How refreshing to have the double standards of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Book of Mormon in general along with the self-serving lifestyle of Joseph Smith in particular be so convincingly pilloried in such a loving, sensitive and artistic way. It’s the perfect antidote to the more-for-laughs-than-truth Latter Days (cross-reference below) whose review drew a good deal of scorn from a few readers.
Director/writer Jon Garcia has done an excellent job of letting his main characters evolve in all of their awkward inner dogma and forbidden feelings for one another. An innocent hug (marvellously shot below a carefully framed “Cocktail” sign as the pair of twenty-year-old missionaries ply their skills of moral persuasion in small-town Oregon), brief touch, then lingering glances cumulatively confirm the love that dare not speak its shame (with apologies to Oscar Wilde—it’s the Church that so pathetically fuels the shame; not the endearing young men).
Especially effective is Garcia’s decision to let viewers fill in the blanks be they a rumble with local, taunting yahoos, consummation in the woods after a call to nature takes on a whole new meaning or—most tellingly—a courageous interview with He Who Must Be Obeyed whose visage never finds the light of day—much less the fabled bolt-from-above that was God’s sign to Smith that he would be His surrogate on Earth.
As good as the visual plan (most effectively captured by cinematographer Christopher Stephens) and acting skills are, the film wouldn’t be nearly as successful without Garcia’s (we assume) deftly crafted original score. A reflective, minimalist guitar line in the early going (underpinning the loneliness of “one”) magically blossoms into—finally—a melody of hope (and simple accompaniment) when it morphs into the piano close to journey’s end. Deft use of harp subliminally underscores the notion of a heavenly host—whether adorned in lavender robes or not.
If there’s a weak link, it’s the cookie-cutter characterization of Elder Harris (Quinn Allan) whose brief screen time only serves to most literally unmask the roommates’ then bedmates’ genuine love. But the principals fare much better.
Serving as narrator/narrative anchor, Nick Ferrucci does a commendable job playing R.J.: first as newbie-with-a-past—few will doubt his “Friend of Dorothy” status—then moves into bravura mode as he most unapologetically stands up to his dad and Book-thumping “uppers” with compelling fortitude. Beguiling Benjamin Farmer delivers the role of R.J.’s mentor, Elder Merrill, with a tenderly convincing fall from grace into his charge’s bed. Only the failure to lock the door mars his character’s believability.
A smaller role—but vital catalyst—is ideally rendered by Brian Allard’s take on Rodney: a war vet who’s seen more horrors than any religion can explain away as God’s will. He is rewarded by Garcia with, perhaps, the most salient line of all: “Ain’t nobody straight in a foxhole.”
Now feeling his cinematic oats, audiences of all stripes can eagerly await Garcia’s next project. JWR