Latter Days

          LATTER DAYS takes the convention of two polar opposites and has them
  fall in love. Is it kitschy? In spots. Are some of the characters clichés? Sure.
  Still, the film works on several levels, partly because writer-director C. Jay Cox
  has based the film in part on his own life. Cox, who is openly gay, was raised
  as a Mormon and, as such, did his stint as a missionary. The Church of Jesus Christ
  of Latter-day Saints is perhaps more virulent than even the Roman Catholic Church
  when it comes to its treatment of homosexuals. In fact, only murder is considered
  a worse sin, yet like the New Testament, there is no mention of homosexuality
  in any of the religion's texts.

          The film basically tells the tale of uptight Elder Aaron Davis (newcomer
  Steve Sandvoss) who with his fellow missionaries moves into a Los Angeles
  apartment complex. Across from them live Christian (Wes Ramsay) and Julie,
  his black female roommate (Rebekah Jordan), an aspiring singer. Both work
  as wait staff at Lila's, a restaurant overseen by its eponymous owner (Jacqueline
  Bisset). For Christian, life is a party and there is no guy he cannot have. Egged
  on by Julie and his fellow workers, Christian agrees to a ridiculous bet that he
  can land one of the newcomers in bed. Very soon, he sets his sights on Aaron,
  flirting with him over laundry and in the mornings as they pass one another.
  Unbenownst to Christian, Aaron is struggling with his own desires. He's
  homesick and alone. (Mormon missionaries must spend two years away from
  their family with no contact while they proselytize.) It doesn't help that one
  of his roommates and fellow Mormons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a homophobe.

          While Cox's screenplay relies on some coincidences (Aaron meets Lila
  and offers words of comfort in her time of distress),
  the arc of a traditional romantic film. Christian and Aaron are thrown together
  when the former cuts himself and then faints at the sight of blood. As Aaron
  aids him in bandaging his wound, the sexual tension heats up. But when
  Christian goes in for a kiss and says "it doesn't have to mean anything," he
  offends Aaron's sensibility. Eventually they share a kiss, and are discovered
  by the other missionaries, leading to Aaron's being sent home in disgrace.
  There, he must face not only the disappointment of his mother (Mary Kay
  Place) but also his excommunication from the church. After a failed suicide
  attempt, the young man undergoes a series of gruesome aversion therapies
  that are graphically but tangentially presented. But as with any conventional
  Hollywood movie, love triumphs  -- in this case in a bittersweet way that is

          Because the film is partly a coming out story -- perhaps the biggest
  cliché in Queer Cinema -- there is the feeling of  been there, done that. But
  because Cox has created a character coping with the Mormon beliefs, it feels
  somewhat new. (I can only think of two other mainstrea instances where Mormons
  play an integral role in the plot: Tony Kushner's acclaimed
-- and that character was married -- and ORGAZMO, Trey Parker's underseen
  film about a heterosexual Mormon who becomes a porn star.) Cox has been
  fortunate in casting Sandvoss who project a sober air and perfectly captures
  the angst of the young man as he struggles to reconcile his religious beliefs
  with his true nature. Ramsay has the harder role, having to go from party
  boy to love struck man, but he manages to portray character well, and one
  cannot help but feel for him, especially when he is led to believe that Aaron
  has successfully killed himself.

          The supporting players are a mixed bag. Jordan does what she can with
  a character that is underdeveloped, while Bisset, Place and Jim Ortlieb (as
  Aaron's father) contribute strongly. A big surprise for me was Erik Palladino
  as an AIDS patient who dispenses wisdom to Christian who is attempting
  to prove he is not as shallow as he seems. Palladino turns what could have
  been a stock character into something more.

          Cox's script has problems, but his direction is solid and his ability
  to elicit such fine performances from his cast bodes well.
ultimately proves to be deeply moving despite its flaws and a welcome
  entry into the genre.

Rating:                      B+
MPAA Rating:            NONE (sexual situations, nudity, language)
Running time:            97 mins.
© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.