The subject of Christianity certainly seems to be a popular theme this year in American film. If Machine Gun Preacher is the Christian action movie then this is the independent dark comedy. Oscar nominated actress Vera Farmiga (The Departed, Up in the Air) stars in and directs this quirky film that makes you laugh when you least expect to. This is a film that takes an unusual look at a woman’s lifelong struggle with her faith, and is honestly portrayed for the screen. Farmiga’s direction, understanding of the screenplay and her character really make this a film to talk about. I would even say the best female directed film since The Hurt Locker. Farmiga's first attempt behind the camera feels like she has been doing this forever.
Willing as a child to let Jesus into her heart, Corrine raises her hand, saying she wants to be saved. Getting married and becoming a mother very young, she served the Lord along with her devoted former band singer husband, Ethan. Constantly searching for God’s grace and voice, she seems to be the only one around, whether in church or social groups, that cannot find the peace everyone else has. She begs God to show her a sign or fill her with the Holy Spirit. With one incident after another, Corrine decides a big change is needed in her life, a step back that might end up helping her move forward. When little Corrine tells her mother (Donna Murphy) that you have to listen for God knocking, she replies “Maybe he should have rung the doorbell”.
It’s the wit in the screenplay that makes Higher Ground such a fantastic film. In some ways it reminds me of the television show Ally McBeal when Corrine would have these very inappropriate visions (i.e. while her mother talks to the preacher about swimming, she envisions them half naked on the pew). The character of Corrine is an honest character for anyone who understands faith; questioning what you believe is human nature. We watch this character from childhood to motherhood and witness her struggling battle for what’s right and what she doesn’t feel. Never does this film venture into anti-religious or blasphemous nature and that’s to be applauded.
In some ways, Higher Ground is similar to Machine Gun Preacher in that it's portrayal of Christians is more well-rounded and versatile; they are not presented as these bobble-head stereotypes Hollywood usually serves up. Farmiga delivers her most resonating and powerful performance here, bringing ironic humor to a character I wouldn’t have expected. The entire supporting cast, including Oscar nominee John Hawkes, Joshua Leonard, Dagmara Dominiczyk, and the younger versions of Corrine and Ethan (Taissa Farmiga, Boyd Holbrook) are all brilliant. This is a rare film that presents and asks questions about difficult subject matter that can entertain and surprise both sides of the aisle.
Final Thought – Farmiga directs and stars in a fantastically crafted film.
By: Dustin Chase W.
Editor: Michael Woody
Dr. Donna Copeland’s
This finely directed film clearly shows Vera Farmiga’s potential as a director. It is particularly impressive in that she stars (as the adult Corinne) in most of the movie. Higher Ground refers to the lifelong struggle a woman has in trying to reach that place where her faith and belief in God is validated. As a child, she is curious and questioning, and this characteristic remains with her into adulthood, but becomes troublesome to her husband and to religious leaders who require that women not question, but be in subjection to men. She gives the fundamentalist group she has been baptized into a valiant try, but certain events occur that make her wonder what the deity is about. Gradually, she develops more ecumenical beliefs, which no longer fit with her group. To its credit, even though the film does illustrate some of the failings of religion, it does not end up with an anti-religion position. Rather, the message is that each individual must find a way that makes sense to him/her.
The cast is strong, with Vera’s real-life sister Taissa in the role of the younger Corinne, John Hawkes as her father CW, and John Leonard as her husband Ethan. Bill Irwin, Donna Murphy Dagmara Dominazyk, and Nina Arianda are likewise very effective in their supporting roles.
The screenwriters are to be congratulated for maintaining a fairly objective stance where religion is concerned, as well as in depicting the ups and downs of marriage. Partners are portrayed
sympathetically, even when certain marriages deteriorate or run into huge challenges.
This is a film that will likely appeal most to viewers who are familiar with a fundamentalist approach to religion. And it is in stark contrast to another current film about the motivating power of religion, Machine Gun Preacher, which makes no pretense of objectivity and rational choices in religion.
By Donna R. Copeland