I need you to know about a 1985 Mormon film called The Award. I grew up watching this on a regular basis. I've seen it at least 12,000 times. It is really important to me that you know about this.
I am telling you right now without qualification and without exaggeration, The Award is the absolute worst movie that has ever been made. The message is appalling. The acting is so bad it almost seems intentional. The plot makes less than zero sense. At least 50% of the screen time is spent on plot points that are in no way relevant to the actual story. Characters come and go without having any effect on the plot whatsoever. Character motivations are illogical or never explored. I’m pretty sure half of this is improv. It’s all so atrocious that it’s actually a masterpiece.
Come with me.
I’ll start by acknowledging that this is a local stake effort and apparently not an offering from church headquarters, which helps explain at least some of the low production quality and the $4 budget.
We begin with a football game that I promise you will not be relevant to the film in any way. But it takes up a surprising amount of screen time and will be referenced out of the blue throughout the movie. Why did they include it if it’s not relevant to the plot? Because SPORTS!
The opening football scene takes 2:43 seconds of this 44-minute film.
The football players (there are apparently only like 8 people on this entire team) then enter a tiny locker room where they awkwardly high five each other and scream for several seconds before they politely, and in unison, take their seats on two benches facing one another.
One of the players says they should all go out and have a good time to celebrate their win at sports games. This supposed 16-year-old boy says he’d like some “BEER!!!” And he says it in the exact tone of his face:
The sound quality is so bad I can’t make out half of what anyone is saying during large parts of this scene.
Eventually, multiple players take turns suggesting to the entire group they go to a party. I’m not kidding you. There are like eight lines of dialogue that are just:
Boy 1: How about we go to Lloyd’s party?
Boy 2: I’d like to go to Lloyd’s party. Let’s go!
Boy 3: We should go to Lloyd’s party tonight.
Boy 4: Lloyd is having a party and we should go!
Boy 5: I’d like a little beer at Lloyd’s party. How about we all go?!
Boy 2 again (I think): I think we should go to Lloyd’s party!
Boy 6: Lloyd’s party! Let’s go!!!
They aren’t even responding to each other. They are each just repeating the same line in varied forms as if no one can hear anyone else. It’s genuinely baffling.
I’ll note, again, this football game and this party are not even close to being relevant to the plot of this film. None of it is important in any way. You could lift out the first five minutes and it would not create a single question or plot hole for the rest of the film.
Then we are introduced to our protagonist who, I’m going to warn you, sucks so much he may make you swear off men.
This is Kevin:
The players aggressively invite him to go drink beer with them. He declines. They make jokes about how he’s Mormon and that’s mega lame!
And, no. I’m telling you, again. This is not relevant to the film. This is not a Word of Wisdom production, nor is this film about religious persecution. The Kevin/beer situation is not what this film is about and in fact, Kevin doesn’t even seem fazed by the teasing. He feels no meaningful pressure from his friends. It does not matter.
Then, for some reason, the coach comes in and we have to watch him talk for a while.
“Let’s hear it for the coach!” One of the boys shouts to his teammates this line of dialogue that is written in a way to make you think he doesn’t actually know this man.
The coach gives a speech about how proud they should be of themselves for winning and that they are only one game away from “an undefeated championship.” ??? This speech is long. AND IT’S NOT RELEVANT TO THE FILM. WHY ARE THEY MAKING US WATCH ALL OF THIS.
FINALLY, five minutes in, we begin the actual plot. This is not a good plot in any way. But I’m so relieved we are finally here that I don’t even care anymore.
An absolute dweeb is shown with taped glasses and he is using his calculator in the school cafeteria. NERD!
Kevin and his friends come in and kick the nerd off the table in the empty cafeteria and pour his milk over his food as he stands up. These people suck ass. They will not get better, but the film will applaud them in the end anyway.
Kevin and his friends then coordinate an over-the-top unison greeting to their principal, Mr. Graham.
“Good MORNING Mr. Graaaaaahhaaaam,” they shout after counting to three.
I don’t know why they do this or make us see it. This movie could have been 9 minutes long.
Out of nowhere, one of the boys suddenly says “I wonder why there’s so many ugly girls!!!”
“Look who’s talking!” This sassy gay poor man’s John Travolta responds. “Your face could make a gorilla look good.”
I’m going to warn you that this only gets worse from here. Get ready to feel a lot of rage for the next little while.
The first guy then says “that’s different. My face is rugged. Besides, guys don’t have to be good looking. Girls are supposed to.”
If you think this film’s message is going to be about how men shouldn’t talk about women like this, you’re going to be very disappointed. Light spoiler: the moral of this story is extremely upsetting and somehow more regressive than the boys' behavior.
The boys then start pointing out girls in the lunchroom and argue about which one is the ugliest in the entire school.
First they recognize this perfectly nice-looking girl. I am wondering whether she saw the script before they started filming.
They agree she must be the UGLIEST girl they've ever seen! Because she’s eating an apple?
Then one of the boys points out this punk-rocker and says “she’s twice as ugly as that other one!”
I will remind you: these actors are all in a stake together. They go to church with one another. Some adults greenlit this script even after reading that the camera would flash to various teenage congregants who are purported to be so physically ugly some football players would use superlatives to describe them.
Anyway, the boys decide the punk rocker is only ugly by choice. They need to find someone who is “naturally ugly.”
They then settle on this one, who they decide is definitely the ugliest.
This is going to be our film’s victim. But I’m going to tell you upfront her character is so ridiculous and unrealistic that it’s impossible to ever feel any real empathy for her. She genuinely seems like an SNL character. Like a combination of this:
Even her voice is an exact blend of those two people.
One of the boys says this girl is a “two-bagger” which means “she’s so ugly you have to wear a bag over your head in case the bag over her head falls off.” Is this . . . are they talking about sex?
The boys then decide to do something that is truly baffling to me. They agree to spend their own money and time to create an award they will give her to let her know they have decided she is the ugliest girl in school.
They suggest Kevin write a poem about how ugly she is and they plan to give her that poem as a part of the award.
Why would this be a thing anyone would ever do? Like, even if you’re a bully and you actively like hurting people, this is such an inefficient use of time. What could they possibly be getting out of this?
Anyway, Kevin agrees to write the poem and they decide to make a card and tape a corsage to her locker. They each pitch in money for this. Again, WHY?
Then Kevin reads the poem, which he has written in four seconds.
“When we speak of ugly you’re the subject of talk.
You’ve got a face that could stop a clock.
Accept this gift for all it’s worth.
We think you’re the ugliest girl on the Earth!”
IT’S NOT EVEN A GOOD POEM.
After lunch we learn the victim’s name is Mary Beth. Mary Beth starts having a conversation with Kevin’s girlfriend, who speaks every line in this entire film like she’s an extremely bored casting director reading the other part while a desperate actor auditions for a role.
Kevin’s girlfriend’s name is Colleen, and fun fact: she’s one of the original golden girls.
Apparently Mary Beth borrowed Colleen’s sweater but she is being super weird about giving it back and keeps insisting she have it cleaned. Colleen tells her several times she doesn’t need to have the sweater cleaned. This plot point is as relevant as the football game.
Also, can we take a moment to acknowledge that Mary Beth is objectively hot? This is Miss Congeniality Sandra Bullock level gaslighting. They slapped some glasses on her and made her speak in the Target Lady voice and expect us to understand why a group of aggressively average looking teenage boys would be flabbergasted that someone this ugly can exist.
Anyway, as Colleen walks away it is revealed Mary Beth stained the sweater. Ok?
We then cut to the absolute worst scene in the film. It’s between Kevin and Colleen. The line reads from both of them sound like two Siri robots who have discovered cocaine rapidly communicating with one another.
Kevin tells Colleen about the award and for some reason he needs her help to tape it to Mary Beth’s locker.
Colleen does not approve: “You’re not really going through with this, are you?”
Every line in this scene is read at the most unnatural cadence and with the least expected emphasis. I’m going to copy the following dialogue in the punctuation, pronunciation, and word emphasis in which these lines are delivered. You should try to read it aloud as written. If you do, I promise it won't sound as ridiculous as it does in the film.
“DOOOOON’T you know how this is going to make her FILL.”
“I don’t care how she FILLS.”
“Kevin you’re the only LDS player on the team dooooooeeeesn’t that meeeeeaaaan anything to you.”
“She’s UGLY even you will have to admit THAT.”
“I can see UGLIness but IT’S not in HER.”
The two also stand completely still while talking to each other. No hand actions or even the hint of facial expressions as they politely take turns delivering their lines of dialogue.
Just then a girl who is somehow an even worse actor than these two interrupts and delivers an unnecessarily long sassy monologue about how they need Colleen to join the cheerleading practice that is happening right next to them because “there’s a big fat Colleen-shaped hole on the field.” ?????
Colleen? Are you ok?
Colleen then cancels an upcoming date with Kevin and walks away to join cheer practice apparently in the outfit depicted above.
That night Kevin is watching the Miss America pageant where they make it clear Miss Utah has done very well. Sure. Never pass up an opportunity for Deseret evangelism. He then sits down at his desk to draw a picture of a gorilla on the card he's going to give Mary Beth.
Next the boys are at the arcade. They engage in an identical conversation as the one in the lunchroom where they discuss the logistics of giving Mary Beth this award. I’m not kidding. I refuse to go back and check, but I’m about 80% sure the dialogue is a copy and paste from that other scene. This film is desperate for us to know exactly how these boys will go about making and delivering this award to Mary Beth.
They then launch into a conversation about some new person Kevin thinks he saw last night with someone else? There’s no context for this conversation. It is presented as though it’s going to be important. The topic is abruptly dropped and this is never explained in any way.
Still at the arcade, the boys invite Kevin to a party and then they physically walk him to a payphone to call Colleen and ask her if she wants to come.
Multiple children answer the phone at Colleen’s house. Then Colleen’s dad gets on the phone and asks whether Kevin and Colleen are having a fight. I don’t know why we have to see this either. My best guess is they are just trying to give a speaking role to everyone in the stake despite only needing about six characters to tell this terrible story.
Colleen kicks the dad off the phone so she can talk to Kevin.
Kevin asks Colleen if she wants to go to the party. Colleen says, “it depends. How’s the award going?”
Kevin, who is an absolute moron, responds enthusiastically and tells her it’s going great and he drew a picture of a gorilla and everything!
“In that case, FORGET it!” Colleen shouts.
Kevin is caught completely off-guard by Colleen’s reaction. He thought she would be excited that they are making progress on the ugly award.
I am so confused. Was he not present for the prior scene where he and Colleen already talked about this? Because Colleen was perfectly clear that she did not approve.
The friends, hearing Kevin argue with Colleen, tell him if Colleen is giving him a hard time about the award they “could always set [him] up with a different chick.”
“Yeah!” Kevin yells into the phone. “I don’t have to go out with you you know!”
I know I’m giving a lot of spoilers in this recap, but I need you to emotionally prepare yourself for this film ending with Colleen still willingly dating Kevin despite the fact that he will demonstrate no character growth or remorse for what he is doing.
When Kevin and Colleen get off the phone, Kevin’s friends tell him he needs to “learn how to control chicks” better. Kevin agrees. But he says he’s not going to the party because he has other things to do.
“HE DOESN’T KNOW WHAT HE WANTS!” one of the friends abruptly screams, so comically aggressively, as they walk away from Kevin.
And then we get to the obligatory prayer montage where Kevin has to think about whether or not he should give an award to a girl he doesn’t know for being ugly. He needs to stew over this extremely relatable dilemma on the beach for the entire afternoon and evening.
I’m not kidding you when I say this is presented as a real problem. Like, am I supposed to relate to Kevin here? Am I really supposed to watch this and think, “man. Kevin is in a real stitch. If he gives that extremely cruel and totally unprovoked award to Mary Beth, which will absolutely wreck her life and haunt her for decades, his girlfriend will be mad at him. But if he doesn’t do it, how will Mary Beth know he thinks she’s the ugliest girl in school? I truly don’t know what I would do in this very real life series of common teenage hijinks.”
And, no. This isn’t really presented as a peer pressure situation, which would make this mildly more understandable. It’s not like Kevin doesn’t want to do this but is worried he will lose his friends if he stands up to them. Like, they kind of suggest that at one point, but not in any meaningful way. Kevin is a very active and enthusiastic participant in all of this. He wrote the goddamn poem, gleefully. Kevin thinks this is a very good idea. He’s just conflicted because Colleen might stop engaging in heavy petting with him if he goes through with it.
(I’m sorry, but did you really think you were going to read an entire Mormon film recap from me without one reference to heavy petting?)
By the way, one of the easiest ways you can tell this film is a local production is because a church headquarter film would have dubbed over the prayer montage a manipulative melodramatic song about how women need to repent. But this one is just silent.
Up next, Kevin goes to church where Colleen will barely even look at him.
I can smell this scene of the bishop saying goodbye to everyone after sacrament meeting.
The bishop stops Kevin to talk about the football game for a minute. Why? I don’t know. I cannot stress for you enough how much this football game does not matter.
Up next, we are at Colleen’s house for dinner. Kevin shows up to talk to Colleen.
There’s another Siri robot scene.
Kevin says he didn’t go to the party or hook up with any other smokin’ chicks and he wants praise for this. The dad comes in and invites Kevin to stay for dinner. Colleen is pissed.
As Kevin walks into the dining room, there’s a PLOT TWIST!!!!
As it turns out, Mary Beth has also been invited over for dinner and she’s already at the table!
Kevin goes into the kitchen to help Colleen with something and that’s where he confronts her about Mary Beth and accuses her of inviting Mary Beth over to make him feel guilty. Because Kevin, who wasn't even supposed to be at Colleen's house, believes everything in the world is about him.
When they return to the table a child blesses the food and all the hands that prepared it that it will nourish and strengthen their bodies and do the good that they need high on the mountain top I know president harold c hinckson is a real profit pinky promise inthenameofcheeseandriceamen.
The dad then says in a voice that sounds like if a nose could talk on its own, “if everyone could grab what’s in front of you and then pass to the left, we should be able to avoid any major collisions.”
I want to take this moment to publicly thank Bob and Cathie McCann for not making us one of those Mormon families in the 90s who had to stay in their church clothes for the entirety of Sunday. Count your many blessings namethemonebyone.
The very creepy dad then asks Mary Beth to tell them about herself. “Interests? Hobbies? Maaaaaaaarital status?”
“Oh, I’m not married!” a nasaly Mary Beth says.
“Dad,” Colleen shouts. “DON'T be such a TEASE!”
Marybeth goes on to explain she volunteers to help “handicapped children every day after school and all day on Saturday.”
“We play games and talk,” she says. “And the younger ones I read to, but mostly I’m just with them. There’s a boy named Jimmy. He’s 3 and he always gives me a kiss when I come. I know I’m supposed to be there helping them, but they do more for ME than I could EVER do for them.”
Colleen and Kevin then go back into the kitchen to get the dessert even though this family has only been eating for one minute. I know we already saw them at church, but this part is the surest way you can tell they're Mormon.
Back in the kitchen, Kevin explains that now that he knows Mary Beth works with children with disabilities, he can’t go through with the award. I’m not kidding.
Colleen is thrilled.
I need it to be very clear that Kevin’s reason for not giving the award is that Mary Beth volunteers. Not because it would be cruel to give to anyone. Not because Mary Beth is objectively not even ugly. Just because of the volunteerism thing. Otherwise, Mary Beth would have absolutely deserved to receive the ugly award.
And again, this scene underscores how much this decision was not even a real dilemma in the first place. Kevin is able to easily withdraw the plan with no feared repercussions. He doesn’t even seem remotely worried about the reactions from his friends. Because this isn’t really a peer pressure film. I cannot stress enough how much it is established from the beginning of this film through the end how much Kevin does not give a flying shit what his friends think of him.
Colleen kisses Kevin and says, “I’m so happy! I didn’t WANT to treat you that way! I just knew what you were doing was wrong!”
Girl. Get some standards.
The way Kevin is so immediately celebrated for deciding to do the absolute bare minimum (not go completely out of his way to actively destroy some innocent stranger’s life without even the possibility of personal gain) is giving strong “applaud a man for babysitting his own children” vibes.
Kevin. Our hero.
Kevin promises Colleen there will be NO award after all.
Colleen tells Kevin she still wants there to be an award. A completely monotone Kevin says “I’ll never in a million years understand girls.”
He then asks Colleen multiple times using almost the exact same wording each of those times what kind of award she has in mind. Colleen doesn’t tell him. Instead she says she’s going to make a new award for Marybeth and she’ll bring it to school tomorrow.
The next day Colleen shows Kevin the new card, which says “You’re A Winner!” at the top.
The card then goes on to congratulate Marybeth for helping the never-seen and hardly considered “handicapped children.” Kevin isn't very happy about this, but says he'll go along with it.
Then there’s a classroom scene where a Black teacher is enthusiastically discussing our inspired founding fathers whom she apparently admires.
By the way, this teacher is the only person in this entire film who is actually acting. Like, the only person with a modicum of talent in this entire gargantuan cast. Why she’s relegated to a tiny role thirty minutes deep into this movie is beyond me.
Kevin leaves the class to deliver the award. He and the friend who bought the corsage go to deliver it. “I can’t wait until she sees this!” the sociopathic friend says.
They run into the principal who stops to talk to them about the football game. Ok.
Do they keep referencing the football game just so the boys watching this during seminary minutes before their teacher explains to them dinosaur bones came from other planets will be like “this film is for us!”
Kevin finally goes and tapes the award to Mary Beth’s locker.
She gets out of class, finds it, and reads it to sappy music.
I cannot overstate how bizarre this song choice is. You need to just pull up the video and hear it. It’s at 31:00. The lyrics, in an odd breathy gender-neutral voice: “Alwaaaaaaayssss a LADY! Alwaaaaaaysss there for ME!”
WHAT? WHAT IS THIS SONG?
Kevin proudly watches from like six feet away as Mary Beth and Colleen read the card together. HE’S A HERO.
Never mind that he didn’t actually do anything. Colleen made the award. It was also her idea. She didn’t even consult with him about it. But for the remainder of this film, Kevin and his friends will receive and enthusiastically accept ALL the credit for it. And the film immediately writes Colleen out of the story after this scene so I’m left only to assume the film also credits Kevin and his friends with this act of kindness, which is the exact opposite act of what they intended and attempted.
Mary Beth loves the card. Then the football friends show up and start laughing because they see Mary Beth holding the award.
They think it’s HILARIOUS that Mary Beth is actually pinning on the corsage because they still think it was the ugly award.
Then there are even more scenes. There are still somehow like 15 minutes left of this film.
During morning announcements the next day the principal says Mary Beth would like to publicly thank the anonymous group of guys who gave her a corsage. Kevin’s friends are baffled!
“She wants you to know the award means a great deal to her,” the principal says.
Ok, I kind of wish they had just given her the ugly award and she still leaned in and responded this way. Could you imagine the shiver that would run through your spine if you gave someone an award like that and they issued a vague public thank you for it? That’s a Godfather level ominous threat. I want a version of this film where the last twenty minutes just cuts to Mary Beth on stage covered in pig blood.
After class, Kevin’s friends confront him about the card. They threaten to beat him up. He comes clean.
“Awe man! I knew we shouldn’t have let a MORMON do this,” this victor for Satan shouts.
They are all very pissed at Kevin. Later, at lunch, the gang is confronted by the principal who tells them he is grateful they gave Mary Beth the corsage because she—ANOTHER PLOT TWIST INCOMINGGGGGGG—has a kidney disease and has to be on dialysis.
The children with disabilities thing wasn’t enough for Kevin’s heathen friends, but the kidney disease got them the rest of the way there.
They decide that because she has kidney disease, and only because of this, it would have been wrong to give her the ugly card. And that, my friends, is growth.
In a total about-face, the meanest of the friends goes down and sits with Mary Beth in the lunchroom.
“That’s a very pretty corsage. Did your boyfriend give it to you?” he asks.
Is he flirting with her? What is happening?
He starts bragging about being on the football team. Mary Beth, rightfully, doesn’t give a shit.
They have a very boring one-sided conversation about football for a while, which is exactly how I would describe every conversation I've ever been in about football.
Then Mary Beth starts to reluctantly ask him for a favor, but we don’t hear what it is. She gets up and leaves.
The football player then goes back to his friends and tells them he promised Mary Beth he would have the entire football team go visit this film’s favorite prop: "the handicapped children!"
Who wouldn’t want these role models available to mold young minds?
We cut to a long montage of this event happening to more sappy music.
The football players actively full body tackle eight-year-old wheelchair users.
No one ever bothered asking these kids whether they actually want any of this and none of them are given names or a single line of dialogue.
Then the players, who still don’t get the point, sit down together in the most self-congratulatory way to talk about how good of people they are for giving Mary Beth the winner award. I'm going to remind you, in case you forgot: they did not give her that award. Colleen did that, against their actual wishes. They were actively angry when they found out Colleen had done this.
One of them says in the tone of someone who just discovered penicillin, “wow. We picked the most obvious loser in school but once we got to know her, she turned out to be ok.”
These boys have plotted to strike once and I’m telling you they will strike again.
“What if everyone we meet is special in some way,” one of the players says, like he’s never before considered that other people might have value.
Huh. It really makes ya think.
They then decide to give the winner award once a month, to a different ugly girl each time, which, I don’t know. Kind of dilutes it if you ask me. Also, we still haven’t solved the problem of these boys looking around the school to find the ugliest and most pathetic girl to give an award to. All we’ve done is change the award.
Then there’s another montage of them playing with the children.
And that’s the end.
No idea whatever happened to Colleen, but I assume she and Kevin are now on the fireside circuit where they travel the west coast preaching prosperity gospel with thinly-veiled invitations to ask them about essential oils.
~It Just Gets Stranger
Art by Christopher Patty