Latter Days
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr C Jay Cox
with Steve Sandvoss, Wesley A Ramsey, Rebekah Jordan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Khary Payton, Jacqueline Bisset, Mary Kay Place, Erik Palladino, Dave Power, Rob McElhenney, Patrick George, William Hood
release US 30.Jan.04, UK Mar.04 llgff
03/US 1h37

Chance encounter in the laundry room: Sandvoss and Ramsey

gordon-levitt bisset place
18th llgff

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latter days With a fairly standard romantic comedy structure (Cox also wrote the much more formulaic Sweet Home Alabama), this provocative film manages to touch some serious issues through its engaging story. It's rare for a movie--even a low-budget one like this--to grapple with issues of faith and meaning in life. So even if the film feels somewhat contrived, stick with it; you'll be rewarded by what it has to say.

After 19-year-old Mormon missionary Aaron (Sandvoss) leaves his rural Idaho home for the pagan wilds of Los Angeles, he's and his missionary partner (Gordon-Levitt) are immediately confronted by their welcoming but obviously gay neighbour Christian (Ramsey). Aaron feels an immediate physical attraction that he channels into evangelical zeal, while Christian makes a bet with his coworkers (Jordan and Payton) that he can bed one of the Mormons. But it's much more complicated than that, as any hint of homosexuality for Aaron will result in excommunication.

There are so many interesting things going on in this film that you can forgive Cox his too-neat plotting. He obviously knows what he's writing about (the story is autobiographical) as it touches on such Mormon hot potatoes as racism, sexuality and gender roles in a knowing, unblinking way that's both witty and refreshing. And it really comes together when the characters begin trying to discover meaning in life. Somehow Cox keeps this from being corny and preachy, for the most part, presenting it as a sincere quest that in this case has a genuinely intriguing conclusion, no matter how convenient it all may be.

The cast is very good, especially Sandvoss and Ramsey, who convey Aaron's and Christian's internal discoveries and outward changes in revealing ways. And they have terrific chemistry together that makes their growing relationship believable, especially in a climactic hotel room scene that shows real intimacy without being prurient. And a powerful scene between Aaron and his mother (Place) has a very different kind of raw authenticity to it, as do a series of scenes between Christian and an Aids patient (Palladino). And while the film is far too sweet and tidy (and more than a little unbalanced in the its treatment of the Mormon church), it's also a moving personal story told in a natural and thoughtful way.

rated R themes, language, nudity 14.Mar.04 llgff

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... latter days Tom Clark, Southern California: 5/5 "I admit to more than a little bias having once been a gay Mormon missionary myself. C Jay Cox has scored big-time in bringing us an authentic, funny and often moving portrayal of what it's like to find yourself gay in the midst of trying to be a good Mormon. Latter Days resonates pretty deeply on a lot of levels. Though some may find themselves mystified at the way Mormonism is handled in this movie, the fact is, Cox, who’s a gay former Mormon, was more than generous in the way he dealt with it and presented a very realistic and honest look at what goes on. For those who don't resonate with the Mormon thread in this story, there's still plenty of wonderful here to keep you enjoying the ride. It isn’t a movie for everyone, but it's a great ride for those who can appreciate a beautifully told love story between two men. The movie doesn't pretend to be more than what it is - it lets us laugh and cry and have a good time without asking us to get too cerebral about it. It touches some wonderfully human places in us and does it with humor and sensitivity." (30.Mar.04)

latter days J Dunlap, net: "I was mesmerized by the amazing acting abilities of Steve Sandvoss and Wes Ramsey, as well as Jacqueline Bisset. True, there were a lot of coincidences in this movie, but having lived a rather convoluted life myself, I know that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. I have heard about the problems of the Mormon closet gays for years, so that aspect of this movie was not surprising either. The intriguing thing wasn't really the fact Wes Ramsey's character, Christian, became interested in a Mormon missionary, but that the Mormon missionary was the one who called the shots. His character, Aaron, played by Steve Sandvoss, was one of the best acted parts I have seen in over 45 years of watching movies. The movie was simply pure magic as far as I'm concerned. I wish there had been a movie like that when I was younger. I think many gay teens kill themselves because they can't come to terms with being 'different'. This movie could go a long way towards changing that. Kudos to Steve Sandvoss, C Jay Cox, Wes Ramsey and the other great actors and actresses who helped make the movie possible." (29.Apr.05)

© 2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall