Breathe. Talk to God. Listen.
So begins First Love, a story of a journey home to Truth and the latest DVD release from Texas-based non-profit organization Reflective Life Ministries, a ministry that exists to connect women by sharing the truth and message of Jesus Christ. Reflective Life Ministries is made up of a team of ladies who have felt the call to serve since God first gave founder Carla McDougal the vision for Reflective Life Ministries in 2005.
First Love, which was awarded Five Seals of Approval by The Dove Foundation, is a modern day story based on the life of Jesus' disciple, Peter. The film centers around Joe (Ulises Larramendi), a natural leader whose impulsivity and passion have both fueled and hindered his career as an attorney and his life as a husband/father. At Joe's home, wife Catherine (Jamie Higgs) struggles to come to grips with her past, a past left unhealed for far too long and a past that is now threatening her present and future. Running parallel to this central story is a story for the younger generation as teenagers Emily (Rachel Schardt) and Michael (Austin Murray) are working through matters of faith, friendship, and relationship while Emily's sister Sarah (Carly Winsmann) covers them and everyone she meets under the wings of prayer.
Upon first viewing, First Love exudes the sort of faithfulness and authenticity and indie vibe that one found while watching Flywheel, the first feature film from the Kendrick Brothers before they became a household name among faith-based moviegoers with Facing the Giants. First Love doesn't just use "Breathe. Talk to God. Listen" as a tag line, but it very much appears to be the way that the film was put together.
The film touched upon my own unrecognized biases with the legal profession by planting at the center of the film a man, Anthony Vero (Don Ortolano), who is the managing partner of a successful legal firm with an impeccable reputation and a nomination to be a federal judge that is expected to have him leaving the firm while first appointing his successor.
Vero, however, knows differently and knows that the future holds a very different fate for him.
For the record, if you don't understand the symbolism here then it might be time to turn off the computer for a bit and go back to reading the Bible because, well, it has clearly been too long.
Vero wants to appoint Joe to be the new managing partner, but in a series of scenes appears to both quiz Joe on his priorities and guide him towards a better way.
At its heart, and First Love possesses an abundance of heart, the film is about God's unconditional love for each of us and how we are truly called into living out that kind of radical love for God and for one another.
In fact, I'd even say that First Love isn't so much about "radical love" as it is about the truth of love.
While the faith-based film industry has grown immensely in recent years, there's little denying that to a certain degree it has involved at least a modest degree of compromise in the hopes of reaching a wider audience. Many faith-based films these days are "less preachy" and "more reachy."
I made that up myself. Cute, eh?
First Love wears its faith boldly and without compromise. While that decision may alienate some viewers, it's rather refreshing to have a film that exists within a world of faith where one's faith and one's relationship with God and others is seen as the solution. First Love doesn't so much preach as it teaches and encourages and nurtures those who do believe that, as Peter tells us, "love covers a multitude of sins."
Ulises Larramendi gives a compassionate and thoughtful performance as Joe, an essentially good man whose life has really come to involve too much talking and not enough listening. It's no coincidence that Larramendi's performance becomes more likable as the film moves forward because, after all, it's as if he's taking the journey along with Joe. As Anthony Vero, Don Ortolano exudes a sort of calm, understanding presence that makes you fully believe that everything's going to be alright no matter what happens and, after all, you know that something is going to happen.
While I'm always a bit hesitant to favor one performance over another in faith-based cinema, where the concept of ensemble and communal casting is absolutely vital, I must confess that I was completely taken by Carly Winsmann's warm and sincere performance as Sarah, whose faith is an absolute rock and whose offers to pray are so heartfelt and honest that you practically want to do an altar call with her right then and there.
The truth is there really wasn't a weak performance among the ensemble, with Rachel Schardt a genuine delight as Emily, Harriet Bailey a joy as Aunt Rosa, and Austin Murray making the most of his time on screen as Michael. Jamie Higgs, as Catherine, has the challenge of playing a woman who is in full-on emotional turmoil when everything gets started. While this complicates her earliest scene with Joe, by the end of the film she's fully embodied a woman trying to live into her faith while dealing with some of life's hardest issues.
With intelligence and insight and much love, First Love is a warm and heartfelt film and will be a tremendous addition to the video library for faith-based moviegoers.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic