Director Jon Garcia gave an interview
that was posted back in September for the Vancouver Queer Film
Festival. His comments confirmed some thoughts I had about his second
feature film The Falls, a love story and a slight coming-of-age
tale about a Mormon missionary. There is a scene where Garcia puts his
two main actors on the street to approach people and try to convert them
to Mormonism. When I first saw the scene, it looked as if everyone in
the scene aside from the two guys playing the Mormons were not actors
but real people that happened to be walking the street. Garcia's
interview confirmed that this was true.
On one hand, it shows how low budget the film was, even though bigger movies have done the same. Borat and Bruno with Sacha Baron Cohen employed this tactic of putting an actor in a real environment among real people and having that actor interact with those real people while staying in his character. Cohen did it to comedic effect, whereas Garcia does it to dramatic effect. In Cohen's film, the point is not how convincing he is as an actor but almost how gullible the real people are to accept or tolerate Cohen's ridiculousness. In Garcia's film, it's almost the opposite. It is about how good the two actors are, even if it's something you only realize in retrospect.
That's really what this movie is. It's a showcase for two fantastic, young actors, guided by what I can only imagine was a fantastic screenplay by Jon Garcia. The movie doesn't do anything more complicated than bring its main characters to a point where they can be honest about their feelings, which is all you can ask of any movie or any actor. The trick is to make that honesty believable, which sounds odd, but sometimes honesty isn't believable.
Garcia doesn't do anything more complicated than give his actors the floor. Going off his interview for the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, I gather that Garcia didn't give too many strict directions to his actors but simply let them, in crucial moments, do what they wanted or at least interpret crucial moments how they saw fit. This may sound like Garcia isn't being much of a "director," if he's just letting his actors do what they want.
Yet, some of the greatest filmmakers ever like Robert Altman and others have said that sometimes, for certain movies, the best thing a director can do is find great actors, put together a great cast, and then get out of their way and just make sure the camera is rolling. That's what Garcia does and that in itself shows a kind of brilliance on his part. A brilliant director has to be able to recognize great acting and not do anything that messes it up. A director can't be like Ed Wood and think that any old acting is passable.
It's not as if Garcia doesn't make any choices or give any direction. Garcia's entire movie is a choice. He spent the better part of a year, months and months in fact, researching the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). His movie then offers up a story that tackles the biggest challenge to LDS, other than the stigma of Warren Jeffs and polygamy. Garcia offers up a story of homosexuality.
One can argue that homosexuality is no more a challenge for LDS than it is in any other church or religion like Islam. Yet, it's more of an issue for LDS lately because of what was discovered a couple of years ago regarding its role in the Prop 8 case in California. Garcia makes the choice to challenge LDS but not all together condemn it. It's assumed that his main characters, despite their realizations, never lose their faith. More than just an assumption, by the end, both characters agree that they're not apostate.
Nick Ferrucci stars as RJ Smith, a 20-year-old, LDS member from Idaho Falls, Idaho, who opens the movie with narration similar to that of Ewan McGregor's in Beginners (2011). You get the sense that RJ might be what Mitt Romney was at the age of 20, only far less wealthy. After attending a Missionary Training Center or MTC, RJ goes to Portland, Oregon, for a two-year mission that all Mormon men have to serve, which requires them to do all they can to spread the word of LDS-founder Joseph Smith and try to convert as many people as possible.
Benjamin Farmer co-stars as Chris Merrill, a slightly-older LDS member from Salt Lake City who becomes RJ's mission companion, which every Mormon has. Their missionary work is always in pairs. Merrill is the more experienced and more dedicated missionary. At first, things are normal. Like with the boys in Latter Days (2003), they do their Bible studies. They ride their bikes. They do door-to-door proselytizing. They talk and play basketball. Unlike the boys in Latter Days, RJ and Merrill eat Lucky Charms cereal, which is actually Merrill's favorite food.
If you didn't know the premise, you might think this movie was moving toward some kind of deconstruction where either RJ or Merrill might become apostate. Obviously, there are clues from the very beginning, but you never assume that either one is gay. After a while, it's clear that that's where the movie's going and it's just a matter of who's going to break first.
Other than that, this movie is a series of great, individual, acting moments, mainly by Ferrucci and Farmer, but also from great supporting actors like Quinn Allan who plays Elder Harris, RJ and Merrill's supervisor, and Brian Allard who plays Rodney, an Iraq war veteran that RJ and Merrill frequently visit. Two of the great acting moments include two monologues, one delivered by Farmer and the other by Ferrucci.
A lot of the movie works on what isn't said and just the looks on the actor's faces, but these two monologues, which are shot in close-up without a lot of edits or cutaways, really suck the audience in. One monologue shows a character's excitement over his faith, while the other monologue shows the opposite, a character's disappointment over his faith. If I wasn't convinced how good of an actor each of these guys were, these monologues more than prove it. They make you believe every word that they say and they make you feel everything that their characters feel.
Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains sexual situations and nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.