acquainted in style,” Martha shouts like she’s performing in a ward Roadshow in 1990.
Side note: I participated in a ward Roadshow when I was 12. We adapted Oklahoma! to Oh, South Jordan! (the name of my home town). We brought the house down with our rendition of the titular number. “Oh, South Jordan where the wind comes sweeping ‘cross my yard!” I played tumbleweed number four.
“Sister Gregory, how did you get acquainted with Mr. Gregory?” one of the kids then asks.
Martha explains that she met her husband when her horse ran away and Mr. Gregory saved it. They fell in love when they made eye contact. Then he went on a mission and when he came back they got engaged and then married six months later.
Martha tells the kids that to have a successful marriage they should get to know their partner “really well” first, which she apparently did during those six months of engagement.
“You should be able to talk intelligently about the important things of life,” Martha tells them. “Not just about which orchestra is the smoothest,” she explains, demonstrating a keen understanding of the youth of the time.
This film is actually making me question my own marriage. The only thing my husband and I ever talk about is smooth orchestras and I honestly feel so stupid for thinking that would be a firm foundation for a meaningful relationship. What are we going to do if we ever face real problems together? Solve them with an oboe?
Over the coming days Shannon takes charge of planning the decorations for the dance. There’s a very long montage of her directing people to staple shit to walls and furniture.
At one point during this, Martha approaches Shannon. “Oh hi, Mrs. . . . I mean Sister Gregory,” she says, signaling some sort of religious conversion.
The day of the dance arrives and the dance hall looks spectacular, or so we’re told a dozen or so times via some very clunky dialogue between Martha and her Phylis Schlafly. There’s just one thing missing.
Shannon! She’s nowhere to be found!
After the dance Martha goes outside to wait for a bus. Through voiceover: “If I could just do something to make Shannon accept me as a friend. As I stood in the snow, I prayed that Shannon would accept the Laurel ideal of womanhood, and make those ideals her own.”
I can only assume we are referring back to that activity about good things being beautiful.
Suddenly Martha sees a box with a pearl on it in a store window and she gets an idea.
Martha buys the pearl box and then writes a letter to Shannon. “For all you value most highly, I send this little box. From one who treasures you. A Friend.”
Martha leaves the gift on Shannon’s doorstep.
The next morning Martha’s very annoying children open their Christmas gifts. “Oh boy! Gee wiz!” they shout at random.
“We’re sure lucky! Gee, this is the best Christmas I’ve ever had! Thanks mom and dad!”
The kids then give Martha her present. It’s a camping stove. Apparently this gift is hilarious because Martha and her husband laugh like it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever seen in their lives as soon as the kids are out of earshot.
There is no amount of time I could spend with this family and not need a Xanax.
Later that evening Shannon shows up on Martha’s doorstep. Shannon is crying. She tells Martha she got the gift and wanted to thank her.
Shannon says the gift somehow made her realize she only had two treasures: the card Martha wrote and her Laurel necklace. “I don’t have another thing that’s really important.”
Ok, admittedly, I haven’t seen this Laurel necklace, and maybe it’s fabulous, but seriously? Also, that note? I know not everyone is a poet but it honestly felt like Martha was phoning it in a little.
I’m sorry, and I know I shouldn’t expect much from a film made by the same university where a science professor once apologized for having to teach my class about evolution, but this character development was not earned. We are given no path between the abominable car-riding Shannon of last week to this humbled Shannon who cares deeply about her Laurel necklace. If the point of this movie is to establish that a youth leader can get a hold of a wild teenager, maybe they could have shown that happen?
Shannon says she didn’t come to the dance because Steve didn’t want to go. So she gave him his ring back. If I’ve ever heard of a good reason to break off an engagement, it’s “my fiancé didn’t really want to go to the church dance.”
Martha is elated. She embraces Shannon, crying, and breathily says “I’ll help you Shannon. We women have to stick together!”
Help her with what, exactly, I’m not sure.
“Oh Shannon. Oh Shannon,” Martha continues to whisper as romantic music plays them out and the credits roll.
And that’s how it ends.
I need a drink. I wonder if Linda is free.
~It Just Gets Stranger