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
*     *     *     *     *
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.


Beck said...

I've seen both movies and find your comments spot-on. I was bothered by the garment depictions as well, particularly of the father on the phone - totally unnecessary.

I was touched by the companionship attraction development as missionaries and afterward. I felt it genuine and could relate to it on a very personal level.

I am uncomfortable with a disciplinary council portrayal. They always come off as unbelievable and missing authenticity. But you're right, the "Latter Days" portrayal is much, much worse and laughable.

Idon't know that I'd recommend these to anyone who isn't already gay... pretty sure I won't be saying: "Hey, honey, let's watch this cool gay mormon movie tonight together" anytime soon.

Trevor - INSIDE gay Mormon said...

I had no idea there was a sequel. Thanks for sharing!

Philip said...


I was searching for gay movie reviews when I thought of visiting your blog for the first time in a long while -and- here you posted reviews of two gay films I have never heard of.

I'm glad to see you are still around and just wish I had read your post when it first came out.

I recently saw a German film "Free Fall" which was quite good. Most of my favorite gay films are foreign films because, unlike a lot of American gay films, foreign gay films tend to be multi dimensional with sexuality being just one aspect. But, having just said that, I also just saw 'Pit Stop' an American films that takes place in Texas which if I remember correctly is where you're from.

Anyway, sounds like all is well with you and a belated welcome back to the blog world.


Chip Skylark said...

I agree with you on pretty much everything you have written. I do disagree about the pace of the film. Watching it from such a stunningly slow perspective made it feel real to me. The awkward silences and pauses in the dialogue, the seemingly superfluous footage, made it feel like I was watching real people as opposed to a film.

A big part of that also came from the editing. I have no idea if they intended to edit with the focus being on one actor at a time during scenes with dialogue, or if they did not have the time or budget to film multiple takes; but it legitimizes the realness.

Unfortunately my opinion is rare, the majority need a faster pace and I support that if only to make these films have a wider audience.

Anonymous said...

I find your review very interesting even if I don't share your view about nudity and its length.
I am French and I might be very used to very long and slow movies. I have to say that I loved the long scenes of contemplation.
I am not shocked by nudity as I usually am naked at home and sometimes preparing breakfast without any clothes on. I don't see why making a nudity proof movie would have made a better movie.
I think that the nude scenes were there for a reason: the kitchen one is the best example. RJ has clothes on, probably because of his religious and cultural habits, but he is eating shit. On the other hand, you have a man who is emancipated from religious and cultural standards and who seems to be a very healthy person who take care of himself.