Director: C. Jay Cox
Stars: Steve Sandvoss, Wes Ramsey, Jacqueline Bisset, Mary Kay Place
Christian (Wes Ramsey) is a 20-something West Hollywood party boy who works as a waiter in a flash restaurant owned by the Jackie Collins style Lila (Jacqueline Bisset). Christian and his workmates flap about, waiting for that big acting or singing break. One day, four handsome, immaculately groomed Mormon missionaries move in next door to Christian. Christian’s workmates bet him $50 he can’t seduce one of them. Unbeknownst to everyone, working in Christian’s favour is the nascent homosexuality of Elder Aaron Davis (Steve Sandvoss, gallery here), the best looking of the four who keeps bumping into Christian.
Christian thinks Aaron is too uptight, while Aaron scorns Christian for his complete lack of spiritual beliefs. Their bristly attraction grows, leading to a public kiss which sees Aaron packed onto the next bus back to Salt Lake City’s finest shock treatment facilities. Long having forgotten the bet, Christian’s love for Aaron sets him off on a cross-country chase.
Latter Days has all the frightening hallmarks of that seemingly endless poison vine of West Hollywood gay dating-game movies that sprung up in the mid-1990s. In these films a basic Romeo and Juliet plot is given a crazy gay twist and a full plate of Hollywood romantic comedy cliches is brought to the scriptwriting table and devoured in its entirety. Almost all the action is contained within a few restaurants, cafes or friends’ places in the West Hollywood area. Friendship groups are large, diverse and rock-solid. A requisite big-name older diva makes a guest appearance (Jacqueline Bisset here, see Sigourney Weaver in Jeffrey, Lisa Kudrow in All Over The Guy, Louise Fletcher in Big Eden, ad infintium). Truck loads of 1990s gay politik are dumped left, right and centre.
Latter Days doesn’t offer anything new in these departments and indeed in some areas it really goes to town: watch for some simply outrageous plot-twist coincidences in the third act. But it is surprisingly watchable and contains a radiant sub theme of spirituality and the value of venturing into different realms of experience.
Though its attack on the Mormons may be a bit heavy-handed, the message underneath, that religions should encourage love and happiness wherever they are found, is a sound one. Though less heavy-handed, the film’s attack on the limitations of genital-centric, spirituality-free gay culture are well-thought out and inventively illustrated.
Most surprising in this rather broad brush film is the delicacy and tenderness of its resolution, where faith and trust in some form of higher power suits and enriches almost everyone. It’s really refreshing to see a film take on the rainbow flag brigade as well as the easy targets of the religious right, the old-fashioned and so on. When Aaron confronts Christian (note the name) he makes some fairly valid points - that Christian doesn’t really believe in anything, and his glamorous party life may be fun, but it doesn’t leave room for spirituality. What’s the point of being a fabulous nobody who gets laid heaps and has a bunch of fun times but who starts each day like it’s his first? For his part, Christian urges Aaron to loosen the LDS straps a little and let his passionate beliefs find their own language. Meanwhile, a man dying of AIDS, who Christian has volunteered to help feed, sees his stale ACT-UP whingeing sent packing (where it belongs). The film scores extra marks for pointing out that the gay experience is no more perfect or beyond criticism than any other experience.
It’s also well shot with a beautiful use of colour. Snowy scenes at Rocky Mountains airports and candle-lit restaurant interiors look lovely. The original music, which includes three songs by cast member Rebekah Jordan, isn’t too painful. A major asset to the film is Jacqueline Bisset, who pulls everything into her gravity each time she purrs onto the screen as Lila, the been-everywhere restaurant manager with a well hidden heart. Handsome Steve Sandvoss is well cast as the nerdy/hunky guy with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Quite the opposite is true for Wes Ramsey, however, who’s not attractive enough to play King Stud of LA and who isn’t a good enough actor to keep up with his character’s transitions. Ramsey’s eyebrow-tweezed perma-tan face remains much the same from beginning to end. He’s not helped by the writing, which doesn’t build him any bridges and so we just have to accept that he’s reconsidering his destiny, falling in love and changing his life because certain lines of dialogue tell us so.
One-too-many scenes are overlong or repetitive. Do we need to go back to the restaurant to watch Christian and his workmates polish glasses and discuss the bet? Couldn’t we have heard about the bet in voiceover, or just a few quick dialogue snaps? Since Aaron’s three attendants aren’t made distinct, then why show us interior scenes with them clowning around like frat boys (one of them, by the way is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, from Mysterious Skin andInception) and catching up on Bible readings?
When we finally meet Aaron’s Mum and Dad, we’re treated to blocks of wood (even if one is in the lovely form of Mary Kay Place) and there isn’t enough time to develop them as characters. We see Dad’s upper-or-lower half in frame-blocking close up for a second or two before he darts out shamefully to the Church, while Mum drops a dinner plate and slaps her son in the face. They’re probably the second-two most interesting characters in the story and so it’s a shame that we don’t get to learn more about them. It’s impolite stroytelling - don’t invite characters to the story if you’re then just going to ignore them or use them as decoration for the other characters. How would that make you feel, if you were a character?