Latter Days (2003) — Mormons find forbidden love

“Oh yeah, I’m just some doodah pudknocker from Pocatello. They ship us here from Dork Island!”

Sue’s rating: Homophobic? Here Be Dragons. You have been warned.

Sue’s review: I’m adopted.

Okay, I know that’s a completely bizarre opening line for a review about the romance of two gay men, but bear with me for a minute. I was adopted at the ripe old age of six days. I know nothing about my heritage, nothing about those who merged their DNA to create little ol’ me, and considering I was born back in the late ’60s, I’m actually sort of relieved that I don’t. I’ve always had this secret dread that my place of birth (or even conception) was the back of a funkadelically painted van with shag carpeting and lots of fringe. I do not want to find out that my birth name was actually “Rainbow Glow” or “Moonfrost” or “Oh maaaan, what is IN this stuff, cause, like, I am soooo trippin’.” Ergh.

And before the inevitable questions start pouring in, (yes, I’ve heard them many times), I am happy and well-adjusted and I love my parents dearly and have never regretted the circumstances of my infantly transfer.

But. Every so often, just for the heck of it, I wonder how I might have turned out if, in fact, someone else had raised me. What would be different about me? What would be the same? What parts of my psyche were negotiable? What parts weren’t? The answer of course is: how the heck should I know? It really doesn’t matter, because in the words of a salty old sage, “I yam what I yam.” But sure, it would be incredibly interesting to meet an alter ego of myself from an entirely different background.

So let me introduce to you writer/director C. Jay Cox. C. Jay was raised as a devout Mormon (or member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, if you want me to be politically correct about this) and spent time in his young adulthood as a missionary – spreading the word of God as allegedly told to Joseph Smith. Eventually C. Jay left the church, came out and is now living the openly gay lifestyle. A few years ago, he stumbled across a photograph of himself back in his missionary days. From there, he began to wonder what it would be like if the man he was then, met the man he turned out to be? Latter Days was spawned from that question and for that reason, I found the premise interesting enough to rent and watch. (The tagline, however, nearly made me change my mind. It sounds like a flippin’ porno movie.)

As the story begins, Elder Aaron Davis (Steve Sandvoss) is nineteen, blonde, wholesome and devout. He doesn’t seem overly bright to me, but look up the word earnest in the dictionary and his picture would be there in a glossy two page centerfold. On the flip side there’s Christian Markelli (Wes Ramsay) who flaunts his same-gender sexuality, keeps a palm pilot journal of numerous conquests and (to steal a movie quote) is just about as “shallow as skin deep”.

Aaron, along with three other missionaries – because under no circumstances are any of them ever supposed to be alone – moves into the same apartment complex as Christian and thus they meet. Christian, intrigued and amused, makes a bet with his cronies that he’ll get one of the Mormons into the sack. As proof, he has to steal a pair of “sacred underwear”. (It shimmers!)

Christian finds out that he and Aaron have much more in common than he ever imagined. (Okay, he MIGHT have imagined.) The downside is that Aaron rejects him – not because of sexuality issues, but because he wants more out of life than the no-strings-attached good time that’s been Christian’s habit all along. Eventually, if unconvincingly (to me), Christian starts a crusade to better himself and yes, the inevitable love begins to bloom at least as far as a kiss.

Right on cue, Aaron’s backup trio walks in mid-liplock and that just ain’t good. Excrement hits the oscillation. Aaron is bundled into a car and shipped off to mission control for debriefing, deprogramming, and derision. That might be the end of it except for three completely contrived occurances. First, Aaron was put on the plane all by himself. No babysitter. Second, a massive snowstorm cancels his connecting flight in Salt Lake City. Third, Christian must have found the keys to an F-15 or the Concorde or something because he arrives there shortly after Aaron. It can safely be said that they have quite the little reunion at the aptly named, “Airport Motel” before Aaron goes on alone to face the music. Uhm… it’s rather explicit.

The most glaring flaws I see in Latter Days are, believe it or not, mostly technical – the inherent disadvantages of a low budget indie. There are several scenes where the actors weren’t wearing sufficient make-up to keep them from looking like walking corpses and the sound is inconsistent enough that subtitles might’ve been nice occasionally. The dialogue is mostly okay, but there are a few places where the impact is totally washed away in droning and unrealistic monologue. From listening in to some of the director’s commentary, Cox was going for more of a stage performance than the usual cinematic feel in those instances. That’s fair enough I guess, but it didn’t do anything for me because, y’know, this was a movie. There’s some extremely coarse language, nudity and yes, fairly graphic nookie. There are also a few surreal cutaways to dream sequences which are confusing, off-putting and totally unnecessary. I actually found the dream sequences a lot more objectionable than anything else.

Considering the source, you might expect that Latter Days would throw blanket condemnation over the Mormon church. While it didn’t tiptoe around the non-tolerance of same sex relationships, it didn’t portray the members of the church as emotionally constipated drones either. The other boys in the missionary group were.. well, boys. They horsed around, farted impressivly and fell asleep during Bible study. They chafed under the restrictions of their dogma and dreamt of the day when they could go home, get married, and yes, get laid. Aaron’s mother isn’t the most likable person in the world, but it isn’t impossible to understand her point of view. Aaron’s father comes across as the most dogmatic and unbending of the lot, but as a high ranking church leader, there isn’t any latitude for him to be any other way. That’s fair enough. It gave the story credibility. Nor does Latter Days portray its representatives of the gay community in the most flattering light. That’s fair too. No one is perfect, no one is irredeemably flawed. I’m cool with that.

Admittedly, it might be construed as the ultimate in narcissism that Cox’s two fictional incarnations of himself fell in love with each other, but maybe it’s more a validation that he’s satisfied with the person he turned out to be than just a self love-fest. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The strength of Latter Days doesn’t lie in its execution. What I like about it is that it’s thought provoking. It tries to be honest, and if it gets a little preachy or heavy handed at times, it’s because of the passion that went into its production. I think it tries to be fair, doles out character flaws evenly and it places the value of love above lust, which is as it should be. If you can get past the technical goofs and somewhat amateurish look, it’s not a half bad story.

And if ANYONE EVER calls me Rainbow Glow, I’m calling my attorney. Nuff said?

Didja notice?

  • During the morning-after scene in the motel room, you can clearly see a crew member in the mirror.
  • Marshmallow Peeps???
  • Both Christian and Aaron are movie fanatics.
  • On Christian’s bedroom wall, most of the picture frames are empty.
  • For the Bible scholars among us: Aaron quotes a verse that he says is First Corinthians 7:1. It was actually Second Corinthians 7:1. I looked it up to make sure.
  • Y’know, Aaron really is kind of a dork
  • Christian could have just stolen a pair of “sacred underwear” from the laundry room. Heh. End of story.
  • Christian’s emotional monologue about hunting with his Dad when he was a kid. Sort of pukesomely sappy really.

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