Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Movie Review: The Falls & The Falls: A Testament of Love

I'm actually going to be talking about 2 movies together

The Falls
The Falls: A Testament of Love

IMDb       Trailer
IMDb       Trailer

SPOILER ALERT:  I'm going to make a effort to try not to give away too much of the plot; however, there are some specific parts of the film that I want to talk about

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In The Falls, we meet RJ Smith and Chris Merrill.  Elder Smith (RJ) is a brand new LDS missionary and Elder Merrill, who is his trainer and senior companion, is a devoted missionary and the son of a general authority (who is described simply as a member of "the first quorum" - whatever that means.)

The story is told from the perspective of Elder Smith who narrates much of the movie in a tone that sounds like letters home and/or journal entries.

Elder Smith and Elder Merrill go about doing their missionary duties and settling into a missionary routine.  But, then their lives take an unexpected turn when they discover that they have feelings for each other - feelings that turn into a forbidden love.

They are caught sleeping in a bed together by their zone leader who then reports this to the mission president.  Elder Smith confesses his sins to the mission president and is then sent home to confess again to (presumably) his stake president. Elder Merrill's fate is not addressed since the focus of the movie is on RJ.

Overall, Nick Ferrucci (who plays RJ) is not as good of an actor as Benjamin Farmer (who plays Chris).  That said, one of the most moving parts of the movie is near the end when RJ is talking to his stake president.  Nick Ferrucci does an excellent job of delivering this monologue in a very emotional and believable manner.  I was moved to tears. 
SP: RJ, I'd like to start off with a prayer, if that's OK

RJ:  Yes Sir

SP:  Dear Heavenly Father.  Thank you for getting RJ here safely and we ask that you please bless this young man and guide him through this rough time.  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen

RJ: Amen

SP: RJ, I've known you since you were a child.  I was at your baptism.  I've watched you grow up, go to high school, college.  And I deemed you worthy of your mission.  If anyone told me I would be looking at these words written on this piece of paper, right here in my hand, 10 years ago I ... RJ, tell me, why are you here today son?

RJ: To talk about my future as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

SP: This is a very serious matter. you know this.  And this could be grounds for excommunication - you are aware of that?

RJ: Yes

SP: First off, I'd like for you to tell me, in detail, about the relationship between you and Elder Merrill.

RJ: I'm sorry, I don't ... I don't know if I can talk about this.

SP: You broke a very sacred law.

RJ: You're right, I did, I can't deny that

SP:  Did you want to go on a mission?

RJ: Of course, I always have

SP: And you wanted to serve - even though you knew this about yourself

RJ: Yes.  I'm not the first gay man you sent on a mission.  And I won't be the last.  The church ... doesn't do much to provide a way for us to be honest about it.

As for Elder Merrill ... Elder Merrill and I were mission companions.  We served our church well.  I cannot speak for him ... nor will I go into greater detail ... other than ... to say ... I have great feelings for Elder Merrill.  My feelings for him are ... greater than for any man ... and if I acted upon my emotions ... I don't see any injustice in my acts ... nor disgrace in them.

Shame on you ... and shame on this church.  I was raised to believe I was part of something ... of my family and friends.  And now, because of who I am ... I don't get to be that ... I'm excluded from that.

I'm not sorry ... I hope you know that ... I am not sorry
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The Falls: A Testament of Love takes up the story of RJ and Chris 5 years later.  This time, the story is more from the perspective of Chris who has repented of his sins, married a woman in the temple, and has a 3 year old daughter.  Meanwhile, RJ is an out and proud gay man with a boyfriend.

It is revealed that, immediately after their missions, Chris and RJ got together and toured the country together.  But afterwards, Chris started ignoring RJ's phone calls and letters; so, it's been several years since they had any contact when they happen to meet at the funeral of a man whom they taught on their mission.  RJ is excited to meet Chris; however, Chris - not so much.  One can imagine that as part of his repentance process and therapy Chris was counseled to stay away from his former homosexual life and anybody that was a part of it.

However, RJ is not ready to give up on Chris; so, he goes back home to Seattle, breaks up with his boyfriend and then heads to Salt Lake City and shows up on Chris's door step.  Chris continues to resist RJ - but eventually admits to himself that he still has strong feelings for RJ.  Chris has a very moving monologue when he finally confesses his love for RJ.
Chris: I'd like to level with you.  I'm sorry for abandoning you.  I'm sorry for the way I treated you. It was cruel. And I'm sorry for not responding to any of your letters or calls.  I received them all - your letters - and they touched me, deeply.  But I couldn't respond.

I truly loved the time that we spent together.  But, once I returned home, I felt my fathers shadow, and his position in the high authority looming over me ... like a cloud.

He recommended that I go to reparative therapy - which I did.  And, eventually, I was deemed worthy enough to continue my service to the church.

And then I met Emily; and, we had this amazing, intense, connection.  And I thought "finally, a cure!" I sincerely believed that if I got married that I would be given the strength to overcome this.  But, every time I see a man that attracted to, it's like something inside of me is screaming to get out.  There is this message that is sent and received ... instantly!
I am a religious man RJ

RJ:  I know you are

Chris:  But I feel forsaken.  I have so much pain in my heart.  And I just deal with it!  It feels as if there is this ax that's been thrust into my chest. This pain ... the fasting ... the prayer ... it consumes my life.  And there is little energy left for anything else - I am not living honorably

RJ: Chris, I feel .. I hear so much about you.  Look at me ... there is nothing wrong with us.  We're just victims of a culture that doesn't accept us.
Chris: [moving closer to sit next to RJ]  May I touch you?  This face, I see it in my dreams

Overall, I like both movies - and I recommend it for all MoHo's (Mormon Homosexuals) and others who are curious about what it's like to be gay and Mormon; although, I think the second movie is better than the first.  I was especially impressed when I learned that Jon Garcia (Writer and Director) does not have an LDS background - he grew up Catholic.  Clearly he did his homework and delivered very believable movies.  But, I do have a few pet peeves

  • Both movies are too slow moving and too long.  The Falls is 91 minutes long and The Falls: A Testament of Love is 123 minutes long.  With judicious editing, you could probably combine them into a single 90 minute movie and not lose anything of substance. 
  •  In The Falls, the zone leader never has a companion with him. OK,  this is probably nit picky; but, everybody knows that LDS missionaries come in pairs.  Would it really have broken the movie budget to hire an extra to put on a suit and stand in the background in the few scenes that included the zone leader?
  • There seems to be an obsession with LDS garments - showing them at every possible opportunity.  Yes, Mormon's wear weird underwear.  Now, I'm not such a prude that I'm offended that they are depicted at all - but it needs to be in context - it needs to be necessary.  When the LDS missionaries are laying in bed, it makes sense that they are wearing their garments.  When Chris's father is talking on the phone - was it really necessary to show him wearing an open bathrobe with his garments showing?
  • Gartuitous nudity.  Again, I'm not such a prude that I'm offended at any nudity.  But, like the garments, it needs to be in context and necessary to the scene.  For example, in The Falls: A Testament of Love, RJ's boyfriend is shown making a breakfast smoothy standing butt naked.  Seriously?  Who uses kitchen appliances butt naked?  There are a couple of scenes with frontal nudity - the most obvious being a shower scene with Chris.  But, was it really necessary to show us his ding dong?  As a gay man, I'd be lying if I tried to say I didn't like it - but it just comes across as Benjamin Farmer drawing the short straw as to which of the male actors was going to show their penis.
That said - there are other parts of the movies that I really like
  • I already mentioned RJ's monologue in the first movie and Chris' monologue in the 2nd movie.
  • I really like the way it depicts church leaders and family members.  One of the problems I have with the movie "Latter Days" is how church and family members are depicted as cold and uncaring.  In these movies, church and family members are depicted in a much more believable manner - as people struggling to reconcile their religious beliefs with having a gay son.  In the 2nd movie, we see that RJ's family has made progress; although, they are still struggling a bit.  Since Chris retreated back into the closet in the intervening 5 years, his family is not as accepting.  In a scene where RJ's dad is talking to Chris's dad on the phone, he says "we have begun our journey - and now you need to begin yours."
  • Although I did have a problem with gratuitous nudity, there was one scene where it was used very effectively. Chris experienced impotence when trying to make love to his wife; so, he then goes into the bathroom and masturbates while staring at himself in the mirror with a look of self loathing.  To be perfectly honest, I actually found this to be a bit uncomfortable - probably because it hit a little too close to home in my own experience as a gay man married to a woman.
  • Benjamin Farmer's performance as both a missionary (in the first movie) and a young married man who is active in the LDS church (in the 2nd movie) was very believable.  I don't really know much about the actor - but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that he grew up LDS.
  • Hannah Barefoot - who plays Emily, wife of Chris - delivers a stellar performance as an LDS wife struggling with the revelation that her husband is gay. 
These movies were clearly targeted toward a gay audience - and more liberal heterosexuals.  I get that, but they could have been so much more.  Speed up the plot a bit, take out some of the unnecessary stuff, like excessive showing of LDS garments and nudity, and it could have been something that you see on a cable network such as LifeTime.  But, as they are, I doubt many gay mormon's will feel comfortable sharing them with their straight and LDS active family and friends.  There is a very powerful message in these movies - but, in a sense, they are preaching to the choir.  It's a shame that they can't be shared with those who really need to hear the message.

But, as a member of the choir - I did enjoy them.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

All American Boy

I recently discovered Steve Grand - an openly gay country music singer.

Truthfully, my first glimpse of Steve Grand was in a Huffington Post article:  Steve Grand Goes Nude For The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I didn't know who he was; but, I enjoyed the eye candy picture of him standing, au naturel, next to lake superior.  I'm not gonna lie - he is one good looking dude.  But, I moved on ... or so I thought

His name came up again a few days later - he was touted as the first openly gay country music singer (a claim that is challenged by some).  I like country music; so, I was intrigued.  A link to his music video "All American Boy" came up my google search. I watched the video, a song about unrequited love between a gay boy and his straight best friend; and, it evoked feelings in me that I haven't experienced in a very long time.

My mind harkened way back (way way back) to high school when I had a crush on my best friend.  I actually blogged about this a few years ago in a post titled My First Crush.  I was especially moved by the scene in the car when his friend leaned his head on his shoulder as brought to mind my similar experience.  Mind you, it would be many many years later before I identified as gay; so, at the time, the feelings I was experiencing were very confusing.  I was a guy - I was supposed to be lusting after girls.  So why did my heart skip a beat whenever he was around?

Fast forward back to the present. My high school days are a bygone era - to the point where they seem more like a dream than a memory.  I'm 58 years old.  I have a wife, 4 children, and 10 grand children - all of whom I love deeply.  So why am I thinking about it now?  Perhaps these feelings aren't buried as deeply as I thought they were.

As I learned more about Steve Grand, I read where his song has been criticized by some in the gay community for promoting the stereotype that all gay guys lust after their straight friends.  I get that - I know, first hand, that is simply not true.  But, it is also true that we seldom, if ever, pick who we are going to be attracted to.  And yes, sometimes, perhaps even often, it is going to be someone who is out of our reach - someone who does not have the same feelings towards us.  This is part of our human condition and spans all gender and sexual orientations.

While I have chosen to remain gay celibate - it is the right choice for me in my particular circumstance.  But, that does not mean that I wish that fate on others.  Gay love is beautiful.  I rejoice when people I know find true love - and my heart breaks for those whose quest for true love is elusive and seems unattainable.

 But ... back to Steve Grand.  He is good looking (a former male model, I believe).  He likes to show off his abs in his videos.  I doubt he will ever become mainstream country.  But, it is refreshing to see someone sing country songs about gay love.