[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.
- Andrew MasonUncommon Gratitude http://andrewsmason.com/uncommon-gratitude/ #HappyThanksgiving
- Andrew MasonCreating A Small Group Curriculum Map by Ben Reed http://www.smallgroupchurches.com/creating-a-small-group-curriculum-map/
- Marcella WoodridgeThe longer I live the more I know I need GOD leading my life every step of the way.
- Octavia CarterHello I'm New Here!!
- Octavia CarterHello I'm New Here!!
- Octavia Carter just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Debbie Harris published the blogpost May Jesus Christ Be The Ultimate Treasure We Always Seek by Debbie Harris..
- Debbie Harris published the blogpost Father Who Can We Graciously And Humbly Walk Beside Today Just To Love by Debbie Harris.
- Bryce Johnson just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Bill Reichart published the blogpost 13 Resources For Ministry Leaders Who Struggle with Porn.
- Mike Liebler published the blogpost Expert Reveals Biggest Concern About Youngsters And Social Media.
- Mike Liebler published the blogpost Half (54%) Of US Teens Think Life Would Be Better Without Social Media.
- Jeffrey Totey published the blogpost Roy Lichtenstein's Most Popular Painting is Displayed.
- Mike Liebler published the blogpost After Confronting Campus Bully, HS Football Player Gets Suspended.
- Mike Liebler published the blogpost Conservative Student Is Victim Of ‘Racist Rape Apologist’ Attack Fliers.
- Mike Liebler published the blogpost Yik Yak app Putting Teens Behind Bars, Police Warn.
- Mike Liebler published the blogpost Hearing That Things Can Change Helps Teens Dodge Depression.
- Andrew Shivers just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Daniel DeHart published the blogpost GIVEAWAY: Win a Framed “The Fault in Our Stars” FULL SIZE Movie Poster [Winner Chosen].
- Jeffrey Totey published the blogpost ‘Boxtrolls:’ Incredible Animation, Charmless Story.
- Jeffrey Totey published the blogpost Video of the Day: Dad Lip-Syncs Daughter's Tantrum.
- Michael Ernest published the blogpost SOTW: ‘Chasing After The Wind’ by Alan Powell (Free Friday Download).
- Matt Perman published the blogpost The Drive Video: If You Want Engagement, Self-Direction is Better.
- LuAnn Braley published the blogpost BOOK REVIEW/INTERVIEW: The Unexpected Earl by Philippa Jane Keyworth.
- Shane Blackshear published the blogpost Seminary Dropout 55: Gary Black Jr. – Co-author of The Divine Conspiracy Continued.
- Lori Fogleman published the blogpost ‘Believe Me': Alum’s thought-provoking film now in theaters.
- Michael Ramsey published the blogpost Stress Kills!!! Here's 3 Ways To Do Something About It.
- Larry Carter published the blogpost How The New Fall TV Season Reminds Me Of The Gospel.
- Brad Hambrick published the blogpost Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Suffering Paradigm (Seminar Videos).
- Brad Hambrick published the blogpost Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Personal Responsibility Paradigm (Seminar Videos).
- Brad Hambrick published the blogpost 20 Approaches to Battling Depression-Anxiety as Suffering.
- Daniel DeHart published the blogpost Review: ‘Hellion’ is A Wild, Family-Driven Ride Worth Taking.
- Daniel DeHart published the blogpost Review: ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2′ is Cool, Uncommitted.
- Daniel DeHart published the blogpost “Kidnapped for Christ” Review: The Terror of Teens.
- Daniel DeHart published the blogpost Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Pieces Together a Winning Team.
- Ashley Howland published the blogpost Talking about cancer on WFAA’s ‘Two Chairs’ series.
- Daniel DeHart published the blogpost Get Excited: New ‘Believe Me’ Trailer Validates Everything We Thought.