May 23, 2010

[Movies] Latter Days (2003)

Latter Days (2003)I've watched a fair number of LGBT movies in my time and yet I never consistently got around to writing reviews for them. As much as I'm enjoying my more editorial-style writings under the Technnicolor Musings banner of entries, I still want to get back to posting more LGBT movies reviews, if only to continue to support the industry and generate more awareness for some of the great films made.

Of course even I have to admit that a lot of LGBT movies play out like corner store romance paperbacks with very little intellectual substance and a more than liberal interpretation of nudity as an art form. You have to forgive us for such indulgences - the combined feelings of pride in just talking about gay relationships plus the glee of shocking conservative audiences never gets old. Still, there also those LGBT movies out there with a serious message to convey and a striking way of doing so.

One of the first higher quality LGBT movies that I've seen has to be this one involving none other than the infamous Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints. Yeah, now you know what I'm talking about, right?

Latter Days has a plot that sounds like something that a bunch of gay friends would joke about over drinks at a bar, but it all somehow works beyond an initially shallow notion. But seriously, at its barest, the movie is about a Mormon getting involved with his openly gay neighbor. Shallow, yes, but still fun and in the in slightly thought-provoking. Certainly no complaints here.

Elder Aaron Davis (Steve Sandvoss) is a young Mormon missionary sent to Los Angeles to spread the faith along with Elder Paul Ryder (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Elder Harmon (Rob McElhenney) and elder Gilford (Dave Power). The group end up living in a small apartment next to the openly gay and highly promiscuous Christian (Wes Ramsey) who lives together with aspiring singer Julie (Rebekah Johnson).

As is typical of stories involving Los Angeles, Christian is an aspiring actor who works as a waiter at a restaurant called Lila's, as owned by retired actress Lila Montagne (Jacqueline Bisset). Christian and his co-workers Traci (Amber Benson) and Andrew (Khary Payton) eventually decide on a bet for $50 that Christian can't manage to bed one of his new Mormon neighbors in jest. However Christian eventually discovers that Aaron is a closeted gay man and eventually the two realize there's a lot more to the other than initially perceived.

Steve SandvossOn the shallow end of the spectrum, I got into this movie just to see how they'd depict a gay Mormon romance. Come on - a lot of us think about them in their clean while polo shirts walking around like sheep placed in strange foreign lands. They're like the perfect image of naivety and helplessness in an urban setting and yet there are just so many of them around. Plus it really helped that Steve Sandvoss is ridiculously hot and looks great with or without clothes, although I'm sure fans have one preference between the two.

But on a more serious note, Steve did an excellent job of capturing the role of Aaron. He managed to convince all of us that he was the curious and kind-hearted young man struggling with how to resolve his faith with his sexuality. He clearly dominated the movie and even the outlandish antics of Wes Ramsey weren't enough to overpower Steve's performance. It's a shame we don't see him in more lead roles despite the intensity as an actor that he demonstrated in the movie.

The overall story was littered with clichéd plot devices like the bet that the protagonist is bound to regret, the elderly mentor figure in the form of Lila, and even involving a slight nod to AIDS support efforts as is often expected in LGBT movies. But these little nuances don't distract from the stronger story that the group behind the movie wanted to tell. It's truly a nice and honest love story while at the same time a statement against the harsh fundamentalist teachings of religions like the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints in opposition to homosexuals. They even managed to convey in a more artistic manner the harsh methods utilized by some conversion camps that aim to help "cure" gay men of their homosexuality.

Latter Days is a great movie to get into on a weekend, and I'm not just talking about you queer readers out there. It's fundamentally a good story that's executed quite well and thus is fairly rewarding to the viewer. It gets 4.5 awkward-shy-adorable moments of Steve smiling like a goof out of 5.

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