Altar Egos is an unusual beast of a film, an unusually complex faith-based film wrapped in a quilt of silliness and physical humor that may, at times, leave you wondering what you've watched but still drawn into the film's of change versus tradition and, when it comes down to it, loving the unlovable.
The film stars faith-based familiar Robert Amaya (Mom's Night Out, Courageous) as Pastor John, the pastor of a smalltown church living in the shadows of his father, the church's 20-year pastor, and, perhaps casting an even longer shadow, the church's unwielding matriarchal choir leader Mary Margaret (Sallie Wanchisn, The Learning Curves). Unable to grow the church's now dwindling numbers, in no small part due to Mary Margaret and the church leadership's clinging to tradition, things come to a head when Pastor John proposes drastic changes to the church's traditional Christmas pageant and Mary Margaret leads the choir to boycott the pageant and the pastor. Facing termination, Pastor John resorts to disguising himself as an older man in an effort to bridge the generation gap and win over Mary Margaret, an effort that begins to bear fruit until deeper truths are revealed and Pastor John begins to realize that hurt people hurt others and Mary Margaret's old wounds are calling him to love the unlovable if there's any hope of saving the church and his family.
On DVD on September 5th from Bridgestone Multimedia Group, Altar Egos has already received the Dove Foundation's "Faith Friendly" Seal and has been deemed suitable for all ages. Indeed, Altar Egos is the kind of film that will likely resonate with members of any faith community whether you've struggled with the whole "Tradition vs. Change" issue or not.
While Altar Egos tackles serious themes, it should be stressed that it does so in a playful, silly and even somewhat irreverent way. This is especially true once Pastor John enlists his theatre geek son Jack (newcomer Max Morgan) to assist with his elaborate plan and his son, rather smitten with fellow theatre geek Holly (Lindsley Register, television's Six), a charming young lady who is, per the usual faith-based flick formula, taken by the film's resident bad boy, Dirk (Alex Miller, God's Compass).
There are bigger issues bubbling underneath the surface of Altar Egos and pastors, in particular, may lament that writer/director Sean Morgan doesn't really choose to tackle them in favor of maintaining a sort of sitcomish tone not too far removed from Mom's Night Out. For most audiences, this won't be a particularly bothersome tonal choice. In fact, it'll likely be preferred by most.
Altar Egos is actually at its best when attention is focused on the sweet, endearing relationship between Jack and Holly, whose authentic chemistry is deserving of a film all its own.
Lindsley Register is easily the film's cinematic highlight, her natural screen presence and easy charm easily explaining why Jack is so smitten by her, while newcomer Max Morgan's natural comic gifts adding just the right dose of chemistry and humor to their infinitely watchable budding relationship.
Can we have a film about these two? Please?
While the marketing for Altar Egos plays up the presence of Erin Bethea (Fireproof, New Life) and SNL alum Victoria Jackson, both are relegated to formulaic supporting players here with Bethea, as Pastor John's wife, particularly under-utilized. As Holly's mother, Victoria Jackson is a more consistent presence and director Sean Morgan wisely allows her to tap into some of that ditzy humor that made is fall in love with her back in her SNL days.
Altar Egos is the kind of faith-based cinema that practically begs to be played after church some Sunday, its gentle and family friendly humor accessible enough for the entire family and its lessons on being a healthier church family likely to trigger important discussions to help churches, especially those exploring their identity, truly keep loving one another even when conflicts arise.
For more information on Altar Egos, visit the film's website linked to in the credits and be sure to pick up your copy when the film is released on DVD on 9/5.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic