Higher Ground

September 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Vera Farmiga, Joshua Leonard, Dagmara Dominczyk
Directed by: Vera Farmiga (debut)
Written by: Carolyn S. Briggs (debut) and Tim Metcalfe (“The Haunting in Connecticut ”)

It takes strength for someone to tell themselves that what they thought was important for their entire life might not matter anymore. How does one redefine their belief system when it’s all they’ve known?

This is one of the struggles pious housewife Corinne Walker (Vera Farmiga) must face in “Higher Ground,” Farmiga’s directorial debut that follows her in the lead role as an evangelical church member who begins to seriously question her faith after tragedy strikes.

Based on Carolyn S. Briggs’ memoir “This Dark World,” “Higher Ground” maneuvers its way alongside its main character, from her years as a naïve child to her age of enlightenment as a mother who bases the family’s upbringing on the word of the Lord.

It’s not until Corinne begins her transformation, however, when “Higher Ground” starts to explore more deep-seated ideas behind organized religion and how someone who has only followed a righteous path their entire life can all of a sudden want more. Before her gradual conversion becomes evident, Farmiga doesn’t offer us much insight into what it means to be a “prayervert” or why this group of believers is motivated to search out something they can’t see.

In fact, as Corinne, Farmiga only scratches the surface during her early years and wastes an opportunity to really delve into the topic of serving God through the eyes of a child. As an adult, Corinne becomes aggravated when she doesn’t know how to allow the Holy Spirit to move through her so that she may speak in tongues. 

“Higher Ground” is an understated attempt by Farmiga, who can only grow from this experience behind the camera. She knows first-hand how great directors do it (she’s worked with Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme) and it’s obvious she is passionate about her subject matter, but in her first go-around it doesn’t necessary translate to a narrative with enough purpose.

Humpday

March 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore
Directed by: Lynn Shelton (“My Effortless Brilliance”)
Written by: Lynn Shelton (“My Effortless Brilliance”)

It’s official. The fairly ambiguous subgenre known as mumblecore that reared its creative head a few years ago is the new face of independent film. For those of you who aren’t hip enough to know the term, don’t fret. There have only been a handful of films that could actually be categorized under the mumblecore umbrella and chances are you haven’t seen any of them unless, of course, you’ve sought them out as a true hardcore mumblecore fan.

“The Puffy Chair?” “Old Joy?” “Medicine for Melancholy?” Told you.

Basically, mumblecore is a do-it-yourself, ultra-cheap way of making a movie that features non-professional actors sometimes improvising dialogue-driven scripts. It has taken indie filmmaking back to its roots – back to a time when guys and gals with cameras weren’t stressing about how they were going to raise $2 million to make a cinematic labor of love.

Truth be told, mumblecore movies aren’t for everyone. But none has attempted to distance itself from the mainstream in terms of subject matter as much as Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday.” Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Independence at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Humpday” is the perfect example of why films like this turn off close-minded moviegoers.

In “Humpday,” Ben (Mark Duplass, co-director/co-writer of fellow mumblecore film “Baghead”) and his wife Anna (Alycia Delmore) are awakened in the middle of the night by an unexpected guest. Ben’s longtime friend Andrew (Joshua Leonard) has returned back to town for a visit after spending a few years doing art projects in Mexico.

It’s been quite a while, but Andrew and Ben haven’t grown apart. Still, Andrew, who is sporting a Zach Galifianakis-esque beard, is living a bohemian lifestyle while Ben has settled down with his wife and now lives in a house with a white picket fence.

But when Andrew arrives, Ben begins to feel like he needs to prove to his pal that he is still the same carefree guy he was in the past. His chance to do this comes when they learn about a local amateur pornography film festival and decide they not only want to submit a film, they want to win. But to win, Andrew and Ben agree they need a groundbreaking idea for their erotic masterpiece. Their plan: have sex with each other (they’re convinced two straight guys have never had sex for the sake of art).

Cleverly written and rich with realistic dialogue, director Lynn Shelton (“My Effortless Brilliance”) captures all the awkward conversations and silences in profound and funny homoerotic ways. It’s an outlandish premise that works mainly because of the naturalness of Duplass and Leonard’s characters. While there is some over-exaggeration in parts of the film (and in Alycia Delmore’s performance), the risqué subject matter fits quite well with most of the overplayed scenes.