is a reminder that I watch a lot of independent films. After all, how many film critics will be able to say that this is the second film they've seen dealing with the semi-controversial subject of homosexuality and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or, as you and I know them, the Mormons.
The first film to deal with this subject, at least in my frame of reference, was the wonderful Latter Days,
an indie gem starring none other than Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Gordon-Levitt has gone on to bigger and better things now, but about the time he made Latter Days
he was making some of the best truly independent flicks skimming underneath the surface of Hollywood.
is similar in tone to Latter Days,
though it is less angry and more tender in its tone. Writer/Director Jon Garcia seems to intentionally treat the faith of Mormons with dignity and respect, though he also doesn't pull any punches in regards to their complete lack of tolerance with homosexuality. The LDS (Latter-Day Saints) position on homosexuality is well known and proved to be quite controversial when the church threw its weight behind California's Proposition 8, though it should be noted that across the Mormon community you will find a tremendous diversity of opinions. While many regard the faith as a "cult," I simply regard it as yet another spiritual path with some beliefs that don't quite fit within the construct of mainstream Christianity.
Oh boy, there goes more hate mail for me now.
Regardless of how you feel about Mormonism, The Falls
is a compelling and involving drama centering around two young men, Elder R.J. Smith (Nick Ferrucci) and Elder Chris Merrill (Benjamin Farmer), the former a brand new missionary just beginning his required two years of service while Elder Merrill is a more experienced missionary who initially serves as a sort of mentor for Elder Smith. After a couple challenging encounters, one with a seriously intense cynic and the other with a bully who calls into question their sexuality, the two begin to experience a crisis of faith that culminates in both young men withdrawing from their religious responsibilities in favor of a more "normal" routine.
One almost has a right to expect that when all of this happens that a filmmaker will take the easy way out by poking fun at Mormonism and turning the film into an agenda film. Fortunately, Garcia's a much better filmmaker than that and The Falls
is a far more insightful and sensitive film than one might expect. In essence, Garcia doesn't so much take sides as he treats both sides with respect and refuses to serve up easy answers.
If there's a weakness in the film, beyond the occasional hit-and-miss performances that one expects in a lower-budgeted indie, it's that neither Elder Smith nor Elder Merrill ever establish themselves on firm ground as actual missionaries. This isn't so much an issue with Ferrucci or Farmer's performances, but moreso an issue with the lack of character development given to these areas. The two convince quite nicely as devotedly religious young men with all the humanity and insecurities and frailties of being a young man, but it takes a special quality to be a missionary and without establishing this serious commitment the ultimate debate between one's religious convictions and one's human feelings and desires weakens. The period when the two begin having doubts is believable, mostly because their actual religious commitment already seemed a tad wishy-washy.
It should be stressed, however, that this is a modest quibble with an otherwise deeply involving film that is made even better because both Elder Smith and Elder Merrill are played with such a refreshing sense of humanity and normalcy by both Ferrucci and Farmer. Ferrucci, a newcomer, is particularly effective in a role that required that he display all the inner conflicts and external stressors that weave themselves together when one realizes that a simple action could completely alter the course of one's life.
Do you get that?
In this world in which these young men live, everything they feel and and grow to understand about themselves could very likely threaten everything that has been built up in their lives - life path, families, relationships and even their futures.
Devastating to think about.
But, Garcia makes us think about it in a way that is compelling and intelligent and dramatic and emotionally jarring. What happens when the journey you undertake to help you grow into your faith actually redefines it? What happens when becoming comfortable in one's own skin means growing into becoming a human being who transcends the defined boundaries of one's spiritual path?
What happens then?
isn't about easy answers, but about asking honest questions and portraying the lives behind them with respect, dignity, tenderness and just the right dose of humor. While it won't be for everyone, The Falls
is a terrific film for those who embrace independent thought, spiritual seeking and cinematic transcendence.
Oh, and if you loved Latter Days
you'll love The Falls, too!
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic