[MOVIE REVIEW]: Higher Ground
The directorial debut of actress Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), Higher Ground, is everything I’d hoped it would be.
Based upon a memoir by Carolyn S. Briggs, Higher Ground is the story of one woman’s adventure with an evangelical group. At times the finest Hollywood film to deal with Christianity in quite some time, there are other times when Higher Ground seems to tiptoe around the issues that Corinne (Farmiga) is facing and that lead to her ultimately questioning her faith.
Corinne is a child of the 60′s raised in an unhappy family who ends up marrying Ethan (Joshua Leonard), a singer/songwriter for a teen band who never quite makes it as a musician. When they experience a near tragedy with their young daughter, the two are drawn to a small fundamentalist faith community as a way of seeking refuge and answers. However, it’s not long before Corinne’s doubts begin bubbling up after the loss of her friend (Dagmara Dominczyk) and with the group’s conservative tenets increasingly butting heads with her own thoughts and beliefs.
It’s refreshing to see a film about the faith journey that doesn’t actually take sides, though one can also say that the script that’s co-penned by Briggs and Tim Metcalfe doesn’t delve deep enough into the issues for sides to actually be taken.
As both a film critic and a minister, it has long been my desire for a film to deal honestly, authentically and humanely with the subject of one’s crisis of faith. While Higher Ground doesn’t do so perfectly, it does so with a remarkable tenderness and respect for all involved. While this film doesn’t portray its fundamentalist community in the same way as did a similarly themed recent indie called Paradise Recovered, the two films share a rich humanity and willingness to gently and humorously explore the complexities of life inside organized religion and how it can become awfully disorganized.
Farmiga’s performance as Corinne is a bit jarring and disjointed at times, a compliment given the multiple layers and disjointedness of Corinne’s 20-year spiritual journey that, in many ways, leads her away from organized religion and into a deeper spiritual journey. As a younger Corinne, Farmiga cast her own younger sister Taissa Farmiga, who gives an intelligent and insightful performance that perfectly lays the groundwork for everything that the elder Farmiga does later in the film.
One of the truly beautiful things about Higher Ground is how it so honestly avoids dramatics in portraying how traumatic it is for Corinne to begin questioning her faith when her faith is, in very tangible ways, virtually everything that defines her life. To question her faith is, for Corinne, to question every aspect of her existence from her marriage to Ethan to her friendships to herself as mother, homemaker and lover. Joshua Leonard does a fine job as her husband, but truth be told Higher Ground seems intended as a film told from the female perspective and it is the film’s actresses who leave the strongest impressions (with the possible exception of John Hawkes, whose performance as young Corinne’s father is unforgettable).
While Farmiga does quite the fine job here, Dagmara Dominczyk serves up the film’s finest performance as Corinne’s true soul sister, Annika. Annika and Corinne share their lives with tremendous vulnerability, and Dominczyk’s performance is sizzling with all the energy and emotional resonance that gives the film much of its force. While the film occasionally dips too easily into sexual humor, and does carry a hippie vibe, it’s the relationship between Annika and Corinne that will likely resonate the most for audiences.
D.P. Michael McDonough’s camera work is warm and comforting, adding credibility and understanding to Corinne’s comfort within this faith community. The film also features excellent original music from Alec Puro, while Sharon Lomofsky’s production design nicely weaves together the 60′s hippie vibe with a design that easily reflects the conservative values of this fundamentalist community.
How the film ultimately resolves itself is, to Farmiga’s credit, as open to interpretation and understanding as is the great majority of Corinne’s spiritual journey. However, it seems there comes a moment in every spiritual moment where one gains clarity and perspective either through experiencing tremendous joy or through something that simply cannot be explained away by a scripture, a pastor or by a pop religious thought.
That’s really, I suppose, the beauty of Higher Ground. In refusing to take sides, Higher Ground really allows the story to be about the fullness of Corinne’s faith journey through all its ups and downs, insecurities, doubts, questions and crises. Had Farmiga taken Corinne’s personal exploration just a tad deeper, Higher Ground would have been one of the best films of the year. Higher Ground is still a rather remarkable achievement for the first-time director.
Originally posted on October 6, 2011.
- Audra Jennings published the blogpost “Real Women Leading” iPad Mini Giveaway and “Leading with Values” Facebook Party 3/20!.
- Kelly Pigott published the blogpost Ashes, Tattoos, the Sign of the Cross, and my Friend Connie.
- Walter Bright published the blogpost Be thou removed: Prayer of a man they called “Consecrated Cobbler.
- George Krickl published the blogpost Poor in Spirit: Paul and Barnabas Discipleship Continued.
- Jennifer Collins just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Doris SwiftOur greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn't really matter.” ― D.L. Moody
- Doris SwiftEmerge from ordinary into extraordinary; rise above, set apart, walking in the plan as He directs the steps...
- Doris SwiftIf you're feeling stuck in your writing journey~remember, every new idea-every word written propels you forward
- Jon StallingsIf we focus our prayers just on Jesus delivering us from the trials of life, we have set up our own life as an idol
- Melcome Feldspar just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Leon Bloder published the blogpost Shouldn't All Christians Be Universalists At Heart?.
- Jennifer Alayo-AguilarI am so excited to be here. This is something new that I have never tried before. I am glad to be alive to witness this, a blog post check-out site for Christians around the country, the world to connect with one another. The mini-neighborhood is pretty good. Say prayers for me, my husband, and the rest of our family as we get our lives back together and get on the right track with Jesus Christ. Amen.
- Mike Liebler published the blogpost Livestream Simply Youth Ministry Conference be a part of it!.
- George BullardMarch 8th: Transform Congregations By Radical Missional Engagement #365SSIFTC http://bullardjournal.blogs.com/bullardjournal_microblog/2014/03/march-8th-transform-congregations-by-radical-missional-engagement-365ssiftc.html
- Jennifer Alayo-Aguilar just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Greg Winfield published the blogpost The Blessing of Struggle – Do You Know What You’re Made of?.
- Stephanie L Burr just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Mike Liebler published the blogpost 10 Reasons Why Youth Ministry Is A Strategic Career Choice.
- Evan Nehring published the blogpost Announcement: Life Sentence Publishing Partnership.
- Matthew Tan published the blogpost "Justice, Unity & the Hidden Christ": Review in Ethika Politika.
- Brian Dodd published the blogpost The Top 10 Leadership Posts I Read The Week Of March 3rd.
- Nathan Wheeler published the blogpost Prayer, a beautiful mistake: Atheism For Lent Part 1.
- Allen O'Brien published the blogpost Mark Driscoll’s Publishing Tactics Trigger A Golden Age For Christian Publishing.
- Brad Russell published the article FaithVillage Expands Church Partnerships with 10 New Features.
- GREG WHITAKER just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Bill Reichart published the blogpost How To Supercharge Your Productivity With Evernote.
- Jotham David Parker published the video Truth (Christian Dance Hymn. Full Song with Lyrics).
- Myra Lee just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- FRANK NADJOMBE created a new gallery
- FRANK NADJOMBE just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Jewish Voice published the blogpost Woliso Population Plus One – Medical Missions in Ethiopia.
- Matt Perman published the blogpost Although Amazon is Sold Out, Barnes and Noble and Westminster Bookstore Still Have Copies.