The Seminarian

3 stars out of five
by S. James Wegg
Publish Date: February 29, 2012
Loving to suffer—just like God

The private life and loves of a still closeted-in-the-confessional seminarian provides writer/director Joshua Lim a fine pulpit to profess his views on religion, theology and relationships of many colours. Told largely through complete vignettes with a couple of detailed flashbacks, the narrative would likely be much more effective on the stage than the big screen. The too frequent fades-to-black and eventually tiresome use of dialogue-by-cellphone, rob this production of its potential impact almost as much as the circumstantial setups (why does the anniversary of a family death suddenly draw few comers?).

Hoping to write his way into Yale, masters candidate Ryan (Mark Cirillo delivers his material with courage and conviction even as his character lacks fundamental consistency—the latest entry in this season’s bounty of private self “abuse” is followed up shortly by a cinematic bare hug of awesome proportions) opts to build his thesis with a very personal take on God’s love and the suffering it can bring. Until properly sanctified by traditional couplings and marriage (both bride and groom dutifully obedient to their heavenly father), pain will be felt, but—eventually—rewarded with familial bliss. But if the same sex catches your eye, well, “we just don’t talk about that stuff.” Praise the Lord, pass the hypocrisy.

Still, Ryan is not about to ignore his growing desire for forbidden flesh. A year-long chat-buddy (living just an hour away) finally agrees to meet his digital friend and see if their Internet discourse will translate into incredible intercourse. Initially, Eric Parker Bingham delights as the webcam-naughty, incredibly “nervoso” all-American date only to be kept out-of-frame so that Lim can pepper his dissertation with all manner of deceit and depression.

The oblivious hetero co-eds (Derek Renn as just a bit too “man-huggy” Eugene along with Jessica Blythe’s caring if oblivious Kelli) faithfully depict the family values of the religious right breeder sect but fail the credibility test both when realizing their best friend is queer and then betraying him to the full-blinders-on professor (Philip Willcox).

Ryan’s pink circle also includes Anthony (Javier Montoya) who can’t quite decide whether Dat’s (Jason Grasl) selfishness (but addictive bedroom skills) should drive him into a loving bear’s (Ray Barnhart—wonderfully warm and fuzzy, yet the cigarettes seem so off these days) arms and Gerald. Head-over-heels puppy love is done up commendably by Matthew Hannon who also has to endure one of the most stoic withdrawals from opportunity knocks seen in many years.

Also deeply religious, Ryan’s widowed mom (Linda J. Carter) is always there for her only child but lacks the key element of you’re damned if you “know men” to make her boy’s silence about what’s really going on in his life believable.

Curiously, likely unintentionally, the happiest camper at the seminary is the Queen of One Night Stands (the last breakup being too hard to contemplate another dose of “love”), Kevin. Alex Matute lights up the screen with his every appearance in the brief part (imagine: blessed bathroom sex!) and deserves a more substantial showing in his next outing.

When Lim masters the very fine art of seamless storyline flow and purposely shows more of his point of view than he tells, a film of very high order could be the result. JWR

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