"The Falls" is the movie that "Latter Days" might have been with better writing and a little less reliance on stereotypes, peering into the lives and conflicted hearts of gay Mormons.
The film -- the second feature by Jon Garcia ("Tandem Hearts") -- follows 20-year-old Elder Smith, or "RJ" to his family (Nick Ferrucci) from Idaho Falls to Oregon, where he’s slated to do his mission work. Like all Mormon missionaries, he’s assigned a "companion" with whom to preach the gospel and seek converts. This companion turns out to be Elder Merrill (Ben Farmer), whose first name is Chris. Elders are not supposed to address one another by first names; then again, neither are they supposed to fall in love with other guys. These two young men, thrown together by the same church that denies and denigrates people like them, do both.
It’s a slow process, and as it unfolds it does so hand-in-hand with an unfurling of their faith. "Do you think we’re bound for outer darkness?" a worried Chris asks, as he and RJ lie in one another’s arms. "I think we’re a shoe-in," RJ responds.
Of the two of them, RJ is the more confident in himself. His mission is the final stand, taken prayerfully and with an honest heart, to see whether God really does want him to be heterosexual. When it turns out that he’s gay and staying that way, RJ accepts this and prepares himself to move on -- right out of the church, if that’s what he has to do.
The film shows RJ and Chris falling into the orbit of a Gulf War veteran who introduces them to unedited DVDs and marijuana, two worldly influences upon which the Mormon Church frowns. But it’s not such corrupting influences that account for RJ’s confidence in himself; as his shocked father notes, RJ has always been a "champion," a young man who is not afraid to take a stand and be a man like any other man. He’s man enough, at any rate, to be true to himself.
The film’s production values are low, especially when it comes to the audio quality. There are times when the dialogue is inaudible, or covered over by the music of the film’s soundtrack. But what shines through is the integrity of the filmmaker and his cast; Ben Farmer’s character may be more fearful, but he’s also full of hope. (He also looks like a young Paul Bettany.) Most importantly, this film treats the Mormon faith with respect, even though it gives Ferrucci’s character a blistering speech -- delivered calmly and politely, but not backing down one inch -- to deliver to the Mormon higher-ups.
The film may be about gay Mormons in love, but members and ex-members of any anti-gay faith will see their own struggle, and their own faith journey, reflected here.
This article is part of our "19th Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival" series. Want to read more?
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