Saturday, June 6, 2009
Queer Film Spotlight: Latter Days
I've tried watching this movie so many times and I finally got through it. It's not that the story makes it hard; a table server in a fancy restaurant in L.A. named Christian falls for the recent move-in next door, an LDS missionary named Aaron, and his workers make a bet that the characteristically slutty and shallow Christian can't convert him to gaydom and nail his ass. You'd think that this would be comedic, romantic, meaningful...at least relatable, or something. But these are all the precise reasons why Latter Days is so difficult to watch: it tries to be all of those things at once. From start to credits, the film is completely contrived.
Nowhere is this more evident than in each and every scene with the missionaries. I've never been on a mission but I'm sure that elders are not allowed to say anything close to the phrase "God hates homos" to investigators. What frustrates me most are the interactions between Aaron, the elder, and Christian. Their exchanges feel strained and completely contrived in every scene. Example: Christian gets his mail and one letter blows behind the house, so on the way to get it he gets his pants snagged, causing a cut which makes him bleed and then he faints - all in plain view of Aaron, who is innocently reading The Book of Mormon outside. (Let me add that we've just seen them both play basketball - Christian without his shirt, so that the adoring gay male audience can revel in his tanned, sweaty abs...which, of course, is why its perfectly plausible that same young and fit man would faint from a barely visible leg cut. Oh yes, do me quick.)
But the tragedy is that that's when the movie gets interesting. Because right before Aaron invalidates every Priesthood Quorum lesson he's ever had by lying with Christian, he starts to claim that he feels like he's being used by a superficial boy who doesn't know what he wants and Aaron drops him like a sack of beans - forcing Christian to try to actually win his heart. Have we seen this a million times? Of course - but in heterosexual narratives. So the fact that here, the dynamic is a Mormon missionary who is making a gay man prove his feelings...it's a shame to see the film waste a cliche so commonplace that even Stephanie Myers could make it watchable.
The somewhat decent "character development" lasts for about ten minutes before Latter Days reverts back to softporn. Following Aaron's transgression, his shock treatment, dream sequences, his mother's chastisement and excommunication are completely overdone like the other 98% of the movie, with sniveling suicidal tendencies and all. The character's sudden turn to identity crisis is very poorly composed while we have to wait for Christian to fly to Idaho, which takes much, much, much longer than it should. Christian's own selfish wimperings are empty and ultimately pointless.
All in all, the actor who plays Aaron does the best job. He delivers some pretty bad lines fairly well, in his defense. Unfortunately, he doesn't make the rest worth it and the story falls face flat so many times in its own puddle of sap that in the end I was just waiting for the movie to end so I could delete it from my hard drive. Its good moments are few and far between, but ultimately Latter Days makes Twilight look like A Lion In Winter.